I hope that any here that are taking part in the conversation have a copy of the Lotus Sutra with which to read and compare. To really "dig into" the Sutra in group fashion, I think it is best to take the parables on in the order they appear in the text. Some are the Buddha speaking and teaching, others are members of the assembly using a story to convey their understanding of what the Buddha is teaching. The Chapter "tactfulness" is enough for Sariputra (the wisest of all the disciples) to understand that all of the teachings that the Buddha has given before were just skillful means. That, truly, there is one great vehicle (bodhisattva vehicle) that is the sole cause of the Buddha's appearance in the world and the true aim of all his teaching. Sariputra is overjoyed to have not yet reached the final goal and he vows to cultivate the virtues of a bodhisattva to one day, be born as a Buddha and lead all beings to Enlightenment. He is the first in the sutra to be predicted to Buddhahood after many lifetimes yet, cultivating the perfections. Many in the assembly are delighted but confused in mind, not fully understanding the teaching. Sariputra asks of the Buddha to explain the reasons
(for the former tactful methods of teaching) so they can understand and be at peace. "Through a parable, the wise gain understanding" then we get the Parable of the burning house
When thinking on how to explain how I understand this parable and it's meaning(s), I am at first reminded of the Fire Sermon from the Samyutta Nikaya- The Buddha says "Monks, all is aflame..." The house is to represent the world. The father (Buddha as protector) is safe from the fire but, there are those whom he cares for inside, the children are representing the beings of the world (us). He wants to save them and at first thinks of carrying the children out by force, this is not possible. Spiritual development is not possible by force. The Buddha knows that people must develop spiritually by their own efforts. Second, he calls out to the children, trying to tell them about the danger so they get out safely. But, they are too busy with their "games" and "running hither and tither in play" only "glancing at their father" and further- they do not know what he even means by "fire" or "being lost." Here we see our true situation- we are too interested in the "games people play" in the world to even understand what is meant by the meaning by "life is suffering." We are too busy to notice and only glance at spirituality and wonder if it is truly useful or not. Finally, to save the children, the father must resort to a trick. He knows their natures and offers them wonderful and rare playthings- goat, deer and bullock carts. The children run eagerly outside and are saved, then are rewarded with magnificent bullock carts, more awesome than they ever imagined. Here we have the Buddha's skillful means shown by goat carts (arhat vehicle), deer carts (solitary-buddha vehicle) and bullock carts (bodhisattva vehicle). Some beings naturally desire and strive for Nirvana, some seek to be buddhas for themselves, some are drawn to practice for the sake of all sentient beings. The parable here drives home (our heart) the fact that the Buddha teaches 3 vehicles but in fact only has one vehicle to give and, it is beyond our wildest dreams.
There is indeed alot more to the symbols and images in the parable than what I have pointed out here, I hope this can be a starting point for us to explore together the meanings we derive from this story.