Part 7 -  Seven Parables (I)


7.1 Parable of House on Fire

7.1.1 Original Text in the Sutra
7.1.2 Precis of the Parable
7.1.3 Analogies
7.1.4 Fire
7.1.5 The Three Carts
7.1.6 How to Extinguish the Fire?
7.1.7 Conclusion

7.2 Parable of the Poor Son

7.2.1 Original Text in the Sutra
7.2.2 Precis of the Parable
7.2.3 Analogies
7.2.4 Buddha's Wisdom and Virtues
7.2.5 Buddha's Nature
7.2.6 Conclusion


Lotus Sutra is one of the most popular sutras in China. There are 17 names for Lotus Sutra, out of which the Wondrous Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra is the most commonly used. Though it is well-known to many people, it is difficult to understand its meaning. It takes fairly long time to interpret the Sutra word by word and phrase by phrase. Even by doing so, the theme and thought of the Sutra is not easy to grasp. In Lotus Sutra, there are 28 chapters in 7 fasiciles. Generally, it can be interpreted by its verses and main phrases, by its main themes, by Four Happily-dwelled Conducts, by Seven Parables, by Three Equalities, by Six Predictions, by Twelve Unsurpassed, etc.

One of the characteristics of the Lotus Sutra is that parables are often used to illustrate the Buddhist teachings. There are mainly seven parables. Each parable is intended for one particular group of sentient beings so as to lead them to the Buddhist Way.

  1. The Parable of the House on Fire

    Spoke for ordinary human beings, who have not studied any Buddhist teachings at all. They even don't know what Buddhism is. They pursue human and heavenly merits and blessings.

  2. The Parable of the Poor Son

    Spoke for people who cultivate themselves with wholesome deeds. However, they are not confident to take the Great Vehicle as they think they lack good roots. Thus, they confine themselves to pursue the rewards of Small Vehicle.

  3. The Parable of the Rain over Medicinal Herb

    Spoke for people who practice Bodhisattva only, but look down upon those in Small Vehicle.

  4. The Parable of the Transformed City

    Spoke for people who practice Dhanya i.e. meditation. They enjoy the state of quiescence and regard it to be the ultimate state in pursuing the Buddhist Way.

  5. The Parable of Sewing Pearl

    Spoke for people who have the good roots of the Great Vehicle, but do not know how to practice meditation and cultivate wholesome merits.

  6. Parable of Offering Pearl

    Spoke for those who practice meditation and cultivate wholesome merits, but pursue the fruition and rewards of the Small Vehicle, not of the Buddha.

  7. Parable of Medical Doctor

    Spoke for those who do not know how to cultivate virtues and merits, and are encouraged to cultivate in future.


7.1.1 Original Text in the Sutra

Please click to read the extract in Chapter 3.

7.1.2 Precis of the Parable

A rich elder lived in a big house with his children. One day, he found the house was on fire. Unfortunately, there was only one single exit in the house. He cried and urged his children to leave the burning house immediately. However, the children did not listen to him as they were happily attached to their amusements. The father got an idea. He told them that there were rare ox carts, deer carts and sheep carts outside the door for the children to play with. Believing what their father said, the children stopped playing and followed their father leaving the house. When the children ran out of the burning house, they could not see the three carts. By that time the elders gave to all of his sons equally a great cart.

7.1.3 Analogies

  1. The elder being the father of the children - the Buddha
  2. The children in the house - all sentient beings in the Three Realms.
  3. The burning house - the Three Realms, where many sensuous desires, anger and hatred are like fire burning us.
  4. Only one exit - only one way for salvation and liberation, i.e. the Buddhist Way.
  5. Attached to the amusement - sentient beings attached to the worldly desires.
  6. Ox-cart, deer cart and sheep cart - representing the Three Vehicles, i.e. Buddha Vehicle, Pratyeka Buddha Vehicle and the Sound Hearer Vehicle. The carts were expedient means.
  7. A great cart equally given to the children - representing the Great Vehicle. The Buddhas discriminate and speak of three in One Buddha Vehicle.

7.1.4 Fire

What is the fire burning us?

