The One Eyed Turtle and the Floating Log

Green Koan Case 54: Nichiren’s One-Eyed Turtle by Clark Strand on 18th Jul 2014

ichiren Daishonin Nichiren (1222 – 1282) is the founder of the sect of Japanese Buddhism that bears his name. Nichiren Buddhists believe it is possible to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo (the title of the Lotus Sutra) with an attitude of intense devotion and faith. Daishonin is an honorific, meaning “Great Saint” or “Great Sage.”

The one-eyed turtle Sometimes also referred to in the Mahayana sutras as a “blind turtle.” The most famous reference occurs in the “King Wonderful Adornment” chapter of the Lotus Sutra, in which Shakyamuni says that encountering a Buddha is as rare as a one-eyed turtle finding a floating sandalwood log with a hollow in it just the right size to shelter him. The Agama Sutra speaks of a blind sea turtle with a lifespan of immeasurable kalpas who lives at the bottom of the sea. Once every hundred years he rises to the surface in search of the one log in the ocean that can shelter him. Naturally, the likelihood of his finding that one log is very slight. The image of a thread in the heavens lowered through the eye of a needle on earth has essentially the same meaning.

The oceans may rage,
But underneath the waters
The Leviathans
Frisk and frolick together
In the Land of Tranquil Light.