Explore the destructive impact of gambling and how it leads to moral decay, financial ruin, and the loss of reputation, as depicted in the story of the 'Gambling Talisman.'
The Taoist Han lived in the Tianqi Temple in our local county. Because he was skilled in magic, people referred to him as a “sorcerer.” My late father was particularly friendly with him, and every time he went to the city, he would visit him. One day, my father and my late uncle went to the city, intending to visit Taoist Han. Coincidentally, they met him on the way. Taoist Han handed the key to my father and said, “You go ahead and open the door, sit inside, and wait for me. I’ll be there shortly.” My father did as he said, entered the temple, used the key to open the door, and to his surprise, Taoist Han was already sitting inside. There were many strange things like this regarding Taoist Han.
Before this, there was a fellow clansman who had a gambling addiction and got to know Taoist Han through my father. At that time, a monk came to the Great Buddha Temple who was skilled in using dice to decide the outcome of gambling, with exceptionally high stakes. The clansman was delighted to see him gambling so recklessly, and he wagered all the money he had at home in a high-stakes gamble, only to lose it all. The more he lost, the more desperate he became. He pawned his land and went gambling again, losing everything overnight, leaving him destitute. From then on, he was in a state of constant depression and misery, so he went to find Taoist Han, completely disoriented and incoherent.
Taoist Han asked him what had happened, and the clansman recounted the whole gambling affair to him. Taoist Han smiled and said, “There is no way to consistently win in gambling. If you can quit gambling, I will help you recover your lost wealth.” The clansman replied, “As long as I can regain my gambling capital as easily as finding a pearl in Hepu, I would smash the dice to pieces with an iron rod!” So, Taoist Han wrote a talisman on paper and gave it to the clansman to wear on his belt. Taoist Han also instructed him, “Once you recover your original possessions, you must stop. Don’t be greedy and keep seeking more.” After saying this, Taoist Han gave him a thousand copper coins, with an agreement that he would repay him after winning the money back.
The clansman went to gamble again with great joy. When the monk saw his one thousand copper coins, he looked down upon them and refused to gamble with him. The clansman insisted on gambling and requested a single throw to determine the outcome, and the monk reluctantly agreed with a smile. So, the clansman used the one thousand copper coins as the sole wager for the outcome. The monk threw the dice first, and the result was inconclusive. The clansman took the dice, rolled them, and won decisively. The monk then put down another two thousand coins as a bet and lost again. Later, the monk’s bets gradually increased to over ten thousand coins. Clearly, the dice showed the highest rank, but with a shout from the clansman, it turned into a lower rank or even a lower one. In this way, the money the clansman had lost earlier was all won back in the blink of an eye. The clansman thought it would be even better to win a few more thousand coins, so he continued gambling. However, each throw resulted in lower-ranking outcomes, and his luck took a turn for the worse. The clansman was puzzled and, upon looking at the talisman in his belt, realized it had disappeared long ago. He was shocked and quickly stopped gambling.
The clansman returned to the temple with the money and, besides repaying Taoist Han the one thousand copper coins, he carefully calculated the money he had won and lost before, which happened to be equal to the amount he had originally lost. Then, the clansman shamefully asked for forgiveness from Taoist Han for losing the talisman. Taoist Han smiled and said, “The talisman had already returned to me. I repeatedly told you not to be greedy, but you didn’t listen, so I took it back myself.”
The chronicler of strange tales said: Among all the factors that lead people to squander their fortunes, there is nothing quicker than gambling. When it comes to moral decay, nothing can corrupt a person faster and more thoroughly than gambling. Those who are addicted to gambling are like sinking into a boundless sea, never knowing where the bottom is. Merchants and farmers each have their own legitimate pursuits, and scholars who study poetry and literature, in particular, should cherish their time. Carrying a hoe and studying diligently is the right path to build a family and a career. Even if you gather with friends for a chat and have a few cups of wine, it’s a way to find solace in life. But gamblers conspire with their dubious associates and gather for gambling all night long.
They rummage through their belongings, hanging their money on perilous heights or shouting to the heavens, beseeching the dice to be in their favor. They spin the dice, making them whirl like beads, or hold the cards as if they were raising a fan. They glance at others one moment, then at themselves the next, their eyes darting as if trying to see through everything. They pretend to be weak on the surface but secretly resort to cunning, using all kinds of tricks and deceptive maneuvers. Even if there are guests waiting to be entertained at the door, they cannot help but think about the gambling table. Sometimes, their houses are on fire, but they still stare fixedly at the dice in their gambling pots.
As a result, they neglect sleep and food, and over time, they become addicted, unable to extricate themselves. They appear with parched tongues and chapped lips, resembling living ghosts. When they have lost all their capital, they can only watch others gamble. They watch the excitement and uproar in the gambling scene, itching to participate, but it’s just a heroic fantasy because when they check their purses, they find not a single coin left, leaving the once-proud gamblers disheartened. So, they stretch their necks and wander around the gambling house, feeling utterly empty-handed and helpless. Eventually, they return home in the wee hours of the night, dejected and filled with sorrow. Fortunately, their wives who scolded and blamed them are already asleep, and they dare not disturb them or awaken the barking dogs.
At this point, they realize their hunger after a long time of emptiness in their stomachs. They pick up their rice bowls, fearing to complain about leftovers. Then, they consider selling their sons, pawning their land, hoping to recover their losses. Little do they know that their gamble is like chasing after the moon’s reflection in the river, a futile endeavor. It’s only after suffering such heavy losses that they begin to reflect, but by then, they have already fallen into ruin. If you ask who among the gamblers is the most skilled, people will point to the destitute man who has lost even his pants. Some of them, due to unbearable hunger, resort to a life of crime, while others scratch their heads in despair, unable to find a way out, relying on selling their women’s jewelry for survival. Alas! Moral decay, loss of character, the squandering of fortunes, and the downfall of reputation—every one of these is caused by the evil habit of gambling!