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THE Supreme One, Lao Tsze, said:—
Happiness and evil do not come spontaneously; it is men who bring them upon themselves. The consequences of virtue and vice follow each just as the shadow follows the form. Now there are spirits in Heaven and in Earth whose business it is to investigate the sins of men, and who shorten their lives according as their transgressions are serious or venial. If a man's span of life be thus abbreviated, he will spend it in poverty and waste, and meet with constant disasters. Everybody will hate him; punishments and miseries will dog his footsteps; blessing and good fortune will hold themselves aloof; a baleful star will bring him sorrow; and when his time is up, he will die. Besides this, there are spirits in three of the stars in the constellation of "God's Chariot"† who record the sins and crimes of men in the Upper Sphere, and cut off their days; and there is also a spirit in the body of each man which ascends to the Tribunal of Heaven upon a certain day, once every sixty years, to report the sins he has committed. And at the end of every month the Spirit of the Hearth does the same. All men who have committed great sins are deprived of twelve years of life; those whose sins are less serious lose only one. Now there are several hundred different kinds of sin, both small and great, which all you who wish to live a long life must be careful to avoid. Advance in all that is in harmony with the right; retreat from everything that is opposed to it. Walk not in the paths of depravity, nor deceive yourselves by sinning in the dark where none can see you. Accumulate virtue, and store up merit; treat all with gentleness and love; be loyal, be dutiful; be respectful to your elder brothers and kind to your juniors; be upright yourselves, in order that you may reform others; compassionate the fatherless and widow; reverence the aged and cherish the young; do not injure even little insects, or grass, or trees. Pity the wickedness of others, and be glad of their virtues; succour them in their distress, and rescue them when in danger; when a man gains his desire, let it be as though his good fortune were your own; when one suffers loss, as though you suffered it yourself. Never publish the failings of another, or make a parade of your own merits; p. 104 put a stop to evil, and afford every encouragement to virtue; be not grasping, but learn to content yourself with little. When you are reviled, cherish not feelings of resentment; if you receive favours, do so as deprecating your deserts; be kind and generous without seeking for any return, and never repent of anything that you may give to others. This is to be a good man; one whom Heaven will defend, whom all will respect, whom blessings and honours will accompany, whom evil will not touch, and whom all good spirits will protect. All the desires of such a man will be realised, and he may reasonably hope to attain to immortality. A man whose wish it is to become a Heavenly Immortal must perform one thousand three hundred works of merit; he who only aspires to earthly immortality—to become endowed with supernatural powers—can gain his end by performing three hundred virtuous acts. But if any person acts in opposition to what is right and turns his back upon the truth, becoming expert in wickedness and hardened in cruelty; if he secretly injures the gentle and the good, abuses his sovereign and his parents in private, treats his elders with disrespect, rebels against his employers, deceives the simple, slanders his fellow students, brings false accusations against others, and plays the hypocrite generally, prying into the shortcomings of his own relatives and then bruiting them abroad; if he is peevish, wilful, and unloving, perverse and headstrong, calling good evil and evil good, doing what he ought not to do, and leaving undone what he ought to do; if he tyrannises over his subordinates, appropriating to himself the merit of their work, flatters his superiors and anticipates their intentions; if he is ungrateful for kindness received, and cherishes unceasing resentment for grievances; if, as a mandarin, he neglects the welfare of the people, brings sedition into the State, rewards the undeserving, punishes the innocent, condemns men to death for filthy lucre, ruins others in order to secure their positions, slaughters those who have tendered their submission in war, degrades the upright and shelves the virtuous, oppresses the orphan and persecutes the widow, accepts bribes for violating the law, treats the straight as if it were crooked and the crooked as if it were straight, regards trivial misdemeanours as grave crimes, and waxes still fiercer against those who deserve death instead of pitying them; if he is aware of his own faults yet does not reform, knows what is good yet does not do it; if he lays his own crimes upon others, places hindrances in the way of such men as physicians, diviners, astrologers and physiognomists, blasphemes the virtuous and holy, and intimidates or insults the wise and good; if he shoots birds and hunts animals, routs hybernating insects and reptiles out of their burrows, frightens birds at roost, stops up the holes of the former and overturns the nests of the latter, injures a fœtus in the womb or breaks eggs in the process of incubation; if he wishes that p. 105 misfortune may come on others, detracts