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Parable of the Burning House & Buddhism Today

One day, a fire broke out in the house of a wealthy man who had many children. The wealthy man shouted at his children inside the burning house to flee. But, the children were absorbed in their games and did not heed his warning, though the house was being consumed by flames.

Then, the wealthy man devised a practical way to lure the children from the burning house. Knowing that the children were fond of interesting playthings, he called out to them, "Listen! Outside the gate are the carts that you have always wanted: carts pulled by goats, carts pulled by deer, and carts pulled by oxen. Why don't you come out and play with them?" The wealthy man knew that these things would be irresistible to his children.

The children, eager to play with these new toys rushed out of the house but, instead of the carts that he had promised, the father gave them a cart much better than any he has described - a cart draped with precious stones and pulled by white bullocks. The important thing being that the children were saved from the dangers of the house on fire.

"Fire" refers to desire and its sinful daughter, lust. Desire leads to anger and hatred if a person's lust is unchecked. Lust for things like money is greed. Lust for sex leads to sexual dysfunction.

Lust for power is the worst of all — this is what the Republicans and their religious right supporters suffer from, due to self-denial and repression of their sexual urges.

"House" refers to the human body.

Thus a burning house refers to a person who is not yet Enlightened.

"Wealthy man" refers to a Buddhist priest who is given spiritual wealth through faith in the Buddha and belief in the core tenets of Buddhism, as well as the core practice of samatha-vipassana. It may also refer to the spiritual aspects of a Buddhist who practices his faith earnestly. Thus meditation provides spiritual wealth that being worldly does not. Indeed, being worldly results in spiritual poverty.

"Many children" refers to his Buddhist pupils. It may also refer to the six consciousnesses of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and cogitating (thinking limited to the five senses).

The wealthy man shouting to his children to flee the burning house refers to the Buddhist meditating and discovering what the six consciousnesses are. It also refers to the call of Amida Buddha, the Name-that-calls.

"The children absorbed in their games" refers to the six consciousnesses which are too ignorant to flee the body and come to the safety of the wealthy man, to be under his control.

Not heeding the wealthy man's warning is the lot of a person who has yet to meditate, and cannot control his senses including the use of his mind.

In the second paragraph is the paraphrase of what the Buddha does: he "lies" to the six consciousnesses in order to save them. The three carts pulled by goats, deer and oxen refers to the Three Treasures of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

The children coming out of the burning house refers to the six consciousnesses being trained through meditation.

The cart draped with precious stones and pulled by white bullocks refers to samadhi, the mind focused on meditation.

In this parable is the story of a Buddhist who puts his faith in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. The "lie" that the Buddha tells Buddhists is that by putting faith in the Three Treasures, one is saved from lust. The truth is this: Samatha-Vipassana meditation helps the Buddhist to place the six consciousnesses under his control.

For the Buddha is long dead, the Dharma is rarely preached, and the Sangha organized Buddhism into a religion. Since then, rare is it that the Sangha practices what the Buddha taught. Instead, the Theravada Sangha has lusted for political power, and control who becomes the leader of a nation where the Sangha are king-makers such as Burma, Thailand and Sri Lanka. This is the fuel for the fire, and their houses burn.

In contrast, the Mahayana and the Vajrayana sects have flourished wherever they kept their noses out of politics and instead, led the people to respect the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha through meditation and optionally chanting the Buddha's name, provided that they do not make a religion of their practice to force upon Hindus, Muslims, and the people who practice other faiths.

Let this be a warning to Buddhists and other faiths. When you turn your faith into a religion, you only cause lust to inflame desire for power and control over others. Instead, strive to turn your faith into no religion by practice of compassion. Then you shall be rewarded with spiritual treasures beyond your imagination.


Originally posted: December 24, 2005 10:12 PM PST


Steve said...

This story is from Chapter 3 of the Lotus Sutra (Prajna Paramitra Sutra).

In the commentary below, the parable is explained:


1. The burning house: Signifies that this world is filled with sufferings.

2. The children: Denote the ignorant people who do not realize death comes to everyone.

3. The fire: Signifies that death comes equally to the rich, poor, wise and fool.

4. The one narrow gate: Signifies the salvation is not an easy task.

5. The children rushed out: You must do it by yourself. Religion is a realm of personal experience.

6. The sheep cart: Denotes the shomon vehicle

The deer cart: Denotes the engaku vehicle

The bull cart: Denotes Bodhisattva vehicle

7. The large bull cart: Denotes the One-Buddha vehicle, the Lotus Sutra

8. The rich man: Denotes Buddha Sâkyamuni

This parable explains that Buddhism is a teaching for us that allows us to eliminate unhappiness and enjoy happiness. True happiness is joyful to help other and to give happiness to others. This is the practice of the One-Buddha Vehicle.

Lotus Sutra: Chapter 3: A Parable:

Steve said...

engaku is a person of realization.
shomon is a person of learning.
See The Practice of Gongyo -

The first entry of the following page further amplifies on the Parable of the Burning House.

'The rich man is the Buddha. The burning house is the world where we live. The fire is our sufferings. The children playing with the toys without realizing the danger of the fire symbolizes the attitude of those who seek momentary pleasures in their daily lives. The sheep cart represents the realm of shomon or listeners in Buddha's teachings, the deer-cart indicates the realm of engaku or self-realization, the bullock-cart portrays the realm of Bodhisattva, and finally the white large ox-cart characterizes the single vehicle of Buddhahood. The Lotus Sutra is the single vehicle of Buddhahood that leads all living beings to enlightenment. It does not discriminate between shomon, engaku, and Bodhisattva.

It is Buddha's compassion and wisdom that shows shomon, engaku, and Bodhisattva as expedients, but he is the one who leads them to the One Vehicle, Buddhahood. Only the Lotus Sutra and the Nirvana Sutra teach the Enlightenment of the shomon and the engaku. Other sutras teach that shomon and the engaku cannot attain enlightenment The Buddha says in this chapter, "All living beings are Buddha's children."

Radha Santadharma said...

Full version of Burning House parable: