The Gray Robe
Ushitora gongyo is gongyo chanted between the hours of the Ox  (ushi - 1-3am) and the
Tiger (
tora-  3-5am). The hours between the Ox and the Tiger are a crucial time. It is at
this time that life moves from negative to positive and from death to life. It is the time
when all Buddhas become enlightened. The 120 minutes between 2 and 4a.m. have three
equal divisions. The first 40 minutes - the darkest part of night - represents death; the
second 40 minutes falls between day and night, and life and death as night is transiting into
day; and the last 40 minutes is the beginning of day, representing life. I begin gongyo at
2:20am, the darkest part of the night. Since Daimoku is more important than gongyo, I
recite the sutra for 40 minutes and then Daimoku for 50 minutes. My Daimoku is begun
just as night is transiting into day.
The robes worn by Nichiren Shoshu priests are neither black,
representing death, nor white, signifying life. Nor are they red or
orange, which are the colors of the sunrise. They are also not dark
gray, which indicates nearness to death. They are a light gray,
which represents the middle way (
chudo) between life and death,
between day and night. For it is the
Middle Way that is the
ultimate reality of
It is very important to do morning gongyo between the hours of
the Ox and the Tiger even though the stars are still out.
The Prayer Beads - Juzu
If you put the juzu in your hands, even if you don't believe in this Buddhism, you have the
same potential as a believer to become enlightened. This is because all life is equal.
The juzu represents the Law. The roundness of the beads symbolize the mystical cycle of
life and the universe. The 108 beads of equal size in the body of the
juzu represent 108
sufferings of human existence. The four smaller beads strung within the 108 beads represent
Four Great Bodhisattvas (Jogyo, Muhengyo, Jyogyo, and Anryugyo), signifying the four
noble qualities of true self, eternity, purity and happiness. The two large beads at each end
of the
juzu indicate the two Buddhas, Taho and Shakyamuni, who represent two parents, as
well as the principles of reality (all phenomena) and wisdom (the Law), respectively.
To hold the prayer beads correctly, place the end with two tassels on the middle finger of
the left hand, twist the beads once in the middle and place the end with the three tassels on
the middle finger of the right hand. Put your palms together and place them in front of your
The White Surplice - Kesa
The short white surplice worn over the gray robe signifies that no matter how impure the
world is Buddhism is pure. The surplice has strips patched in by believers. Unlike the
colorful surplices of other religions, which have multiple numbers of patches and strips, the
surplice of Nichiren Shoshu  has only 4 broad strips creating 5 divisions on the garment. The
surplice is a small ornamental garment worn over the full-sized gray robe. It is smaller than
those worn by priests of other religions because it is not worn to show off the person who is
wearing it. After all, it is Buddhism that is important, not the person. The Law is higher than
the priest; the priest is subordinate to the Law and supports the Law. The ornamental and
showy surplices and robes of other sects emphasize the importance of the priest wearing
them. By contrast, the simplicity of Nichiren Shoshu robes indicates that the emphasis is on
the Law and not the person. The person is never higher than the Law is.
Long ago the priests could not afford to have robes made, so lay women got together and
patched the robes up. That is how the patches came to be in the surplice. In other religions
the believers also made the robes for priests. Having received many donations the robes of
these religions became ornate, colorful, and complicated with many strips and patches. In
turn, the priests wearing those robes came to believe that they were more consequential than
the law they represented.
The significance of the priest wearing the small, simple surplice is to demonstrate that the
priest of Nichiren Shoshu is in service to
Nichiren Daishonin's  Law; it is not to bring
attention to the priest. Wearing the kesa is a statement that the Law the priest represents is
great and pure while he himself is insignificant.
Significance of the three garments
The three garments -- the gray robe, the white surplice and the prayer beads -- equal one.
Known by the Buddhist term
sanne, they represent the one vehicle of the True Law.
Wearing these three garments is an indication that one has the right faith.
When the priest wears the robe and the surplice he is not only clothing and protecting his
body from the elements, it also signifies his conveyance that he protects the Law of
Namu-myoho-renge-kyo. An individual can choose anything to wear to express him- or
herself. The priest wears the robe and surplice to express that he is a representative of the
Just as the robe and the surplice cover the body, placing the prayer beads, which represent
108 human sufferings, between one's hands and chanting
Namu-myoho-renge-kyo is an act
of enfolding the believer in the mantle of Namu-myoho-renge-kyo.
In Christianity it is taught that if you believe in Christ your sufferings will disappear and you
will be absolved of your sins. But that's not true. The difference between Christianity and
Buddhism is that if you believe in Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism then you know that
anybody can become enlightened, and everybody has the Buddha nature within them.  
Whereas Christians believe that if you commit sins you will go to hell and that's the end of it,
in this Buddhism anybody - saints or sinners - can attain enlightenment because of the
Buddha nature inherent in all life. Nichiren Daishonin wrote in "Reply to Hoshina Goro
Taro," ". . .that teaching is judged supreme which enables all people, whether good or evil,
to become Buddhas."
By Reverend Raido Hirota
Translated and edited by Udumbara Foundation staff.
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