Parable of the Burning House

Sariputra! Suppose there lived a very rich man in a certain country, in a certain village, in a certain town. He was old. His wealth was immeasurable. He had many paddy fields, houses, and servants. His manor house was large, but had only one gate. In that house lived many people, numbering a hundred or two hundred or five hundred. The buildings were in decay, the fences and walls corrupt, the bases of the pillars rotten, and the beams and ridgepoles tilting and slanted.

All of a sudden fires broke out at the same time from all sides of the house, and it began to burn. In this house lived children of the rich man, numbering ten or twenty or thirty. The rich man was very frightened at the great fires breaking out from the four sides of the house. He thought, ‘I am able to get out of the gate of the burning house safely. but my children are still inside. They are engrossed in playing. They do not know that the fires are coming towards them. They are not frightened or afraid. They are about to suffer, but do not mind. They do not wish to get out.’ Sariputra! He also thought, ‘I am strong-muscled. I will put them in a flower-plate or on a table and bring them out.’

But he thought again, ‘This house has only one gate. Worse still, the gate is narrow and small. My children are too young to know this. They are attached to the place where they are playing. They may fall [out of the plate or table] and get burned. I had better tell them of the danger. This house is already burning. They must come out quickly so as not to be burned to death.’

Having thought this, he said to his children as he had thought, ‘Come out quickly!’ He warned them with these good words out of his compassion towards them, but they were too much engrossed in playmg to hear the words of their father. They were not frightened or afraid. They did not wish to come out. They did not know what a fire was, what a house was, and what they would lose. They ran about happily. They only glanced at their father occasionally.

Thereupon the rich man thought, ‘This house will be burned down soon by this great fire. If they and I do not get out at once, we shall be burned. I will save them from this danger with an expedient.’

An idea came to his mind that his children would be attracted by the various toys which they wished to have. He said to them, ‘The toys you wish to have are rare and difficult to obtain. You will be sorry if you do not get them now. There are sheep-carts, deer-carts, and bullock-carts outside the gate. You can play with them. Come out of this burning house quickly! I will give you any of them according to your wishes.’

Hearing of the toys from their father, th.e children rushed quickly out of the burning house, pushing one another, and striving to be first, because they thought that they could get what they each wished to have. Th rich man, who saw them having come out safely and sitting in the open on the crossroad with no more hindrance, felt relieved and danced with joy. They said to their father, ‘Father! Give us the toys! Give us the sheep-carts, deer-cart and bullock-carts you promised us!’

Sariputra! Then the rich man gave each of them a large cart of the same size. The cart was tall, wide and deep, adorned with many treasures, surrounded by railings, and having bells hanging on the four sides. A canopy adorned with rare treasures was fixed on the top of it. Garlands of flowers, tied with jeweled ropes, were hanging from the canopy. ln the cart were quilts spread one on another, and a red pillow. The cart was yoked with white bullocks. The color of the skin of the white bullocks was bright; their build, beautiful and stout; and their pace, regular. They attendants. [This great rich man gave one of these carts to each of his children] because his wealth was so immeasurable that his various storehouses were full [of treasures]. He thought, ‘My treasures are limitless. I should not give inferior, smaller carts to them. They are all my children. Therefore, I love them without partiality. I have a countless number of these large carts of the seven treasures. I gave one of these to each of my children equally. There should be no discrimination. The large carts are numerous enough to be given to all the people of this country. Needless to say, I can give them to my sons. [Therefore, I did.]’

The children rode in the large carts, and had the greatest joy that they had ever had because they had never expected to get them.

And in gathas:

I will tell y ou a parable.
A rich man had a manor house.
It was old, rotten,
Broken and ruined.
The house was about to collapse.
The lower parts of the pillars were rotten;
The beams and ridge-poles, tilting and slanted;
The foundation and steps, broken;
The fences and walls, corrupt;
The plaster of the walls, peeling;
The rush thatched on the roof, falling;
The rafters and eaves, slipping out of each other;
The hedges around the house, bent;
And refuse and debris, scattered all over.

In this house lived
Five hundred people.
Kites, owls, crested eagles,
Eagles, crows,
Magpies, doves, pigeons,
Lizards, snakes, vipers, scorpions,
Millipedes, wall lizards, centipedes,
Weasels, badgers, mice, rats,
And poisonous vermin
Were moving about.
Maggots and other vermin
Assembled on the excretions
Scattered all over
In the house.

Foxes, wolves, and small foxes
Were crawling on corpses,
Biting them, chewing them,
And dismembering them.

Many dogs were scrambling for their prey.
Weak and nervous from hunger,
They were seeking food here and there.
They were fighting with each other,
Snapping at each other,
And barking at each other.
The house was
So dreadful, so extraordinary.

Mountain spirits, water spirits,
Yaksas and other demons
lived here and there.
They fed on people and poisonous vermin.

Wild birds and beasts
Hatched their eggs,
Suckled or bred.
They protected their offspring.
Yak$aS scrambled for their y oung,
Took them, and ate them.
Having eaten to their hearts’ content,
They became more violent.
They fought with each other.
Their shrieks were dreadful.

