There are two characters that setting in the sections of bestowal prophecies by Buddha which really attract our attentions. One is Devadatta and the other is the daughter of the dragon King Sagara. Firstly, Devadatta is presented as a negative character which is not pointed out directly in the twelfth chapter. Therefore, Devadatta is the cousin of Buddha in this life. Because of the sinful anxieties, he attempts to kill Buddha and take his place many times. Nonetheless, Buddha still bestowals a prophecy to him and promised that Devadatta would become a Buddha following the passage of incalculable kalpas and even gives a detail description of Devadatta’s world-sphere in the future kalpas. This setting is not only out of the gratitude to what Devadatta did in the past life (Buddha has specified that Devadatta had been his teacher in the past life and professed him with the Lotus Sutra and many other supernatural powers.) but also to stress that even an evil figure could also attain the unexcelled Bodhi, which fully manifest the idea that everyone would gain the chance to achieve Buddhahood. The figure of the daughter of the Dragon King further supports this theory. As a female, the dragon girl’s body has been suffered from five obstacles. Moreover, she belongs to a member of the tiryañc , which intensify the difficulty for her to attain the Buddhahood. In contrast, she is not excluded but achieves the right, enlightenment intuition much faster than any others. Once again, it emphasizes the center concept that everyone is treated equally in the Buddhist world without any boundaries or distinctions. By utilizing the “real” examples based on particular circumstances, the sutra covers all the cases of living beings and their obstacles which would resist them from pursuing the unsurpassed enlightenment. These settings wondrously prove the essential idea of both Lotus Sutra and Mahayana scriptures.
It is effortless to recognize that every time when Buddha finishes his preaching of the incalculable Buddha path, there would be followed by a gāthā which either proclaimed by Buddha himself or one of the disciples. For the sake of a better comprehension of the unexcelled Dharma, the sutra makes it a two-step learning process. A narrative persuasion or instruction at the beginning, and then a verse with brief summaries of the content which has just been professed above follows up. The setting of these gāthā tactfully assists the readers to memorize the ideas by chanting the poetic texts. Meanwhile, weave the unparalleled structure of Buddhist scripture.
The tradition of using parable has always been a normal phenomenon in different kinds of literature genres. Admittedly, there is no barrier or limitation between countries, areas and nations to use this rhetoric method. One apparent example is the frequent appearance of parables in the Bible. The story “The Good Samaritan” is definitely a well-known example for the use of parable in the Holy Bible. Additionally, in ancient China, the mode of expression“bi”（比）-comparison in the earliest poetry anthology “the Classic of Poetry” is actually a kind of parable. This technic has also been widely used in the many of the works of Zhuang Zi (庄子). In terms of ancient Indian literary tradition, the Sanskrit word: “aupamya”, “drstanta”, “avadana” in many antique Buddhist scriptures contain the meanings of parable. The word “aupamya” first appears in the Lotus Sutra contains the most approximate rhetorical meaning of parable. According to the thesis in Liu Zhengping’s “Analogical Theory of Buddhism”, he expounds that there are two kinds of basic parables in Buddhist sutra , one is called “short parable”（短喻） as they chiefly possess their rhetorical function which are similar to metaphor. Generally, they are short and simple which mingle with explanatory narrations. Occasionally, they come along with the form of gāthā to emphasis the essential ideas that Buddha has preached in the former section. Apparently, the word “lotus” in the title is a “short parable” and the most delicate metaphor of the wondrous dharma. Lotus is the metaphorical object of the paramount dharma and preaching in the scripture and can almost be said as the superlative form of parable in the whole Lotus Sutra. Another kind of parable is called the “long parable” (长喻) which consistently present as allegorical stories to illustrate the facts which have been placed ahead. The “seven parables” in the lotus sutra belong to the later one.
