It is not known from what country the Sramana1 Fo-t’iao of the Chin Dynasty [265-420] came. He came to Ch’ang-shan [in modern Chekiang Province] where he accumulated years of spiritual practice. He esteemed the pure and simple and did not make a show of literary elegance; his contemporaries all respected him for this.
There were two brothers who lived in Ch’ang-shan, and they honored the Dharma. They lived about one hundred li away from Fo-t’iao’s monastery. The wife of the elder brother became gravely ill, and she was transported to the side of the monastery in order to be close to the physician and the treatment. Since the elder brother was a disciple of Fo-t’iao, during the day he was often in the monastery, seeking advice and practicing the Way.
One day, Fo-t’iao unexpectedly went to the home of the brothers. The younger brother asked about his sister-in-law’s ailments and also inquired how his elder brother was doing. Fo-t’iao replied, “The patient is more or less all right, and your brother is as usual.”
After Fo-t’iao had left, the younger brother mounted his horse and likewise went to the monastery. He told his elder brother that Fo-t’iao had come to their home during the morning. The elder brother was surprised and said, “The venerable monk has not left the monastery since early this morning; how could you possibly have seen him?” The brothers took their dispute to Fo-t’iao and asked him. Fo-t’iao only smiled; he did not answer them. The brothers were both astonished.
Sometimes Fo-t’iao would go alone deep into the mountains, staying for a year or half a year at a time, with only a few pecks of dry cooked rice given to him as offerings. Yet when he returned there would always be some left over. Once someone followed Fo-t’iao into the mountains for several tens of 1i. At evening there was a heavy snowfall, and Fo-t’iao entered a tiger’s den in a crevice in the rocks to spend the night. The tiger returned and lay down outside, in front of its den. Fo-t’iao said, “How ashamed I feel at having taken this place away from you!” But the tiger stopped up its ears deferentially and went down the mountain. The person who had followed him was terrified.
Fo-t’iao foretold the time of his death, which was approaching, and everyone near and far came to see him. Fo-t’iao bade them farewell, saying, “Heaven and earth are long-lasting, yet one day even they will collapse and be destroyed; how much more is this true of people and other things--how could these last forever? If one can root out the Three Impurities2 and concentrate the mind on the Real and the Pure, then although our several bodily forms may be different, yet in spiritual attainment we will indeed be the same.” Tears flowed from the eyes of all those gathered around him. Fo-t’iao returned to his quarters and sat properly in meditation position, covered his head with a cloth and abruptly passed away.
Several years after he passed away, eight lay disciples of Fo-t’iao went into the West Mountains to chop wood. They suddenly saw Fo-t’iao atop a high cliff, wearing fresh, clean clothing, and with an air of ease and happiness about him. They were all amazed and overjoyed. Making obeisance, they asked, “Is Your Reverence still alive?” He answered, “I am always ‘naturally alive.’”3 He asked for news of old acquaintances, and then, after a long while, he left. The eight men then stopped what they were doing and returned to their homes. There they told their brothers in the Dharma what had happened, but there was no way for the congregation to verify it. Thereupon they went together to Fo-t’iao’s grave and opened his coffin: there was no corpse to be found inside.
(Lu, pp. 459-60; FYCL, 37.435a-b)
Tr. by George Lytle
Note: The magic feats recounted here may be compared with those performed by Taoist saints in the stories selected from the Shen-hsien chuan (-). In general, Buddhist tales from the Ming-hsiang chi are more extended and less erratic in style than other CK stories, possibly due to their circulation as sermon pieces.
1 A Sramana, Chinese sha-men, is an ascetic, religious wanderer, monk, or religious mendicant. In Chinese usage, it refers more specifically to Buddhist monks.
2 The Three Impurities, or san-kou, also known as the Three Poisons, or san-tu, are greed, hatred, and delusion. These three basic impurities fuel samsara (the round of birth and death) and keep sentient beings chained to suffering.
3 I think there may be a pun in the Chinese here. This brief exchange may be literally translated as: “Is Your Reverence still existing here?” “I am always naturally (of myself) existing.” Tzu-tsai, literally “naturally (of itself) existing,” is a term frequently seen in Buddhist texts, meaning free and at ease, free from delusion, free from the fetters of worldy existence, liberated, lord of oneself.
