Stories from Ancient China: Earthworm, Emperor Liangwu and the Monk

There once was a Buddhist monk during the Liang Dynasty, which was one of the Southern Kingdoms. He was cultivating diligently and possessed supernatural powers. People called him "Kowtow monk." Emperor Liangwu (AC502 - 549) heard of the monk and felt that he was someone who he could gain some knowledge from. Therefore, Emperor Liangwu sought to meet him. He sent a messenger with an invitation to the palace. One day, Emperor Liangwu was playing chess when a messenger arrived and told him, "Your Majesty, the Kowtow monk has arrived." Emperor Liangwu was concentrating so hard on his chess game, trying to figure out how to take one of the enemy's chessman, that he said loudly "Kill!" The messenger left at once to fulfil the command. The monk was killed.

After Emperor Liangwu finished the chess game, he remembered that "Kowtow monk" was waiting for him. He said, "Please invite the Master to come in." The messenger replied, "You just ordered me to kill him, so I killed him." Emperor Liangwu was very sad and regretted deeply what had happened. He asked, "Did Kowtow monk have any last words?" The messenger replied, "The monk said that he was innocent. He said that he had been a farmer in one of his previous lifetimes and had once killed an earthworm by mistake when digging the ground with a shovel. Your majesty was that earthworm and that's why he received retribution today." Emperor Liangwu listened with tears in the eyes, feeling deeply remorseful.

This story has many inner meanings. First, life has an exceptionally long history. It is true that "life is endless." You regard a little earthworm as "just a little earthworm," while, it could become an emperor after several lifetimes. That's why it's said in Buddhism "Do not kill any living creature, show mercy to all beings." Secondly, for killing life without scruples, one must pay with one's own life. It is just one of heaven's laws that a debt must be repaid. Take a life, and yours will be taken. Thirdly, we have to pay back as much as we owe. Heavenly laws are impartial like a balancing scale. In a previous lifetime, the farmer killed the earthworm by mistake, while in this lifetime, the emperor Liangwu killed the master by mistake. Both were not intentional actions, so the punishment was fair!

Looking at the moral of the story. There are gods in the unseen world. Gods are omniscient and omnipotent. They uphold justice and righteousness. Some people say, "I just want to get as much personal gain as possible, no need to worry about anything in the next life." That's why there are some people who dare to be corrupt, promiscuous, homicidal and unscrupulous. However, heavenly laws exist and it is impossible for the guilty to escape. If you don't care about your next life, the gods still care! Gods won't allow anyone who is in debt or have killed life get off without paying it back. There are literary couplets in the Town Gods' Temple in Shanghai that display the following message, "Be a good person! Having a right mind means the body is safe and the soul is peaceful! Do good things, heaven sees, earth knows, gods and angels show respect!" It clearly indicates that it is best to be a decent and good person.

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