The Three Carts
and the Burning House
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.
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
The wealthy man knows that these things will be irresistible to his
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.
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.
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
The Parable of the
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
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
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
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.
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
The Parable of the
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.
Excellent Physician and His Sick Children
There once was a very wise doctor. He could make
medications — medicine that could cure any illness
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
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
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
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
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.
the Gem in the Robe
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
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
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.
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
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
“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
[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
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
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
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
Never Disparaging was reborn as Shakyamuni himself.
Layout: Pho Tri