Once there was an elder who possessed a fortune vast.
He was the proprietor of lands he had amassed,
dwellings and retainers and a mansion huge and wide
but with just a single doorway to depart outside.
Though this house was broad and spacious, it was in decay.
Yet it teemed with countless people, plus a large array
of living creatures big and small, all about the place.
While in the halls the pillars were rotten at the base.
The plaster and foundations were cracking all around.
Its rooftops and verandas were falling to the ground.
With crumbling walls, beams and rafters crookedly askew,
that building was quite dangerous, as the elder knew.
The fencing round the house was broken-down and twisted.
Emanations human-faced eerily existed,
evermore antagonistic, with humongous greed,
trampling on one another in their reckless speed.
There was filthy matter scattered all about the site.
Various beasts were snarling and lusting for a fight,
quarreling, snatching food out of the mouths of others,
showing total disregard for their sons or brothers.
Poisonous bugs and snakes made it more repellent seem.
That mansion had degenerated, to the extreme.
Thus demons had settled in to dwell, that devoured
the vitality of men, hence to be empowered…
The aged man was in decline, nearing his demise.
He was prudent, very seldom taken by surprise.
Suddenly, fire broke out and set the house in flames.
His sons and daughters were within, playing at their games.
That father always felt concern for his children dear.
Seeing this inferno, he was overcome with fear.
Tongues of flame flared up in all directions round about.
With only just one access, how would they make it out?
The youngsters were oblivious— so entranced were they
in their childhood amusements and entertaining play.
That door was small and narrow to leave the family home.
And, oh, their lives were fragile, like bubbles on the foam!
These children viewed the burning house as a safe abode,
although the conflagration seemed ready to explode.
Engrossed in every pleasure their little lives could get,
they were unconscious of the blaze and its mounting threat.
The elder, in the meantime, was consumed with worry.
He had to make them flee the mansion in a hurry.
Hence, the man ran back inside and then began to shout
that they were in great peril and quickly must get out.
He pointed to the fire, plus how it swiftly spread,
and sought to warn his offspring that soon they would be dead
unless they ceased their merriment, heeded his alarm…
The father could not bear it, if they should suffer harm!
Nonetheless, in spite of all the elder’s coaxing cries,
the children paid no mind to those admonitions wise.
Thoroughly absorbed in their diversions and delight,
they just did not believe him, nor had they any fright,
nor wish to stop their playing and hastily take flight.
Yes, the house was burning; still they scarcely saw the sight.
They were so immersed in fun, blind to their own blindness,
they could not see that his pleas stemmed from loving-kindness.
Those children had no dread and were sadly unaware
of what destiny lay in store, if they stayed in there.
How would they avoid such an excruciating fate?
The flames were closing in on them; it would be too late!
The man could not abandon them to be burned alive.
He had to find a clever way, so they would survive.
The father, wrung with agony, wondered what to do.
Such awful pain lay ahead— somehow he must get through.
He grappled with the problem and racked his brain at length.
Was there some expedient means of sufficient strength
he could use to save all the children that he cherished,
rescue every single one fast, before they perished?
The elder took no notice of risking life and limb.
Hither, thither ran the children, glancing up at him,
while indulging mindlessly in each impulsive whim,
with no apprehension of the future looking grim.
Their chances for salvation seemed increasingly slim…
That aged man’s deep compassion filled him to the brim.
The father knew the children liked any strange device,
exotic playthings, trinkets, whatever would entice.
He needed now to improvise a mode, in a trice,
that could capture their attention— something to suffice
to hold their young imaginations— to be precise,
a mechanism marvelous, no matter the price.
He had stores of immeasurable wealth, beyond doubt,
and his warmhearted love was impartially devout.
Just then the elder had the thought that not in the least
would his limitless riches and reserves be decreased,
even if to a kingdom vast he were to dispense
his overflowing fortune… so why shouldn’t he hence
give out his wealth directly to his progeny all,
before the children’s catastrophic deaths should befall?
The aged man reflected on what tactic to pick—
an expedient means that was sure to do the trick.
He told the children of exquisite toys he possessed
along with lots of precious carts of the very best
craftsmanship and quality, that all had been designed
expressly with the youngsters’ own enjoyment in mind.
