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A Parable

Chapter 3


The Buddha, wishing to restate his meaning, spoke verses, saying:

Suppose there was an Elder,
Who had a large house,
Which was very old,
And so was collapsing.

The halls were high and precarious,
The pillars rotting at their bases,
The beams and ridgepoles aslant,
The foundations and stairways crumbling.

The walls and partitions were cracked and ruined,
The plaster flaking and falling off.
The thatch was falling every which way,
And the rafters and eavepoles were coming loose,
The partitions on all sides were bent and misshapen;
It was filled with all kinds of filth.
There were five hundred people
Dwelling within it.

There were kites, owls, hawks, and vultures,
Crows, magpies, pigeons, and doves,
Black snakes, vipers and scorpions,
Centipedes and millipedes.

There were geckoes and myriapods,
Weasels, badgers, and mice--
All sorts of evil creatures,
Running back and forth.

There were places stinking of excrement and urine,
Oozing with filth,
With dung beetles
Clustered upon them.

There were foxes, wolves, and Yeh Kan,
Who nibbled at, trampled on,
And devoured corpses,
Scattering the bones and flesh.

Then packs of dogs
Came running to grab them,
Hungry, weak and terrified,
Seeking food everywhere,
Fighting and shoving,
Snarling, howling and barking.

The terrors in that house,
And the sights were such as these.
Li Mei and Wang Liang
Were everywhere.
Yakshas and evil ghosts
Were eating human flesh.

There were poisonous creatures of all kinds,
And evil birds and beasts,
Hatching their young,
Each protecting its own.

Yakshas raced to the spot
Fighting one another to eat them.
Having eaten their fill,
Their evil thoughts grew more inflamed.
The sound of their quarreling,
Was dreadful to the extreme.

Kumbhanda ghosts
Were squatting on high ground,
Sometimes leaving the ground
A foot or two,
As they wandered to and fro
Amusing themselves as they wished,
Grabbing dogs by two legs,
And striking them so they lost their bark,
Twisting their legs around their necks,
Frightening the dogs for their own pleasure.

Further there were ghosts,
Their bodies very tall and large,
Naked, black and thin,
Always dwelling therein,
Emitting loud and evil sounds,
Howling in search of food.

Further there were ghosts
With throats like needles.
Again there were ghosts
With heads like oxen,
Now eating human flesh,
And then devouring dogs.

Their hair was disheveled
They were harmful, cruel and dangerous,
Oppressed by hunger and thirst,
They ran about shouting and crying out.

There were yakshas, hungry ghosts,
And all sorts of evil birds and beasts,
Frantic with hunger, facing the four directions,
Peeking out the windows,
Such were the troubles
And terrors beyond measure there.

This old, decaying house
Belonged to a man
Who had gone but a short distance
When, before very long,
The rear rooms of the house
Suddenly caught fire.

All at once, all four sides
Were enveloped by raging flames,
The beams, ridgepoles, rafters, and pillars
Shook and split with the sound of explosion,
Snapped apart and fell,
As the walls and partitions collapsed and fell in.

All the ghosts and spirits
Screamed loudly,
While the hawks, vultures, and other birds,
The Kumbhandas, and so forth,
Ran about in a panic,
Unable to get themselves out.

Evil beasts and poisonous insects
Hid away in the holes and crevices,
While the pishacha ghosts
Also dwelt therein.

Their blessings and virtue scanty,
They were hard pressed by the fire;
They wrought harm on one another,
Drinking blood and eating flesh.

As the packs of Yeh Kan
Were already dead,
Monstrous evil beasts
Raced to devour them,
While billows of stinking smoke
Permeated all four sides.

Centipedes and millipedes,
And various kinds of poisonous snakes,
Burnt by the fire,
Fought to escape their holes.
Kumbhanda ghosts
Grabbed and ate them.

Further, all the hungry ghosts,
The tops of their heads aflame,
Tormented by hunger, thirst, and heat,
Ran about in terror and distress.

So it was in that house:
Terrifying to the extreme,
With dangers and conflagrations--
A host of troubles, not just one.

At that time the owner of the house
Was standing outside the door
When he heard someone say,
“All of your children
Awhile ago, in play,
Went into this house.
Being young and ignorant,
They delight in play and cling to amusements.”
Having heard this, the Elder
Entered the burning house, in alarm.

Intending to save them
From being burned
He warned his children
Of the host of disasters:
“The evil ghosts, the poisonous insects
and the spreading conflagration,
A host of sufferings, in succession
Are continuous, without interruption.

