The One-eyed Turtle and the Floating Sandalwood Log
The Anrakugyo chapter in the fifth volume of the Lotus Sutra states, "Bodhisattva Monjushiri, as for this Lotus Sutra, throughout countless numbers of countries one cannot even hear the name of it."
This passage means that we living beings, transmigrating through the six paths of the threefold world, have been born at times in the world of Heaven, at other times in the world of Humanity, and at still other times in the worlds of Hell, Hunger and Animality. Thus we have been born in countless numbers of countries where we have undergone innumerable sufferings and occasionally enjoyed pleasures, but we have never once been born in a country where the Lotus Sutra has spread. Or even if we might have happened to be born in such a country, we did not chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. We never dreamed of chanting it, nor did we ever hear others chant it.
To illustrate the extreme rarity of encountering this sutra, the Buddha likened it to the difficulty of a one-eyed turtle encountering a floating sandalwood log with a hollow in it. To give the essence of this analogy: Eighty thousand yojana down on the bottom of the ocean there lives a turtle. He has neither limbs nor flippers. His belly is as hot as heated iron while the shell on his back is as cold as the Snow Mountains. What this turtle yearns for day and night, morning and evening--the desire he utters at each moment--is to cool his belly and warm the shell on his back.
The red sandalwood tree is regarded as sacred and is like a sage among people. All other trees are considered ordinary trees and are like ignorant men. The wood of this sandalwood tree has the power to cool the turtle's belly. The turtle longs with all his might to climb onto a sandalwood log and place his belly in a hollow therein in order to cool it, while at the same time exposing the shell on his back to the sun in order to warm it. However, by the laws of nature, he can rise to the ocean's surface only once every thousand years, and, even then, it is difficult for him to find a sandalwood log. The ocean is vast, while the turtle is small, and floating logs are few. Even should he find floating logs of other wood, he seldom finds one of sandalwood. And even when he is fortunate enough to find a sandalwood log, it rarely has a hollow the size of his belly. If [the hollow is too large and] he falls into it, he cannot warm the shell on his back, and there will not be anyone to pull him out. If the hollow is too small and he cannot place his belly in it, the waves will wash him away, and he will sink back to the ocean's floor.
Even when, against all odds, the turtle comes across a floating sandalwood log with a hollow of the proper size, having only one eye, his vision is distorted, and he perceives the log as drifting eastward when it is actually drifting westward. Thus the harder he swims in his hurry to climb onto the log, the farther away from it he goes. When it drifts eastward, he sees it as drifting westward, and in the same way, he mistakes south for north. Thus he always moves away from the log and never can approach it.
In this way, the Buddha explained how difficult it is for a one-eyed turtle to encounter a floating sandalwood log with a suitable hollow in it, even once in countless infinite kalpas. He employed this analogy to illustrate the rarity of encountering the Lotus Sutra. However, one should be aware that even if he should encounter the floating sandalwood log of the Lotus Sutra, it is rarer still to find the hollow of the Mystic Law of the daimoku, which is difficult to chant.
The ocean represents the sea of the sufferings of birth and death, and the turtle represents us, living beings. His limbless state indicates our lack of good fortune. The heat of his belly represents the eight hot hells into which we are led by our anger and resentment, and the cold of the shell of his back, the eight cold hells that result from our covetousness and greed. His remaining at the bottom of the ocean for a thousand years means that we fall into the three evil paths and cannot easily emerge. His rising to the surface only once every thousand years illustrates how difficult it is to emerge from the three evil paths and be born as a human being even once during countless kalpas at the time when Shakyamuni Buddha has appeared in the world.
Other floating logs, such as those of pine or cypress, are easy to find, but a sandalwood log is difficult to encounter. This illustrates that it is easy to encounter all other sutras but difficult to meet the Lotus Sutra. And even if the turtle should encounter a floating sandalwood log, finding one with a suitable hollow is still more difficult. This means that even if one should encounter the Lotus Sutra, it is rare to be able to chant the five characters of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo which are its essence.
The turtle mistakes east for west and north for south. Similarly, common mortals regard superior teachings as inferior and inferior teachings as superior, though they flaunt their knowledge and pretend to be wise. They regard powerless teachings as those which lead to enlightenment, and declare teachings inappropriate to the people's capacity to be suitable for them. Thus they believe that the Shingon teaching is superior and the Lotus Sutra is inferior, and that the former suits the people's capacity but the latter does not.
