The Three Carts and the Burning House
[from the Hiyu chapter (Chapter 3) of the Lotus Sutra]
One day, a fire brokes out in the house of a wealthy man who had many children. The wealthy man shouts at his children inside the burning house to flee. But, the children are absorbed in their games and cannot understand his warning, though the house is being consumed by flames.
Then, the wealthy man devises a practical way to lure the children from the burning house. Knowing that the children are fond of interesting playthings, he calls 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 knows that these things will be irresistible to his children.
The children immediately race out to get into the carts. In this way, the wealthy man is able to get his children safely away from the burning house.
Once outside, the children demand the carts they have been promised. Instead, the wealthy man gives them a much finer and larger cart — one that runs as swiftly as the wind — adorned with many jewels and drawn by a great white ox. This cart is called the Great White Ox Cart.
The wealthy man can be compared to the Buddha, and the children to the people. The burning house indicates the real world where sufferings abound. The goat, deer, and ox carts represent the early teachings of Buddhism. In those previous teachings the goal was to attain the levels of Learning, Realization, or Bodhisattva.
Once those levels were reached, the Buddha’s followers were then ready to hear about the highest teaching, the Lotus Sutra. The Great White Ox Cart is compared to the teaching of the Lotus Sutra, which opens the direct way to Buddhahood.
The Parable of the Impoverished Son
From the Lotus Sutra Chapter 4, Belief and Understanding
Once a boy ran away from home and wandered for many years becoming more and more poor and confused.
The boy’s father loved his son very much, but had no idea where to find him. As time went on, the father became very rich.
Fifty years passed. One day, the son showed up at his father's estate. He did not know whose grand home this was, but wondered if he could find a job there. The father recognized his son, and set messengers to greet him. The father was overjoyed that his son had returned.
But the son misunderstood. He thought the messengers were trying to arrest him for doing something wrong.
The father saw his son’s fear and confusion. He realized his son was not ready to accept the truth, so he told the messengers to leave his son alone.
Later the father had some of his servants dress in rags. He had these servants go to his son and offer him a job shoveling excrement. The son had been living so poorly for so long, he saw this job as a wonderful opportunity.
Over the years, the father showed an interest in his son. He praised him, increasing his pay, and gave him better jobs. But he never told him his true identity.
After twenty years, the father was old and near death. By then the son was in charge of all of the wealthy man’s business. The son had become a responsible but humble man.
Finally, just before his death, the father gathered all of his friends and all the powerful people of the city to his bedside. He revealed then the true identity of his son. The son inherited all of the fortune.
Questions:Why didn’t the father tell the son right away?
Was not telling him the truth the same as lying to him?
How does this story apply today?
The Parable of the Medicinal Herbs
The world has many kinds of plants — more kinds than can be named. There are bushes and trees, mosses and ferns, flowers and grains. There are herbs that can be made into medicines.
All over the earth there are plants growing. Different plants grow in different areas: on the tops of mountains and at the bottom of the sea, in the desert and in the jungle.
Clouds also cover the earth. In one moment, a cloud can rain life-giving water onto the plants. The rain nurtures the plants and soaks the soil.
Through the soil, the water soaks down, down, down to the plants’ roots. Some of the roots are woody and big. Some are thin and fine. The water goes to all the millions of kinds of plants.
Each plant uses this water according to what kind of plant it is. Some plants may blossom. Some trees may bear fruit. Some mushrooms may grow. Some vines may grow long. Some herbs may grow to be used for medicine. Each plant uses the water differently.
Although all these plants and trees grow in the same earth and are moistened by the same rain, each has its differences. But all may be nourished.
When people hear the Buddha’s teaching, no matter who they are, they can receive benefit.
The Excellent Physician and His Sick Children
There once was a very wise doctor. He could make medications — medicine that could cure any illness imaginable.
The doctor had many children. One day, he traveled to a distant land. While he was away, his children mistakenly drank poison. They became very sick. Some were in pain, some lost their minds. Some were close to death. Others were only a little bit sick.
