Importance of Tozan
Tozan, (translated as “to climb the mountain”), is the pilgrimage to Taisekiji, the Head Temple of Nichiren Shoshu at Mt. Fuji in Japan. It is part of the essential practice in Buddhism, and is the basis of daily Gongyo, shakubuku, visits to your local Temple, and other aspects of practice.

During the lifetime of the True Buddha, Nichiren Daishonin, tozan was the pilgrimage to visit him. Its original meaning encompassed directly serving the Daishonin and receiving his guidance. During his lifetime, Nichiren Daishonin himself was the center of worship, the True Master who would lead all living beings to enlightenment. What should those who were not alive during the Daishonin’s lifetime, and who became disciples and believers after his passing do? Making a pilgrimage to Taisekiji, the dwelling place of both the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary and the High Priest is the answer. It has exactly the same significance as making a pilgrimage to see the Daishonin during his lifetime.

On October 12, 1279, the Daishonin inscribed the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary, the very entity of his enlightened life, as the object of worship for all living beings in the Latter Day of the Law. The Dai-Gohonzon has been solemnly protected at Taisekiji for over 750 years. The Daishonin transferred the entirety of his own enlightenment as the True Buddha to Nikko Shonin alone and appointed him as his successor after his passing. In this succession, Nichimoku Shonin followed Nikko Shonin, and Nichido Shonin followed Nichimoku Shonin. This has continued in an unbroken line of succession down to the present High Priest. Therefore, because we didn’t live during the Daishonin’s lifetime, we make the pilgrimage to Taisekiji, single-mindedly yearning to see the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary and the current High Priest, who is the legitimate successor to Nichiren Daishonin. Herein lies the true significance of tozan in our time.

If we think of the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary, treasured at the Head Temple, as the fundamental root, then all other Gohonzons are branches and leaves. The Gohonzons enshrined in each temple and the Gohonzons that we received and to which we do Gongyo every morning and evening were transcribed by the High Priest from the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary. The great benefits arising from them arise from the power emanating from the Dai-Gohonzon, the source.

If we think that all Gohonzons are the same, and do not seek the Dai-Gohonzon, we will not be able to receive benefits and attain Buddhahood. It is like a branch that has been cut off, losing all access to nutrients, and thereby withering away. The Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary is the source of all Gohonzons. The Twenty-sixth High Priest Nichikan Shonin said this about its immeasurable benefits:

This Gohonzon bestows limitless, infinite benefit, and its unfathomable workings are vastly profound. Therefore, if you chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo with faith in this Gohonzon for even a short while, there is no prayer that will not be answered, no evil that will not be eradicated, no blessing that will not be bestowed, and no reason that will not become clear.
(Yoshu, Vol. 4, p. 213)

It is said that even our lives can be prolonged if we pray earnestly, always keeping in our hearts the yearning to see the Dai-Gohonzon. Therefore, at any possible opportunity we should make a pilgrimage to the Head Temple, where the Dai-Gohonzon is enshrined.

Nikko Shonin, Nichimoku Shonin and each successive High Priest possess the entirety of the Daishonin’s most profound Buddhism within himself. They each are one of the great Doshi (masters) who lead the living beings of the whole world in the Latter Day of the Law to attain Buddhahood. We recognize each successive High Priest as the single person who possesses the Lifeblood Heritage of the Law of True Buddhism and follow him as the true Master. We are able to manifest the immeasurable benefits of the Gohonzon by embracing the original principle of the relationship between master and disciple. This can be achieved by going on tozan, deeply desiring to see the High Priest, and by praying to the Dai-Gohonzon together with him. The great Chinese teacher, Miaole, stated, “When one accepts the Buddhist teaching, one must examine the source. If one is mistaken about the source, one will be likely to become arrogant, and therefore will not be able to attain enlightenment.”

In Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, the “source” of faith and benefit is to be found at the Head Temple, Taisekiji, and this is the reason tozan to the Head Temple is a fundamental practice in True Buddhism.