from their achievements and merits, exposes other people to danger and keeps on the safe side himself, injuring them in order to secure his own advantage; returns evil for good, suffers private ends to interfere with public interests, takes credit to himself for the ability of others, conceals their virtues, mocks at their physical deformities, pries into other people's private affairs, squanders their property, makes mischief between blood-relations, tries to deprive others of what they specially love, eggs people on to commit sin, boasts of his own influence and power, puts others to shame in the desire to get the better of them, destroys crops, and upsets intended marriages; if he is arrogant on the score of ill-gotten gains, sneaks shamelessly off from the results of his own evil deeds, claims credit for kindnesses he never showed, denies the bad offices he actually performed, brings evil on others with malicious intent, schemes after unmerited reputation, hides wicked designs in his heart, effaces goodness in others and harbours vice in himself, takes advantage of his own power to vex and harass his neighbours, and complies with tyrannical designs to kill or wound; if he wantonly cuts things to pieces with scissors, slaughters animals without regard to the proprieties, throws away grain, teases and worries dumb creatures, breaks up homes and seizes all the valuables they contain, floods people's houses with water or burns them with fire, overturns and disturbs customs in order to prevent a man from accomplishing his ends, spoils implements so as to render them useless, desires to deprive others of their rank and influence and to make them lose all their wealth, conceives lustful desires at the sight of beauty, borrows money and then longs for the lender's death, hates and vilifies those who do not accede to every request he makes, attributes the misfortunes of others to their sins, mocks their personal defects, represses those who have laudable ability and parts, injures persons by sorcery and foul arts, kills trees by means of poisonous drugs, cherishes hatred to his teachers, runs counter to his parents and elder brothers, takes away other people's property by main force, or insists upon it being given up—bent on getting it by hook or by crook; if he acquires wealth by robbery and extortion, schemes after promotion in sly and underhand ways, is unjust both in the bestowal of rewards and the infliction of punishments, overindulgent in ease and pleasure, threatening and tyrannical to his inferiors; if he blames Heaven and decries men, finds fault with the wind and curses the rain, for his misfortunes; if he is much given to going to law against others, join in friendly associations with bad men, pays heed to the talk of his wife and concubines but turns a deaf ear to the admonitions of his parents, forsakes old friends for new ones, speaks good words while his heart is full of evil, is covetous of gain, hoodwinks and defrauds his superiors, brings reproach on others by falsehood, reviles p. 106 men and then plumes himself upon his candour in doing so, abuses the gods and poses as a man of integrity, runs counter to the established rule of right, neglects his own kin and transfers all his attention to those who are in no way connected with him, calls Heaven and Earth to witness about trifles, and swears by the gods about low and disreputable matters; if he repents having bestowed alms or given presents, borrows and fails to repay, schemes after and meddles with what lies beyond the scope of his own functions, passes all bounds in lasciviousness, assumes an appearance of gentleness while fierce and cruel at heart, gives people dirt and filth to eat, puts them in positions of perplexity by left-handed dealings, uses short measures and light weights in trade, adulterates good wares with stuff of inferior quality, amasses wealth by foul means, forces virtuous folk to commit evil deeds, insults and deludes the simple; if he is insatiably covetous, if he invokes imprecations on people to get at the bottom of any difficulty, or is given to bad conduct under the influence of liquor, or wrangles and quarrels with his own flesh and blood; as a man, neither loyal nor good—as a woman, neither gentle nor compliant—the one always at logger-heads with his wife, the other disrespectful to her husband; if he is given to vaunting his own praises, and for ever envying the good fortune of others; if he treats his wife and children badly, or, in the case of a woman, if she behaves indecorously to her parents-in-law; if he conducts himself contemptuously to the Tablet of a dead person, turns a disobedient ear to the commands of his superiors, busies himself about useless matters, acts insincerely towards others, calls down curses upon himself or his fellows, cherishes unreasonable hatreds and undue partialities, steps over wells and stoves instead of walking round them out of respect to the presiding deities, jumps over any victuals or persons that may lie in his way, injures his children or destroys a fœtus in the womb; if he is addicted to occult or secret practices, to singing and dancing on moonless nights or on inauspicious days in the last month of the year, to weeping and giving way to anger early in the morning on the first day of a month, to spitting, evacuating, or blowing his nose towards the north—where the gods reside,—to reciting ballads, singing songs, or