Chao T’ai, styled Wen-ho, was a native of Pei-ch’iu in Ch’ing-ho [in modern Hopeh, bordering on Shantung] during the Chin Dynasty [265-420]. His grandfather had been governor of the capital. He was commended by his prefecture as a Hsiao-lien licentiate.1 A prince’s government drafted him to take office, but he did not accept it. He had a reputation in his village for diligent study of books and documents. Only in his later years did he accept an appointment for government, and he died in his post as Grandee of Remonstration.
When Chao T’ai was thirty-five years old, he felt a sudden pain in his heart and died a moment thereafter. His corpse was laid out on the ground, but his heart remained warm, and his body flexible. The corpse was kept for ten days. Then one morning there was a noise like rain in his throat. And shortly after, he came back to life.
Chao T’ai said that when he had first died, he dreamt that a person approached his body, right next to his heart. Then came two more men, riding yellow horses. Two of their attendants, one on either side of him, propped him up, supporting him under his arms. They then proceeded toward the east for he knew not how many miles, and arrived at a large city wall, lofty and towering high above them. The color of the wall was dark black, like tin. They took Chao T’ai in through the city gate.
After passing through a double gate, they came upon several thousand tile-roofed buildings. There were also several thousand people, men and women, young and old, standing in ranks. Five or six civil officers, wearing black clothing, were going through a list of names, one by one, saying that these people were to be presented before the Magistrate for review. Chao Τ’ai’s name was thirtieth on the list.
After a moment, Chao T’ai and several thousand other people, both men and women, were all taken in at the same time. The Magistrate sat facing westward, and after glancing briefly at the name list, he sent Chao T’ai through a black gate to the south. There was a person wearing scarlet clothing sitting in a great room and calling out names in order, asking the people what they had done during their lives: “What sins and transgressions have you committed? What blessed and good deeds have you done? Be careful to reply truthfully, because we have dispatched emissaries from the Six Departments, who reside permanently in the human world, recording good and evil point by point, and the record is explicit and detailed. You cannot get away with a lie.”
Chao T’ai answered, “My father and elder brothers are all government officials, each with a salary ranking of two thousand piculs of rice. I study a little at home, and have not taken up a profession. Neither have I committed any evil.”
Then Chao T’ai was assigned a mission as Inspector of Waterworks, and he took more than twenty thousand people to transport sand and shore up river banks. He worked diligently day and night. Later, he was promoted to Supervisor of Waterworks, whence he came to know about all the hells. He was given horses and soldiers and was sent on a mission to inspect the works in the hells.
The bitter and harsh punishments meted out to sinners varied amongst the different hells that he saw. In one, needles were poked through the sinners’ tongues, and blood flowed out, covering the body. In another, the sinners were bare-headed, their hair covering their faces, and their bodies naked, their feet unshod. They walked by pulling each other along, while from behind, someone carrying large clubs drove them on. Iron beds and bronze pillars were heated through and through, and then these people were forced to embrace them. They were burned up on contact, but then brought back to life to suffer more punishments.
In yet another hell, sinners were cooked in huge cauldrons over hot stoves. Their bodies and heads would come apart and sink, and they would churn about with the boiling water. Demons with pitchforks stood by the side. There were three or four hundred people standing on one side, waiting to enter the cauldron; they were seen to embrace each other and cry bitterly. In another, there were countless tall, broad sword trees, the roots, trunks, branches, and leaves all made from swords. A crowd of people were cursing each other, and they would climb up the trees of their own accord, as if delighted to do so. Thus their bodies and heads were severed and sliced, cut into pieces. Chao T’ai saw his grandfather and grandmother, and two of his younger brothers in this hell. As he saw them, they all wept in sorrow.
When Chao T’ai came out through the gates of hell, he saw two people carrying documents come to speak to the officials, saying that there were three people whose families had hung pennants and burned incense in stupas and monasteries for their benefit, to save them from their sins. As a result, these sinners could now come out and go to the mansions of the blessed. Presently he saw three people come out of hell. They were now fully clothed in ordinary, undamaged clothing. They went southward to a gate with the name “The Great Mansion of the Shining Forth of the Light.” It had a triple gate which glowed with a vermilion hue. Chao T’ai saw these three people enter the mansion, and, following them, he likewise entered.