When the doctor returned from his long trip, he saw that his children were very sick.
All the children, even though ill with poison, were happy to see their father return. "Welcome home, father!" they said. "We're so happy to see that you have returned safely. While you were away we were very foolish. We all mistakenly drank some poison. Please save us from this suffering!"
The doctor went to work, grinding, sifting, and mixing various herbs. He made a powerful medicine that had a beautiful color, excellent fragrance, and wonderful taste. This medicine was perfect.
Bringing the medicine to his children, he encouraged them to drink it: "My children, here is a medicine of excellent color, fragrance, and taste. Drink this and your illness will be gone and you will be well.”
Those children who were only slightly ill immediately took the medicine and were quickly cured. The children who had lost their minds refused the medicine. They were confused by the poison in their bodies. They refused to believe that their father's medicine would help them.
"My poor children," the father said, "because you have consumed poison, your thinking has become twisted. When you saw me return home, you begged me to cure you. But when I offered you this medicine, you refused it. If you won't take this good medicine, how can you be cured?"
Although the children's minds were confused, their father loved them. He had to think of a way to get them to take the medicine. Finally, the doctor said:"My beloved children, hear me well! I am old and weak, and may die at any time. I will leave this medicine here for you. Even if I should die, your sickness can still be cured with this good medicine. Please don't doubt that! I must leave now on another trip, so please remember what I have told you."The doctor then traveled to another land. He sent a messenger home to tell his children of his death. The children were stunned. They had never expected him to really die! They said: "Our father is dead! Now we have no one to rely on!"
Then, the children remembered the medicine that their father had left for them and his words before leaving. In tears, they each took some of the medicine and were immediately cured of their illness.
Then, to their amazement, their father returned home. For the first time they realized how great his love and mercy was for them.
Parable of the Phantom City
From the Lotus Sutra, Chapter 7
A caravan traveled through the desert. The people in the caravan followed their guide on a long and dangerous trip to a treasure land.
Along the way, the people in the caravan became tired, confused, and discouraged. They told the guide that they could not go any further.
If they turned back, all their traveling would be wasted. The guide did not want the people to give up the journey. He knew that a wonderful treasure was at the end of the journey.
When the caravan had traveled more than halfway, a great city appeared. The guide told the people of the caravan that here was an opportunity to rest and be refreshed.
After they rested, the guide made the city disappear. He told the people that the city was nothing more than an illusion he had created to allow them to rest. He told them that their goal, the treasure land, is close.
Refreshed, the travelers continued on their journey.
The phantom city represents the teachings of the three vehicles the Buddha expounded in order to guide people toward enlightenment. The treasure land represents the one Buddha vehicle toward which people should ultimately aim.
Parable of the Gem in the Robe
A poor man came to visit a wealthy friend. Late into the night, the two friends ate, drank, and talked. When the poor man went to bed, he fell into a deep sleep.
In the middle of the night, a messenger came to inform the rich man that he must go immediately to a distant land far away. Before he left, he wanted to do something for his poor friend to show how much he cared for him. But he did not want to wake his friend from such a deep sleep.
So the wealthy friend sewed a beautiful colored gem inside the hem of his poor friend’s robe. This jewel had the power to satisfy all of one’s desires.
The next morning, the poor man awoke to find himself alone in his wealthy friend’s house. Totally unaware of anything that had taken place while he was sleeping, he wandered off.
The poor man traveled from place to place, looking for work. All the while, he was completely unaware that he possessed a priceless gem in the hem of his robe.
A long time passed until one day, by chance, the wealthy friend came upon the poor man in the street.
Seeing the man’s impoverished condition, the wealthy friend asked him:
“Why have you allowed yourself to become so poor? You could have used the jewel that I gave you to live your life in comfort. You must still have it, yet you are living so miserably. Why don’t you use the gem to get what you need? You can have anything you want!”
