Ushitora Gongyo is conducted every morning at the
Head Temple Taisekiji. Ushitora Gongyo is referred to as the Gongyo officiated
by the High Priest as Master of the Seat of the Law, in the Reception Hall (Kyakuden)
at the Head Temple at 2:30
AM. In “Articles to be Observed after the Passing of Nikko,” which the Second
High Priest Nikko Shonin entrusted to the Third High Priest Nichimoku Shonin,
Perform Gongyo and await the time of kosen-rufu.
(Gosho, p. 1883)
Ushitora Gongyo has been conducted ceaselessly since
Head Temple Taisekiji was established in 1290, from the time of Second High
Priest Nikko Shonin. The High Priest performs Ushitora Gongyo every morning at
2:30 AM—in the middle of the night—for world peace and for all living beings to
attain enlightenment. The Chinese characters for “ushi”
(tiger) are difficult but I would like to explain the significance depicted by
First, Ushitora indicates a specific time. Most of
you probably leave the house by 8:00 AM for school or work and take a lunch
break around noon. At present, we indicate time through numbers, but in ancient
Japan, time was illustrated through 12 zodiac signs for the date, time, and
direction. The 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit,
dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and boar. The hour of the ox
refers to the period between 1:00 AM and 3:00 AM and the hour of the tiger
refers to the period between 3:00 AM and 5:00 AM. At 1:00 in the morning, it is
still pitch black. At 5:00, dawn starts to break and many people start to rise.
Hence, this transitional time when darkness becomes light, and living beings
start to awaken from deep slumber, corresponds to the hours of the ox and
tiger. This time period is considered deeply significant in Buddhism and is referred
to as the time when all Buddhas of the three existences attain enlightenment.
Therefore, at the Head Temple, at this hour, Ushitora Gongyo is recited every
Next, Ushitora Gongyo also indicates direction. We
all know that the sun rises from the east and sets in the west. The north winds
tend to bring chilling weather while the southern tropical islands offer a
warmer climate. Within the east, west, south, and north direction, the
direction of Ushitora is mid-way between the north and east quadrant. This
direction is also known as the direction of the Demon Gate. Historically, the
direction of the Demon Gate has been considered to carry special significance
in Buddhism. In actuality, in India, China, and Japan, the center of Buddhism
has oftentimes been located to the northeast of the capital. When believers
make a pilgrimage to Head Temple Taisekiji, the view of Mt. Fuji from the
Temple grounds is breathtaking isn’t it? Mt. Fuji is actually located to the
northeast of Taisekiji; therefore, from the standpoint of Buddhism, this also holds
What exactly is recited during Ushitora Gongyo?
During Ushitora Gongyo, similar to morning Gongyo, all five prayers are
recited. Nowadays, all five prayers are recited in front of our altar at home.
In the past, at Taisekiji, however, the five prayers originally were recited
while moving around to five different temple locations. It was much stricter in
After the High Priest completes the recitation of
Gongyo facing the Ozagawari
in the Kyakuden, he then moves to the Yohaijo
the smaller altar that is located on the west side of the main altar. There, he
does an additional recitation of the sutra. The High Priest recites the Hoben-pon, Jigage
, and chants Daimoku
while facing the Dai-Gohonzon, which is enshrined in the Hoando Sanctuary. This
recitation facing the Dai-Gohonzon from a distance is referred to as “yohai.”
After completion of the recitation,
the High Priest then moves to the Mutsubo and recites morning Gongyo, and with
this, Ushitora Gongyo is completed.
The younger priests from middle school on up to high
school and priests-in-training rotate and accompany the High Priest. Just imagine
the difficulty of having to do this while attending school! Although members
regularly do not observe Ushitora Gongyo, the important point is for all
Nichiren Shoshu believers to recite diligently morning Gongyo everyday.
What time do you perform morning Gongyo? Even if you
are exhausted, just remember that there are people performing Gongyo in the
middle of the night when they are much more tired. Keeping this in mind, let’s
all do our best to be disciplined in our daily practice.