(Shaka ni seppou; “Lecturing the Buddha”)


The foolishness of a person who knows just a little about a field trying to lecture an expert. Like delivering a sermon on Buddhism to the Buddha himself. “Teaching your grandmother to suck eggs.” Yes, really.


This pithy idiom comprises only two nouns and a particle joining them. The first noun is 釈迦 (shaka), Shakyamuni, a.k.a. Gautama Buddha, a.k.a. the original Buddha, and the second is 説法 (seppou), a Buddhist sermon or lecture. The particle joining them is the directional particle に (ni), indicating that the second noun is being directed at the first.


A longer version emphasizes the point by adding 孔子に悟道 (Koushi ni godou), “[explaining] the way of enlightenment to Confucius.” Similar phrases point out the foolishness of teaching swimming to a kappa, tree-climbing to a monkey, and so on.

Keep in mind that while a 釈迦に説法 act is silly and unnecessary, it does at least imply that the explanation being given is correct. The now-common act of overriding an expert in order to deliberately lie about a subject is outside the scope of this phrase – it’s something significantly worse.

Apparently this phrase was first attested in the 『俚言集覧』 (Rigenshuuran), an Edo-era dictionary produced at the very tail end of the 18th century.

Example sentence:


(“Chieko-chan wa chuugakusei to wa ie, suugaku wa daigaku nami ni dekiru nda. Omae ga kanojo ni daisuugaku no setsumei wa Shaka ni seppou da, yose yose.”)

[“Chieko may be a junior-high student, but she can do college-level math. You explaining algebra to her is like preaching to the Buddha. Cut it out.”]

About Confanity

I love the written word more than anything else I've had the chance to work with. I'm back in the States from Japan for grad school, but still studying Japanese with the hope of becoming a translator -- or writer, or even teacher -- as long as it's something language-related.
This entry was posted in Japanese, Kotowaza and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s