In the foreground, there was a large palace decorated all over with precious jewels; the refined brilliance dazzled the eyes. Couches were made of gold and jade. He saw a godly person whose beautiful countenance was impressive and extraordinary--handsome to an unusual extent—who sat upon one of these seats. By his side were a host of Sramanas2 standing in attendance. Then he saw the Magistrate come and pay his respects to this godly man by saluting him. Chao T’ai asked who this person was, that the Magistrate should be so extremely courteous toward him. A civil official said that he was called World-Honored One, Master of Salvation, and that he had vowed to lead all beings out of the evil paths of existence3 and make them hear the scriptures. Then Chao T’ai was told that one million nine thousand people had all left hell and entered this City of One Hundred Li.4 Those who had arrived here had all honored the Dharma, and although their conduct in life had been deficient, they still could be saved, and thus the scripture Dharma5 had been established for them. Within seven days, in accordance with the amount of good or evil they might do while in this city, they would be sent to their new rebirths or be liberated altogether. In the short time before he left, Chao T’ai had seen ten people ascend into the sky and depart.
After Chao T’ai left this mansion, he saw another city which was more than two hundred li square, and its name was City of Transformation. Those whose purgation in hell was finished came to this city to receive their new birth in accordance with their karma. Chao T’ai entered this city and saw that there were several thousand districts filled with buildings roofed with earthenware tiles. Each district contained neighborhood subdivisions and alleys. In the exact center was a tile-roofed building, tall and impressive, with colorfully decorated railings and latticework. There were several hundred bureau officials who were examining and collating documents, saying that those who had engaged in killing6 were to become mayflies which are born in the morning and die in the evening; those who engaged in stealing and robbery were to become pigs and sheep, to be butchered and cut up by others; those who engaged in sexual wantonness were to become cranes, ducks, and deer;7 the double-tongued were to become owls;8 those who did not repay their debts were to become donkeys, mules, oxen, and horses.9
When Chao T’ai had completed his mission of inspection, he returned to the waterworks office. An overseer at the office said to him, “You are the son of an elder; what sin have you committed that you should come here?” Chao T’ai replied, “The men of my family all have salaries of two thousand piculs of rice. I was commended to receive the Hsiao-lien licentiate and a prince’s government drafted me for a post, but I did not accept it. I cultivated my will and kept my thoughts on the good, not being polluted by the multitude of evils.” The overseer said, “You have committed no sin and thus have been made to serve as the Supervisor of Waterworks. Otherwise, your condition would be no different from that of those people in hell.”
Chao T’ai asked the overseer, “What should a person do in order to receive a happy retribution after death?” The overseer only replied that the followers of the Dharma who strive energetically and uphold the precepts will receive a happy retribution without the least bit of punishment. Chao T’ai again asked, “As for the sins committed by a person before he has begun to serve the Dharma, are these sins wiped out after he begins to serve the Dharma?” The overseer replied, “They are all wiped out.”
When they finished speaking, the overseer opened a bound box and looked up Chao Τ’ai’s ordained life span, discovering that he still had another thirty years to live. He thereupon sent him back. As they were about to part, the overseer said, “You have now seen just what the retribution for sins in hell is like; you should tell this to the people of the world, and advise them to do good. The effects of good and evil committed by a person follow him like the shadow of his body and the echo of his voice. Shouldn’t one be careful?!”
At that time, there were about fifty or sixty people of all degrees of relation, both paternal and maternal, who were attending Chao Τ’ai’s body. They all heard Chao T’ai tell his story. Then Chao T’ai personally wrote an account in order to make it known to his contemporaries. This happened on the thirteenth day of the seventh month of the fifth year of the T’ai-shih reign [265-274] of the Chin dynasty.
Chao T’ai thereupon engaged members of the Sangha10 and convened a great Mass for the sake of his grandfather and grandmother, and the two younger brothers. He also ordered all his sons and grandsons to mend their ways and honor the Dharma, and enjoined them to strive energetically after the good.
When his contemporaries heard that Chao T’ai had died and been revived, and had seen the results of good and evil deeds, they came to call upon him to ask him about his experiences. At that time, ten people, including the Imperial Officer Sun Feng of Wu-ch’eng [in modern Shantung Province], and the Marquis of the Land Within the Pass (Kuan-nei), namely Hao Po-p’ing of Ch’ang-shan [in modern Chekiang Province], gathered together at Chao T’ai’s house, and, with great sincerity, inquired about what he had seen. Every one of them was dreadfully frightened by what he heard, and thereupon decided to honor the Dharma.