Consider will what I have just related. The Buddha made his advent in India and preached various sacred teachings during his lifetime. In the forty-third year of this preaching career he began to expound the Lotus Sutra. For eight years thereafter, all his disciples embraced the Lotus Sutra, which is like a wish-granting jewel. However, Japan is separated from India by two hundred thousand ri of mountains and seas, so that the people here could not even hear the name of the Lotus Sutra
One thousand two hundred years and more after the death of Shakyamuni Buddha, the Lotus Sutra had been brought as far as China but still had not been transmitted to Japan. One thousand five hundred years and more after his death, Buddhism was first introduced to Japan from Paekche during the reign of Japan's thirtieth ruler, Emperor Kimmei. Moreover, in the seven hundred years that have passed since Prince Shotoku first caused Buddhism to be introduced from China, the Lotus Sutra and all other sutras have been propagated widely, so that form the ruler on down to the common people, those who are sensible have come to embrace either the entirety or one volume or chapter of the Lotus Sutra in order to repay their debt to their parents. Thus they believe that they are truly embracing the Lotus Sutra. But they have never chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and though they appear to believe in the Lotus Sutra, in fact, they are far from believing in it.
It is as if the one-eyed turtle, having found the sacred sandalwood which is difficult to encounter, were not to put his belly into the hollow. If he did not, he would have encountered the sandalwood to no purpose, and he would instantly sink back to the bottom of the ocean.
In these more than seven hundred years, the Lotus Sutra has spread widely in our country, and those who read, teach, make offerings to or embrace this sutra are more numerous than rice and hemp seedlings or bamboo plants and reeds. However, none of them ever chants Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in the same way that he calls on the name of the Buddha Amida, nor do any of them urge others to chant it. To read the various sutras or call upon the names of the various Buddhas is like the turtle encountering a log of ordinary wood. Not being sandalwood, the log cannot cool the turtle's belly. Nor being the sun, it cannot warm the shell on his back. Such teachings merely please the eye and gladden the heart, but bring no benefit. They are like plants which blossom but bear no fruit, or words which are not put into practice.
Only I, Nichiren, first chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in Japan. In the twenty or more years since the summer of the fifth year of the Kencho era (1253), I alone have been chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo day and night, morning and evening. Those who chant the Nembutsu number ten million. I enjoy no support from anyone in authority, while the allies of the Nembutsu enjoy power and are of noble birth. However, when the lion roars, all the other beasts are silenced, and a dog will be terrified by a tiger's shadow. Once the sun rises in the eastern sky, the light of all the stars fades completely.
The invocation of Amida's name has exerted influence where the Lotus Sutra has not spread. But once the invocation of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo has been raised, the Nembutsu will become like a dog cowering before a lion or the light of the stars paling before the sun. The daimoku and the Nembutsu are as unequal as a hawk and a pheasant. That is why the four kinds of people all view me with jealousy and why everyone, both high and low, feels hatred for me. Those who make groundless accusations against me fill the country, and the wicked abound in the land. Therefore, people choose what is inferior and detest what is superior. It is though one were to assert that a dog is braver than a lion, or that the stars appear brighter than the sun. Thus my bad reputation as a man of erroneous views has spread far and wide, so that in one way or another I have been falsely accused, vilified, attacked by swords and staves and exiled repeatedly. All these persecutions coincide perfectly with the passage in the fifth volume of the Lotus Sutra. Therefore, tears spring to my eyes and joy fills my body.
Here I have neither clothing sufficient to cover my body nor provisions enough to survive. I live like Su Wu, who sustained himself by eating snow while he lived among the northern barbarians, or like Po-i, who subsisted on bracken while living on Mount Shou-yang. Who other than my parents would trouble to visit me in such a place? Where it not for the protection of the three treasures, how could I sustain my life for a single day or even for a moment? I can only marvel that you so frequently send a messenger to me, when we have never even met. The fourth volume of the Lotus Sutra states that Shakyamuni Buddha will assume the form of a common mortal in order to make offerings to the votary of the Lotus Sutra. Could it be that Shakyamuni Buddha has entered your body, or is this the expression of your virtue accumulated in the past?
A woman known as the dragon king's daughter achieved Buddhahood through faith in the Lotus Sutra; she therefore pledged to protect women who embrace this sutra in the latter age. Could it be that you are related to her? How worthy of respect!
The twenty-sixth day of the third month in the second year of Koan (1279), cyclical sign tsuchinoto-u
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 4, page 295.
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