  1. The Fire of Desires

    1. Greed on money - leading us to steal, to cheat, to fight, to rob, etc.
    2. Greed on sex - leading us to have poor relationship with our families, and to reincarnate in the Six Paths.
    3. Greed on fame - leading us to be hypocrite, and pursue for virtual fame.
    4. Greed on food - leading us to eat meat, to kill and to be harmful to our lives.
    5. Greed on sleeping - leading us to do nothing, probably to drink liquor, and to be depressed.

  2. The Fire of Anger

    People always lose their temper. In most cases anger arises from our imagination, which is not rational at all. Violence sweeps off our friendship and love, sometimes the lives of others. After all, we may have the feeling of failure, and commit ourselves to suicide.

  3. The Fire of Jealousy

    Sometimes when we cannot get it, and we don't want others to get it either. We are sometimes not happy if others can do better. The fire of jealousy is an obstacle to our compassion.

  4. The Flame of Arrogance

    If we are arrogant, we do not care about others. People never get close to us, then our human relationship is bound to be poor.

  5. Hotness due to the Fire of

    1. Anxiety - when we wait, during traffic jam, etc.
    2. Nervousness - during examination, during competition, etc.
    3. Worry - our fate, our health, our financial situation, etc.
    4. Fear - on war, on natural disaster, earthquake, etc.

7.1.5 The Three Carts

There are three kinds of teachings in Buddhism, represented by three carts.

    1. Sheep cart for Human/Heavenly Realm
      - to be kind, do good things and stop doing evil things.
    2. Deer cart for Small Vehicle
      - to cut off afflictions and to transcend the cycle of birth and death.
    3. Ox cart for the Bodhisattva
      - to benefit themselves by benefiting others.

In this parable, the Buddha spoke for the sake of the sentient beings in the Human/Heavenly Realm.

7.1.6 How to extinguish the fire?

For the sentient beings in the Human/Heavenly realm, the Buddha teaches us how to extinguish the fire as follows:

  1. Extinguishing the Fire of Greedy Desires

    Whether the matter is good or not is merely our own impression, not the reality of the matter itself. As our impression varies from time to time, we like something at one time, but do not like it after some time. Thus, if greedy thought arises in our mind, it happens like a flash. We should not attach to it, and let it go and extinguish! We should not be deceived and manipulated by false thoughts. We are truly satisfied and relaxed if we have wisdom.

  2. Extinguishing the Fire of Anger

    Regarding the gain and loss of materials, people should keep an open mind to accept it. Sometimes we are angry because we do not allow others to win, and do not forgive others. Forgiveness will bring us the peace of mind. It is contradictory to pursue for comfort and happiness on one hand, and not to liberate ourselves from the meaningless attachments. Think more of other's advantages, then be happy.

  3. Extinguishing the Fire of Jealousy

    If we are compassionate, we must be happy when other people are happy. Conversely, we will never be happy if we are jealous. We should encourage and motivate ourselves with the success of others. In most cases, we may have some limitations and deficiencies to achieve what other people can achieve.

  4. Extinguishing the Fire of Arrogance

    Every person has his/her own good qualities. If we are proud of our strong points, and look down upon other's weakness, we are lack of wisdom and conduct. If we wish others to respect us, we have to respect and treat others in good manner.

7.1.7 Conclusion

Lastly, the Buddha brought in the great cart only and introduced to his children. He also suggested them to take the great cart, which meant the One Buddha Vehicle. The parable does not ask us to escape from the worldly matters, but remind us of cultivating our mind. If we are mastered by our mind, we will not be liberated.


The parable is spoken for people who cultivate themselves with wholesome deeds in Small Vehicle. However, they are not confident to take the Great Vehicle as they think they are lack of good roots. Thus, they confine themselves to pursue the rewards of Small Vehicle, or they satisfy themselves in the state of Arhatship. This parable wishes to encourage them to become Buddhas.

7.2.1 Original Text in the Sutra

Please click to read the extract in Chapter 4.