weeping, towards the fireplace—thus failing in respect to the Spirit of the Hearth,—to using the fire of a cooking-stove to burn incense with, or to employing unclean fuel in the preparation of food; if he neglects to cover himself when he gets up during the night, inflicts punishments on any of the eight festivals, spits at meteors or falling stars, points at lightning, or at a rainbow, or at anyone of the Three Luminaries; if he gazes for any length of time at the Sun or Moon, burns grass or shoots birds in the spring, utters curses towards the north, wantonly kills tortoises or strikes at snakes; if a man is guilty of any of these crimes, the God who rules over human p. 107 destinies will, according as the sin is trivial or serious, abbreviate his span of life. When his time is finished, he will die; and if any of his sins be left unatoned for, they will be visited upon his sons and grandsons. If a man has laid unjust hands upon the goods of others, the responsibility will descend to his wife and family, and they will gradually drop off and die; if not, they will either be bereft of their property by water or fire, or they will lose it themselves, or fall a prey to disease, or be the victims of false accusations—in order that full satisfaction for their ill-gotten gains may be exacted. If a man puts others to death illegally, his weapons will be turned against himself, and he will in his turn be killed. If a man acquires riches by unjust means, it will be as though he had eaten poisoned meat in his hunger and drunk poisoned wine in his thirst; his appetite will not be left unsatisfied, but death will inevitably result. Now if a virtuous thought arises in a man's heart, even though it be not put into practice, he will be accompanied by good spirits; but if a thought of wickedness arises, even though it be not carried out, all bad spirits will follow in his wake. If a man, having committed some bad act, afterwards repents and reforms, avoiding sin and striving to be good and virtuous, he will eventually be rewarded and blessed, and the evil that would have come upon him will be turned into a blessing. Thus all that good men say is good, all that they look at is good, all that they do is good; every day they live is characterised by goodness in these three forms, and in three years Heaven will send them happiness. But all that bad men say is bad, all that they look at is bad, all that they do is bad; every day they live is characterised by these three forms of badness, and in three years' time Heaven will send them a curse. Why, then, do not men force themselves to walk in the paths of virtue?
The Divine Man, who existed in the Beginning of All Things, said: If one reads a page, daily, of the admonitions thus offered by the Supreme One, his sins will be blotted out. If he abides by them for a month, his happiness and prosperity will be established and prolonged. If he acts in accordance with them for a year, seven generations of his ancestors will be enabled to enter Paradise. If he never departs from them, and becomes not weary in well doing, his span of life will be lengthened; the Celestial Gods themselves will reverence him, and his name will be enrolled among the spirits of the blest.
How to Read the Foregoing Essay.
This essay, which deals with the recompenses and retributions inseparable from virtue and vice, embodies an eternal law of Heaven; p. 108 so it must not be read carelessly, as though it were no more than an ordinary essay on morals. Those who study it should sit in an erect and decent posture in a quiet room by themselves; they must put away all wandering thoughts and cultivate a reverential frame of mind, devoting their hearts to the reception of the truth; then the awakening words which are here found will be able to effect an entrance, and arouse their consciences. If this method of study be permanently persevered in, all depraved thoughts will disappear of themselves.
Now the first requisite for studying this book profitably, is unquestioning Faith. In examining the ancient standards of right and wrong. and comparing them with those accepted at the present day, we find that there has never been a discrepancy of a single hair between any given action and the recompense which is its inalienable attendant. Only, some consequences follow immediately, while others are delayed; so that people have not been able to trace the connection between them in every instance. Young folks are often so headstrong, wilful, prejudiced and infatuated that they do not believe in this at all; it is only when they have arrived at greater experience and fuller age that they gradually get to understand it more clearly, and to repent of their former folly. But by that time they are old, and their bad habits are confirmed; and to attempt to put away the vice and depravity of a life-time when the sun of life is setting, is like trying to extinguish a blazing waggon-load of fuel with a cup of water—the means are wholly inadequate to the end. Therefore, it is necessary that all who would read this essay should resolutely exercise a heart of faith; for, let this faith be once formed, a root of virtue is implanted; a fresh root being planted with each succeeding exercise of faith. If the faith be small, the blessing will be small; if great, the blessing will be great; while if faith be mixed with doubt, self-injury and self-loss will be the inevitable result.