(Lu, pp. 453-55; FYCL, 12.133a-134b; TPKC 377.1)
Tr. George Lytle
Note: This piece gives one of the most extensive and graphic accounts of Buddhist hell of all CK stories (cf. the vision of hell presented in the pien-wen story “The Great Maudgalyayana Rescues His Mother from Hell,” Ma and Lau, pp. 441-55). At the same time it incorporates an exposition of Buddhist doctrines through both the reported speech and action.
There is no doubt that the vision presented in the story is a product of a zealous religious imagination. Inclusion of relatively elaborate description is also a trait that sets Buddhist tales apart from other CK stories.
1 Hsiao-lien was a title of certification for the civil service, established in the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220); the certificate denotes the qualities of hsiao and lien, or filial devotion and personal integrity.
2 See “Fo-t’iao (55), n. 1.
3 The evil paths or destinies are usually listed as three: the paths of animals, of hungry ghosts, and of beings in hell. The path of the asuras, or titans, is sometimes counted as an evil path.
4 This appears to be the s ame city that Chao T’ai is currently in, although the gate by which he entered had another name.
5 I.e., the method of salvation revealed in the scriptures, or the method of salvation consisting of listening to and reflecting on the scriptures.
6 The Buddhis t prohibition a gainst taking life extends to all sentient beings, not just human beings.
7 Many types of birds and mammals are thought by Chinese Buddhists to be slaves of lust, and thus rebirth as one is seen as appropriate retribution for sexual wantonness.
8 Owls were considered birds of ill omen.
9 These are all beasts of burden; in this way, they would be repaying their unpaid debts.
10 The Sangha is the order of Buddhist monks and nuns.
Ch’eng Tao-hui, styled Wen-ho, was a native of Wu-ch’ang [in modern Hupeh] during the Chin dynasty [265-420]. During his life, he honored the Way of Five Pecks of Rice1 and did not believe in the Buddha. He would often say, “Of the orthodox ways since ancient times none has surpassed that of Lao-tzu. Why would anyone believe the deceitful babble of barbarians and take it for a superior teaching?”
In the fifteenth year of the T’ai-yüan reign period [376-397], he became ill and died. But the area beneath his heart remained warm, so his family did not have his body prepared for burial. After several days he revived.
He said that when he first died, he saw ten or so people tie him up, putting him under arrest, and take him away. They came across a bhikshu2 who said, “This man has accumulated blessed karma in former lives. He must not be tied up.” Thereupon they untied him and drove him on in a more relaxed manner.
The road was level and even, but on either side there were thickets of bramble so dense that one could not even get a foothold among them. Sinners were being driven through these brambles, forced to scurry among them. As their flesh caught on the thorns, their howls and groans pierced one’s ears. When they saw Ch’eng walking on the level road, they all sighed in envy, “Even walking along the road the disciples of the Buddha have it better than others.” Ch’eng Tao-hui said, “I do not honor the Dharma.” Someone among them said with a sympathetic smile, “It is just that you have forgotten, that’s all.”
Ch’eng Tao-hui then remembered that in a former life he had honored the Dharma, and since that life he had already passed through five births and five deaths, having forgotten his original aspiration. In his present life, while he had been alive, he fell in with evil people when he was yet very young, before he could distinguish the true from the false, and thus was led astray into the false way.
Arriving at a large city, he then entered directly into an audience hall. There he saw a man of about forty or fifty years of age, seated facing the south. Seeing Ch’eng, he was surprised and said to him, “You should not have been brought here.” But there was one person, wearing an unlined turban and holding a record book, who said in response, “This man has destroyed shrines to local gods and commited murder. He should indeed have been brought here.”
The bhikshu whom Ch’eng Tao-hui had met earlier had followed him into the hall and now did his utmost to argue on Ch’eng’s behalf. He said, “Destroying a shrine to a local god is no sin. This person has accumulated much blessed karma in former lives, and although committing murder is serious, the time for retribution has not yet arrived.” The man seated facing south then said, “The one who made his arrest should be punished.” Then he asked Ch’eng to be seated, and apologized to him, saying, “The petty spirits were mistaken and unruly and have wrongly had you brought here. But this is also due to your having forgotten your former lives, thus not knowing to honor the teaching of the great, right Dharma.” Ready to send Ch’eng back, he temporarily made him General in Charge of Review and Inspection and sent him to tour the hells. Ch’eng then joyfully took his leave.
