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In the days of the Ming dynasty (1368-1628 A. D.) during the years called Kia-Tsing (1522-1567 A. D.) there lived in the province of Kiang-Shih a man named Yu

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Kong. His posthumous name was Tu, and his honorary title Liang-Chin. He was gifted with unusual capacity and had acquired a scholarship as thorough as it was varied. At the age of sixteen he received the Bachelor's degree, and had always been first in all examinations. But when he had reached the age of thirty, he found himself in such straits that he was obliged to give lessons for a livelihood. He joined several Bachelors who had studied at the same college and commenced with them to offer sacrifices to Wen-Chang Ti Chün, the "Lord Superior of Scripture Glory." He carefully guarded written paper,[1] and set at liberty captive birds; he refrained from enjoying the pleasures of sense, from the killing of animals, and from the sins of the tongue. Although he had faithfully observed these rules of conduct for many years, he failed seven times in competitive examination for the second degree.

He married and had five sons; the fourth

[1. According to Chinese views it is impious to throw away paper on which characters are inscribed, because words, both printed or written, are deemed to partake of the spiritual nature of the Tao; and this notion is not altogether foreign to the Western idea that the Logos or "word" is the incarnation of God. There is a class of Taoist monks who devote themselves to the task of collecting and burning all scraps of inscribed paper to spare their writing the sorry fate of defilement.]

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fell ill and died a premature death. His third son, a child of rare intelligence and charming features, had two black spots under the sole of his left foot. He was an especial favorite with his parents, but one day when he was eight years old, while playing in the street he lost his way and no one knew what had become of him. Yu Kong had four daughters, but only one lived, and his wife lost her sight from mourning for her children. Although he worked incessantly year after year, his misery only increased from day to day. So he examined himself, and finding he had committed no great sin, became resigned, although not without murmuring, to heaven's chastening hand.

When he had passed the age of forty, every year at the end of the twelfth moon he wrote a prayer on yellow paper and burned it before the Spirit of the Hearth, beseeching him to carry his vows to heaven. This practice he continued for several years without having the slightest response.

When he was forty-seven, he spent the last evening of the year in the company of his blind wife and only daughter. Gathered together in a room very scantily furnished, the three tried to console one another in their afflictions, when all at once a knock was heard at the

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door. Yu Kong took the lamp and went to see who it was, and lo, there stood a man whose beard and hair were partly whitened by age. The stranger was clad in black and wore a square cap. He entered with a bow and sat down. "My family name is Chang," he said to Yu Kong, "I have come hither a long distance because I have heard your sighs and complaints, and wish to comfort you in your distress."

Yu Kong was filled with wonder and paid him every mark of respectful deference. "All my life," he said to Chang, "I have consecrated to study and the pursuit of virtue, and yet up to this day have never been able to obtain any advancement. Death has robbed me of nearly all my children, my wife has lost her sight, and we can hardly earn enough to keep us from hunger and cold. Moreover," he added, "I have never ceased importuning the Spirit of the Hearth and burning before him written prayers."

"For many years," Chang replied, "I have taken an interest in the affairs of your house, and I am sorry that with your evil thoughts you have filled the measure to overflowing. Concerned only to acquire empty renown you sent to heaven unacceptable prayers, filled with

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murmurings and accusations. I fear that your visitation is not yet at an end."

Yu Kong was frightened. "I have heard," he said with emotion, "that in the other world even the smallest virtues are written in a book. I have sworn to do good, and for a long time have carefully followed the rules which are laid down for men. Can you then say that I have worked for mere vainglory?"

"My friend," Chang answered, "among those precepts there is one which bids you to respect written characters. Yet your pupils and fellow students often use the leaves of ancient books to redress the walls of their rooms and to make envelopes; some, indeed, even use them to wipe off their tables. Then they excuse themselves by saying that although they soil the paper, they burn it immediately afterwards. This happens daily under your eyes and you say not a word to prevent it. Indeed when you yourself find a scrap of written paper in the street you take it home and throw it in the fire. While you suffer others to trespass, tell me please what good does it do that you act rightly? It is true, too, that every month you set animals at liberty that have been doomed to death; but in this you blindly follow the crowd and act only according to the counsel of others. It would even seem that you remain

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undecided and irresolute if others do not first set the example. Good feeling and compassion have never been spontaneous in your heart. You have kids and lobsters served on your table, without considering that they, too, are endowed with the breath of life. As to the sins of the tongue, you shine by reason of your readiness of speech and force of argument and never fail to silence all who dispute with you, but you are insentient to the fact that thereby you wound others' feelings and lose their friendship. Often, too, carried away by the heat of discussion, you take advantage of your superiority and taunt your opponents with biting sarcasm. You pierce them with the bitter darts of your tongue and thus draw upon you the anger of the gods. You are unaware of the number of your offences which are recorded in the spiritual world, and yet you picture yourself the most virtuous of men. Who is there who pretends to deceive me? Do you think any one can impose upon heaven?

