"Shariputra, suppose that in a country, a city, or a village, there is a great elder, aged and worn, of limitless wealth, possessing many fields, houses, and servants.
"His house is spacious and large, having only one door, but with a great many people--one hundred, two hundred, even five hundred of them--dwelling within it.
"Its halls and chambers are decaying and old; its walls are crumbling. The pillars are rotting at their baes; the beams and ridge-poles are toppling dangerously.
"All at once, throughout the house, a fire breaks out, setting the house ablaze.
"The elder’s sons, ten, twenty, even thirty of them are inside the house.
"The elder, seeing the fire arise from the four sides, is greatly alarmed and makes the following reflection: ‘Although I have been able to escape safely through this burning doorway, all my children remain inside the burning house, happily attached to their amusements, unaware, unknowing, not alarmed and not afraid. The fire presses upon them and the pain will sear them, but at heart they do not mind it, nor have they any thought to escape.’
"Shariputra, the elder then reflects, ‘I have a strong body and arms. I might gather them in a cloth pouch or on a table and take them from the house.’ He further reflects, ‘This house has only one door and it is narrow and small. My sons are young and immature and as yet know nothing. Attached to their place of play, they may fall and be burnt in the fire. I must tell them of this frightful matter, that the house has caught fire, and they must hurry and come out so as not to be burned.’ So thinking, he speaks to his sons, saying, ‘Come out, all of you, quickly!’ Although the father, in his pity, induces them with good words, still all the sons are happily attached to their amusements and play and refuse to believe him. They are not frightend or afraid and have not the slightest intention of leaving. What is more, they don’t know what is meant by ‘fire,’ what is meant by ‘house’ or what is meant by ‘being lost.’ They merely run from east to west in play, staring at their father.
"Then the elder has this thought, ‘The house is already ablaze with a great fire. If my sons and I do not get out in time we certainly shall be burned. I shall now devise an expedient device so that my sons can avoid this disaster.’
"The father, knowing both the predispositions of his sons and the preferences each has for various precious toys and unusual playthings to which they happily responded, speaks to them saying, ‘The things you will love to play with are rare and hard to get. If you do not take them you will certainly regret it later. Things such as these: a variety of sheep carts, deer carts, and ox carts, are now outside the door for you to play with. All of you should quickly come out of this burning house and I shall give you whatever you want.’
"Then the children, hearing their father speak of these precious playthings which suited their wishes exactly, eagerly push and shove one another aside in a mad scramble, all fighting to get out of the burning house.
"At that time, the elder, seeing that all his sons have gotten out safely and are seated on the ground at the crossroads, is without further obstruction; his mind is at peace and he is filled with joy.
"Then the children all speak to their father saying, ‘Father, the fine playthings you promised us a while ago, the sheep carts, the deer carts, and the ox carts, please give them to us now.’
"O Shariputra, at that time the elder gives to all of his sons equally a great cart.
"The cart is high and wide, adorned with a multitude of intertwining jewels, surrounded by railings, and hung with bells on its four sides. Further, it is covered with canopies, adorned with various rare and precious jewels, strung with jeweled cords and hung with flowered tassels. The cart is heaped with beautiful mats and set about with rosy cushions. It is yoked to an ox, plump and white and of fine appearance, of great muscular strength, who walks with even tread, as fleet as the wind, having also many servants who follow and guard it.
"And why is this? That great elder has limitless wealth and all manner of storehouses full to overflowing.
"So he reflects thus: ‘My possessions are boundless. I should not give my children small or inferior carts. All of these younsters are my children whom I love without partiality. Having such great carts made of the seven jewels, infinite in number, I should give them to each one equally. Why? If I gave them to an entire country, they would not run short; how much the less if I gave them to my children!
"Meanwhile, all of the children are riding around on the great carts, having got what they never expected to have, beyond their original hopes.
"Shariputra, what do you think? When that elder gives equally to all of his children the great jeweled carriages, is the guilty of falsehood or not?"
Shariputra replied, "No, World Honored One. The elder is not guilty of falsehood, for he has only enabled his children to avoid the calmity of fire, and has thereby saved their lives. Why is this? In saving their lives he has already given them a fine plaything. How much the more so his setting up of expedients to save them from the burning house.
"World Honored One, if that elder had not given them even so much as a single small cart, he still would not have been speaking falsely. Why? Because the elder previously had this thought, ‘I shall use expedients to lead my children out.’ For this reason he is not guilty of falsehood. He is even less guilty since, knowing his own wealth to be limitless and wishing to benefit all his children, he gives to them equally a great cart."
The Buddha told Shariputra, "Good indeed, good indeed! It is just as you say.
"Shariputra, the Thus Come One is also like this in that he is a father to all in the world. He has forever ended all fear, weakness, worry, ignorance and obscurity. He has completely realized the limitless knowledge and vision, powers, and fearlessnesses. He has great spiritual might and the power of wisdom. He has perfected the Paramitas of Expedients and wisdom. He is greatly kind and compassionate. Never tiring, he ever seeks the good, benefitting all. And thus he is born in the Three Realms which are like a burning house. In order to save living beings from the fires of birth, old age, sickness, death, grief, misery, stupidity, dullness, and the Three Poisons. He teaches and transforms them, leading them to the attainment of Anuttarasamyaksambodhi.
