The Ultra Supreme One's Tractate on Actions and Their Retributions



Translated by James Legge, 1891, revised version


The Ultra-Superior (The Supreme Elder Lord) says, 'There are no special doors for calamity and happiness (in men's lot); they come as men themselves call them. Their recompenses follow good and evil as the shadow follows the substance.

'Accordingly, in heaven and earth, there are gods that take account of men's transgressions, and, according to the lightness or gravity of their offences, take away from their term of life. When that term is curtailed, men become poor and reduced, and meet with many sorrows and afflictions. All (other) men dislike them; punishments and calamities attend them; good luck and occasions for felicitation shun them; evil stars send down misfortunes on them. When their term of life is exhausted they die.

'There also are the divine rulers in the three pairs of the TOY stars of the Northern Ladle (constellation of the Great Bear) over one's heads, which record his acts of guilt and wickedness, and shorten his lifespan according to his sins.

'There also are the three Corpse-Spirits which reside within a man's body. As each Gung-Sun day comes round, they forthwith ascend to the court of Heaven, and report men's deeds of guilt and transgression. On the last day of the moon, the spirit of the Hearth does the same

'In the case of everyone's transgressions, when they are great, twelve years are taken from his term of life; when they are small, a hundred days.

'Transgressions, great and small, are seen in several hundred things. One who wishes to seek for long life must first avoid these.

'Is a way right, one can go forward in it; is it wrong, one should withdraw from it.'

'Do not tread in devious by-ways; do not cheat even in a dark room. Amass virtue and accumulate deeds of merit, feel kindly towards all creatures. Be loyal, filial, friendly and respectful to others. Make yourself correct and (so) transform others. Pity orphans, and compassionate widows; respect the old and cherish the young. Do not hurt even insects, grass, and trees.

'Pity the vices of others; and rejoice over their virtues; help others in their straits; rescue others from their perils; regard others' gains as if they were your own, and their losses in the same way; not to publish others' shortcomings; not to vaunt your own superiorities; put a stop to what is evil, and exalt and display what is good; yield much, and take little for yourself; receive insult without resenting it, and honour with an appearance of apprehension; bestow kindnesses without seeking for a return, and give to others without any subsequent regret.

This is what is called a good person, one whom all others respect, whom Heaven in its course protects, and whom happiness and emolument follow. All evil things keep far from such a person, gods and spirits defend him, what he does is sure to succeed, then, it will be possible for him to become a divine immortal.

He who seeks to become a heavenly Immortal should accumulate 1300 virtuous merits; and he who seeks to become an earthly Immortal should accumulate 300 virtuous merits.

'But if the movements (of a man's heart) are contrary to righteousness, and the (actions of his) conduct are in opposition to reason; if he regard his wickedness as a proof of his ability, and can bear to do what is cruel and injurious; if he secretly harms the honest and good; if he treats with. clandestine slight his ruler or parents; if he is disrespectful to his elders and teachers; if he disregards the authority of those whom he should serve; if he deceives the simple; if he calumniates his fellow-learners; if he vent baseless slanders, practise deception and hypocrisy, and attack and expose his kindred by consanguinity and affinity; if he is hard, violent, and without humanity; if he is ruthlessly cruel in taking his own way; if his judgments of right and wrong are incorrect; and his likings and aversions are in despite of what is proper; if he oppresses his subordinates to take the credits of their works; courts his superiors and anticipates their intentions; receives favours without feeling grateful for them; broods over resentments without ceasing; if he slights and makes no account of Heaven's people; if he trouble and throw into disorder the government of the state; bestows rewards on the unrighteous and inflicts punishments on the guiltless; kills men in order to get their wealth, and overthrows men to get their offices; slays those who have surrendered, and massacres those who have made their submission; throws censure on the upright, and overthrows the worthy; maltreats the orphan and oppresses the widow; if he casts the laws aside and receives bribes; holds the right to be wrong and the wrong to be right; enters light offences as heavy; and the sight of an execution makes him more enraged instead of pitying them; if he knows his faults and does not change them, or knows what is good and does not do it; throws the guilt of his crimes on others; if he tries to hinder the exercise of an art (for a living); reviles and slanders the sage and worthy; and insult and oppresses Truth(Tao) and Virtue;

