The Lotus Sutra The Burning House

The Lotus Sutra The Burning House

The Lotus

Sûtra

Translated by Gene Reeves

 

The Parable of the Burning House Then the Buddha said to Shariputra: “Did I not tell you before that when the buddhas, the world-honored ones, by using causal explanations, parables, and other kinds of expression, teach the Dharma by skillful means, it is all for the purpose of supreme awakening? All these teachings are for the purpose of transforming people into bodhisattvas. But, Shariputra, let me once again make this meaning still more clear through a parable, for intelligent people can understand through parables. “Shariputra, suppose in a village or city in a certain kingdom there was a great elder. He had many fields, houses, and servants. His house was large and spacious but had only one gateway. Many people lived in the house, one hundred, two hundred, or even five hundred in all. Its halls and rooms were old and decaying, its walls crumbling, its pillars rotting at the base, its beams and rafters falling down and dangerous. “All over the house, at the same moment, fire suddenly broke out, engulfing the house in flames. The children of the elder, say ten, twenty, or even thirty, were in this house. The elder, seeing this great fire spring up on every side, was very alarmed and thought: ‘Though I can get out safely through the flaming gateway, my children are in the burning house enjoying themselves engrossed in play, without awareness, knowledge, alarm, or fear. Fire is closing in on them. Pain and suffering threaten, but they do not care or become frightened, and have no thought of trying to escape: “Shariputra, this elder said to himself: ‘My body and arms are strong. I can wrap the children in sorne robes and put them on a palette or bench and carry them out of the house’. But then he thought again: ‘This house has only one gateway, and it is narrow and small. My children are young. Knowing nothing as yet of the danger, they are absorbed in their play. Probably they will be burned up in the fire. I must tell them why I am alarmed, and warn them that the house is burning and that they must get out quickly or be burned up in the fire: In accord with this line of thought, he called to his children: ‘Get out quickly, all of you!” “Although the father was sympathetic and tried to persuade them with kind words, the children, absorbed in their play, were unwilling to believe him and were neither alarmed nor

 

 

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frightened. They didn’t even think about trying to escape. What’s more, they did not understand what he meant by the fire, or the house, or losing their lives. They only kept running around playing, barely glancing at their father. “Then the elder thought: ‘This house is already going up in a great blaze. If my children and l do not get out at once, we will certainly be burned alive. Now I have to find some skillful means to get my children to escape from this disaster. “Knowing what his children always liked, and all the various rare and attractive playthings and curiosities that would please them, the father said to them: ‘The things you like to play with are rare and hard to find. If you do not get them when you can, you will be sorry later. A variety of goat carriages, deer carriages, and ox carriages are now outside the gate for you to you to play with. You must get out of this burning house quickly, and I will give you whatever ones you want.’ “When they heard about the rare and attractive playthings described by their father, which were just what they wanted, all of the children, eagerly pushing and racing with each other, came scrambling out of the burning house. “Then the eider, seeing that his children had safely escaped and were all sitting in the open square and no longer in danger, was very relieved and ecstatic with joy. Then each of the children said to their father: “Those playthings you promised us, the goat carriages, deer carriages, and ox carriages, please give them to us now!’ “Shariputra, then the elder gave each of his children equally a great carriage. They were tall and spacious, and decorated with many jewels. They had railings around them, with bells hanging on all four sides. Each was covered with a canopy, which was also splendidly decorated with various rare and precious jewels. Around each was a string of precious stones and garlands of flowers. Inside were beautiful mats and rose colored pillows. Pulling each of them was a handsome, very powerful white ox with a pure hide, capable of walking with a smooth gait and fast as the speed of the wind. Each also had wany servants and followers to guard and take care of them. “Why was this? Because this great elder’s wealth was so inexhaustible, his many storehouses so full of treasures, he thought: ‘There is no limit to my wealth. I should not give inferior carriages to my children. They are all my children and I cherish them equally. I have coundess numbers of these large carriages with the seven precious materials. I should give one to each of the children without discrimination. I have so many large carriages I could give one to everyone in the land without running out. Surely I can give them to my own children’ “Then the children rode on their great carriages, having received somerhing they had never had before and never expected to have. “Shariputra, what do you think about this? Is that elder, in giving equally the rare treasure of great carriages to his children, guilty of falsehood or not?” Shariputra said: “No, World-Honored One. That elder only made it possible for his children to escape the disaster of th e fire and preserve their lives. He committed no falsehood. Why do I say this? By saving their lives he has already given them a kind of plaything. How much more so when by skillful means he saved them from that burning house. World-Honored One, even if that elder had not given them one of the smallest of carriages, he would not be guilty of falsehood. Why? Because the elder, from the beginning, had intended to use some skillful means to enable his children to escape. That is the reason why he is not guilty of falsehood. How much less so, when knowing his own immeasurable wealth and wanting to benefit his children abundantly, he gave them equally great carriages!”

