(Hotoke no kao mo sando; “Even the Buddha’s face, three times”)
Even the most gentle person will become angry if you treat them poorly on a frequent enough basis (often used in reference to rude behavior). Even the patience of a saint will eventually be tried. Everyone has a limit to how much improper behavior they can put up with, especially directed at their own person. You can only go so far.
This is not a complete sentence, although the full version is. We begin with the noun 仏 (Hotoke), the Buddha, and use the associative particle の (no) to show possession of the noun that follows – 顔 (kao), “face.” The resulting noun phrase is marked with も (mo), often translated as “also” or “too,” but here something closer to “even.” Finally, we get number-noun 三度 (sando), “three times.”
Some versions of this saying add まで (made) “[up] to,” at the end, expressing it more clearly as an upper limit. The full saying continues with ～三度撫づれば腹立つ (~sando nazureba hara tatsu); oddly enough, this reveals that stroking the Buddha’s face (in an affectionate way) is his trigger. Other versions replace 仏 with 地蔵 (Jizou), the bodhisattva Kshitigarbha.
This is the ほ entry of the Kyoto iroha karuta set.
The source of this saying is apparently 冥途の飛脚 (translated into English as The Courier of Hell), a love-suicide story for the puppet theater by famous playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon.
(“Mata yakusoku wo yabutta no ka. Hotoke no kao mo sando made to iu mono da.”)
[“So you broke another promise? That’s it, there are limits to even the Buddha’s patience.”]