Lotus Sutra

The Lotus Sutra

A Parable

Speaking of expedient means, there is a famous passage in the Lotus Sutra called “A Parable.” It depicts a father calling to his children who are playing in a burning house. Despite his calls, they refuse to come out. So the father uses a “trick” to get his children out of the fire:

    “Yet my sons,
    Wrapped up in their games,
    Refuse to heed my instructions
    And will be destroyed by the fire!”
    Then it occurred to him
    To devise some expedient means,
    And he said to his sons:
    “I have many kinds
    Of rare and marvelous toys,
    Wonderful jeweled carriages,
    Goat-carts, deer-carts,
    Carts drawn by big oxen.
    They are outside the gate right now
    You must come out and see them!”
            [Translated by Burton Watson]

Although this passage is a parable, it is characteristically different than Taoist symbolic writings. The language of the Lotus Sutra is simple and direct. Goat-carts and deer-carts mean goat-carts and deer-carts. What we see here is another example of symbolism used as a teaching tool.

The Buddha used this parable to illustrate that one may use various devices to help others. Buddhism teaches that there are 84,000 dharma doors, which, as is a figurative way of saying that there are many different paths (expedient means) to the same spiritual goal.

Taoist meditation and Zen meditation can both be considered different expedient means. But so can Christian and Muslim prayer. Religious chanting is an expedient means. Gardening can also be considered an expedient means.


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