Filed in Nichiren

Green Koans Case 9: General Stone Tiger

Clark Strand

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Nichiren Daishonin teaches: “The mighty warrior General Li Kuang, whose mother had been devoured by a tiger, shot an arrow at the stone he believed was the tiger. The arrow penetrated the stone all the way up to its feathers. But once he realized it was only a stone, he was unable to pierce it again. Later he came to be known as General Stone Tiger.”

General Stone Tiger Green Bodhisattva

Nichiren (1222 – 1282) is the founder of the sect of Japanese Buddhism that bears his name. A firm believer in the unity of faith and social action, he challenged the political and religious order of his day. One of the great prose stylists of Kamakura era, his letters are filled with references to Chinese history and legend and demonstrate an encyclopedic knowledge of Buddhist scripture. Nichiren Buddhists believe it is possible to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo (the title of the Lotus Sutra) with an attitude of intense devotion and faith.

Li Kuang (d. 119 B.C.E.) was a general of the Han Dynasty known for his great physical strength and courage in battle. A gifted strategist, in the earlier part of his career, he led many successful campaigns against the Xiongnu peoples to the north.

When he knew it was stone, the arrow could not penetrate. When he thought it was a tiger, it went through. Same arrow. Two completely different men.

Don’t say corporations are destroying the Earth and there’s nothing you can do about it. Who needs that kind of general? Give me a son or daughter whose mother has been devoured by a tiger, and I’ll show you an arrow to go through stone.

With strength and passion
Anything is possible—
Even stone tigers
Must fall before an archer
Whose conviction is complete.

Green Koans Case 1: Shakyamuni Touches the Earth
Green Koans Case 2: Shantideva's Sword

Green Koans Case 3: The Great Compassionate One's True Eye
Green Koans Case 4: One-Page Dharma
Green Koans Case 5: The Person of the Way
Green Koans Case 6: The Green Yogi
Green Koans Case 7: Rain of the Law
Green Koans Case 8: Bashō's Last Words
Green Koans Case 9: General Stone Tiger
Green Koans Case 10: Joshu's Oak Tree


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Dominic Gomez's picture

The story of Li Kuang (as well as those of many other ancient warriors) resonates with me in the practice of "one thought", aka "ichi nen". Once one makes up his or her mind and determines to follow through no matter what, nothing is impossible.     

ClarkStrand's picture

The use of archers and arrows as a metaphor for one-pointed concentration is very old in Buddhism. Shakyamuni used it, and it appears earlier, in the Hindu scriptures as well. Nichiren's contribution in this case was to use if for determination and unshakable resolve in overcoming the kinds of struggles and obstacles we face, both collectively in society and personally in daily life--there being all kinds of tigers in life. Nichiren is nothing if not practical.

For anyone who wants to see the whole letter in which this particular Green Koan appears, go here:

leekwolfson's picture

I have been a practitioner of Nichiren Buddhism since 1972.  The story of General Stone Tiger has been a source of inspiration through many a dark nights.

The "encouragement" this story offers is one of the many reasons I love Nichiren Buddhism.  Practicing with the SGI-USA has helped me to cultivate a capacity for compassionate accpetance and at the same time  to have a ferocious fighting spirit. I don't always have the wisdom in the moment to discern which is the best path, but at least I have both available to me.

Nichiren's life was beset by one obstacle after another, including numerous attempts on his life. Maintaining equanimity in the midst of personal attacks as well as extremely harsh environmental deprevation and chaos in the social and politcal realm required something extra. Guts and an unwavering conviction, as well as a huge heart.

Thank you for putting this teaching into a modern and very relevant context.


ClarkStrand's picture

Thanks, Lee. I've met a great many people in this movement, both in America and Japan, and they often refer to this story. I hope the SGI won't mind my borrowing Nichiren from time to time for this series. And you're right, Nichiren's life has a lot to teach us about overcoming obstacles and summoning the courage and determination necessary to confront our tigers, whatever they may be.