"It is true that you commit no actual crimes; but when you meet a beautiful woman in another's home and cannot banish her from your thoughts, you have committed adultery with her in your heart. Consider a moment! Would you have sufficient control over yourself to imitate the sage Lu Nan-Tze if you

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were placed in a similar position? When he once found himself obliged to pass the night in a house whose only other occupant was a woman, he lighted a lamp and read aloud until morning to avoid exposing her to unjust suspicions.[1] You say that you have kept yourself pure and unspotted throughout your life, and believe that you can without fear present yourself before heaven and earth, before demons and spirits! You are deceiving yourself. If this is the way you have followed the precepts which you have sworn to observe, what need is there to speak of others?

"I have presented to heaven the supplications which you have burned before my altar. The Supreme Master has charged a spirit to keep careful account of your good and evil deeds, and for several years he has not found a single virtue worth recording. When you are alone and given over to yourself, I see nothing in your heart but thoughts of avarice, of envy, of selfishness; thoughts of pride, of scorn and of ambition; and thoughts of hate and ingratitude towards your benefactors and your friends. These thoughts grow on you;

[1. See Mayers, Chinese Reader's Manual, Nos. 429 and 403. This incident is commonly told of Kwang Yü, deified as Kwang Ti, the Chinese god of war. Cf. ibid., No. 297, where the common version of Lu Nan-Tze's adventure as told by Mayers, differs somewhat from our story.]

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so plentifully they swarm in the depths of your heart that I could not enumerate them all. The gods have already recorded a vast number of them and the punishment of heaven is increasing daily. Since you have not even time to escape the calamities which threaten you, what use to pray for happiness!"

At these words Yu Kong was panic-stricken. He prostrated himself upon the earth and burst into a torrent of tears.

"Oh Lord!" he groaned, "I know that thou art a god since thou knowest things which are hidden. Have mercy upon me and save me!"

"My friend," Chang replied, "you study the works of the ancients, you are instructed in your duties, and love of truth has always been a delight to you. When you hear a noble word, you are for the moment carried away with zeal and emulation, while if you witness a good action, your heart leaps for very joy. But as soon as these things are out of your sight and hearing, you forget them at once. Faith has not planted her roots deeply in your heart, and therefore your good principles have no solid foundation. Then, too, the good words and actions of your whole life have never been anything but empty show. Have you ever done a single thing that betrayed a noble motive? And yet, when your heart is full of wrong

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thoughts which surround and bind you on all sides, you dare ask heaven for the rewards which only virtue can claim. You are like a man who would sow only thistles and thorns in his field and expect a rich harvest of good fruit. Would not that be the height of folly?

"From this time forward, arm yourself with courage, and banish all impure and unworthy thoughts that may present themselves to your mind. You must first bring forth a crop of pure and noble thoughts, and after that you may direct your efforts to the accomplishment of good. If an opportunity comes to do a good action which is within the limits of your strength, hasten to do it with a firm and resolute heart, without calculating whether it is large or small, difficult or easy, or whether it will bring you any advantage. If this good act is above your strength, use the same zeal and effort in order to show your sincere intention. Your first duty is patience without limit, your second, tireless perseverance. Above all, keep yourself from indifference and avoid self-deception. When you have followed these rules of conduct for a long time you will reap untold benefits.

"Within your home you have served me with a pure and reverential heart and it is for

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this reason that I have come with the especial purpose of bringing you instructions. If you make haste to carry them out with all your might you may appease heaven and cause it to change its decision."

While speaking the stranger entered farther within the house. Yu Kong rose eagerly and followed. But on approaching the hearth, the weird visitor vanished. Then Yu Kong realized that it was the Spirit of the Hearth who presides over the destiny of men. He at once burned incense in his honor and prostrated himself in grateful acknowledgment.

The next day which was the first day of the first month of the year, he directed prayers and praise to heaven. He avoided his former errors and began to do well with a sincere heart. He changed his literary name to Tseng-I Tao-Jen which means "the Taoist bent on the purification of his heart," and then wrote out a vow to banish all blameworthy thoughts.

The first day he was besieged by a thousand conflicting thoughts; now he fell into doubt, and again into indifference and inaction. He allowed hours and days to pass fruitlessly and it was not long before he returned to the path in which he had before lost his way. At last he prostrated himself before the altar of

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the great Kwan Yin[1] whom he worshiped in his home, and shed tears of blood.

