A note on Nichiren's title. Nichiren is called shonin - 聖人 meaning "Sage". It is the equivalent of the Sanskrit title acharya. Priests of the Nichiren tradition are given the title shonin - 上人 meaning "Superior Person". The two words are pronounced the same way. In some cases the two terms are treated as synonyms, but that's not quite right. 聖人, the title given to Nichiren, signifies higher status. In some traditions, Nichiren is called daishonin 大聖人 meaning "Great Sage".
I'm not sure what convention ought to be used to translate shonin - 聖人. Shonin - 上人, the title of Nichiren priests is usually rendered as "Reverand". Maybe "Master", though that word carries negative connotations in the U.S. because of its use in the slavery context and generally does not sit well with notions of individuality and equality prevalent in our culture.
I'm not sure how Nichiren ought to be referred to. In my mind, he is daishonin 大聖人.
In thinking whether its OK to copy or inscribe Gohonzon, we probably ought to start with Nichiren's own words.Those were pre xerox times .
So obviously there is nothing wrong with placing the date and who is the receiver of and who inscribed the Gohonzon.
Nichiren describes the Gohonzon like this:
Kanjin-no-Honzon-sho, Treatise on the Object of WorshipThe treasure tower sits in the air above the sahā world that the Buddha of the essential teaching [identified as the pure and eternal land]; Myoho-renge-kyo appears in the center of the tower with the Buddhas Shakyamuni and Many Treasures seated to the right and left, and, flanking them, the four bodhisattvas, followers of Shakyamuni, led by Superior Practices. Manjushrī, Maitreya, and the other bodhisattvas, who are all followers of the four bodhisattvas, are seated below. All the other major and minor bodhisattvas, whether they are disciples of the Buddha in his transient status or of the Buddhas of the other worlds, are like commoners kneeling on the ground in the presence of nobles and high-ranking court officials. The Buddhas who gathered from the other worlds in the ten directions all remain on the ground, showing that they are only temporary manifestations of the eternal Buddha and that their lands are transient, not eternal and unchanging.
But Nichiren did not fashion an anthropomorphic object, ie. a statue, or arrangement of statues, or painting. Instead he wrote out the title of the sutra and arranged the names of the various entities around it, using the conventions of Buddhist iconography to communicate meaning. The significance of the arrangement is that this is more or less a description of the Ceremony in the Air. Shakyamuni and Many Treasures are seated inside the tower, on the right and left respectively. Note that the seat occupied by Shakyamuni is the seat of honor compared to Many Treasures. Flanking them are the Bodhisattvas of the Earth - signifying the primary recipients of the teaching.
The question is why Nichiren elected to make his Gohonzon a calligraphic one, rather than an arrangement of anthropomorphic (human form) statues or a painting. Part of it I think is cost. Statues were expensive to make. Paintings less so, but required artistic skill. On the other hand, a calligraphic mandala - anyone who can write can write the title of the sutra and the names out. I like to think that Nichiren's concern was wide propagation, not just propagation to the wealthy and connected who could afford to commission statues and paintings, and so he fashioned a Honzon that would be accessible to almost anyone.
We can glean a little bit of his thinking from a writing that predated the inscription of the Gohonzon:
On Reciting the Daimoku of the Lotus SutraFirst, with regard to the object of devotion (honzon), one should inscribe the eight volumes of the Lotus Sutra, or one volume, or one chapter, or simply the daimoku, or title, of the sutra, and make that the object of devotion, as is indicated in the “Teacher of the Law” and “Supernatural Powers” chapters of the sutra. And those persons who are able to do so further should write out the names of the Thus Come One Shakyamuni and the Buddha Many Treasures, or fashion images of them, and place these on the left and right of the Lotus Sutra. And if they are further able to do so, they should fashion images or write out the names of the Buddhas of the ten directions and the bodhisattva Universal Worthy and the others.
And here are the passages from the Lotus Sutra referred to above:
Wherever this sutra is taught, read, recited, copied, or wherever it is to be found, one should build a seven-jeweled stupa of great height and width and richly ornamented. There is no need to put a relic inside. Why is this? Because the Tathāgata is already in it. This stupa should be respected, honored, praised and rendered homage with offerings of all kinds of flowers, perfumes, necklaces, canopies, flags, banners, music, and songs. If there is anyone able to see this stupa and to pay it homage and honor it, know that such a one is nearing highest, complete enlightenment.
Lotus Sutra, Teacher of the Law
Lotus Sutra, Supernatural PowersTo sum up, in this sutra I have clearly revealed and taught all the teachings of the Tathāgata, all the transcendent powers of the Tathāgata, all the treasure houses of the hidden essence of the Tathāgata, and all the profound aspects of the Tathāgata. For this reason, after the parinirvāṇa of the Tathāgata, you should wholeheartedly preserve, recite, explain, and copy it, and practice according to the teaching. Those who accept, recite, explain, and copy it, and practice according to the teaching, in whichever land they may be, in a place where the sutra abides—either in a garden, a forest, under a tree, in a monk’s chamber, in a layman’s house, in a palace, on a mountain, in a valley, or in the wilderness—in all of these places they should erect and pay homage to a monument. Why is this? Because you should know that these places are the terraces of enlightenment where all the buddhas have attained highest, complete enlightenment, where all the buddhas have turned the wheel of the Dharma, and where all the buddhas entered parinirvāṇa.”
Nichiren's instructions in On Reciting the Daimoku of the Lotus Sutra mirror Zhiyi's instructions from the Lotus Samadhi manual in which he explains in the preparation of the place of practice one should enshrined the Lotus Sutra, or just its title, as the Honzon.
The Gohonzon that Nichiren would eventually inscribe for people and distribute I believe was founded on these earlier examples.
The Lotus Sutra, including its Daimoku, or title, is considered a srarira, or relic, of the Buddha. By enshrining the Sutra, we are enshrining a relic of the Buddha, and by virtue of the relic, the Buddha is present. The Mandala that Nichiren inscribed is an elaboration of the Buddha's relic which shows us the Buddha's Mind, explained as ichinen sanzen.
I think this is where we need to begin the discussion of printing or copying images of Nichiren's Gohonzon, whether Gohonzon inscribed by others are efficacious as Gohonzon, etc.