Lotus sutra – burning house

Lotus Sutra. This sutra is one of the most popular sutra in Mahayana Buddhism. It is controversial in its own sense because some Buddhist and academics do not recognize it as being said by the Historical Buddha. They think that it is written by Buddhist scholars at a later period of time. Here’s some link if your want to read more.

Nonetheless, it is undeniable that Lotus sutra is a scripture of great influence.

Practitioners and believers of this sutra had firmly believed that it enriches both their mundane and spiritual life.

Here’s one of the popular parables in the sutra and how I relate to it personally. (I may be extremely wrong. Readers beware!)

Reading sutta/ sutra from the various traditions, I would encounter conflicts between them. Instead of focusing on these conflicts, I prefer to explore the benefits that I can derive from their contents.

The Parable of the Burning House (Lotus Sutra, ch. 3)

Here’s links to the English translation.

In summary, the Buddha narrated a story of a burning house where ignorant children playing in the house were oblivious to the dangers surrounding them. Although He (the father of the children) called out to them, warning them of the danger; They did not pay heed because they were too engrossed with their child play.

In order to get their attention, the man lied that he had 3 carts of toys outside the house for them. The children ran out of the burning house when they heard this and were thus saved from the fire. 

What struck me is that the relationship of Buddha and sentient beings is described as that of Father and sons, instead of the traditional Teacher and students.

Thus spoke the Buddha:

I tell you, I, too, am like this.  All the living beings, all my children, are profoundly addicted to worldly pleasure and have no wise thoughts.  The world is just like a house afire, being full of many woes most frightful, constantly marked by birth, old age, sickness, death, and cares — fires such as these, raging without cease.

In this sense, perhaps the readers and believers can relate better to the Buddha’s compassion. Furthermore, the Lotus Sutra says that the Buddha is an eternal being that care for his children. This is remarkably different from the pali canon that narrates how Buddha passed into parinirvana and exhorted his disciples to work hard for their own enlightenment.

In another word, the Buddha is an eternally existing being that is always there to watch your back and care for you until the day you “grow up” and become Buddha too.

Awww, isn’t that nice?

But let’s not get distracted. We should not forget the burning house!

Have we really run out of that burning house or are we still inside it? I think that is more important, isn’t it?

Thus spoke the Buddha:

 A great man had a great house.  The house, since it was old, was in a state of collapse:  the halls were lofty and precarious, the bases of the pillars crumbling and rotten, the beams and ridgepoles aslant, the stairways and landings disintegrating, the walls and partitions cracked, the clay and paint peeling off, the thatch worn thin and in disarray, the rafters and eavepoles coming loose, totally misshapen, and full of assorted filth.

Kites, owls, and eagles; crows, magpies, pigeons, and doves; newts, snakes, vipers, and gribbles; centipedes and millipedes; lizards and myriopods; weasels, badgers, and mice milled back and forth in a crisscross.

Places stinking of faeces and urine overflowed with their filth, with may-bugs and maggots clustered on them.

Here and there and all about were ghosts and demons, poisonous insects, and other malignant birds and beasts.

Reading the above passage, I am deeply moved to think about my physical body. It’s more relatable to me that way.

Our body is just like that. It is getting old day by day. It is falling apart and on fire. It is filled with filth, feces and urine.

Our thoughts driven by greed, aversion and ignorance in reaction to our senses are just like the animals, poisonous insects and wailing ghosts and demons.

Have you ever caught yourselves thinking poisonously of others? Have you caught yourselves wailing internally out of despair at situations in life?

So the real issue is to let go of the mundane and escape, isn’t it?

How many of us can really do that?

Even if we are running out of the house for the sake of the 3 promised carts, it is still better than staying in the house isn’t it?


Categories: Scriptural

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