Lotus Sutra: the Parable of the Burning House

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The Parable of the Burning House

In the third chapter of the Lotus Sutra, “Parable of the Burning House,” a wealthy man was overseeing his three young children. The three children were diligently playing with their toys when suddenly a fire broke out in the house; the father made it out alive while his children are still inside. With the house still burning, the father yells from outside of the house to his children that they need to put their toys down and come to safety or they will die in the fire. However, since his children were so young, they did not understand that concept. As a result, the father used skillful means to coax his children out of the house. He knew what his children’s favorite toys were so he used them as a bribe. He said to them, “Children, all the toys you like . . . such as little ox carts, goat carts, and deer carts, which are pleasing and captivating to you, have all been put outside by me, so that you can play with them. Come, run out of the house! I will give each of you what you want! Come quickly! Come and get these toys!” (Fieser & Powers, 114). With that being said, his young, ignorant children came running to joy and they were freed from the blazing fire. However, the father gave his children oxen carts only, however very attractive with all the bells and whistles. So the question is, did the father lie to his children because he stated that he would give them all three different carts? The answer is no; he merely used skillful means.

Interpreting this excerpt from the Lotus Sutra, the father is deemed the Buddha in this situation; he is the father of all sentient beings, or his children in this case. The burning house is samsara, or the cycle of death and rebirth, where the sentient beings were trapped, absorbed in play. If the children were to stay and suffer through the fire, they would meet their death. The burning house also represents the world burning with the fires of old age, sickness and death, or simply the real...
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