The demons called kumbhandas
Crouched on the ground
Or jumped a foot or two above the ground.
They walked to and fro
And played at their will.
They seized dogs by the legs,
Or hit them
Until they lost their voices,
And held their feet against their necks.
They enjoyed seeing them frightened.

Some demons,
Tall, large,
Naked, black, and thin,
Lived in the house.
They were crying for food
With loud and evil voices.

The necks of some demons
Were as slender as needles.
The heads of some demons
Were like that of a cow.
They ate people or dogs.
Their hair was disheveled
Like mugworts.
They were cruel and dangerous.
Always hungry and thirsty,
They were running about, shrieking.

Yaksas, hungry spirits,
And wild birds and beasts
Were unbearably hungry.
They were looking out of the windows
In all directions for food.
The house was so dangerous, so dreadful.

This old and rotten house
Was owned by a man.
Shortly after he went out
To a place in the neighborhood,
Fires broke out suddenly
In the house.

Raging flames came out
Of all sides at the same time.
The ridges, rafters,
Beams and pillars
Burst, quaked, split, broke and fell.
The fences and walls also fell.

All the demons yelled.
The eagles, crested eagles,
And other birds, and kumbhandas
Were frightened and perplexed.
They did not know
How to get out of the house.
The wild beasts and poisonous vermin
Hid themselves in holes.

In that house also lived
Demons called pisacakas.
Because they had few merits and virtues,
They suffered from the fire.
They killed each other,
Drank blood, and ate flesh.

The small foxes were
Already dead.
Large wild beasts
Rushed at them and ate them.
Ill-smelling smoke rose
And filled the house.
The centipedes, millipedes,
And poisonous snakes
Were driven out of their holes
By the fire,
And eaten
By the kumbhaanda-demons.

The hair of the hungry spirits caught fire.
With hunger, thirst and burning,
The spirits ran about
In agony and dismay.

The house was so dreadful.
[In that house] there were
Poisonings, killings and burnings.
There were many dangers, not just one.
At that time the house-owner
Was standing outside the gate.
He heard a man say to him:
“Some time ago
Your children entered this house to play.
They are young and ignorant.
They are engrossed in playing.”
Hearing this,
The rich man was frightened.
He rushed into the burning house.

In order to save them
From burning to death,
He told them
Of the dangers of the house:
“There are demons and poisonous vermin here.
Flames have already spread all over.
Many sufferings are coming
One after another endlessly.
There are poisonous snakes,
Lizards, vipers,
Yaksas, kumbhaanda-demons,
Small foxes, foxes, dogs,
Crested eagles, eagles,
Kites, owls and centipedes here.
They are unbearably hungry and thirsty.
They are dreadful.
These sufferings are difficult to avoid.
Worse still, there is a big fire.”

Though the children heard his warning,
They were still engrossed in playing.
They did not stop playing
Because they were ignorant.

The rich man
“They are ignorant.
My anxiety deepens
There is nothing pleasant
In this house.
But they are engrossed
In playing.
They do not listen to me.
They will be burned to death.”

At the time
He thought of an expedient.
He said to them:
“I have many kinds of toys.
They are beautiful carts
Made of wonderful treasures.
They are sheep-carts, deer-carts,
And largel bullock-carts.
They are outside the gate.
Come out!
I made those carts
For you.
Play with them
As you like!”

Hearing of the carts from him,
They ran out,
Striving to be first,
And reached an open place.
They were now free
From the sufferings.

Seeing them come out
Of the burning house
To the safe crossroad,
He sat on the lion-like seat,
And said to others with joy:
“I am happy.
These children are difficult to bring up.
They are young and ignorant.
They entered the dangerous house.
In that house were
Many poisonous vermin
And many dangerous mountain spirits.
Raging flames of big fires rose
From the four sides of the house
At the same time.
But my children were
Engrossed in playing.
Now I saved them
From the dangers.
Therefore, I am happy.”

The children saw their father
Sitting in peace.
They came to him,
And said:
“Give us
The three kinds of jeweled carts
That you promised us!
You said:
“Come out, and I will give you
The three kinds of carts as you like.”
Now is the time for that.
Give them to us now!”

He was a very rich man.
He had many storehouses.
He made many large carts
Adorned with treasures,
Such as gold, silver,
Lapis lazuli, shell and agate.

[The carts] were beautifully adorned.
Railings were put around them.
Bells were hanging on the four sides
With ropes of gold.

[The carts] were roofed
With nets of pearls.
Garlands of golden flowers
Were hanging on all sides.

Other ornaments of fabrics
Of divers colors
Encircled the bodies of the carts.
Bedding was made of soft cloth.
[The bedding] was covered
With the most wonderful woolen fabrics.
They were bright, white, pure and clean,
Worth hundreds of thousands of millions.

Large white bullocks,
Fat, stout, powerful,
And beautiful in their build,
Were yoked to the jeweled carts.
The carts were also guarded
By many attendants.

[The rich man] gave to each of his children
One of these wonderful carts.
The children
Danced with joy.

On the Journey to a Place of Treasures