 

 

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The Buddha said to Shariputra: “Good, good. It is just as you say, Shariputra. The Tathagata is also like this, for he is a father to the whole world. He has long ago completely gotten rid of all fear, distress, anxiety, ignorance, and blindness; has attained immeasurable insight, powers, and freedom from fear; and has gained great spiritual powers, and wisdom. He has fully mastered skillful means and the practice of wisdom. His great mercy and compassion never stop. He always seeks the good, whatever will enrich all beings. “He was born into this threefold world, an old decaying burning house, in order to save living beings from the fires of birth, old age, disease, death, anxiety, sorrow, suffering, agony, folly, blindness, and the three poisons, and to teach and transform them, enabling them to reach supreme awakening. “He sees how living beings are scorched by the fires of birth, old age, disease and death, anxiety, sorrow, suffering, and agony. Moreover, because of the five desires and the desire for wealth, they undergo all kinds of suffering. Because of attachment to desire and striving, they endure much suffering in this life and later will suffer in a purgatory, or as animaIs or hungry spirits. Even if they are born in a heaven, or among people, they will experience many kinds of suffering, such as the suffering of poverty and hardship, the suffering of separation from what they cherish, or the suffering from encountering what they hate. “Absorbed in these things, living beings rejoice and amuse themselves, without knowing or seeing or being alarmed or frightened. And never being dissatisfied, they never try to liberate themselves. In the burning house of this threefold world they run about here and there, and, though they encounter great suffering, they are not disturbed by it. “Shariputra,  having  seen  this,  the  Buddha  thought:  ‘I  am  the  father  of  all  living  beings   and  should  rescue  them  from  suffering  and  give  them  th  ejoy  of  immeasurable,  unlimited   Buddha-­‐wisdom,  so  that  they  can  find  enjoyment  in  it.        “Shariputra,  the  Tathagata  also  thought:  ‘If  I  used  only  divine  powers  and  wisdom,  setting   aside  skillful  means,  and    for  the  sake  of  living  beings  praised  only  the  insight,  powers,  and   courage  of  the  Tathagata,  living  beings  would  not  be  saved.  Why?  As  long  as  all  these  beings   have  not  escaped  birth,  old  age,  disease,  death,  anxiety,  sorrow,  suffering,  and  agony,  and   are  being  consumed  in  the  burning  house  of  the  threefold  world,  how  can  they  understand   the  wisdom  of  the  Buddha?’          “5hariputra,  even  though  the  elder  had  strength  in  his  body  and  arms,  he  did  not  use  it,   but  only  through  carefully  worked-­‐out  skillful  means  saved  his  children  from  the  danger  of   the  burning  house  and  then  gave  each  of  them  great  carriages  with  precious  materials.  So   too  the  Tathagata,  though  he  has  power  and  is  free  from  fear,  does  not  use  these,  but  only   by  wisdom  and  skillful  means  rescues  and  liberates  living  beings  from  the  burning  house  of   this  threefold  world,  teaching  the  three  vehicles  to  them,  the  shravaka,  pratyekabuddha,   and  buddha  vehicles.          “He  says  to  them:  ‘None  of  you  should  be  happy  dwelling  in  the  burning  house  of  the   threefold  world.  Do  not  crave  its  crude  forms,  sounds,  scents,  tastes,  and  sensations.  If  you   become  attached  to  them  and  learn  to  cherish  them,  you  will  be  burned  up  by  them.  You   need  to  get  out  of  this  threefold  world  quickly  so  that  you  can  have  the  three  vehicles,  the   shravaka,  pratyekabuddha,  and  the  buddha  vehicles.  I  now  make  this  promise  to  you,  and  it   will  never  turn  out  to  be  false.  Just  apply  yourselves  and  make  the  effort!’            “The  Tathagata  uses  this  skillful  means  to  bring  people  to  act.  And  then  he  says  to  them:   ‘You  should  know  that  the  teachings  of  these  three  vehicles  are  praised  by  sages.  With   them,  you  will  be  free  from  attachments  and  bondage,  and  will  not  need  to  rely  on  or  seek   anything  else.  Riding  in  these  three  vehicles  you  will  gain  flawless  roots,  powers,

