parable of the three carts and the burning house ［三車火宅の譬］ ( sansha-kataku-no-tatoe): Also, parable of the burning house. One of the seven parables in the Lotus Sutra. It appears in the “Simile and Parable” (third) chapter. Shakyamuni relates this parable to illustrate his statement in the “Expedient Means” (second) chapter that the sole purpose of the Buddhas’ advent is to enable all people to attain Buddhahood, and that the three vehicles of voice-hearers, cause-awakened ones, and bodhisattvas are simply means to lead people to the one Buddha vehicle.
Suppose, he says, there is a very rich man who has many children. One day a fire suddenly breaks out in his spacious but decaying house, and his children, totally absorbed in playing games, do not know that the house is in flames and ignore his cries of warning. He therefore resorts to an expedient means to induce them to come out of the burning house. He shouts to them that outside he has three kinds of carts they have long wanted: a cart pulled by a goat, another by a deer, and a third by an ox. Immediately they race outside. Having coaxed them to safety in this way, the rich man gives each of his children a cart—not one of the three kinds he had promised, but a much finer carriage, adorned with numerous jewels and drawn by a white ox. Shakyamuni compares the burning house in the parable to the threefold world, and the flames to the sufferings of birth and death. The rich man is the Buddha, who appears in this troubled world to save the people, the children are all living beings, and the games in which they are so absorbed are worldly pleasures. The three kinds of carts originally promised represent the three vehicles, or the provisional teachings, and the great white ox carriage symbolizes the supreme vehicle of Buddhahood, that is, the Lotus Sutra.