Ceremony in the Air ［虚空会］ ( kokū-e): The second of the three assemblies described in the Lotus Sutra, in which the entire gathering is suspended in space above the ground. The two other assemblies take place on Eagle Peak. The Ceremony in the Air is depicted from the latter half of the “Treasure Tower” (eleventh) chapter through the “Entrustment” (twenty-second) chapter of the sutra. In the “Treasure Tower” chapter, the treasure tower of the Buddha Many Treasures emerges from beneath the earth and is suspended in midair. Shakyamuni, after summoning the Buddhas who are his emanations from the ten directions, stations himself in midair, opens the treasure tower, and enters it, taking a seat beside the Buddha Many Treasures. Then, using his transcendental powers, he lifts the entire assembly into space so that they are at the same level. This begins the Ceremony in the Air. The “Treasure Tower” chapter ends with Shakyamuni urging the audience to propagate the sutra in the evil age after his death. In the “Encouraging Devotion” (thirteenth) chapter, the innumerable bodhisattvas attending vow to fulfill the Buddha’s will even if they must endure persecution by the so-called three powerful enemies.
In the “Emerging from the Earth” (fifteenth) chapter, the bodhisattvas of the other worlds make the same vow, but the Buddha refuses to entrust the mission to them. At that moment the Bodhisattvas of the Earth make their appearance; this marks the beginning of the essential teaching of the sutra. In the “Life Span” (sixteenth) chapter, Shakyamuni reveals his original enlightenment—the enlightenment that he attained numberless major world system dust particle kalpas in the past. In the “Supernatural Powers” (twenty-first) chapter, Shakyamuni transfers the essence of the sutra specifically to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth led by Bodhisattva Superior Practices, entrusting them with its propagation in the Latter Day of the Law. In the “Entrustment” chapter, he transfers the sutra to all the bodhisattvas present. Then Shakyamuni’s emanations return to their lands, the treasure tower reverts to its former position, and the Ceremony in the Air comes to an end. The heart of this ceremony consists of the revelation of Shakyamuni Buddha’s original enlightenment and the transfer of the essence of the sutra to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.
Nichiren (1222–1282) states that the object of devotion he revealed as the Gohonzon is the perfect embodiment of the Law, which is the essence of the Lotus Sutra, and that it is also a representation of the Ceremony in the Air. The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon reads, “This Gohonzon was revealed . . . in eight chapters [of the Lotus Sutra], from the ‘Emerging from the Earth’ chapter through the ‘Entrustment’ chapter” (831). It also reads, “Without exception, all these Buddhas, bodhisattvas, great sages [attending the Ceremony in the Air] . . . dwell in this Gohonzon” (832). The fact that the ceremony takes place in the air signifies that it transcends the framework of time and space.