Skip to main content


The One-Eyed Turtle and the Floating Log

Illustrations by Elena Sapegina and Matveev_Aleksandr / Getty Images

A Buddhist parable describes a one-eyed turtle who lives at the bottom of the sea. He has neither limbs nor flippers, his belly is as hot as heated iron, and his back is as cold as the Snow Mountains. He yearns day and night to cool his belly and warm his back. The sacred red sandalwood tree has the power to cool the turtle’s belly, so he longs to climb onto a log and lower himself into a hollow there to cool it, while exposing the shell on his back to the sun to warm it. 

However, he can only rise to the surface of the ocean once every 1,000 years. The ocean is big, and the turtle is small, so it is rare for him to find a floating log. And if he does, it is difficult to encounter a sandalwood log. 

Even if he should find a sandalwood log with the perfect hollow, having only one eye, he mistakes east for west, and north for south and as such the harder he swims to get to it, the farther from the log he goes. 

The turtle is like us living beings who seek to free ourselves from suffering. Even if one should be fortunate enough to encounter the sandalwood log of the Lotus Sutra, it is even rarer to find the hollow of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. And after hearing Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, it is difficult to truly embrace the Mystic Law. 

Nichiren Daishonin employs the analogy of the one-eyed turtle to explain the rarity of encountering Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in this lifetime and the mission of those who do.[1]

Ikeda Sensei writes: 

There are infinite life forms in the universe. … Among all of these, we possess the good fortune to have been born as human beings. What’s more, we can pray to the Gohonzon, an opportunity so rare that it might only be encountered once in a thousand, ten thousand or a million years.

Moreover, we have been born right in the time when the Mystic Law is spreading throughout the world. How deep are our karmic bonds! What an immense mission we possess! There are no coincidences in Buddhism. Truly, as the sutra says, “We have been blessed with great good fortune from past existences and so have been born in an age where we can encounter the Buddha’s Law.”[2] To live aware of this solemn fact is the greatest pleasure. It is to overflow with joy.[3]


  1. See “The One-Eyed Turtle and the Floating Log,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, pp. 957–60. ↩︎
  2. The Lotus Sutra and its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 356. ↩︎
  3. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 6, p. 190. ↩︎

Maintaining a Life Condition to Share Buddhism at Any Time

3 Reasons Buddhist Study Is Important