In terms of the “short parable”, the sutra frequently manifests the broad and profound Buddhist knowledge or divinity of Buddha by concrete objects which help us to comprehend. For example, in the first chapter, the scripture draws a comparison between the numerous amounts of Bodhisattva with the sands of the Ganges River while depicting the scene which a vast numbers of Buddhist disciples gather together waiting for the preaching and conveying of Buddha; it says,” Or one could perceive some Bodhisattva, who were cultivating Bestowal, Forbearance and the like, And they were in the number of Ganges sands.” What’s more, in chapter seven, the rendering of the words which the Immense Thoroughness Wisdom-Prevalence Buddha imparting his knowledge of Buddhism is likes the voice of Kalavinka by saying, “On the rivers or in the mountains and precarious gorges, they could hear the sounds of mythical Kalavinka birds.” Although it is a mythological bird in Indian legends, it hints the sacredness of the Buddha’s knowledge. Correspondingly, in the second chapter Buddha declares the preciousness of the sutra by comparing it with the Udumbara blossom. “As for such wondrous Dharma, all Buddha Thus-Adventists would only divulge it occasionally; it is just like the Udumbara blossom, which would bloom only occasionally.” This also echoes the plot that the Lotus Sutra had been preached infinite boundless inconceivable asamkhya number of kalpas ago by a Buddha named Solar-Lunar-Lamp Luminosity Thus-Adventist. These kinds of “short parable” widely appear in the whole scripture to express the endless wisdom of Buddha and the expanse of the Buddha land.
It is believed by many scholars and Buddhists that the “long parables” in the Lotus Sutra are the most intriguing. One of them is the story of a “burning house” which is definitely a classic parable in Buddhism and is relevantly the most crucial one among the seven. It reflects the central idea of the Lotus Sutra and even the Mahayana sutra – there is one and only one Vehicle to achieve the Dharma. The story is well constructed that every single details reveal the conflict in the world in Buddhist perspective. The parable is not only vivid but also accurate. In the story, the man of great power is actually the incarnation of Buddha himself. All the wealth and power that he has represent the incalculable knowledge and insight that Buddha possesses. In Buddhism, the whole world is divided into three parts, the desire world, the form world and the formless world and it is filled with sorrows, woes, sicknesses, the circle of birth and death and other negative senses like a dangerous blazing house. In this way, the blazing house virtually characterizes the world that we are living in. As Buddha adores all the living beings as his own kids, the ignorant and embolden children who are playing happily in the burning house without awareness of the danger embody all the creatures on earth. In order to let them escape from the crumbling house, the man of great power promises to give them three kinds of precious carriages: the goat carriage, the deer carriage which represent the lesser vehicle and the ox carriage which represents the Great Vehicle as reward. Because of the impact of the fivefold desire for wealth, these kids safely run out from the calamity of fire by the lure of the priceless gifts. This is a typical parable story which uses the expedient devices to demonstrate the reasons why Buddha had utilized lesser Vehicle to preach the voice hearers and Pratyehabuddha. According to the roots and Buddhist nature of each individual to arrange appropriate method (vehicle) and profess them in accordance of their aptitudes. Except for the wondrous arrangement of the story which each segments fulfill the Buddhist philosophy in the real life. Therefore, there are another two subtle details in this allegory that intensify the wonderment of this story. As Buddha describes the condition of the rotten house, he mentions that it has only one doorway to the exit. It is not only for the sake of designing a hazardous atmosphere, as a matter of fact, it tactfully stresses the fact that Buddhism is the only way for living beings to approach the Elysium. In addition, at the end of the story, the man of great power provides his children with the most luxurious white-ox carriage instead of the inferior carriages or even the ox carriage which he has promised. Indirectly, it emphasizes the vital status of the Lotus Sutra as white-ox which is regarded as the most sacred animal in ancient India. In ancient India, white-ox is a consecrate animal which is more precious than other ox. Once again, it indicates that the Lotus Sutra is the “king” among the Mahayana sutras. The merging of ancient Indian cultural elements makes the whole allegory meaningful and thought-provoking. Except for the parable of “the Burning House” in chapter three, the parable of “the Lost Heir” in chapter four and the parable of “the Physician’s Son” in chapter sixteen all present the readers with stories between a father and his children. The blood kinship makes the plots more authentic and believable, however, at the same time, reveals the deep love and care of Buddha to the myriad millions and billions of multibeings.
