The Gray Robe

Ushitora Gongyo is Gongyo chanted between the hours of the Ox  (ushi - 1-3am) and the Tiger
tora-  3-5a.m.). 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 2:20a.m., 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
ay (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 the
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
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 chest.

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

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
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 Law.

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. That of course is 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 R
eply 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 volunteers
This is NOT an official site of
the Nichiren Shoshu Shoshin-kai
A statue of Nichiren Daishonin
as an example of the Three Garments