green koans 54

CASE #54: Nichiren’s One-Eyed Turtle

Nichiren Daishonin wrote: “This is as rare as the one-eyed turtle finding a suitable hollow in a floating sandalwood log, or a thread lowered from the heavens passing through the eye of a needle on earth. How wondrous!”


Nichiren 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.


Think of it another way. What are the chances of a thread being lowered down from deep time through the hundred million needle’s eyes of successive DNA molecules to the bumblebee you see resting on a blossom…or, for that matter, to the blossom itself? There are so many ways it could not have happened—and only one way that it could.

The dharma is precious because everything is precious. What are the chances of waking up to this Great Reality that Nichiren called Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the ultimate reality that pervades all phenomena in the universe? Pretty slim, until we realize that—for this moment, at least—there are bees and blossoms everywhere.


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

Find all the Green Koans here.