The second requisite is Diligence in Self-cultivation. Now this chapter has been compiled for the special benefit of those who wish to live a long life. It treats of the true law by which one may free oneself from the world—a law to which all who are yet upon earth, all who transmit consequences for good or evil to after generations, all who have left the world, and all who return to the world in another form after death, are subject. For instance: P‘ei Pu succeeded in prolonging his span of years, while Lo Kung acted so that his life was cut short midway. Such is the law in its application to people while they are yet in the body. Tou Shih left good deeds behind him, the rewards of which descended upon his posterity, while Lin Chi, by a vicious course, brought about the utter extinction of his family. Such is the Law in its application to those who leave a heritage of good or ill behind them after death. There p. 109 are those whose treasuries are full of gold and whose granaries are well stored with rice, and who are themselves possessed of boundless influence and power; yet, when they come to die, their works will follow them—not one iota of their merits and their sins being misplaced or lost. Such is the Law in its application to those who have left the world in the ordinary course of nature. The Empress Ch‘uëh, who disobeyed the decrees of Heaven, re-appeared as a python; Wang Shao, who died without paying his just debts, was transformed into a cow. The crimes of these two having reached their full measure, they were degraded to the brute creation. Such is the Law in its application to those who return to the world in another shape after death. Wherefore those whose object it is to regain the principle by which they can bring about the sublimation of their bodies and attain to a condition of immortality, must begin by accumulating hidden virtue. To practise good deeds unknown to others; to be charitable without hoping for any reward; to save those who are in danger without taking advantage of their helplessness;—such is secret virtue. When secret virtue is abundantly practised, the man will be able of himself to enter upon a full comprehension of this doctrine; and the eyes of his understanding being opened, he will be enabled to attain to everlasting life in another world. And even if a man take no thought for the attainment of immortality, will he not sometimes ponder upon life and death, and on what may befal his immediate descendants? Dear reader, I urge you to advance swiftly, fearlessly, and with your whole heart, in the course I have here laid down. Know that we are surrounded on all sides by a multitude of spiritual beings, who take note of all we do; therefore, be watchful, and examine yourself strictly at all times; act in accordance with these admonitions in whatever you may have to do; then you will never fail to do justice to your real self. If, however, you do not act thus; if you progress a little way and then stop, doing good by fits and starts without seriousness and resolution,—how long do you think that you will live? How long will it take you to lay up a store of hidden virtue? You will just be the sport of surrounding influences your whole life through, and nothing further will you ever gain!
The third requisite is Determination and Perseverance. Now goodness in little things brings a speedy recompense; the rewards of great virtue come slowly. But speedy rewards consist of only trivial blessings; those which delay their coming consist of very great ones. There are people in the world who believe this, but very few who act it out with any resolution. And why? Because, after they have walked in the ways of virtue for little while, they meet with difficulties or obstacles; whereupon they are discouraged, and say, foolishly, that the laws of Heaven are really very hard to understand; so that finally they abandon p. 110 all the progress they have made so far, and allow their impatience to hinder them from reaping the rewards of their well-doing.
The fourth requisite is genuine Sincerity. All who lay themselves out to do good to others must be indefatigable, earnest, urgent, and resolute in their undertaking. In the duty of self-examination, it is necessary to be honest and true, and to avoid all self-deception. One sincere resolve is sufficient to ensure the assistance of both the heavenly and earthly Gods; but will any resolve that is not sincere accomplish this? The example afforded by Yü Ching-yi sets forth this truth as clearly as in a mirror.
The fifth requisite is the Promulgation of these Admonitions among one's Fellows. The rewards inseparable from virtue and vice respectively are sufficient in themselves to incite to the one and dissuade from the other. This connection between actions and their consequences is the mysterious law of God Himself,—the changeless decree pronounced by the Judge of the Unseen World. It is not necessary for the present writer to disclose his name. His object in writing is not to fish for compliments and praise. Nor is it necessary that the bookseller should make a fortune out of the sale of the work. He would not dare to use virtue as a means of angling for profit. Wherever this book is to be found, there will be a root from which some good may spring; if anybody hides it away, and prevents its free circulation, he will incur no ordinary retribution. Wherefore if a man shows it to but one other person, he will be credited with ten good deeds; if he shows it to ten persons, he will be credited with a hundred. If he distributes it among the great and noble, those who are leaders of men, and those who possess influence and power, he will be credited with a thousand virtuous deeds. If he mentions it on every possible occasion, and brings its maxims to mind whenever opportunity for doing so arises, so that there will eventually be no one in the world who will not have heard them and have had a chance of being influenced by them, converted, and brought to lead a new life,—the merit and the happiness of such a one will both alike be measureless. In former times Chou Ch‘ih quoted this book far and wide: and in virtue of so doing, he succeeded in averting the horrors of a famine that then raged. Ch‘ün Ping led men into paths of goodness, and he suddenly found himself ascending to the ranks of the immortals. What limit, indeed, is there to the blessing attending those whose goodness is thus unselfish?
Certain Wonderful Verifications of the Above.
