Buddha’s Example of the Burning House
Gothama, the Buddha, taught
The wheel of desire on which we are bound,
And bade us
Put off desire, and thus without it
Go into the Nothing that he called Nirvana,
And one day some disciples asked him:
Master, what is it like, this Nothing?
We all wish to put off desire, as you bade us, but tell us
If this Nothing, into which we go,
Is a kind of oneness with all creation,
As if a man lay in water, limbs at ease, at midday,
Empty of thought, lay lazy in water, or sank into sleep,
Scarce knowing if someone tucked a blanket round him, so deep was he under;
Tell us if it is a pleasant thing, this Nothing, a good thing,
Or if it is simply nothingness, cold, empty, without meaning.
The Buddha was a long time silent, then shrugged.
There is no answer to your question.
But in the evening when they were gone
Buddha sat under the breadfruit tree and gave to the others,
Those who had not asked, the following example:
Once I saw flames licking the roof of a house,
And when I went to it I saw that there were men inside.
I called to them that the roof was burning.
But they were in no hurry.
One, while the fire singed his very brows,
Asked me what it was like outside, If it was raining still,
And if the wind had stopped, if there was another house nearby
And suchlike things.
I did not answer him and came away.
Truly, my friends, to the indifferent who see no need for change
Have I nothing to say. Thus, Gothama, the Buddha.
And we too, no more concerned with the arts of patience,
Rather with the arts of impatience, of maniford means to improve man’s lot,
Teach him to life away his worldly suffering,
We too to those, who, when any day the bombs may fall upon the cities,
Ask us what savings books and Sunday suits will be like in the new society,
To them have we little to say.
- Bertolt Brecht
[The New Reasoner 3 1957-58]