"I vow," he said, "that my only desire is to have none but worthy thoughts, to keep myself pure and unspotted, and to use every effort to advance towards perfection. If I relax a hair's breadth may I fall into the depths of hell."

Every day he rose very early and invoked one hundred times in sincerity and faith the holy name of Ta-Tzé Ta-Peï (the Most Benevolent and Most Compassionate One) that he might obtain divine aid. From that moment he controlled his thoughts, words, and actions as if spirits were constantly at his side. He dared not permit himself the slightest wavering.

Whenever anything occurred to him that might be of use to man or beast, he did not

[1. Kwan Yin, or in full Kwan-Shih-Yin Tze-Tsai, is the Buddha of mercy, a divinity which is peculiarly Chinese, having incorporated features of the founder of Buddhism but being represented as a goddess. She is the most popular deity in China and is in many respects comparable to the Virgin-Mary in Roman Catholic countries. Her name in Tibet is Tara; her Chinese name is an abbreviation of the Sanskrit Avalokitesvara, which means the Isvara, or sovereign Lord, and avoloki, on-looking, i. e., considerate.

In the Saddharma-pundarika, Chapter XXIV, (S. B. E., XXI, p. 410 et seq.), she is referred to as a preacher of the Good Law, and this chapter is recited daily both morning and evening in Buddhist temples.]

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consider whether it was a great or a small thing, whether he had time or was too busily engaged, or whether he had or had not sufficient ability and means to perform it. He hastened to undertake it with enthusiasm, and stopped only after its complete accomplishment. He did good as often as he found opportunity and spread benefits in secret far and wide. He performed every duty faithfully and applied himself to study untiringly. He practiced humility, bore insults, and endeavored to influence to well-doing all the men that he met. The days were not long enough for his good works. On the last day of each month he made a list on yellow paper of all his acts and words during the thirty preceding days and burned it before the Spirit of the Hearth.

Yu Kong soon ripened in the practice of noble deeds. While he was up and doing every one of his acts was followed by a thousand good results, and when he rested no blameworthy thought troubled the serenity of his soul. So he continued for three years.

When Yu Kong reached the age of fifty, in the second year of the reign of Wan Li (1574 A. D.), Chang Kiang-Lin who held the office of First Minister of State, sought an instructor for his son, and with one voice, every one recommended Yu Kong for the place. The

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Minister himself went to invite him, and brought him and his family to the capital.

Chang, who appreciated Yu Kong's strength of character, induced him to enter the imperial college, and in the year Ping-Tsée (1576 A. D.) he competed for and obtained the degree of Licentiate and the next year was raised to the rank of Tsin-Ssé (Doctor).

One day while still sojourning in the capital, he went to visit a eunuch whose name was Yang Kong. Yang introduced his five adopted sons whom he had purchased in different parts of the realm to be a comfort to him in his old age; and there was among them a youth of sixteen years, whose face seemed somehow familiar to Yu Kong. So he asked him where he was born.

"I am from the district of Kiang-Shih," the youth replied. "When I was a child I became lost by heedlessly embarking with a cargo of grain. The name of my family and also my native village are very dim in my memory."

Yu Kong was surprised and deeply moved. Begging the youth to uncover his left foot he recognized the two black spots and cried out, "You are my son!"

Yang Kong rejoiced at the good fortune of this happy meeting and allowed the father

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to take his son home. The blind mother embraced her son tenderly and shed tears of sorrow and joy. The boy wept too and pressing his mother's face between his hands, gently touched her eyes with his tongue and instantly she recovered her sight.[1] Yu Kong's happiness was now complete, and in spite of the tears with which his eyes were still moist, his face beamed with joy.

From this time Yu Kong gave up his situation and took leave of Chan Kiang-Lin to return to his native village. The Minister, however, affected by the nobility of his tutor's character, would not permit him to leave until he had presented him with many rich gifts.

Having reached his native country, Yu Kong continued his good deeds with increased zeal. His son married, and had in his turn, seven sons, all of whom lived to inherit the talents and renown of their grandfather.

Yu Kong wrote a book in which he told the history of his life before and after his happy conversion, and gave the book to his grandsons to learn from his experiences. He lived to the .age of eighty-eight years, and every one looked upon his long life as the just reward for his

[1. According to a very ancient belief spittle is possessed of magic power. We read in the Gospel that Jesus used it for healing both the deaf (Mark vii. 33) and the blind (John ix. 6).]

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noble deeds by which he had changed the decision of heaven in his favor.

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