7.2.2 Precis of the Parable

A person had left his rich father to another country for many years. He was very poor and worked as a labourer. His father tried to find his son, and wished to make him heir to his wealth. The poor son unexpectedly arrived at his father's house. He was frightened by his father's power and wealth. He regretted and ran away. However, his father recognized his poor son, and sent servants to help him and requested him to join them in sweeping the dung, but with fairly high pay. Although his father felt pity, he encouraged his poor son to stay at his home and work for him with no more worries. However, the poor son still referred to himself as a lowly worker, and kept on sweeping the dung for twenty years. Building trust to each other, the father then asked his son to take charge of managing treasures. However, his son was unable to let go of his lowly thoughts. Later, the father knew that his son had grown more relaxed. He announced to everybody that there was my son, who would succeed all his treasures after his death. His son was rejoiced greatly.

7.2.3 Analogies

    1. The elder loved his son - everybody loves his son, and wishes his son to succeed his career after his death. The Buddha loves the sentient beings too. The Buddha is also rich as they have complete accomplishment in both wisdom and virtues.

    2. The son left rich home, wandered and became poor - We sentient beings are wise and rich originally, but perplexed seeking for false thoughts externally. With different kinds of attachments, we suffer from afflictions, i.e. poverty.

    3. Afraid of nobility - Originally, we have a noble family, i.e. the self-nature. However, we cannot make use of it and develop our good roots and qualities. Conversely, we let our affliction, greed, hatred, etc to grow in our mind. Some people may dare not become Buddhas.

    4. Working the lowly job, and reluctant to take up higher managerial job - At first, the Buddha asked his followers to learn and cultivate the Small Vehicle, then later asked them to be compassionate to others and to give up the attachment to the self ego, then take up the Great Vehicle. However, some people were reluctant to do so.

    5. Succeeding his father's wealth - We have to cut off our greed, hatred and delusion in order to mitigate sufferings, then we know how to mitigate other's suffering one after the other. To practice Bodhisattva's works is not just talking, but committing ourselves to do in daily lives.

7.2.4 Buddha's Wisdom and Virtues

The Buddha is complete in the accomplishment of wisdom and blessing.

To attain wisdom, we have to practice mediation. Our self-nature is always hidden by our false thoughts so that it cannot be clearly exposed and visualized. If we have to understand the Law, our mind must be clear and not defiled.

Virtues are not money, or love, but one's feeling without afflictions and suffering. If our mind clings to wealth, health, power, success, fame etc., we must suffer. However, if we have good relationship with other people through cultivation, we have all wholesome matters around us. Then, we have true blessings and virtues. We have to cultivate our mind in accord with the conditions without any attachment and affliction by understanding and following the Principle of Causality and Effect. Only the Karma can be carried forward to our future lives, not money.

7.2.5 Buddha's Nature

Shakyamuni demonstrated to our human beings how he became the Buddha from a human body in this world 2500 years ago. All human beings have their own Buddha's nature. For they have both good seeds and evil seeds, they can be human beings. However, we have to develop our good seeds, which will help us to open our mind and attain wisdom. Our mind is just like a mirror, which reflects if clear. If our mind is defiled with false thoughts and attachments, we are afflicted and perplexed.

When we begin to learn Buddhism, we generally wish to relieve ourselves from suffering. As the first step in learning, we start to tame our mind and cultivate our virtues. If we cannot master our mind and control our temper, we will be influenced and misled by others. We may not forget what our roles as a human being are.

We should not be satisfied with the state of Arhatship. We should be responsible to the people in our community, our family and other associations. We have to practice how to get along with others, help others, and live in harmony. We have to learn to forgive and be patient.

People have their own characters and personalities. How do we get along with each others? In short, we have to appreciate other's strength, and to pardon other's weakness. We have to contribute our strength to benefit the public, and to improve our weakness. This is the basic principle of living in the community.

We have to break off the barriers amongst people, so that we can care for others and serve the public. We should not be self-benefiting without caring for others. A wise man loves others as he loves himself, which is the fundamental of our compassionate heart, and the pre-requisite of a Bodhisattva.

Sometimes, we make an offence to others because we are confused without caring for others' feeling.

7.2.6 Conclusion

When we start to study Buddhism, we always ask whether we are qualified, what roots we have, in what ways we should practice, etc. Though it is a long way to attain Buddhahood, we must keep our good faith and full confidence. We can practice Arhatship to start with, and continue to be a Bodhisattva further.