When Wang Yuen, a native of Ch‘ien-tang, was still a child, he met with the foregoing essay, and took great delight in studying it. And not only so; he followed all the admonitions therein contained, with great p. 111 reverence and care. As Mr. Ching Hsü, his father, was prevented by death from fulfilling his intention of having additional copies of it prepared, he spent his own money in the work: leaving no stone unturned to enlist the pecuniary assistance of certain other men of worth. He printed in all ten thousand copies, which he distributed broadcast. One night he dreamt that his father appeared to him, and said, "Not only have you completely carried out the design I was prevented from fulfilling, but, you have succeeded in securing the assistance of others in the good cause. In consequence of this, I have already ascended to the Halls of Paradise; your mother will be blessed with a long life; while your own name and the names of your coadjutors are conspicuous upon the roll of virtuous men." Subsequent events proved the truth of these predictions.
A certain man of Huei-chou, named Wu Ta-tso, had great difficulty in procuring a son. He prayed in all sorts of temples and in every variety of manner, without receiving any answer. But one day a friend sent him a copy of the Book of Recompenses, saying, "This contains the secret of procuring children and securing happiness." Wu bowed to the ground, and accepted the gift. Then he studied the book with all his heart and soul. Whenever he was able to perform a virtuous action he performed it; whatever vice he had to be discarded, he discarded; and in a very short time he found himself the father of three sons. Whereupon he was led to place implicit faith in the supernatural proofs thus afforded of the truth of the book; so he printed off a number of copies at his own expense, in which he recorded his personal experiences. This occurred in the reign of T‘ien Ch‘i of the Ming dynasty.
Yang Shou-yeh, a native of Ho-chien Fu, lived to the age of sixty without having a son. This grieved him bitterly, so on meeting with this book he set himself reverently to follow its instructions. In the reign of Wang Li he fell sick, died, and came to life again; whereupon he addressed his relatives, saying, "I have just been to the Realms of Darkness, where I saw an official holding a register, on which was inscribed my name. My destiny, he said, was originally that I should be childless; but seeing that I have humbly striven to carry out the admonitions of the Book of Recompenses, an addition to life and honours has been conferred upon me. Besides this, too, I am to have a son." And the very next year, a son was born to him!
Wang Chu, a native of Hsien-chü Hsien, had a son named Wang Tsing, who fell sick and died when only four years old, to his father's deep-felt grief. Whereupon Wang Chu formed a resolution to print a number of copies of this book, which he distributed among the people with the object of causing his lost son to enter once more into his mother's womb. Some time afterwards, his wife found herself enceinte; p. 112 and one night she dreamt she went to the Ting-kuang Temple at Huang-yen Hsien, whence she returned carrying her little boy home in her arms. When she awoke she experienced a movement in her womb, and soon gave birth to a son, vastly resembling the one that she had lost. In fact, the same body was born twice over; the bones and flesh had actually been brought together a second time!
Ching Yung-pao, a native of Chieh-hsin Hsien, lived to the age of over fifty years without having a son. He prayed silently to High Heaven to bestow upon him but one child in order that he and his late father might have somebody to offer sacrifices to them after he himself was dead; promising to publish a hundred copies of the Book of Recompenses and distribute them abroad, and for evermore to walk humbly in accordance with its precepts in gratitude for the mercy he sought. And sure enough, a son was born to him when he was fifty-five.
A certain magistrate of Kuang-chou, in Szechuen, named Li Ch‘ang-ling, was very eminent for reversing unjust decisions and righting those who had been unjustly cast into jail. His fame, therefore, was very great; and he had, moreover, annotated an edition of the Book of Recompenses to assist him in promulgating good principles and reforming the morals of the people. Consequently the teachings of this book became widely diffused and understood, and Heaven showered its blessings upon the man who had been instrumental in accomplishing this good work. He eventually became Vice-president of the Board of Imperial Historiographers, and died Keeper of the Secret Archives.
Chêng Ts‘ing-chih, a native of the state of Yueh, made a copy of this book and presented it to Li Tsung, who afterwards became King of Sung. After Li Tsung's elevation to the Throne, he presented Ts‘ing-chih with money from his privy purse to defray the expenses of a new edition; writing with his own hand upon the title-page, the following words,—"Avoid wickedness of every sort; walk humbly in the paths of virtue." This heightened to no small extent the respect with which the book was regarded by the world at large; and Ts‘ing-chih, from this occurrence, rose to the position of Prime Minister and became one of the foremost members of the General Council of States. The rank of Royal Prince was also conferred upon him; and an unusual affection of the eyes, from which he had suffered, disappeared altogether as soon as ever he had finished writing an essay in praise and corroboration of the work.
