Once, a fire broke out in a rich man’s house. The man began shouting out to his many children to run out of the building. Absorbed in their play, the children paid no heed to his cries.
Then their father came up with an inspired way to make them do his bidding. Knowing their fondness for interesting things, he called out, “Children ! I have something that you’ve always wanted – carts! They’re outside the gates, carts with goats, deer and oxen to pull them. Let’s have fun riding them! ” The children ran out of the house, now being rapidly consumed by fire. Outside, they looked around.
“Where are our carts, father? Oh, we can’t wait to ride them!” But their father gave them something better than what he had promised – a much larger cart, more like a magnificent chariot, that was drawn by a huge, white ox and could race faster than the wind.
In the Lotus Sutra, from which this parable comes, the cart is named the Great White Ox Cart. The father represents the Buddha while his children are common people. The flaming house is the world, filled with suffering. The deer, goat and ox carts symbolize the Buddha’s early teachings, guiding people towards a basic understanding of realization, learning or following the way of a bodhisattva. When the Buddha’s followers achieve these levels, they are ready for advanced learning from the Lotus Sutra, here symbolized by the Great White Ox Cart, which directs followers towards spiritual enlightenment.