Once upon a time in Xinye County, Hunan Province, China, there was a temple known as the Jade Emperor Temple. It was quite far away from town, but many people still liked to visit it. The temple was very popu- lar as it made a lot of people’s wishes come true.
One day, two young scholars, Zhang and Li, were on their way to the capital to take the Imperial Examination and they decided to visit Jade EmperorTemple before they went on to the capital. At that time, the Chi- nese government held this special examination every four years in order to find the most talented people to help them run the country. If they passed with high marks, then they would be very famous in the whole country and earn a lot of respect from other people and be able to get a good position.
Zhang and Li came to the temple. Inside was a table behind which stood a Daoist named Ci Hui. On the table he had a sign which read, ‘Your date tells your life and death. My prediction tells your good and bad. I can save you, if you believe me.’ The two young men looked at the sign and then looked at the Daoist and then said to each other, ‘He does not look like an ordinary man. He looks like an Immortal! Maybe he can tell us our future as we are going for the Imperial Examinations.’ Although they were strangers, the two young gentlemen sat down at the Daoist’s table together and asked Ci Hui if he could tell their fortunes. First, he asked for Zhang’s date of birth and looked at his face.
Then he started to do some calculations on his fingers and murmuring certain words as he touched the pad of each finger with his thumb. This is actually a traditional way to find out the Five Elements for the hour, day, month and year of birth of a person’s horoscope.
He then looked at Zhang and said, ‘Congratulations! You will pass tomorrow’s Imperial Examination with high marks. You are in luck. This is because in your last life, you did a lot of good things and you are going to be rewarded in this life.’ Of course, Zhang was very happy to hear this. He bowed to the old man and paid him and then left to go back to the place where he was staying.
Next the old Daoist looked at Li and did the same calculations and looked at his face. After a few moments, he said to Li, ‘I am sorry, but your fortune is not good. In fact, it is very bad. Forget taking the Imper- ial Examination because today you are going to die. You have this ill fate because in your last life you did a lot of bad things and so now must pay back.’ Li was shocked. He felt all his Qi leave his body and his face become pale. He paid Ci Hui and stumbled from the temple in a daze, feeling his whole life turn upside down.
Zhang, on the other hand, was so full of happy spirits that he was like one in a good dream. He wandered here and there enjoying the scenery around him. He suddenly arrived at a rope bridge that crossed a power- ful river. The bridge was not that stable and only had loose wooden planks as a walkway. As Zhang was crossing over, he accidentally kicked some of the planks and they dropped into the river, leaving a big gap.
He guiltily looked around to see if anyone had seen what he did. When he saw that no one had, he turned quickly to run away. However, as heran back up the pathway, in his hurry he knocked over an old man who was coming around the bend in the path. He did not think about help- ing the old man up, but continued to run.
Li had been also walking and he came to the bridge from the oppo- site side. He was very depressed. As he walked across the bridge, he was so lost in his thoughts that he almost fell into the gap left by the missing planks. The gap was big enough that he could easily have fallen through if he had not caught himself in time. He stood gasping on the bridge with his heart beating fast.
Just then, he looked up to see an old man coming towards him on the other side of the gap. Li thought about what Ci Hui had told him. If hewas going to die today, he thought he would try and do something good and maybe atone for some of the bad things he had done in his previous lifetimes. So he called out to help the old man.
He shouted, ‘Sir, be careful, there is a gap here. You should turn and go back! Don’t come this way!’ The old man replied, ‘But I must go across here as I have to go to my home. My old wife is waiting for me. There is no other way. I am sure that I will be able to find some way to cross.’ Li thought for a moment and then said, ‘OK, how about this. I will lie down and cover the gap and then you can walk over me.’ The old man was very impressed by this and he was able to cross over the gap. He started praising Li for his goodness when suddenly it started to pour down with rain. Li took off his coat and covered the old man and helped him the rest of the way to his home. The old man said to Li, ‘You are a good-hearted person. You must have a good future ahead of you.
Live long and take care.’ Li decided to find a hotel to hide himself in, hoping to avoid any bad fortune that might be the cause of his death. After the dinner, Li went to bed and covered himself with the blanket, waiting to see if he would be able to pass the night alive. Eventually, after much worrying, he fell asleep without even realising it. The next day, he was so surprised when he woke to find the sun shining in his face. He was not dead! He was so excited that he hurried to pay his bill and go back to the Jade Temple to see Ci Hui.
He walked into the temple and saw the old Daoist, the same as yes- terday. He was sitting very straight in his chair, his hands folded as if he was waiting for him. Ci Hui said to Li, ‘Good morning, Mr Li. It is good to see you again. Today, your face is in luck.’ Li said, ‘Sifu, I don’t understand. Yesterday you said I was going to die and yet today you say I am lucky. How can this be?’ Ci Hui laughed loudly. He said, ‘You must have done some good things yesterday. Maybe you did something to help someone else, think- ing about more about their well-being than your own. These good deeds changed your fate.’ The Old Daoist then leaned over the table and clapped his hand on Li’s shoulder and said with a great smile, ‘Hurry up and go to the capital to take the Imperial Examination! You will place number one!’ So Li hurried off to do as he was bid.
After some weeks, the results of the examination were announced, and it came about that Li had, indeed, won first place. He received much attention and praise and became very famous throughout the country. However, Zhang did not place at all and did not get any title.
Upset, Zhang went back to the Jade Emperor Temple to talk to the old Daoist.
He saw Ci Hui sitting in his usual place and he knelt before him and asked, ‘Sifu, when I came to visit you before, you said I was very lucky and that I would come first in the examinations. However, I did not place at all. Why is this?’ Ci Hui said to Zhang, ‘Ask yourself, what did you do in the time before the examination to change your fate?’ He then told Zhang to look at the statue of the Jade Emperor behind him. When Zhang did this, his face went pale. The face of the statue was the exact image of the old man whom he had knocked down that day by the bridge.
Watching Zhang, Ci Hui said, ‘Sometimes we think no one sees our actions. However, all our actions will eventually have their result’.
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