if he shoots birds and hunts beasts, unearths the burrowing insects and frightens roosting birds, blocks up the dens of animals and overturns nests, hurts the pregnant womb and breaks eggs; if he wishes others to have misfortunes and losses; and defames the merit achieved by others if he imperils others to secure his own safety; diminishes the property of others to increase his own; exchanges bad things for good; and sacrifices the public weal to his private advantage; if he takes credit to himself for the ability of others; conceals the excellences of others; publishes the things discreditable to others; and searches out the private affairs of others; leads others to waste their property and wealth; and causes the separation of near relatives; encroaches on what others love; and assists others in doing wrong; gives the reins to his will and puts on airs of majesty; puts others to shame in seeking victory for himself; injures or destroys the growing crops of others; and breaks up projected marriages; if becoming rich by improper means makes him proud; and by a peradventure escaping the consequences of his misconduct, he yet feels no shame; if he owns to favours (which he did not confer), and puts off his errors (on others); marries away (his own) calamity to another, and sells (for gain) his own wickedness; purchases for himself empty praise; and keeps hidden dangerous purposes in his heart; detracts from the excellences of others, and screens his own shortcomings if he takes advantage of his dignity to practise intimidation, and indulges his cruelty to kill and wound; if without cause he (wastes cloth) in clipping and shaping it; cooks animals for food, when no rites require it; scatters and throws away the five grains; and burdens and vexes all living creatures; if he ruins the families of others, and gets possession of their money and valuables; admits the water or raises fire in order to injure their dwellings; if he throws into confusion the established rules in order to defeat the services of others; and injures the implements of others to deprive them of the things they require to use; if, seeing others in glory and honour, he wishes them to be banished or degraded; or seeing them wealthy and prosperous, he wishes them to be broken and scattered; if he sees a beautiful woman and forms the thought of illicit intercourse with her; is indebted to men for goods or money, and wishes them to die; if, when his requests and applications are not complied with, his anger vents itself in imprecations; if he sees others meeting with misfortune, and begins to speak of their misdeeds; or seeing them with bodily imperfections he laughs at them; or when their abilities are worthy of praise, he endeavours to keep them back; if he buries the image of another to obtain an injurious power over him; or employs poison to kill trees; if he is indignant and angry with his instructors; or opposes and thwarts his father and elder brother; if he takes things by violence or vehemently demands them; if he loves secretly to pilfer, and openly to snatch; makes himself rich by plunder and rapine; or by artifice and deceit seeks for promotion; if he rewards and punishes unfairly; if he indulges in idleness and pleasure to excess; is exacting and oppressive to his inferiors; and tries to frighten other men; if he murmurs against Heaven and finds fault with men; reproaches the wind and reviles the rain; if he fights and joins in quarrels; strives and raises litigations; recklessly hurries to join associate fraternities; is led by the words of his wife or concubine to disobey the instructions of his parents; if, on getting what is new, he forgets the old; and agrees with his mouth, while he dissents in his heart; if he is covetous and greedy after wealth, and deceives and befools his superiors (to get it); if he invents wicked speeches to calumniate and overthrow the innocent; defames others and calls it being straightforward; reviles the Spirits and styles himself correct; if he casts aside what is according to right, and imitates what is against it; turns his back on his near relatives, and his face to those who are distant; if he appeals to Heaven and Earth to witness to the mean thoughts of his mind; or calls in the spiritual Intelligences to mark the filthy affairs of his life; if he gives and afterwards repents that he has done so; or borrows and does not return; if he plans and seeks for what is beyond his lot; or lays tasks (on people) beyond their strength; if he indulges his lustful desires without measure; if there be poison in his heart and mildness in his face; if he gives others filthy food to eat; or by corrupt doctrines deludes the multitude; if he uses a short cubit, a narrow measure, light weights, and a small pint; mixes spurious articles with the genuine; and (thus) amasses illicit gain; if he degrades (children or others of) decent condition to mean positions; or deceives and ensnares simple people; if he is insatiably covetous and greedy; tries by oaths and imprecations to prove himself correct; and in his liking for drink is rude and disorderly; if he quarrels angrily with his nearest relatives; and as a man he is not loyal and honourable; if a woman is not gentle and obedient; if (the husband) is not harmonious with his wife; if the wife does not reverence her husband; if he is always fond of boasting and bragging; if she is constantly jealous and envious; if he is guilty of improper conduct to his wife or sons; if she fails to behave properly to her parents-in-law; if he treats with slight and disrespect the spirits of his ancestors; if he opposes and rebels against the charge of his sovereign; if he occupies himself in doing what is of no use; and cherishes and keeps concealed a purpose other than what appears; if he utter imprecations against himself and against others (in the assertion of his innocence) ; or is partial in his likes and dislikes; if he strides over the well or the hearth; leaps over the food, or over a man; kills newly-born children or brings about abortions; if he does many actions of secret depravity; if he sings and dances on the last day of the moon or of the year; bawls out or gets angry on the first day of the moon or in the early dawn; weeps, spits, or urinates, when fronting the north sighs, sings, or wails, when fronting the fire-place and moreover, if he takes fire from the hearth to burn incense; or uses dirty firewood to cook with; if he rises at night and shows his person naked; if at the eight terms of the year he inflicts punishments; if he spits at a shooting star; points at a rainbow; suddenly points to the three luminaries; looks long at the sun and moon; in the months of spring burns the thickets in hunting; with his face to the north angrily reviles others; and without reason kills tortoises and smites snakes:--

'In the case of crimes such as these, (the Spirits) presiding over the Life, according to their lightness or gravity, take away the culprit's periods of twelve years or of one hundred days. When his term of life is exhausted, death ensues. If at death there remains guilt unpunished, judgment extends to his posterity.

'Moreover, when parties by wrong and violence take the money of others, an account is taken, and set against its amount, of their wives and children, and all the members of their families, when these gradually die. If they do not die, there are the disasters from water, fire, thieves, and robbers, from losses of property, illnesses, and (evil) tongues to balance the value of their wicked appropriations. Further, those who wrongfully kill men are (only) putting their weapons into the hands of others who will in their turn kill them.

'To take to one's self unrighteous wealth is like satisfying one's hunger with putrid food 3, or one's thirst with poisoned wine. It gives a temporary relief, indeed, but death also follows it.

'Now when the thought of doing good has arisen in a man's mind, though the good be not yet done, the good Spirits are in attendance on him. Or, if the thought of doing evil has arisen, though the evil be not yet done, the bad Spirits are in attendance on him.

'If one have, indeed, done deeds of wickedness, but afterwards alters his way and repents, resolved not to do anything wicked, but to practise reverently all that is good, he is sure in the long-run to obtain good fortune:--this is called changing calamity into blessing. Therefore the good man speaks what is good, contemplates what is good, and does what is good; every day he has these three virtues:--at the end of three years Heaven is sure to send down blessing on him. The bad man speaks what is wicked, contemplates what is wicked, and does what is wicked; every day he has these three vices:--at the end of three years, Heaven is sure to send down misery on him -- How is it that men will not exert themselves to do what is good?'

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