The poisonous snakes and vipers
And all the yakshas,
And Kumbhanda ghosts,
Yeh Kan, foxes and dogs,
Hawks, vultures, kites and owls,
And varieties of centipedes
Are frantic with hunger and thirst,
And terrifying to the extreme.

There are so many sufferings and troubles,
So much increased by this great fire!”
But all the children, without knowledge,
Although they heard their father’s warnings,
Still clung to their amusements
And sported without cease.

At that time, the Elder
Further had this thought:
“Being like this, my children
Add to my worry and distress;
Now, in this house, there is not
A single thing in which to take pleasure,
And yet all these children
Are intoxicated by their play.
Not heeding my instructions,
They will be injured in the fire.”
Just then he thought
To devise expedients.

He said to the children,
I have all kinds
Of precious playthings:
Fine carriages, wonderful, bejeweled
Sheep carts and deer carts,
And great ox carts,
Now, right outside the door.
So come out, all of you,
For I have, just for you,
Had these carts made.
Just as you wish,
You can play with them.”

When the children heard him speak
Of carriages such as these,
They immediately raced
Out in a scramble,
To a clearing where
They were then safe from harm.

The Elder, seeing that his children
Had escaped the burning house,
And were standing at the crossroads,
Sat on his Lion’s throne
And rejoiced to himself, saying,
“Now, I am happy!
All of these children
Were hard to bring into the world and raise;
Stupid, young and without knowledge,
They went into this dangerous house,
Swarming with poisonous insects
And fearful Li Mei ghosts,
Ablaze with a great fire,
Raging on all sides.
But all these children
Still clung to their amusements.
I have now rescued them
And saved them from disaster.
Therefore, of all people,
I am the happiest!”

Then, all the children,
Knowing their father was sitting at ease,
All went before him
And addressed him saying,
“Please give to us
The three jeweled carts
That you promised to us, saying,
‘If you children come out
I will give you three carts
Just like you wanted.’
Now the time has come,
Please give them to us!”

The Elder, having great wealth,
And storehouses containing much
Gold, silver and lapis lazuli,
Mother-of-pearl and carnelian,
Used these precious things
To make several great carts.
They were decorated and adorned,
Surrounded by railings,
Hung with bells on all four sides,
With golden cords strung about them,
And gem-studded nets
Spread above them.

There were golden flowered tassels
Hanging from them everywhere,
And various multi-colored ornaments
Encircling them.

Soft silk and cotton
Made up the cushions,
And fine coverings,
Valued in the thousands of millions,
Pure white and sparkling clean
Were spread atop them.

Great white oxen,
Plump, strong and powerful,
Of fine appearance,
Were yoked to the precious carts.
They were surrounded by many footmen
Who were attending to them.
Such fine carriages as these
Were given equally to all the children.

Then all the children
Danced for joy;
They mounted their jeweled carts
And rode off into the four directions,
Happily amusing themselves
In unobstructed comfort.

I tell you, Shariputra,
I am like this, too,
The honored among many sages,
The father of the worlds.

All living beings
Are my children;
Deeply attached to worldly pleasures,
They have no wise thoughts at all.

In the three realms there is no peace;
They are like a burning house filled with many sufferings,
And frightening indeed.
Ever present are the woes
Of birth, old age, sickness, death,
Fires such as these,
Raging without cease.

The Thus Come One has already left
The three realms’ burning house behind.
Quietly I dwell at ease,
In forest and field at peace.

And now it is, that the three realms,
Entirely belong to me,
And in them all the living beings
Are children of mine.

But now, this place
Is filled with calamities,
And I am the only one
Able to rescue them.

Although I instructed them,
They do not believe or accept,
Because of their deep attachment and greed
To all the defiling desires.

Using these expedients,
I speak to them of three vehicles,
Causing all living beings
To understand the pain of the three realms,
I reveal and extensively proclaim
The Way which transcends the world.
All of these children,
If they fix their minds,
Can perfect the three clarities
And the six spiritual powers.

Some shall become conditioned-enlightened ones,
And others irreversible Bodhisattvas.

I, for living beings,
Speak this parable
Of the One Buddha Vehicle.

If all of you are able
To believe and accept these words,
You shall, in the future,
Realize the Buddha Way.

This vehicle is subtle and wonderful,
Pure and foremost.
In all the worlds
It is the most supreme.

The Buddhas rejoice in it,
And all living beings
Should praise it as well.
Make offerings and bow before it.

Limitless Thousands of Millions
Of powers and liberations,
Dhyana samadis and wisdom,
And the Buddhas’ other Dharmas
Are obtained in a vehicle such as this.

I cause all my children,
Night and day for many aeons,
Ever to amuse themselves
In the company of the Bodhisattvas
And the host of Hearers,
Riding this precious vehicle
Straight to the field of the Way.