Ushitora Gongyo

At the Head Temple, Ushitora Gongyo, a great tradition that has continued for over 750 years, is held at the Reception Hall. It is officiated by the High Priest during the hours of the ox and the tiger (of ancient eastern tradition).

Ushitora (directly translated: ox and tiger) indicates the time near three o’clock in the morning, in between the hour of the ox (1:00 am–3:00 am) and the hour of the tiger (3:00 am–5:00 am). These hours have been traditionally viewed as the times of the departure of darkness and the arrival of light. This is the time when the darkness of night gradually vanishes and the sun in the eastern horizon makes its appearance at dawn. It is the transitional time in the rhythm of nature, of night and day, and of dark and light.

From the viewpoint of Buddhism, this time is important because Shakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment and became a Buddha during this period between the hours of the ox and the tiger. Also, at this time, on the 12th of September 1271, during the occasion of the Tatsunokuchi Persecution of Nichiren Daishonin, he discarded his temporary identity as the reincarnation of Bodhisattva Jogyo and commenced to lead the people as the True Buddha. The hours of the ox and tiger are the hours of transformation from his death as a common mortal to the beginning of life as the True Buddha.

Nichiren Daishonin and each successive High Priest have been officiating at Ushitora Gongyo every morning for over 750 years. We are able to understand the significance of this special Gongyo when we participate with the High Priest as he officiates at Ushitora Gongyo and assumes the status of the Buddha, which he inherited from Nichiren Daishonin. Ushitora Gongyo is also the Gongyo that the High Priest leads so that all living beings may attain Buddhahood. Because of the great mercy of the High Priest, when we are granted the privilege to participate in Ushitora Gongyo, we accumulate the immense benefit of becoming a Buddha as a common mortal.

During Ushitora Gongyo, after the five prayers of morning Gongyo at the center of the Reception Hall (Kyakuden), the High Priest moves to the Yohaijo, the small altar at the left, and recites the Hoben-pon, Jigage, Daimoku, and silent prayers while facing toward the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary in the Hoando.

Why does the High Priest offer the prayer to the Dai-Gohonzon from the Yohaijo in the Reception Hall? The Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary will be enshrined in the True High Sanctuary as the foundation place of faith for all people of the world at the time of the achievement of kosen-rufu. Until then, it is being protected in seclusion and is not open to the public. This is why, until kosen-rufu arrives, the sanctum where the Dai-Gohonzon is enshrined is firmly closed most of the time. For the same reason, in the Hoando, evergreens are never offered at the altar. Morning and evening Gongyo are not conducted there. Until the time comes when kosen-rufu is achieved, evergreens, candles and incense are offered at the Yohaijo and the sutra is recited there, facing the Dai-Gohonzon in the Hoando.

We will receive immense benefits through offering our sincere prayers to the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary with the High Priest. Ushitora Gongyo possesses profound significance and immeasurable benefit. For this reason, it has been one of the great traditions among the Hokkeko membership to participate in the Ushitora Gongyo during tozan.

When the time of kosen-rufu comes, the name of the Head Temple at Mt. Fuji is to be changed from Taisekiji to Honmonji (the name left by Nichiren Daishonin). It was the specific will of Nichiren Daishonin that the True High Sanctuary be built at that time and in that place.

Participation in Ushitora Gongyo

When we participate in Ushitora Gongyo, it is important to have an attitude of appreciation to be given the opportunity to accompany the High Priest.

When the High Priest enters, he faces the Gohonzon, chants Daimoku Sansho and then faces east and chants Daimoku Sansho again to begin the first prayer as in morning Gongyo. At these times, when he faces the Gohonzon and also when we face east, we silently do Daimoku Sansho in our hearts while placing our palms together in prayer. The rest is to be done in the same manner as one would do the five prayers during morning Gongyo with two or more people. However, when the High Priest recites the Hiki (prolonged) Daimoku after the Jigage section of the sutra before the first, second, third and fourth silent prayers, we follow the High Priest’s lead, reciting the Hiki Daimoku softly, making sure we do not get ahead of him.