"He sees all living beings are scorched by birth, old age, sickness, death, grief, and misery. They undergo various sufferings because of the Five Desires, wealth and profit. Further, because of their clinging and grasping, they presently undergo a mass of suffering and in the future will undergo suffering in the hells, among the animals, or hungry ghosts. If born in the heavens or among human beings, they will suffer poverty and distress, the suffering of being separated from what one loves, the suffering of being joined together with what one hates, and all the various sufferings such as these. However, living beings sunk in this morass, joyfully sport, unaware, unknowing, unalarmed and unafraid. They do not grow satiated nor do they seek liberation. In the burning house of the Three Realms they run about from east to west. Although they encounter tremendous suffering, they are not concerned.
"Shariuputra, having seen this, the Buddha further thinks, ‘I am the father of living beings. I should rescue them from this suffering and difficulty, and give them the limitless, boundless joy of the Buddha-wisdom to play with.’
"Shariputra, the Thus Come One further thinks, ‘If I merely use spiritual power and the power of wisdom, and cast aside expedients, praising for all living beings the power of the Thus Come One’s knowledge and vision, powers, and fearlessnesses, living beings will not be able to be saved in this way. Why is this? All of these living beings have not yet escaped birth, old age, sickness, death, grief and misery. They are being scorched in the burning house of the Three Realms. How could they understand the wisdom of the Buddha?’
"Shariputra, just as that elder, although he had a powerful body and arms, did not use them, but merely applied expedients with diligence to save all the children from disaster in the burning house, and afterwards gave to each of them a great cart adorned with precious jewels. In the same way, the Thus Come One, although he has powers and fearlessnesses, doe not use them.
"He merely uses wisdom and expedients to rescue living beings from the burning house of the Three Realms, speaking to them of Three Vehicles; that of Sound Hearer, Pratyeka Buddha, and Buddha Vehicle."
"And he says to them, ‘ All of you should take no pleasure in dwelling in the burning house of the Three Realms. Do not lust after vulgar and evil forms, sounds, smells, tastes and tangible objects. If you attach to them greedily and give rise to love for them you will be burnt. You should quickly escape the Three Realms and obtain the Three Vehicles; the Sound Hearer, Pratyeka Buddha, and Buddha Vehicles. I now give my pledge for this and it shall never be proved false. You need only diligently and vigorously cultivate. The Thus Come One using these expedient means leads all creatures.
"He further says, ‘You should all know that the Dharmas of the Three Vehicles have been praised by the sages. They will make you free, unbound, and self-reliant. Riding on these Three Vehicles, by means of non-outflow roots, powers, enlightenments, ways, Dhyanas, concentrations, liberations, Samadhis, and so on, you shall amuse yourselves and attain limitless peace and joy.
"Shariputra, if there are living beings who inwardly possess the wisdom-nature, and hearing the Dharma from the Buddha, the World Honored One, believed and accepted it, diligently making progress, wishing quickly to escape the Three Realms and seeking Nirvana for themselves. They are called those of the Sound Hearer Vehicle. They are like the children who sought the sheep cart and thereby escaped from the burning house.
"If there are living beings who hearing the Dharma from the Buddha, the World Honored One, believed and accepted it, diligently making progress, and who seek for themselves spontaneous wisdom, delighting in solitude and fond of stillness, deeply understanding the causal conditions of all Dharmas, they are called those of the Pratyeka Buddha Vehicle. They are like the children who sought the deer cart and so escaped the burning house.
"If there are living beings who hearing the Dharma from the Buddha, the World Honored One, believed and accepted it, earnestly cultivating with vigor, seeking all-wisdom, untutored wisdom, the knowledge and vision fo the Thus Come One, his powers and fearlessnesses, pitying and comforting limitless living beings, benefitting gods and humans, saving all, they are called those of the Great Vehicle. Because the Bodhisattvas seek this vehicle, they are called Mahasattvas. They are like the children who sought the ox cart and so escaped the burning house.
"Shariputra, just as that elder, seeing all his children safely escape the burning house to a place of fearlessness, and considering his own unlimited wealth, gives to all of his children a great cart. Just so the Thus Come One, in the same way is the father of all living beings. When he sees limitless millions of living beings using the gateway of the Buddha’s teaching to get off the fearsome and dangerous path of the suffering of the Three Realms and attain the bliss of Nirvana, he has this thought, ‘I have limitless, boundless wisdom, powers, fearlessnesses and so on -- the complete storehouse of the Buddhadharmas. All of these living beings are my children. I should give to all of them a great cart, not allowing them to gain individual extinction, but crossing them over to extinction by means of the Thus Come One’s extinction. Having escaped the Three Realms, all these living beings are given as playthings the Buddha’s Dhyana concentrations, liberations, and so forth, all of one mark and one kind, praised by the sages and productive of pure, wondrous, and foremost bliss.’
"Shariputra, just as that elder first having used the three carts to entice his children and then later having giventhem a great cart adorned with jewels and supremely comfortable, is not guilty of falsehood. Just so is the Thus Come One likewise not guilty of falsehoold in first speaking of the Three Vehicles to entice living beings and then afterwards delivering them only by means of Great Vehicle. What is the reason? The Thus Come One has limitless wisdom, powers and fearlessnesses, a storehouse of Dharmas, and is able to give to all living beings the Great Vehicle Dharma. Not all living beings, however, are able to accept it. Shariputra, because of these causes and conditions you should know that the Buddhas, using the power of expedient devices, in the One Buddha Vehicle, discriminate and speak of three."