For these reasons,
Though they seek in the ten directions,
There is no other vehicle,
Except for the Buddhas’ expedients.

I tell you, Shariputra,
That all of you
Are my children,
And I am your father.

For many aeons, you
Have been burned by many miseries,
And I have saved you all,
Leading you out of the triple realm.

Although earlier I said
That you had passed into Quiescence,
It was only an end to birth and death
And not real Quiescence.
What you should accomplish now,
Is nothing but the Buddhas’ wisdom.

If there are Bodhisattvas
Within this assembly,
They can singlemindedly listen to
The Buddha’s real Dharma.

Although the Buddhas, World Honored Ones,
Employ expedient devices,
The living beings they transform
All are Bodhisattvas.

If there are those of little wisdom,
Deeply attached to love and desire,
For their sakes
I teach the truth of suffering.

Living beings then rejoice
Gaining what they never had,
For the Buddha’s Teaching of suffering’s truth
is true, real and not false.

If there are living beings,
Who do not know the origin of suffering,
Who are deeply attached to the cause of suffering,
Unable to leave if for even a moment,
For their sakes
I expediently speak of the Way,
The cause of all suffering
Is rooted in desire.

If one extinguishes greed and desire,
Suffering has nothing to rest upon.
The extinction of all suffering
Is called the third truth.

For the sake of the truth of Quiescence,
One cultivates the Way;
Leaving all suffering’s bonds
Is called the attainment of liberation.

From what is it
That these people have been liberated?
The mere separation from the false
Is called liberation.

In reality they have not yet
Attained total liberation.
The Buddha says that these people
Have not yet truly reached Quiescence,
Because they have not yet attained
The Unsurpassed Way.

It is not my wish
To lead them to Quiescence.
I am the Dharma King,
At ease within all the Dharmas.
I manifest within this world
To bring peace and tranquility to living beings.

Shariputra! This Dharma Seal of mine
Is spoken because I wish to benefit the world.
Wherever you roam, do not propagate it wrongly.

If there be those who hear it,
And rejoice, receiving it atop their crowns,
You should know that such people
Are Avaivartika.

Those who believe and accept
The Dharma of this Sutra,
These people have already seen
The Buddhas of the past,
Reverently making offerings,
And hearing this Dharma as well.

Those who are able
To believe what you say,
They then see me,
And they see you,
And also the Bhikshusangha,
As well as all the Bodhisattvas.

This Sutra of the Dharma Flower
Is spoken for those of profound wisdom;
When those of shallow understanding hear it,
Confused and deluded, they fail to understand it.

The Hearers, every one,
And the Pratyeka Buddhas,
Find the contents of this Sutra
Far beyond their powers.

You, Shariputra,
Gained entry to this Sutra
By means of faith.
How much the more so other Hearers.

Those Hearers,
Because of their faith in the Buddha’s words,
Comply with this Sutra.
But it is beyond the range of their own wisdom.

Further, Shariputra
To the arrogant and lazy
And those who reckon the view of self,
Do not speak this Sutra.

Common folk of shallow understanding,
Deeply attached to the five desires,
Hearing it, will fail to understand;
Do not speak it to them, either.

If there be those who do not believe,
And who slander this Sutra,
They thereby sever all
Worldly Buddha seeds.

Or if, with a scowl,
They harbor doubts and delusions
You should listen now,
As I speak of their offense-retribution:
Whether a Buddha is in the world,
Or has entered into Quiescence.

If there be those who slander
A Sutra such as this one,
Who, seeing others read or recite it,
Copy it out or uphold it,
Scorn, despise, hate and envy them,
And harbor grudges against them,
As to their offense retribution,
Listen now, once again:
These people at life’s end
Will enter the Avichi Hell
For an entire aeon.

At the aeon’s end, born there again,
In this way they will revolve,
Through uncountable aeons.
When they escape from the hells,
They shall take the bodies of animals,
Such as dogs or Yeh Kan,
Tall and emaciated,
Mottled, black and scabbed,
Repulsive to others.

Further, by human beings,
They will be hated and scorned;
Always suffering from hunger and thirst,
Their bones and flesh will be withered up.

During their lives they will be pricked by poisonous thorns;
When dead they will be buried under tiles and stones.
They suffer this offense retribution,
Because they have severed their Buddha seeds.

They may become camels
Or they may be born among asses,
Always carrying heavy burdens
And beaten with sticks and whips,
Thinking only of water and grass,
And knowing nothing else.

They suffer retribution such as this
Because of slandering this Sutra.
Some may become Yeh Kan,
Entering villages,
Their bodies covered with scabs and sores,
And also missing an eye,
Beaten and stoned
By young children,
Undergoing all this pain,
Even to the point of death.