Ushitora Gongyo is performed in front of the Ozagawari Gohonzon (the Gohonzon bestowed upon Third High Priest, Nichimoku Shonin, by Second High Priest, Nikko Shonin, signifying the transmission of the Heritage of the Law) enshrined in the main altar of the Reception Hall. When the High Priest moves to the Yohaijo, the smaller altar located on the west side of the main altar, we change our position so that we are facing the Yohaijo and do an additional recitation of the sutra which consists of the Hoben-pon, Jigage, and Shodai (Parts A and C from the sutra book and Daimoku).

The silent prayers for this Gongyo of worshipping from afar, are to be done in the following manner. Shodai ends with the ringing of the bell and after the High Priest does Daimoku Sansho, we silently recite the second silent prayer. After the High Priest does another Daimoku Sansho, we silently recite the first part of the third silent prayer for Nichiren Daishonin. Again the High Priest does Daimoku Sansho and we silently recite the last part of the fifth silent prayer. At the end, upon the striking of the bell, everyone, in unison with the High Priest, does a concluding Daimoku Sansho.

Gokaihi (Audience with the Dai-Gohonzon)

In the course of the more than 750 year history of Nichiren Shoshu, there has been a gradual increase in the number of believers who have had the occasion to hear about the great benefit and magnificent power of the Dai-Gohonzon, and they have developed a strong yearning to see it. The successive High Priests have felt great compassion due to the faith of these pure-minded believers and have allowed them to come into the sanctum housing the Dai-Gohonzon in order to worship the Dai-Gohonzon at close range. This act is called Naihai.

Because prayers are normally offered to the Dai-Gohonzon from the Yohaijo, being able to go into the sanctum and offer prayers is very special. Because the world is still filled with people who slander the true Law, only Nichiren Shoshu believers are permitted to participate in the Gokaihi Ceremony, when the doors to the Butsudan enshrining the Dai-Gohonzon are opened. We are allowed to participate in the Gokaihi Ceremony due to the great mercy and consideration of the High Priest, for the sake of pure-minded believers who greatly yearn for the Dai-Gohonzon.

Participating in the Gokaihi Ceremony

The Gokaihi Ceremony begins with the chanting of Daimoku as the priests enter. The High Priest (or the senior priest that the High Priest has designated to lead the Gokaihi Ceremony) enters, and the several layers of doors to the Altar of Sumeru (the altar of the Dai-Gohonzon) are opened. Finally, the High Priest rings the bell, and the inner doors of the altar are opened. The believers bow in reverence as the inner doors are opened.

The High Priest leads the recitation of the Hoben-pon, Chogyo, and Jigage (Parts A, B, and C of the sutra book). The Jigage (Part C) section is repeated once or twice. This is followed by the chanting of Daimoku. The High Priest has a list of the names of all the believers in attendance at the Gokaihi Ceremony. He offers his prayers to the Dai-Gohonzon for all those in attendance. At the end of Daimoku, the second, third, last half of the fourth, and last half of the fifth silent prayers are offered. The High Priest then turns towards the believers and says a few words. He then leads the chanting of Daimoku as the doors to the altar of the Dai-Gohonzon are closed. The believers bow in reverence as the inner most doors are closed.

As you face the altar of the Dai-Gohonzon, you will probably notice that there is a gold pagoda on both the right and left side of the altar. The pagoda on your left contains the ashes of the True Buddha, Nichiren Daishonin. The pagoda on your right contains a statue of the Daishonin. This statue was carved by the Daishonin’s disciple, Nippo, from a piece of wood that was left over after carving the Dai-Gohonzon. We are told that he personally presented the Daishonin with this statue, and was told by the Daishonin that it looked exactly like himself. These two pagodas are opened during Gokaihi for the Airing of the Sacred Treasures Ceremony in April and the Oeshiki Ceremony in November.

We should attend the Gokaihi ceremony with the deep understanding that it is allowed only because of our pure-minded faith and our single-minded yearning for the Dai-Gohonzon.