Bewildered, the poor man fumbled through the inside of his robe and, with the help of his friend, found the gem. Ashamed of his ignorance yet overcome with joy, he realized for the first time the depth of his friend’s compassion. From then on, the poor man was able to live comfortably and happily.
The Jewel in the Topknot
Once upon a time there was a great king. He was the greatest of kings and was called the Wheel-Rolling King. It was said that he owned a magical wheel of jewels that would spin while he governed.
The king was a fine ruler, and when he found a country that was run by evil people, he would wage war against it. He continually fought such evil countries until he had crushed them all.
The king was very glad to see that some of his soldiers were very brave in war. He rewarded these soldiers with treasures such as gold, silver, shell, agate, coral, and amber. He gave some of them farms, houses, villages, and cities. He also gave elephants, horses, and vehicles to those who were worthy.
Every time the soldiers were given these gifts from the king, they boasted, saying “I received golden rings and necklaces from the Wheel-Rolling King.”
Or: “He gave me a fabulous elephant and an ox-cart, praising my brave fight in the war.”Or: “It was clothes this time for me. But I’ll get much more next time for my valiant fight.”
Or: “But you’ll not outdo me. I’ll be fighting with all my might, too.”
There was one thing that the king kept for himself: the brilliant gem which he was keeping in his topknot. This gem was the only one of its kind in the world. If he had given it to anyone, his followers would have been shocked.
Finally, one day, the Wheel-Rolling King saw an especially brave soldier and gave him that precious gem.
“I, the Buddha, have kept the Lotus Sutra carefully in my heart and have told no one about it. In this way, I am like the Wheel-Rolling King -- who gave many treasures to his soldiers, but kept the most valuable gem. I, like the king, have fought many battles and defeated many devils. Many of my disciples also fought along side me. I gave them many treasures of the Law and have brought them closer to enlightenment, but I did not teach them the Lotus Sutra. Why? Because the people were not ready and the time was not right.
“I did not tell my followers about the Lotus Sutra earlier because they would not have understood. In a world that is evil and ignorant, people cannot understand such a profound teaching.
“That’s why it was necessary to wage wars and destroy evil. That way, people can learn more and more about the true state of life. Once their mistaken ideas had been changed, they became more open to understanding the great teaching of the Lotus Sutra.
“One day the Wheel-Rolling King saw an especially brave soldier and gave him that precious gem. I am like that king. The Lotus Sutra is the most excellent teaching. Therefore I am teaching it last -- just as the king finally gave the brilliant gem to the one who was his most worthy follower.”
Bodhisattva “Never Disparaging”
[From the Lotus Sutra Chapter 20]Once there was a man who had a very hard way to practice Buddhism. Whenever he encountered another person, he would bow to that person and say, "I would never disparage you, for you are practicing the Buddha way and all of you will become Buddhas!"
Because he said this to people, he was given the name Bodhisattva Never Disparaging. A bodhisattva is a person who practices Buddhism for the sake of others.
And he was called “Never Disparaging” because of what he would say to people. To disparage means to look down on someone, to think ill of that person.
When people heard Bodhisattva Never Disparaging say this to them, some of them realized what a good person he was. Some of them bowed in return and thanked him.
But others yelled at him and cursed him. Some of them said “Who are you to say that to me?” Some of them said “I don't remember asking anyone to worship me!" Some of them threw rocks and sticks at him.
People often made fun of Bodhisattva Never Disparaging. Sometimes he was even beaten. But he never gave up his way of practice. He really believed that each person he met was a potential Buddha. No matter how much people spoke ill of him or hated him, he never doubted this.
And he thought it was only right to tell people about being a Buddha. He thought they should know this.
Before he died, Bodhisattva Never Disparaging was able to hear the Lotus Sutra. His behavior throughout his life showed great respect for all people. And, in telling people that they have Buddhahood inside, he saved them from suffering. He was a great Buddhist teacher.
Eventually, Bodhisattva Never Disparaging was reborn as Shakyamuni himself.
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