Yang Ch‘ên, a native of Huang-yang Hsien, came of a very poor family. He saw his fellow-villagers printing off copies of the Book of Recompenses, and longed to assist them; but he was powerless to do so, by reason of his poverty. Still, he managed to cut one block for the seventeenth page; and on a certain night he dreamt that a spirit appeared p. 113 to him and said, "As a reward for doing the little you are able to, Sir, you shall meet with success in the examinations;" and he actually did come out seventeenth in the examination for the degree of Doctor!
While Mao Ch‘i-tsung, a native of Ju-kao, was engaged in writing an additional commentary upon the Essay on Recompenses, it occurred to him that there was no form of dissipation so destructive to a man's virtue as the pleasures of lust; so when he came to the sentence condemning those who conceive lustful desires at the sight of beauty, he recounted all the evil results of such indulgence that he could think of. Now the teacher who assisted him in the work was a person named Lo Hsien-yo; and when it was finished, the two parted company and did not meet again tor eight years. One night Lo had a dream, in which he thought he saw three personages in Taoist robes, who had all the appearance of Immortals. The middle one, who was an aged man, then drew a volume from his bosom; and turning to the youth on his left, said, "Read!" The one who stood upon his left then took the book, and in a clear voice read from it for some time; and the listener knew that what he was reading was the passage in the Essay on Recompenses condemning the indulgence of lust. When the lecture was finished, the old man said, "The writer of that passage will certainly take his doctor's degree in the competitive examinations." Then turning to the youth on his right, he said, "Now write a verse of poetry on this subject." So he did so, and the stanza he composed was as follows:—
|Longing to pluck the red olive in the Palace of the Moon,|
He yet does not believe that loveliness is false;
Could he but see that favour is deceitful and beauty vain,
When the pang-hua arrives the whole city would be red with congratulatory placards.
When the old man had read it, he smiled and disappeared; the dreamer awoke, and recorded his dream, including the verse of poetry, in a letter to the son of Mao Ch‘i-tsung. "Your honoured father," he wrote, "will certainly have met with a great triumph in the examination-hall; but I can't understand what the expression pang-hua means, and I fear I must have heard it incorrectly." Well, sure enough, when the names of the successful candidates were published, that of Mao Ch‘i-tsung was among them. Next day Mao Ch‘i-tsung repaired to the study of Ch‘en Tsung-chin, where he noticed an encyclopœdia; and on opening it his eye fell upon the two characters pang-hua, the signification of which was explained as follows:—"A term applied to that surname which occurs least frequently in the returns of successful candidates; the use of it commenced in the T‘ang dynasty." Now it so happened that there were fewer candidates named Mao, in the examinations just concluded, than of any other surname; so that the dream was fulfilled to the very letter.
During the reign of K‘ai Hsi, one Wang Hsün, a Doctor of Chien-chou, was pursued by a lictor belonging to the tribunal of the Unseen World till he came to a certain mountain, on which stood a magnificent and massive Temple. Over the entrance were inscribed, in large characters, the words "Hall of the Eastern Peak." On the right side of the Temple there was a stone tablet over a yard in height, and on it was engraved, in gold, the whole of the Book of Recompenses. Hsün read it through once, and was immediately filled with reverence and joy; whereupon he heard the voice of a spirit saying to him, "O Wang Hsün! Having now read this book, you experience respect and love for it; if you are able, from this time forward, humbly to carry out its teachings and to refrain from taking animal life, your years will be prolonged. On the present occasion, although your span of life in the Upper Sphere is exhausted, you will be permitted to return to the world." Then Hsün went back, and never relaxed his efforts to walk according to the precepts of this book; so that he was eventually blessed with a happy and green old age.
Wang Fêng, whose family had practised medicine for many generations at Jui-an, reverently carried out these teachings. He also caused new editions of the book to be printed, which he distributed freely among others. But one day he fell alarmingly sick, and was soon carried off to Hades by a couple of lictors from that place. When he had got half-way upon his journey, he saw two spirits poised in mid-air; one of whom, who was dressed in a yellow robe, said, "This is Wang Fêng, who for a long time has been reverently carrying out the precepts of the Book of Recompenses; liberate him at once, and let him return to earth!" The lictors prepared to obey; but Wang Fêng was so tired that he could not put one foot before the other, so his conductors had to support him on the way back. By that time it was just midnight, and his friends were in a state of great confusion and distress; when suddenly he was seen to come to life again! He then recounted the experiences he had met with, found himself entirely recovered, and lived to be a very old man.
