You can lead a horse to sutras

(En naki shujou wa do shigatashi;
“It’s hard for the Buddha to save those who do not know the Buddha”)


People who don’t heed advice or warnings are very hard to help. Salvation is difficult for those who refuse to take into account the informed opinions of experts on a given subject. For example, if you’re a Buddhist dealing with Samsara, you should listen to the Buddha’s teachings. And if you’re a human dealing with an epidemic, you should listen to the data-backed thoughts of epidemiologists.


We begin with the noun 縁 (en), often “connection” or “relationship,” in this case used as a Buddhist term to refer to connection with the benevolence of the Buddha himself. Following this we have the adjective なし (nashi), “not,” in prenominal form. This allows it to attach to noun 衆生 (shujou), a Buddhist term for all people, or even all living things collectively; “the whole world.” Following this we find the particle は (wa), which marks the entire preceding noun phrase as the topic of discussion.

The comment on this discussion begins with the verb 度する (do suru), yet another Buddhist term that might be translated as “to save (someone from sin),” but more directly refers to “the Buddha leading someone to a state of enlightenment.” This verb appears in conjunctive form and connects to the adjective 難し (gatashi), “difficult,” in conclusive form.


It should be no surprise that this saying is based on the Lotus Sutra (Japanese 『法華経』= Hokekyou). Specifically, it was inspired by the second chapter, on “Ways and Means” (方便品, Houben hon or Houbenpon), and scholars believe it first appeared in Japanese literature through an Edo period ukiyo-zoushi work titled 『諸芸袖日記』 (Shogei sode nikki), literally something along the lines of “daily marginalia about artistic accomplishments.” Note that in contrast to some of the sayings we’ve seen, this seems to have been an inspiration rather than the direct translation of a line from the scripture.

Example sentence:


(“Kacchan, osake nonda no ni kuruma wo unten shite kaeru tte kikanai nda kedo. Mou shikata nai you ne, en naki shujou wa do shigatashi da mon ne.” “Iya iya iya, soko wa zettai tomenai to. Moshimo no koto ga attara, yareyare maitta de owaru wake nai desho!”)

[“Kacchan is insisting on driving home even after drinking. We can’t really do anything about it, I guess; ‘you can’t help those who won’t listen,’ right?” “No, no, no, we need to stop him! If something happens, it won’t just be some ‘Oh gee that guy’ situation!”]

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.
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1 Response to You can lead a horse to sutras

  1. Pingback: All ties weird and wonderful | landofnudotcom

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