The wondrous description of the detail in the parable of “the Lost Heir” reaches its high peak. The fluent writing style and euphemistic storylines make the allegory more lively and practical. After many years’ separation, the impoverished son couldn’t recognize his own father, just like the unenlightened living beings lost themselves in this miserable world without realizing the truth of Buddhist Dharma. The aged father who is the incarnation of Buddha himself painstakingly searches for his son for fifty years. The innumerable treasures the wealthy elder possesses symbolize the Buddhahood which should be inherited by the impoverished son. The detailed explanation of the first meeting vividly portrays the horrified interaction which most of the non-Buddhists would reflect when the first time they know about Buddhism. Exactly as Buddha would never discard any of his disciples, by the application of expediency, the aged father releases his son and asks him to go wherever he wants to go. Then he sends out two men who dress as poor to convince the poor son to work for the wealthy man in the palace to clean up the excremental dirt. Later on, the wealthy elder put off his garments and put on coarse and dirty clothes to move the excrement with his son. This behavior implies that Buddha conveys the supreme dharma according to particular circumstances. The granted main house symbolizes the Great Vehicle to the supreme enlightenment and the action of removing the excrement embodies the lesser Vehicle. Years after years, the poor son gradually dares to go inside and outside of the main house, which shows the process of transforming lesser Vehicle to the Great Vehicle. On the other hand, the story reflects the strict hierarchy in ancient India while the indigent people wander around to seek for food and affluent people live an extravagant life. The parable of “the Phantom City” portrays the tiredness and puzzlement lying in front of the Buddhist on their way to attain the Dharma. The lesser Vehicle is s phantom like the vanished city. It is a staging post for disciples on the way to the Anuttarasamyaksambodhi. In this way, the story unveils that one shouldn’t addict to the position of the lesser vehicle
With the development of the Silk Road, Buddhism flourished in the Central China. During the Wei-jin period, Buddhist culture had been well developed. Many of the master works of Xie Lingyun (谢灵运) has enhanced with Buddhist philosophy. Needless to say that as a classic Mahayana sutra, the Lotus Sutra has made significant impact to the culture of Central China. All of these parable stories directly and indirectly influence the development of later Chinese literature. Especially during the Tang and Song Dynasty, the shadow of the “Seven Parables” appears in the works of an abundant of Chinese scholars and poets. For example, in the later generation, many intellectuals constantly use “the three vehicles” as a way to release themselves from the official career and to seek for the spiritual comfort. As a poet who was filled with thought of escaping from the reality, poetic genius Li Bai (李白) shows great interest in the “three vehicles”. Once he wrote “a real Buddhist monk, whose dharma name is Jia, constantly discusses about the ‘three vehicle’ with me” (真僧法号僧伽，又是与我论三车). The poem-sage Du Fu also mentions about the “Three Vehicle” in his “Answering feudal provincial Gao” (《酬高使君相赠》) as he writes that “Buddha preach under the double Sal tree, the three vehicles can carry the books” (双树容听法，三车肯载书). The above examples are just two among the vast literature works which get effected by the “seven parables”. This parable theory and tradition continuously influence the literature and culture until modern days.
The Lotus Sutra is an appealing Buddhist philosophical work with wondrous literary technics which worth digging up further. The flowery and marvelous language, artful narrative structure together with the fascinating and connotative parable stories harmoniously establishes the paramount sutra which has been revered for thousand years. Doubtless to say, the Lotus Sutra is assuredly the sacred lotus which blooms in the Buddhist culture.