Fang Shih-k‘o, a native of Hsing-an, had been very sickly from a child. Afterwards he began to enquire into the mysteries of Taoism, with a view of procuring the secret of immortality. Arrived one day at the Cloud-capped Monntain, he met a person of strange appearance, who said, "With such a face as yours, how can you expect to get the blessings that you seek? It is impossible—unless you first plant a root of goodness." Then Shih-k‘o went home; and although he was a poor man he found means to print off an edition of the Book of Recompenses and distribute copies among his friends. By the time he had printed ten pages, his sickness was half-cured; when the work was completed, he found himself entirely recovered; and from that time forward he became p. 115 robust in body, and quite different from what he had been before in appearance.
Chou Ch‘ih of Sui-ning, having obtained this book, studied it daily with great diligence and experienced a great desire to make its contents known to others. On the 21st of the 2nd month of the 21st year of Shao-hsing, he died quite suddenly; but the very next day his soul came back. Then he said to his wife, "I have been taken before the Tribunal of Hades. Half the people who surrounded me I recognised as being those who had died of starvation in our immediate neighbourhood; whereupon I was struck with terror and dismay. In a few minutes the presiding Judge called out my name, and said, 'Now your name was originally inscribed upon the roll of those who were destined to be starved to death. But you have always placed great faith in the Book of Recompenses, and done what you could to promulgate its teachings; and although you were prevented from carrying out your full intentions in the matter, you have still been the means of turning many to righteousness and a virtuous life; indeed there are even some who, through your instrumentality, have tasted the fruits of immortality. You are therefore credited with all their merits; at this very moment, you and those whom you were the means of converting are all present here, and your names have been transferred to the register of Honours and Long Life. After your liberation from this place, see that you cherish and strengthen the good that is in your heart! then you will arrive at the summit of all there is to gain, and there will be no necessity for you to come here again.' As I came out," continued Chou Ch‘ih, "I met a subordinate officer who said to me, admonishingly, 'When you find yourself once more in the Upper World, do all you can to diffuse the Book of Recompenses far and wide. If its teachings are accepted and followed out in any one place, the inhabitants will escape difficulties and troubles; while if the whole world were to accept them, the human race at large would prosper and be at peace. The merit of those who promulgate this work is far from trifling; not only will they be able to deliver themselves from the perils of water and fire, but they will be blessed, in addition, with many sons and daughters, and secure an enhancement of the riches, honours, and years which were originally destined for them; and if you extend the sphere of your operations and carry out all the designs you thus propose to yourself, you will be enabled to rise to the condition of an Immortal.'" From this time forward the affairs of Chou Ch‘ih prospered more and more every day, and he often recounted this experience of his for the benefit of those around him.
There was a salt-merchant of Yang-chou named Wu, who paid great reverence to the Book of Recompenses and Wên-chang's book of Salvation from Suffering, always practising the teachings therein contained. p. 116 In the first year of Shun Ch‘ih, just a month before the capture of the city by the Manchus, a Taoist priest appeared at the door of his house, begging for a meal of rice. When he had finished eating, he said to his host, "I hear that you hold the Book of Recompenses and Wên-chang's Salvation from Suffering in great estimation. Do you know that long narrow blind-alley that runs by the side of the wall? Well, if ever you should be in any danger hereafter, you will find it a good place to hide yourself in." Wu made some indifferent reply; but a month afterwards, when the city fell, and everybody was paralysed with terror, he remembered what the priest had said; so he and all his family scrambled over the wall and hid themselves safely away. It was, as the Taoist had described it, a cul-de-sac; the surrounding walls were thick and strong, and quite impregnable from the outside. After they had been there five or six days, they sent a servant to the house to take a look and see how the land lay. In doing this, he was captured by an officer, who asked him who he was. He replied that he was in the employ of a salt-merchant. Now just at that very time the Government was on the look-out for people to superintend the shipment of salt from one part of the empire to the other; so the servant communicated the fact to his master, who sent in a tender offering to transport over thirty thousand measures per annum; the upshot being that in course of time he made a tremendous fortune.
Ts‘ing San of Tsze-chi, being very poor, supported his mother by bodily labour. Afterwards he fell sick, being afflicted with ulcers in his legs which laid him up and prevented his going to work. One day he met a Taoist, who said to him, "If you will follow me, I will undertake your cure." Whereupon he stroked the man's left foot, and behold! it was instantly healed. So Ts‘ing San went and told his mother of the occurrence, and then returned to accompany the priest. The priest told him to shut his eyes, and then led him along for a short time till they came to a mountain, which was inhabited by genii. When they saw him they exclaimed, "How can this person, whose bones are not those of the immortals, have come hither?" "His family," returned the priest, "have for many generations paid great respect to the Book of Recompenses; they have instructed their sons and grandsons in its teachings, so that in each generation a root of virtue has been implanted. That is the reason I have accepted him." But Ts‘ing San longed to see his mother again, and wanted to return; so the Taoist led him back to the world, when he found that he had been absent for thirteen days!
