The Ultra Supreme One's Book of Recompense

Translated into English by Frederic Henry Balfour, 1884, revised version

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 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 are also three spirits in the body of each man which ascend 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 fetus 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 fetus 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 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?

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