from SHINYO MAGAZINE Issue 12 January 1997

For this month's O-Ko sermon, I'd like to talk to you about the daily serving, or care, of the Gohonzon and the water offfering and the offering of flowers, light, and fragrance.

1. Attitude in the Daily Serving of the Gohonzon
Observances such as the manner in which Gongyo is performed, how the Gohonzon is enshrined, and our conduct in the presence of the Buddha are called
Kegi or "observances for substantiating the Law." For brevity's sake, we can also refer to kegi as "observances" or "formalities"; but you should bear in mind that these words are not superficial: they entail more than mere cursory gestures and formal procedures. Their significance is expressed by a number of time-honoured adages among Nichiren Shoshu believers, such as "observances evince the Law taught by the Buddha" (kegi soku kehou) , "formalities and the Buddhist Law are one" (kegi soku buppou), amd "observances are synonymous with the Entity of the Law" (kegi soku hottai). This is because any Law or teaching must be accompanied by action; observances are the keystone of "propagation through the manner of practise" (gyoutai fukyou) through which the Daishonin's teachings are substantiated (substantially, or tangibly, manifested) by way of our routine observances and conduct.
As Fifty-ninth High Priest Nichiko Shonin elucidates of Ninth High Priest Nichiu Shonin's
Kegi Shou ("On the formalities of this school"): "Practise of Observances envinces one's faith." This means that a person's conduct in the presence of the Buddha is a manifestation of that person's faith. He also says, in another writing on stories about Nichiu Shonin's lifetime, that: "In this school observances are paramount ....'Observances are paramount' because in this school, 'the formalities and the Buddhist Law are one'; so one must not acquiesce in the observances of heretical sects. Should one do so, one would be quilty of complicity." This passage is saying that inattentiveness for observances leads to a slovenly lifestyle, laxity of faith, and eventually disregard for the teachings.
From this we can see how  important it is in our faith to learn the correct observances of Nichiren Shoshu. In the Touryuu Gyouji Shou, a chapter of his
Rokkan Shou (Six Volume Writings), Twenty-sixth High Priest Nichikan Shonin writes:
These many sects all take their name from the Master Nichiren, but none of their practitioners are really disciples of the Sage Nichiren, the founder of our school. Their doctrines are contrivances of their own; therefore they do not honor the traditions established by the Master Nichiren, and each follows for the most part its own preferences. Only our Fuji School carries on with the teachings established by the Founder Nichiren, thus the doctrines and observances of this school for the four hundred years since this Temple's founding, are precisely those set forth by the Master Nichiren. For this reason our morning and evening Gongyo consists of recitation of only the two Chapters [the Hoben and Juryo Chapters]. (
Rokkan Shou, Taiseki-ji edition, p.193)
This all indicates the importance of what Nichiren Daishonin wrote in the Gosho, Establishing the Four Boddhisattvas as the Object of Worship: "Those who call themselves my disciples and practise the Lotus Sutraa should all practise as I do" (Shinpen, p.1370; MW-III, p.298). Thus we must etch into our hearts the importance of submitting ourselves to his golden words and practising the teachings and formalities as the Daishonin taught, observing and preserving them precisely and solemnly.

Now I'd like turn to the matter of serving, or taking routine care, of the Gohonzon. The original model for this appears in the Daibadatta Chapter of the Lotus Sutra, and tells how one should continually remain at the Buddha's side and serving him, as exemplified by "collecing fruits, drawing water, gathering firewood, and preparing meals":
I offered him [the Buddha] anything he wanted. I collected fruits, drew water, gathered firewood, and prepared meals for him. I even allowed my body to be his seat. I never felt tired in body or mind. (
In other words, caring for the Gohonzon is something you do without begrudging any effort, it is informed by incessant routine effort, as expressed in an old poem:
The Lotus Sutra.
All I have gained,
I have gained through serving:
Gathering firewood, picking vegetables,
and drawing water.

Nikko Shonin and Nichimoku Shonin also set examples for us about how our attitude should be in taking care of the Gohonzon: Nikko Shonin stayed continually by the Daishonin's side to serve Him, following Him almost like a shadow; and Nichimoku Shonin is said to have developed a small depression on his head from carrying water to the Daishonin's hut at Mount Minobu. We should always remember that their attitudes in serving the Daishonin should be models for our own when we serve the Gohonzon.
This is further exemplified by an old Nichiren Shoshu saying, "Learn faith from Nikko Shonin; learn how to advance your practise from Nichimoku Shonin." This means that Nikko Shonin is our model for attitude in faith, and that we should look to Nichimoku Shonin to learn how to further our practise. They both show us that nothing surpasses service to the Master on the way to becoming a Buddha.
Faith has always been the central creed of Nichiren Shoshu, and particularly doing Gongyo and serving, or taking care of, the Gohonzon are the most fundamental of all fundamentals - the very starting point - of Buddhist practise. So, more than anything else, doing Gongyo and taking care of the Gohonzon need to be done with an attitude of sincerely requiting our debt of gratitude to the Gohonzon.
In serving the Gohonzon, most important is the solemn attitude informed by a sincere wish to requite our debt of gratitude to the True Buddha and the recognition that we are in the presence of the True Buddha Nichiren Daishonin Himself, the Teacher of the Buddhism of Planting in Mappo whose life is embodied in the
mandala of Myoho;
They [priests of past ages] would place even the smallest offerings on the altar in the sight of the Founder's image and pay the utmost respect to the True Buddha as if He Himself were there.

Every morning we clean the altar, offer fresh water, newly cooked rice, and greens; and at morning and evening Gongyo, we light candles and incense to dignify the space in front of the Gohonzon. All these acts are acts of offering. Even when you ring the bell, you should do so serenely and with sincerity - not ringing it haphazardly - since you're making an offering of sound to the Gohonzon. Lighting the candles, too, is a means of offering light to the Gohonzon - it also signifies burning the confusion, and impurities in our hearts and kindling the flame of the Buddha's wisdom. And burning incense is an act of sincerily offering fresh, purifying fragrance to the Gohonzon.
In essence, we should "constantly accompany and serve" and "believe and submit ourselves to" the Buddha by starting every day together with the Gohonon in our homes, as the Daishonin teaches in the Ongi Kuden: "Morning by morning, awaken with the Buddha; night by night retire with the Buddha" (Shinpen, p.1749). This reiterates how doing Gongyo daily, without missing a day, is the most important part of our practise. Isn't it wonderful to be able to live a life wrapped in the great compassion of the Gohonzon, as described by the Sutra passage, "Living beings are enjoying themselves"?
It is also said that "faith derives from dignifying." Our daily practise and the manner in which we carry it out are our means for manifesting faith. Nichiko Shonin also wrote:
The "manner of practise" starts with drawing water, picking flowers[for offering] and vegetables[for the Buddha's meals], and gathering firewood and our routine daily chores. The manner of practise is crucial to observances in this school; though we say faith first, practise second, study third, without practise there would be no way to bring faith forth, and all study would be futile. ("Ushi Kegi Shou Chuukaiyou" ["Annotations to the
Kegi Shou"], Fuji Shuugaku Youshuu, vol1, p.121)