The Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks Of Analogies《佛说譬喻经》

[The] Sūtra [In Which The] Buddha Speaks [Of] Analogies

[By] Great Táng [Dynasty’s] Tripiṭaka Dharma Master Yìjìng Translated

公元 2022 年优婆塞沈时安英译
[In] 2022 C.E [By] Upāsakā Shen Shi’an Translated [To] English

[For ease of detailed studying and editing, square brackets show necessary connective words used in translation, to be removed for final published version later, with addition of glossary and notes. Suggestions are welcome for more precise choice of words. For the latest improved version, do revisit this page. Námó Āmítuófó.]

Introduction: 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 to our physical lives (身命) and spiritual lives (慧命), that are relevant to all sentient beings (众生), even rich and powerful royalty, who are also trapped in the rounds of rebirth, due to similar deluded attachment to the five desires (五欲).

In a way, although easy to understand in essence, this can be said to be one of the Buddha’s first urgent lessons, to wake us up to the reality of life’s impermanence and death’s unpredictability, so as to clearly see that Dharma learning and practice is our only true refuge. Even before he became the Buddha, when he renounced the Kingdom in the cover of night, although he was young, he was ‘fleeing’ with a sense of urgency to accomplish his spiritual life. The quest for Buddhahood was, for one and all, a race against time.

Preface Section


Thus is [as] I [have] heard. [At] one time, [the] Bhagavān [i.e. Blessed One], [was] at Śrāvastī City’s Jeta Grove [And] Giver[-To-The-]Lonely Garden.


At that time, [the] World-Honoured [One was] within [a] great assembly, telling Supreme Light King [i.e. Prasenajit], saying, ‘Great King, I [will] now for [the] King briefly speak [of] analogies, [of] all sentient [beings in the cycle of] birth [and] death, [with] attachment [to] taste, [its] faults [and] suffering. [May the] King now attentively listen, well contemplate [and be] mindful [of] this.

Main Principles’ Section

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。

Thus [in the] past, in immeasurable kalpas [ago], then was a [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.

[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。

[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.

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。」

[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.’


[The] King said, ‘Why [is] this person, receiving immeasurable suffering, [yet with] greed [for] that little taste?’

尔时世尊告言:「大王,[1] 旷野者喻于无明长夜旷远,言彼 [2] 人者喻于异生,[3] 象喻无常,[4] 井喻生死,[5] 险岸树根喻命,[6] 黑白二鼠以喻昼夜,[7] 啮树根者喻念念灭,其 [8] 四毒蛇喻于四大,[9] 蜜喻五欲,[10] 蜂喻邪思,[11] 火喻老病,[12] 毒龙喻死。

At that time, [the] World-Honoured [One] said, ‘Great King, that [1] wilderness [is an] analogy for ignorance’s long night, [that is] vast [and] distant, speaking [of] that [2] person, [is an] analogy for [different] ordinary beings, [the] [3] elephant [is an] analogy [for] impermanence, [the] [4] well [is an] analogy [for the cycle of] birth [and] death, [the] [5] dangerous shore’s tree root [is an] analogy [for] life, [the] [6] black [and] white, [the] two mice, [are] with [them as] analogies [for] day [and] night, that [7] gnawing [at the] tree root [is an] analogy [for] thought [after] thought [being] eliminated, those [8] four poisonous snakes [are] analogies for [the] four great [elements (i.e. of earth, water, fire and wind: 地水火风), the] [9] honey [is an] analogy [for the] five desires (i.e. for wealth, sex, fame, food and sleep: 财色名食睡)], [the] [10] bees [are] analogies [for] evil contemplations, [the] [11] fire [are] analogies [for] ageing [and] sickness, [and the] [12] poisonous dragon [is an] analogy [for] death.


Therefore, great King, [you] should know [that as] birth, ageing, sickness [and] death, [are] extremely terrifying, [you] constantly should contemplate [and be] mindful [of them, and] not by [the] five desires [be] those swallowed [and] compelled.’


At that time, [the] World-Honoured [One] repeated [by] speaking [in] verse, saying,

 [1] 旷野无明路,
 [2] 人走喻凡夫,
 [3] 大象比无常,
 [4] 井喻生死岸;

‘[The] [1] wilderness [is] ignorance’s region, [the] [2] person running [is an] analogy [for different] ordinary beings, [the] [3] great elephant [is] compared [to] impermanence, [and the] [4] well [is an] analogy [for] births [and] deaths’ shore.

[5] 树根喻于命,
[6] 二鼠昼夜同,
[7] 啮根念念衰,
[8] 四蛇同四大;

[The] [5] tree root [is an] analogy for life, [the] [6] two mice [are with] day [and] night [the] same, [7] [their] gnawing [at the] root [is like] thought [after] thought weakening, [and the] [8] four snakes [are the] same [as the] four great [elements].

[9] 蜜滴喻五欲,
[10] 蜂螫比邪思,
[11] 火同于老病,
[12] 毒龙方死苦。

[The] [9] honey drops [are] analogies [for the] five desires, [the] [10] bee stings [are] compared [to] evil contemplations, [the] [11] fire [is the] same as ageing [and] sickness, [and the] [12] poisonous dragon [is] then death’s suffering.


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.


Completely dwelling [in] ignorance’s ocean, constantly by Death’s King [i.e. Mṛtyu; Māra (魔罗)] chased, rather [to] receive attachment [to] sounds [and] forms, [those] not joyful [with] departure, [are as] ordinary beings.’

Transmission Section


At that time, Supreme Light King, hearing [the] Buddha, for [him] speaking [on the cycle of] birth [and] death, [its] faults [and] suffering, attained [that] never before had, profoundly gave rise [to] revulsed renunciation, [with] joined palms reverent, wholeheartedly gazed, [and to the] Buddha said, ‘[As the] World-Honoured [One, the] Thus Come [One, with] great compassion, for [me] spoke thus, [the] subtle [and] wonderful Dharma’s meaning, I [will] now [with my] crown carry [it].’


[The] Buddha said, ‘Excellent, excellent! Great King, [you] should as said practise, [and] not be lax.’


Then, Supreme Light King and all [in the] great assembly, [were] all joyful, [as they] faithfully accepted [to] practise [it].

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.

Related Teachings:

The Parable Of Two Rivers And The White Path

The Sūtra Of A Hundred Parables

Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.