The Spirit of Tozan

When a believer named Nichimyo Shonin heard about the Daishonin’s exile to Sado Island, she departed from Kamakura with her daughter Otogoze to visit Him. In those days, rebels, bandits, and pirates roamed freely, and one made this journey at the risk of one’s life. Nichimyo Shonin made this journey without any male protection, accompanied only by her daughter.

Later, when Nichiren Daishonin moved to the mountains of Minobu, Nichimyo Shonin again immediately made the pilgrimage to Mt. Minobu, thereby demonstrating the depth of her faith. This strong, persevering faith is what made her pilgrimages to Sado and Mt. Minobu possible. The Daishonin praised Nichimyo Shonin’s faith and determination to follow Him on her own, even at great danger to herself. That is why the Daishonin gave the Buddhist title of Sage (Shonin) to this woman.

Abutsubo and his wife, Senichiama, were converted by the Daishonin on Sado. Later, Abutsubo went on tozan from Sado to visit the Daishonin at Mt. Minobu three times, even at the age of ninety years. On his last tozan in 1278, he carried his articles of Gokuyo on his shoulders, and traveled alone for twenty-two days in order to visit the Daishonin. His pure and strong faith is deeply moving. The kind of faith exhibited by Nichimyo Shonin and Abutsubo is the true spirit of tozan.

A major persecution of Nichiren Shoshu believers took place during the Edo era (1600–1867). It was called the Kanazawa Persecution. More than anything else, during this difficult period, it was the greatest wish of the Hokkeko members in the Kanazawa region of Japan to be able to go on tozan to the Head Temple.

There were Kanazawa believers among those who took part in the procession of sankin kotai. This was the procession of the lords and their retainers from their hometown provinces to the capital city of Edo. The central government had ordered the lords in each clan to pay a visit to the Shogun in Edo (present day Tokyo) at certain intervals. On the night that the procession stayed in the town of Yoshiwara in the Fuji area, the believers waited for the people of their camp to fall asleep and then slipped out of the camp in twos and threes. Outside the camp, they met up again as a group and ran towards Taisekiji, which was about ten miles away. It is said that when they arrived at Taisekiji, they instantly knelt on the stone path in front of the Treasure Storehouse. Focusing their faith on the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary enshrined there, they chanted intently, ignoring the bitter cold of the winter. Then they ran back to the camp at Yoshihara, before the lords and their people woke up.

These members of the Hokkeko mirrored the faith of Nichimyo Shonin and Abutsubo. At all times, they considered tozan a great joy and held on to their faith even at the risk of their lives. In the present day, with modern transportation, going on tozan is both safe and easy. It is important, therefore, to remember that the spirit of tozan is to be rigorous in faith.

In a letter to Senichiama, the Daishonin wrote:

How wonderful your husband was! He came here to Mt. Minobu from Sado Island last year, and again this year as well. He picked the greens, fetched water and chopped wood, and served me for more than a month, just as King Dan sincerely served the Immortal Ashi. I feel a mystic connection existing between myself and him. I cannot express my deep admiration for him.
(Gosho, p. 1220)

Since tozan included enduring many hardships, and took many days of travel, we believe that after their arrival, the Hokkeko believers stayed for a time. As they sojourned there, an expression of their sincere faith was to serve the Daishonin in various ways. The Gosho states:

Truly, the best path for attaining Buddhahood is by serving the master.
(Shintei Gosho, Vol. 3, p. 2308)

Serving the Buddha or the master is the true spirit of the disciple. This is an element which must never be lacking in our Buddhist practice. Today, we have few opportunities to serve at the Head Temple and to devote ourselves to the master. We do our tozans amidst all the organized arrangements of transportation, accommodation, and meals. But in spite of this, we must engrave in our hearts the spirit of tozan from ancient times.

Everything we do while at Taisekiji including Gongyo at the Head Temple, Gokuyo, meals, the cleaning of the lodging temples, going to sleep, and so on, becomes part of our training in Buddhist practice.
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