Having died in this manner
They are then reborn as huge serpents,
Their bodies as long
As five hundred yojanas.

Deaf and stupid, without feet,
They writhe about on their stomachs,
Stung and eaten
By many small insects.

Undergoing suffering day and night
Without respite,
They suffer such retribution
For having slandered this Sutra.

If they become humans,
All their faculties are dim and dull.
They are squat, ugly, palsied, lame,
Blind, deaf and hunchbacked.

Whatever they may say,
People will not believe them.
Their breath ever stinking,
They will be possessed by ghosts,
Poor and lowly,
The servants of others,
Always sick and emaciated,
With no one to rely upon.

Although they may draw near to others,
Others will never think of them.
If they should gain something
They will quickly forget and lose it.

Should they study the ways of medicine,
Following the prescription to cure illness,
They will only make other’s illnesses worse.
Even to the point of death.

If they get sick themselves,
No one will try to save or cure them.
Although they take good medicine,
It will only increase their pains.

If they meet with rebellion,
They will be plundered and robbed.
People with such offenses,
Will perversely be subject to such misfortunes,
Offenders such as these
Will never see the Buddha,
The King among the sagely hosts,
Speaking the Dharma, teaching and transforming.

Offenders such as these
Will always be born in difficult circumstances.
Insane, deaf, with mind confused,
They will never hear the Dharma.

Throughout aeons as countless
As the Ganges river’s sands,
They will be born deaf and dumb,
With all their faculties incomplete;
They will always dwell in the hells,
Roaming there as if in pleasure gardens,
Or born in the other evil paths,
Which they will take as their house and home.

Among camels, asses, pigs and dogs--
These are the places they will walk,
They undergo such retribution,
Because of slandering this Sutra.

If they become humans,
They will be deaf, blind and dumb,
Poor and decrepit,
Yet adorning themselves therewith.

Swollen with water, or else dehydrated,
With scabs and boils,
And other such illnesses,
They will clothe themselves.
Their bodies will always stink
Of filth and impurity.

Deeply attached to the view of self,
Their hatred shall only increase.
Ablaze with sexual desire,
They are no different than birds or beasts.
They will suffer such retribution
For having slandered this Sutra.

I tell you, Shariputra,
Were I to speak of the offenses
Of those who slander this Sutra,
I would not finish to the end of an aeon.

For these reasons,
I expressly tell you,
Do not speak this Sutra
Among those who have no wisdom.

If there are those with keen faculties,
And wisdom which clearly comprehends,
With much learning and a strong memory,
Who seek the Buddha’s Path,
For people such as these,
You may speak it.

If there are those who have seen in the past
Hundreds of thousands of millions of Buddhas,
Who have planted wholesome roots,
Who have deep and firm minds,
For people such as these,
You may speak it.

If there are those who are vigorous,
Ever cultivating minds of compassion,
Not sparing body or life,
For them you may speak it.

If there are those who are reverent,
Without any other thoughts,
Who have left the common stupid folk,
Who dwell alone in mountains and marshes,
For people such as these
You may speak it.

Further, Shariputra,
If you see people
Who have cast aside bad knowing advisors,
And draw near to good friends,
For people such as these,
You may speak it.

If you see disciples of the Buddha,
Holding precepts as purely,
As pure, bright jewels,
For people such as these,
You may speak it.

If there are those who have no hatred,
Who are straightforward and gentle,
Always merciful to all beings,
And reverent of all Buddhas,
For people such as these,
You may speak it.

Further, if there are Buddha’s disciples,
Who in the great assembly,
With minds clear and pure,
Use various causal conditions,
Parables and phrases,
To speak the Dharma without obstruction,
For people such as these,
You may speak it.

If there are Bhikshus,
Who, for the sake of all-wisdom,
Seek the Dharma in the four directions,
With palms together, receiving it atop the crown,
Who delight only in receiving and upholding
The canon of Great Vehicle Sutras,
Refusing to accept so much
As a single line from another scripture,
For people such as these,
You may speak it.

If there be those who, with mind intent,
Seek the Buddha’s sharira,
Or who likewise seek the Sutras,
And attaining them hold them atop their crowns,
Such people will never again
Resolve to seek other Sutras,
Nor ever have the thought
To seek the writings of outside ways,
For people such as these,
You may speak it.

I tell you, Shariputra,
Were I to speak of the characteristics
Of those who seek the Buddha’s Path,
Exhausting aeons, I would not finish.
People such as these
Can believe and understand,
And for their sake you should speak
The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra.

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