He was then led on his way. He passed many cities, all of which were hells. There were crowds of many millions of people, all receiving retribution for their sins. He saw dogs snapping at the sinners, biting them into a hundred pieces. Their flesh fell off and was scattered; their flowing blood covered the ground. And there were also flocks of birds with beaks like sharp pointed spears. They flew very swiftly, venomously attacking the sinners, as if thirsty for their blood. They pierced their mouths, pecking holes all the way through their bodies. The people so tormented writhed and screamed, and their sinews and bones broke apart and fell off.
The rest of what Ch’eng Tao-hui saw was more or less the same as that seen by Chao T’ai and Hsieh Ho,3 so it will not be repeated here. Only the above two items are peculiar to this account, and thus they have been recorded in detail.
After Ch’eng had seen all there was to see, he was sent back. Again he saw the bhikshu whom he had met earlier. He gave him a bronze object shaped like a small bell and said, “When you return home, leave this outside the door; do not take it into the house. On such-and-such a day of such-and-such a month of such-and-such a year, you will be in danger. At that time be alert and careful; in passing through this, your life will be extended for another nine or ten years.”
At that time, Ch’eng’s home was to the south of the Grand Avenue in the capital, and he could see himself as he returned. When he reached Locust Tree Bridge, he saw three cousins of his speaking with each other in a carriage, mourning his demise. As he arrived at the gate, he saw a maidservant weeping as she went on her way to market. Neither the people in the carriage nor the maidservant saw him. As he was about to enter the gate, he put the bronze object in a tree outside the gate. Bright light shone from the object, floating up and filling the sky. After a long while, the light again became small and then abruptly vanished. As he arrived at the door, he smelled the stench of the corpse, which disgusted him and made him feel rueful.
At that time many guests and relatives were coming in to mourn for Ch’eng, and many of them were bumping into him,4 so he could not linger any longer. Therefore he entered the corpse and suddenly revived. He told about coming across the people in the carriage and the maidservant on her way to market; the people involved all verified his account.5
Later, Ch’eng became an Imperial Justice Officer, and once, as he was going to participate in the hearing of a case in the West Hall, he suddenly felt vexed and oppressed before he had taken his place, and he was unable to recognize anyone. Only after half a day elapsed did he recover. He calculated the time and date, and it was indeed the time about which the monk had warned him. Shortly thereafter, he was transferred to Canton where he served as provincial governor. He died during the sixth year of the Yüan-chia reign [424-453] of the Liu Sung dynasty at the age of sixty-nine.
(Lu, pp. 480-82; FYCL, 69.841a; TPKC, 382.2)
Tr. George Lytle
Note: The presentation of experiences in Hell is used here specifically to show the supremacy of Buddhist faith over that of Taoism (cf. “Shu Li46]”]). The former is shown to have a comprehensiveness of vision and philosophical scope that the latter lacks, but above all, to possess a superior practical efficacy in this world and the afterlife.
The authorial intrusion in the middle section marks the presence of an extradiegetic narrative voice not commonly found in the CK narrative. The reference to Chao Τ’ai’s story seems to testify to both the wide circulation of that story and to the prominence of the role of Hell in the propagation of Buddhist faith.
1 This was a Taoist religious sect of the later Han and Chin, which in its beginnings stressed surrender of all or a portion of the convert’s wealth to the local priestly leaders or representatives of the sect, redistribution of this wealth among the poor and needy, charity, and the communal life, somewhat similar to the ways of early Christianity as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. But, as with Christianity, the more extreme communistic and idealistic tendencies were soon dropped. The more wealthy converts, however, were still required to contribute five pecks of rice to the local leadership, ostensibly for distribution to the poor and support of the leadership.
2 A Buddhist monk.
3 For Chao T’ai’s experiences, see entry (56).--Ed.
4 I.e., his spirit body--the people “bumping into” him moved right through his spirit body, unaware of its presence, though he himself might find it disquieting or otherwise disturbing. In this connection, see Raymond Moody, Jr., Life After Life (New York: Bantam Books, 1976), pp. 44-45.
5 For similar verifications in modern accounts of near-death experiences, see Moody, pp. 98-107, “Corroboration.”