When Chou Ju-têng, a gentleman of Tsung-yueh, was young, he was one of the pupils of a certain tutor named Lung Chi. Although he constantly listened to the instructions of his preceptor he derived no benefit whatever; but subsequently he fell in with this book, and from p. 117 that time forward set himself heart and soul to walk according to its doctrines. Besides this, he collected all the best commentaries on the text and verifications of the theories, and published them for the benefit of the world. Many were brought to lead good lives by this means; and the gentleman himself, by virtue of his great merit, found himself one day suddenly endowed with supernatural wisdom, so that he could see, as it were, right through the doctrines of Confucius and Lao Chün. Thus he passed for one of the greatest scholars of the Ming dynasty. At the present day, Confucianists study the Sage, Buddhists study Fo, and Taoists study the Immortals; but to the end of their lives they never arrive at a full comprehension of what they are learning, and some give up when they are only half way. And why is this? It is because their root is inadequate to producing a full measure of fruit, and therefore they do not bring forth any works of merit. Chang Tsze-yang said, "He who does not cultivate himself, and accumulate unostentatious, or hidden, virtue, will be so blinded by evil spirits as to be unable to see clearly into the truth." The Book of Recompenses should be studied by Confucianists, Buddhists, and Taoists alike, for it alone is able to provide a starting-point for journeying to the highest goal.
There was once a Doctor named Shên Ch‘in, who lived at Nanking. His wife fell very sick while in the family-way; whereupon the Doctor began to cast about how he could print and distribute copies of the Book of Recompenses—his idea being to publish the work in a pocket form, so that it could be easily carried about and read at one's ease. He thought that if the book were thus constantly perused people would get to understand it sooner; and that if they understood it thoroughly, they would not find any difficulty in acting up to its precepts. At last the edition was finished; and, just as the printer's devil was bringing it to the Doctor's door, his wife was confined, and both she and the baby progressed in a most favourable way.
Ch‘ên Pi-sung, one of the Imperial Body-guard, lived outside the North Gate of Wu-lin. He was a charitable man, for ever giving things to those who wanted them; his virtue was most extensive; and moreover he guided himself strictly by the teachings of the Book of Recompenses. He hired workmen to print new editions of the book, and distributed them far and wide, from the sea to the borders of the world. Now it so happened that at one time there was a great rain, that lasted for more than a month; and he was away from home. His wife kept the lamp trimmed, waiting for his return; when suddenly, as she was sitting up one night, she heard a thundering rap at the door. Now the neighbourhood had recently been much infested with burglars, and the people in the lane where Ch‘ên lived had kept up a constant watch against them; so Mrs. Ch‘ên, thinking that the robbers had come to her p. 118 at last, made a bolt of it with everybody else in the house. Just as she had got outside the door, down came the wall of the room with a crash, bringing everything else with it—bed, curtains, and crockery being reduced to a heap of rags and ruins. The servant-girl, who was not quite so quick in escaping as the others, was struck on the heel by a flying brick. Now mark:—if Ch‘ên had not been absent, his wife would not have been sitting up for him; the family would have been all in bed; and who, in that case, would have escaped with his life? It often happens that Heaven interposes in this remarkable manner on behalf of those it wishes to protect.
A graduate of Ts‘ien-tung, named Hsü Ting-yü, who humbly followed the instructions of this Book, copied it out upon a scroll of paper, and hung it upon the wall of a vacant room. Every morning and evening he went to read it by way of devotion, and never departed from its teachings. One night, a band of robbers, out on a predatory expedition, found their way into the room where this scroll was hanging; but no sooner were they inside than they became completely stupefied, and lost their bearings altogether. This terrified them, and they made the best of their way off. Afterwards the occurrence came to the knowledge of Hsü, and his faith in the book was confirmed more strongly than ever. He redoubled his efforts to diffuse it far and wide, depending his own money and enlisting the pecuniary assistance of others, imploring all to walk in harmony with its precepts.
Sacred-Texts Taoism Index
* The Rewards and Retributions which are the natural and inalienable results of virtue and vice; analogous to the Buddhist Karma. The 'Book of Recompenses,' or Kan-ying Pien, is the most popular and widely-read religious work in China.
† That part of Ursa Major which contains the four stars Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta.