Filed in Koans

Green Koan Case 53: Shakyamuni’s World on Fire

Clark Strand

Wisdom Collection

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CASE #53:    Shakyamuni’s World on Fire

Shayamuni Buddha taught: “The world is always burning, burning with the fires of greed, anger and foolishness; one should flee from such dangers as soon as possible.”

The world is always burning
     The passage, which appears in the book The Teachings of Buddha, translated into many languages and distributed free of charge around the world by Bukkyō Dendō Kyōkai (The Society for Buddhist Understanding), is an amalgam of statements made by Shakyamuni in diverse sutras.

The fires of greed, anger and foolishness     Refers to the three poisons, or defilements (Skt., klesha) said by Shakyamuni to lie at the root of samsaric existence.

One should flee from such dangers     Although this passage might be used to support a world-denying attitude toward life, it is important to note that Shakyamuni taught his disciples that it was the kleshas that burned, and not the world itself…as much as our burning seems to burn the world these days, global warming offering only the most obvious example.

When a dog is bitten by fleas, he scratches and whimpers, running from room to room in the effort to escape his tormenters. We carry greed, anger, and delusion with us wherever we go in like manner and wonder why we cannot escape them.

Scratch, scratch. Whimper, whimper. Run, run, run. What can the solution be? How did we get so many fleas? The answer, if there is one, lies in knowing what is what.


When you are engulfed
In flames, whatever you do
Don’t try to flee them.
There’s got to be a Buddhist
Version of Stop, Drop, and Roll.


Find all the Green Koans here.

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Jim Spencer's picture

When you are on fire, burn completely. Let others sift your ashes looking for relics, finding none.