 

 

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awareness,  ways,  meditation,  liberation,  concentration,  and  so  forth.  And  then,  enjoying   yourselves,  you  will  be  able  to  delight  in  infinite  peace  and  comfort.’            “Shariputra,  if  there  are  living  beings  who  are  waise  by  nature  and  who,  following  the   Buddha,  the  World-­‐Honored  One,  hear  the  Dharma,  receive  in  faith,  and  make  a  great  effort,   wanting  to  escape  quickly  from  the  threefold  world  and  seek  their  own  nirvana,  they  will   be  called  those  who  take  the  shravaka  vehicle.  They  are  like  the  children  who  came  out    of   the  burning  house  to  get  a  goat  carriage.”            If  there  are  living  beings  who,  following  the  Buddha,  the  World-­‐Honored-­‐One,  hear  the   Dharma  and  receive  it  in  faith,  and  who,  seeking  natural  intelligence  and  taking  solitary   delight  in  tranquility  and  goodness,  make  a  great  effort  to  deeply  understand  the  causes   and  conditions  of  all  things,  they  will  be  called  those  who  take  the  pratyekabuddha  vehicle.   They  are  like  the  children  who  came  out  of  the  burning  house  to  get  a  deer  carriage.”            If  there  are  living  beings  who,  following  the  Buddha,  the  World-­‐Honored  One,  hear  the   Dharma  and  receive  it  in  faith,  who  apply  themselves  and  make  a  great  effort,  seeking   comprehensive  wisdom,  buddha  wisdom,  natural  wisdom,  the  wisdom  that  needs  no   teacher,  and  seeking  as  well  a  tathagata’s  insight,  powers,  and  freedom  from  fear,  and  who   pity  and  comfort  innumerable  living  beings,  enrich  human  and  heavenly  beings,  and  save   them  all,  they  will  be  called  those  who  take  the  Great  Vehicle.  Because  bodhisattvas  seek   this  vehicle,  they  are  called  great  ones.  They  are  like  the  children  who  came  out  of  the   burning  house  to  get  an  ox  carriage.            “Shariputra,  the  elder,  seeing  his  children  safely  out  of  the  burning  house  and  no  longer   threatened,  thought  about  his  immeasurable  wealth  and  gave  each  of  his  children  a  great   carriage.  The  Tathagata  does  the  same.  He  is  the  father  of  all  living  beings.  He  sees   innumerable  thousands  of  millions  of  beings  escape  from  the  suffering  of  the  threefold   world,  from  the  fearful  and  perilous  path,  through  the  gateway  of  teachlngs  of  the  Buddha,   and  thus  gain  the  joys  of  nirvana.  Then  the  Tathagata  thinks:  ‘I  have  Dharma  storehouses  of   buddhas,  with  immeasurable,  unlimited  wisdom,  power,  and  freedom  from  fear.  AlI  these   living  beings  are  my  children.  I  will  give  the  Great  Vehicle  to  them  equally,  so  that  no  one   will  reach  extinction  individually,  but  all  gain  the  same  extinction  as  the  Tathagata.’                “All  the  living  beings  who  escape  the  threefold  world  are  given  the  enjoymcnts  of   buddhas-­‐meditation,  liberation,  and  so  forth.  All  are  of  one  character  and  one  type.  praised   by  sages  and  capable  of  producing  pure,  wonderful,  supreme  happiness.   “Shariputra,  the  eIder  at  first  attracted  his  children  with  the  three  carriages  and  afterward   gave  them  just  one  great  carriage  decorated  with  jeweIs,  which  was  the  safest  and  most   comfortahle  carriage.  Yet  the  man  is  not  guilty  of  lying.  The  Tathagata  does  the  same.  There   is  no  falsehood  in  teaching  three  vehicles  first,  to  attract  living  beings,  and  afterward  using   just  the  Great  Vehicle  to  save  them.  Why?  Because  the  Tathagata  has  Dharma  storehouses   of  immeasurable  wisdom,  power,  and  freedom  from  fear.  He  can  give  all  living  beings  the   Great  Vehicle  Dharma.  But  not  all  are  able  to  receive  it.  For  this  reason,  Shariputra,  you   should  understand  that  the  buddhas  use  the  power  of  skillfull  means,  thus  making   distinctions  within  the  One  Buddha-­‐  Vehicle  and  teaching  the  three.”