Understanding Karma: An Old Chinese Tale
By China Gaze
In the Qing Dynasty, Zhao Defang, the father of three sons, enjoyed a very prosperous life. He felt especially fortunate that all his sons were married.
However, during Zhao’s 60th-birthday celebration, he confessed to his three sons that when he first set up the family business, he deliberately rigged his measuring scale to deceive his suppliers and customers. Whenever he purchased anything, the scale would show a lesser weight, and whenever he sold something to a customer, the scale would show a greater weight.
“That was why the cotton man went bankrupt after I bought thousands of kilograms of cotton from him. He tried desperately to save his business but died of typhoid 20 years ago. I still feel sorry for that cotton man today,” Zhao said.
“There was also an herbalist who died after I cheated him with my scale. There were others too, but these two were the most serious cases. Even though I now enjoy much wealth and a happy life, whenever I think of the people who died because of my actions, I feel so guilty that I cannot sleep at night.
“In order to obtain peace of mind, I have now resolved to destroy this scale in front of you all, and I swear that I will behave honestly from now on.”
His sons welcomed his decision. “Father, this is the correct way to do things. We all support your decision,” one son said joyfully. So Zhao immediately broke his wicked scale and kept his promise to behave honestly and do good deeds from then on.
However, not long after, Zhao’s family met with misfortune. First, his eldest son died of a sudden disease. Then his second son also died of a mysterious illness, and his widowed wife moved in with another man. Then his third son suddenly fell ill and died not long after. The third son’s wife was pregnant at the time.
Having gone through all these sudden misfortunes, Zhao felt very sad and confused.
“When I was cheating others, I lived a happy life with all my children around me,” he complained. “Now I’m trying my best to be a good person, yet all these misfortunes are happening one after another. It seems that the old Chinese saying ‘good will be rewarded, and evil will be met with retribution’ is completely wrong.”
Zhao’s neighbors felt sorry for him and his family.
One day, Zhao’s daughter-in-law went into labor. However, after three days of labor, the baby still did not come out. Midwives came one after another, yet they were all helpless and did not know what to do.
Zhao became increasingly worried. In the midst of it all, a monk knocked at the door seeking alms. Zhao’s housekeeper tried to send the monk away, but the monk told her that he had special medicine for the family. The monk was immediately invited inside as an honored guest.
“I am a wandering monk. I go where fate takes me,” the monk said to Zhao. Then he showed Zhao the medicine, and Zhao asked the maid to rush the medicine to his daughter-in-law. Several minutes later, the maid reported that his daughter-in-law had given birth to a son after taking the medicine.
Zhao was delighted. He expressed his gratitude to the monk and hosted a large feast in his honor that evening.
While they were having dinner, Zhao asked the monk, “Dear Master, may I trouble you with a question that has confused me for some time?” The monk nodded his head.
With a deep sigh, Zhao told the monk: “I am ashamed to say that I started my business by using a cheating scale to deceive others. I made up my mind to be a good person last year and destroyed that scale. However, soon after I destroyed the scale, I began experiencing misfortune after misfortune.
“I lost three sons in the span of six months, and two of my daughters-in-law have left us. Fortunately my third daughter-in-law gave me this grandson. Why is it that I had a happy family when I was cheating others, yet once I decided to be good, all these misfortunes knocked on our door?”
The monk laughed after hearing Zhao’s story and responded: “Don’t go off into wild flights of fancy. The heavens are actually fair to us. Your eldest son was the reincarnation of that cotton man who died after you cheated him, and your second son was the reincarnation of that herbalist.
“Your third son also came because of all the bad deeds that you accumulated, and all three sons came to this world to ruin you and your family, so that you would starve to death in your old age. However, since you have resolved to do good, the gods have shown sympathy toward you and have recalled your three sons. You were able to escape your fate.”
Upon hearing this, Zhao felt as though he had woken from a dream. He thanked the monk for explaining the situation to him but asked the monk if his grandson had also come to collect more debts from him.
“All your debts were repaid with the latest series of misfortunes,” the monk replied with a smile. “This grandson of yours is going to bring fortune and happiness to your family. He is going to enjoy fame merely because of your decision to do something good for others. This is the reward that you earned for being good.”
Zhao was very satisfied and became more determined to perform good deeds for the rest of his life.
This story supports the old Chinese saying: “If a good family has some tribulations, it may be that they are repaying the karma or debts from their ancestors. Once the debt is repaid, they will enjoy a happy life.”
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