Significance Of 12 Analogies In The Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks Of Analogies《佛说譬喻经》之十二譬喻的意义


— 释迦牟尼佛

Those wise contemplating these matters, are like those who can have revulsion, and give rise to crossing, of the five desires’ mind, without attachment, they are then named as liberated persons.

— Śākyamuni Buddha
(The Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks Of Analogies)

In ‘The Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks Of Analogies’《佛说譬喻经》, for us to know the faults and suffering (过患) of rebirth (轮回), so as to give rise to revulsed renunciation (厌离), to practise diligently (勤修) without laxity (放逸) for liberation (解脱), the Buddha gave an elaborate but vividly relatable parable with 12 analogies, on the constant and all-directional terrifying threats of our physical lives (身命) and spiritual lives (慧命), that are applicable to all sentient beings (众生), even rich and powerful royalty, who are also trapped in the rounds of rebirth, due to similar deluded greed for the five desires (五欲).

‘Thus in the past, in immeasurable kalpas ago, then was[2] person, travelling in the [1] wilderness, by a [3] fierce elephant that chased, terrified and running, without anything to rely on. Seeing an [4] empty well, by the side is a [5] tree root, immediately climbing the root to the below, hiding the body within the well. There are the [6] black and white, two mice, [7] back-and-forth gnawing at the tree root. At the well’s four sides are [8] four poisonous snakes, desiring to bite that person. Below is a [12] poisonous dragon. With the mind fearing the dragon and snakes, afraid that the tree root will break. The tree root had [9] bee honey, with five drops falling into the mouth, as the tree shook and the [10] bees scattered, below stinging this person. [11] Wild fire again came, to burn this tree.’

(乃往过去,于无量劫,时有一 [2] 人,游于 [1] 旷野,为 [3] 恶象所逐,怖走无依,见一 [4] 空井,傍有 [5] 树根,即寻根下,潜身井中。有 [6] 黑白二鼠,[7] 互啮树根;于井四边有 [8] 四毒蛇,欲螫其人;下有 [12] 毒龙。心畏龙蛇恐树根断。树根 [9] 蜂蜜,五滴堕口,树摇 [10] 蜂散,下螫斯人,[11] 野火复来,烧然此树。)

Significance Of Analogies

[1] Wilderness: The wilderness (旷野) represent the vast and distant ‘region’ of ignorance’s (无明) long night, that we have been wandering in for an extremely long time already, for many lives, existentially lost, even if imagining we have a direction and purpose at times. Thus are we still circling in this wilderness.

[2] Person: The person (人) running represents all different ordinary beings (凡夫众生;异生). According to the ‘Parable Of Two Rivers And White Path’ (二河白道喻), what we, as ‘the person’, should rely on, is Niànfó (念佛) practice of mindfulness of Buddha (i.e. Āmítuófó: 阿弥陀佛), with profound Faith (深信) and sincere Aspiration (切愿), so as to connect to him, to be guided to reach his Pure Land (净土), thus escaping from the dangerous wilderness of Saṃsāra (i.e. 轮回: rebirth) once and for all.

[3] Elephant: The fierce elephant (恶象) represents the viciousness and mercilessness of death, that is ever at our heels, with us uncertain of when it will creep up upon us, be it gradually or suddenly. However, we tend to dread it fearfully only when it is more obviously near, such as when very sick. All trying to run and hide from death without spiritual cultivation will be still ‘found’ by death, sooner or later.

[4] Well: The empty well (空井) represents the unsubstantial ‘hollowness’ of the cycle of birth and death, the ’empty refuge’ that we repeatedly fall back into.

[5] Root: The tree root (树根) represents our lives being limited in length, and able to snap at any time.

[6] Mice: The white and black mice (白黑二鼠) represent day and night respectively, which take turns, swiftly and relentlessly, to ‘devour away’ every moment.

[7] Gnawing: The alternating chewing at the root (啮根) by the mice represents the passing of time ‘eating away’ our lives all the time, thus ‘eliminating’ us from moment to moment.

[8] Snakes: The four poisonous snakes (四毒蛇) surrounding the well and threatening to bite represent how the four great elements (四大) (of earth, water, fire and wind: 地水火风) sabotage us by losing balance from time to time, thus giving rise to ageing, sickness and eventually death.

[9] Honey: The bee honey’s five drops (蜂蜜五滴) represent the five desires (五欲) (for wealth, sex, fame, food and sleep: 财色名食睡) that are tempting, even possibly so on the brink of death. It is such attachment that leads us back to Saṃsāra.

[10] Stings: The bees scattering and stinging (蜂螫) represent the evil contemplations from greed, hatred and delusion (贪嗔痴), that accompany thoughts with craving for the five desires, that make our minds scattered (散心), thus distracting and harming us.

[11] Fire: The wild fire (野火) represents repeated ageing and sickness (老死) that ‘burn’ to harm us again, also by burning the tree’s root, thus shortening our lives.

[12] Dragon: The poisonous dragon (毒龙) represents death’s suffering (死苦) at the ‘end’ of the well of rebirth.


— 释迦牟尼佛

Completely dwelling in ignorance’s ocean, constantly by Death’s King chased, rather to receive attachment to sounds and forms, those not joyful with departure, are as ordinary beings.

— Śākyamuni Buddha
(The Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks Of Analogies)

Complete Sūtra:

The Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks Of Analogies

Related Parable:

The Parable Of Two Rivers And The White Path

Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!

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