As long as unenlightened,
each thing misperceived
is a ‘hidden’ metaphor for truth missed.
Thus have I heard: Once upon a time, the Bhagavan [Blessed One; Buddha] was staying in Jetavana grove near Shravasti City. Then, the Bhagavan was among a great congregation and addressed the King named Brilliance, ‘Maharaja, I will now for Your Majesty briefly discuss a parable about the beings of Samsara and their feelings, clingings, mistakes and afflictions. Your Majesty should now listen closely and well think about it. Going back in the past an asamkhyeya-kalpa [quarter of a world cycle], there was a person who went into the wilderness and was chased by an evil elephant. Fearfully, he fled without any refuge. Then, he saw an empty well. And dangling into it was a tree root. Thereupon, he quickly went down the root and hid himself in the well. There were two rats, dark and light, that together gnawed the tree root above him. And in the well, its sides had four poisonous snakes that desired to bite that person. And below there was a poisonous serpent. His mind was terrified by the snakes and the serpent, and he was apprehensive about the tree root breaking. The tree roots had in them the honey of bees, five drops of which fell into his mouth. When the tree shook, bees swarmed down to sting the person, and bush fires came repeatedly to burn the tree.’ The king said, ‘How is it that this person should undergo such endless distress, yet crave for such little feeling [of pleasure]?’
Then the Bhagavan addressed the great king, ‘The wilderness is a metaphor for that long night under ignorance, that is vast and distant. The words ‘that person’ is a metaphor for a[n ordinary] being in yet another life [similar to any being in Samsara]. The elephant is a metaphor for impermanence. The well is a metaphor for [the midst of] Samsara. The dangerous crossing of the tree roots is a metaphor for [this] life[span]. The dark and light pair of rats is a metaphor for day and night. Them gnawing the tree root is a metaphor for being in the four elements [earth, water, fire, wind, that are torn apart]. [The gnawed root is the decay of thought after thought.] The honey is a metaphor for the five desires [wealth, sex, fame, food, sleep] and the bees[‘ stings] are a metaphor for false thinking. The fire is a metaphor for old age and illness. And the poisonous serpent is a metaphor for death. This is why, Maharaja, you should think that birth, ageing, sickness and death are quite terrible. Always should you think and be mindful of them. Do not make yourself subject to the slavery of the five desires…
‘The wise regard these matters thus. The elephant can weary a being’s crossing. The five desires[‘ dissatisfactoriness] can lead the mind to detachment, and the way [of the Dharma] is called the liberated person[‘s escape]. An oppressive place is the ocean of ignorance [Samsara]. Always is death the ruler chasing us. One must know that the love of sound and form is not pleasant when they leave the ordinary man [who is attached to them].’ Then, Maharaja Brilliance, having heard the Buddha give this talk on birth and death being a passage through afflictions, attained unprecedented deep birth to disillusionment [to the five desires]. With his palms together reverently and single-mindedly gazing respectfully, he said to the Buddha, ‘Bhagavan, it is greatly compassionate of the Tathagata to give a talk on such subtle and wondrous meaning of the Dharma. I am now crowned [blessed wih the Dharma]!” The Buddha said, ‘Sadhu! Sadhu! [Excellent]. Maharaja, you should practice this as it has been propounded and not go about unrestrained.’ Then King Brilliance, and those of the great congregation were all elated. They faithfully received, transmitted and upheld it [the teaching].
Translated by Charles Patton
With extra notations & paraphrasing