|The Three Carts and the Burning House
[from the Hiyu chapter (Chapter 3) of the Lotus Sutra]
One day, a fire brokes out in the house of a wealthy man who had many children. The wealthy man shouts at his children inside the burning house to flee. But, the children are absorbed in their games and cannot understand his warning, though the house is being consumed by flames.(http://www.gakkaionline.net/kids/cart.html)
Then, the wealthy man devises a practical way to lure the children from the burning house. Knowing that the children are fond of interesting playthings, he calls out to them, “Listen! Outside the gate are the carts that you have always wanted: carts pulled by goats, carts pulled by deer, and carts pulled by oxen. Why don’t you come out and play with them?”
The wealthy man knows that these things will be irresistible to his children.
The children immediately race out to get into the carts. In this way, the wealthy man is able to get his children safely away from the burning house.
Once outside, the children demand the carts they have been promised. Instead, the wealthy man gives them a much finer and larger cart — one that runs as swiftly as the wind — adorned with many jewels and drawn by a great white ox. This cart is called the Great White Ox Cart.
The wealthy man can be compared to the Buddha, and the children to the people. The burning house indicates the real world where sufferings abound. The goat, deer, and ox carts represent the early teachings of Buddhism. In those previous teachings the goal was to attain the levels of Learning, Realization, or Bodhisattva.
Once those levels were reached, the Buddha’s followers were then ready to hear about the highest teaching, the Lotus Sutra. The Great White Ox Cart is compared to the teaching of the Lotus Sutra, which opens the direct way to Buddhahood.