The elder next, in order to persuade them, stated
that right outside the house at the entrance awaited,
to suit the young ones’ fancies skillfully created
goat, sheep, deer, and ox carts, ornately decorated.
He said that they must rush to leave the mansion, in haste,
and he’d give them everything— there was no time to waste.
Then the children finally fulfilled his desire
and scurried in a race safely out of the fire.
The father beamed with bliss that the urgency had passed.
They had securely left the burning building at last!
When they’d exited and scampered out, they all sat down
on the dewy earth and asked their father, with a frown,
where the toys and carts were that the elder had portrayed
for their own special likings to have been tailor-made.
The youngsters had escaped and the elder’s heart was eased.
But now each one of their capricious wants must be pleased.
Thereupon the elder gave them all a single cart.
It was tall and broad with gems adorning every part
and had bells on all four corners plus a balustrade
surrounding, with a hanging awning offering shade.
Valuable jewels, that were fastened with a cord
made of costly fibers, and the trimmings they adored
embellished every inch that their dazzled eyes explored…
How their faces now lit up at such a rare reward!
Also there were many flower garlands suspended
with a plaited ribbon on the top that extended
all around the border to make it look more splendid…
Oh, the awesome marvels of this cart never ended!
It was fitted well with vermillion-colored pillows;
satin fabrics, silk brocades streamed about in billows,
soft the carpets on the floor with which it was furnished;
brightly shone the vehicle, radiantly burnished.
To pull the cart there was a huge white ox, extra strong,
perfectly-proportioned for a journey very long.
In form it was superb; it had impeccable hide.
And with regular hoof-steps to match its steady stride
the ox could go as fast as the wind on any ride.
Yes, this powerful cart was the elder’s joy and pride.
There were numerous guards, furthermore, for protection,
attendants, squires, retainers— quite a big collection.
The children climbed in, overjoyed at the selection
of the man, for this cart suited them to perfection.
Equally, it satisfied all their predilections.
So, at once they drove off into the four directions,
absolutely happy and enchanted without bound
at the unrestricted freedom which they now had found.
The question might be asked, when it all had come to pass
and the children were delivered from the blaze en masse,
if the father’s behavior seems artfully contrived,
in enticing his offspring—who subsequently thrived—
with numerous playthings, toys and carts, so they would run
away from the burning house… then giving them just one
single ox cart only, after all was said and done?
The point is that he was not attempting to impress
the children with his vast array of riches, much less
to appear more exalted or intimidate them—
no, his aim was decidedly to liberate them.
He endowed them with a perfect vehicle, for real.
And they were not injured in that harrowing ordeal.
Yet the house symbolizes our living-dying realm,
with the troublesome worries that tend to overwhelm
us humans; but rather than trying to escape it,
with Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, we wholly reshape it.
The fire of desire, instead of bringing pain,
through this sole theme and title, accesses the terrain
of our deep Dharma nature, which is one and the same
as the whereabouts of the elder’s mansion, aflame.
So, to give this ancient parable a modern feel—
nowadays, the never-ending truth it can reveal
is that those who follow Nichiren will come to know,
by constantly reciting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo,
that they’ve entered the ox cart that’s wonderfully great
and arrived on true enlightenment’s path as their fate!
~ Harley White
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This parable is found in Chapter Three of the Dharma Flower Sutra. Below is a passage of the commentary by Nichiren, from
The Dharma Flower Sutra Seen through the Oral Transmission of Nichiren Daishōnin – Translated by Martin Bradley.
* * * * * * * * * *
Nowadays when Nichiren and those that follow him reverently recite Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō, they are getting into the cart of the great white bullock and arrive directly at the place of the attainment of the path of enlightenment.
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Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō means to devote our lives to and found them on (Nam[u]) the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō) [entirety of existence, enlightenment and unenlightenment] permeated by the underlying white lotus flower-like mechanism of the interdependence of cause, concomitancy and effect (Renge) in its whereabouts of the ten [psychological] realms of dharmas [which is every possible psychological wavelength] (Kyō).
Dharma Flower Sutra (aka, Lotus Sutra)