Three Lives: The Journey of a Reincarnating Soul

Explore the fascinating story of a soul's three lives, its karmic journey, and the consequences of virtuous deeds.

A scholar named Liu could remember his past life. He and his senior fellow scholar, Wen Ben, passed the civil service examination in the same year. He once vividly recounted his past life to his senior fellow scholar. In his first life, he was a scholar who engaged in many immoral and impure activities. He died at the age of sixty-two. When he first met King Yama (the ruler of the underworld) after his death, King Yama treated him with great respect, inviting him to sit down and serving him tea. He secretly glanced at King Yama’s tea, which was crystal clear, while the tea in his own cup was murky like rice wine. He secretly suspected that this might be the hypnotic soup of the underworld. So, while King Yama was looking away, he discreetly emptied his tea cup from the corner of the table, pretending that he had finished the tea. After a while, King Yama checked his records of misdeeds during his lifetime, became furious, and ordered a group of demons to drag him out and sentenced him to be a horse in his next life. Immediately, an evil spirit took him away. He arrived at a house with a high threshold that he couldn’t step over. While hesitating and observing, the evil spirit struck him forcefully, causing him extreme pain, and he fell to the ground. When he looked at himself again, his body was already beneath the horse trough. He heard someone say, “The black horse has given birth to a foal, and it’s a male.” He understood it clearly in his heart but couldn’t speak. Feeling extremely hungry, he had no choice but to huddle under the mare and suckle milk. After four or five years, his body grew tall and strong, but he was especially afraid of being beaten. Whenever he saw a whip raised, he would run away in fear. When the owner rode him, he had to use various horse equipment, loosen the reins, and let the horse run slowly, so he didn’t feel too miserable. But when the servants and stablemen rode him without any equipment, a blow to their ankles caused excruciating pain. This made him extremely angry, and after three days of not eating any fodder, he died.

Upon reaching the underworld, King Yama checked and found that his punishment term had not yet been completed. He rebuked him for attempting to evade punishment, stripped off his horsehide, and sentenced him to be a dog in his next life. He felt deeply disheartened and didn’t want to go. The demons came forward and began to beat him mercilessly, causing him extreme pain. He managed to escape to the wilderness. He thought it would be better to die and, filled with anger, jumped off a steep cliff. He fell to the ground and couldn’t move. When he looked at himself again, he found himself in a dog’s den, with a mother dog licking and nurturing him. This made him realize that he had once again returned to the human realm. As he grew a bit older, he recognized filth when he saw it, but it smelled strangely appealing. He made a firm decision not to indulge in it. During his time as a dog, he often contemplated seeking death due to frustration. However, he feared that King Yama would accuse him of intentionally trying to evade punishment and add to his sins. Moreover, his owner treated him with affection and care, refusing to put him down. So, he intentionally bit off a piece of flesh from his owner’s thigh. His owner became furious and beat him to death with a club. After investigating the situation, King Yama was greatly angered by his ferocity and madness. He whipped him hundreds of times and sentenced him to be a snake. He was confined in a dark room, unable to see daylight. Feeling very suffocated, he climbed up the wall, creating a hole in the roof, and crawled out of the room. When he looked at himself again, he found himself in a dense thicket of grass, having transformed into a snake. He resolved not to harm other living beings and would only eat plants and fruits when hungry. After more than a year, he often thought about finding a way to die peacefully, neither committing suicide nor causing harm to others, but he couldn’t find a solution. One day, while lying in the grass, he suddenly heard a vehicle passing by. He hastily dashed onto the road, and the vehicle swiftly ran over him, splitting him into two pieces.

King Yama was extremely surprised that he had returned to the underworld so quickly. He immediately knelt down and confessed his intentions to King Yama. Because he had been killed unjustly, King Yama forgave him and approved his return to the human realm after serving his sentence. Thus, he became Liu Gong. From the moment Liu Gong was born, he could speak and had a deep understanding of literature and history. With just one reading, he could recite everything. In the year of Xin-You, he passed the civil service examination. He often advised people that when riding a horse, it was essential to use various horse equipment such as mudguards. The punishment of squeezing the horse’s belly with the legs was more painful than whipping.

The chronicler of strange tales said: Among the feathered and horned creatures, there are even noblemen and officials. The reason for this is that among the nobility, there may also be those who are like beasts in fine clothing. Therefore, when the lowly engage in virtuous deeds, it is akin to planting a tree with the hope of obtaining flowers. When the noble engage in virtuous deeds, it is like nurturing the very roots of a tree that has already blossomed. The trees planted can grow tall, and those roots properly nurtured can endure for a long time without withering. Otherwise, they will be punished to become horses, bearing loads and pulling carts, enduring restraints; or they will be punished to become dogs, consuming filth and urine, subject to others’ slaughter; or they will be punished to become snakes, adorned with scales and armor, eventually meeting their demise in the bellies of cranes and storks.

《三生》

刘孝廉,能记前身事。与先文贲兄为同年,尝历历言之。一世为搢绅,行多玷。六十二岁而没。初见冥王,待以乡先生礼,赐坐,饮以茶。觑冥王盏中,茶色清澈,己盏中浊如醪,暗疑迷魂汤得勿此耶?乘冥王他顾,以盏就案角泻之,伪为尽者。俄顷,稽前生恶录,怒,命群鬼捽下,罚作马。即有厉鬼絷去。行至一家,门限甚高,不可逾。方趦趄间,鬼力楚之,痛甚而蹶。自顾,则身已在枥下矣。但闻人曰:“骊马生驹矣,牡也。”心甚明了,但不能言。觉大馁,不得已,就牝马求乳。逾四五年,体修伟,甚畏挞楚,见鞭则惧而逸。主人骑,必覆障泥,缓辔徐徐,犹不甚苦。惟奴仆圉人,不加鞯装以行,两踝夹击,痛彻心腑。于是愤甚,三日不食,遂死。

至冥司,冥王查其罚限未满,责其规避,剥其皮革,罚为犬。意懊丧,不欲行。群鬼乱挞之,痛极而窜于野。自念不如死,愤投绝壁,颠莫能起。自顾,则身伏窦中,牝犬舐而腓字之,乃知身已复生于人世矣。稍长,见便液,亦知秽,然嗅之而香,但立念不食耳。为犬经年,常忿欲死,又恐罪其规避。而主人又豢养,不肯戮。乃故啮主人脱股肉。主人怒,杖杀之。冥王鞫状,怒其狂猘,笞数百,俾作蛇。囚于幽室,暗不见天。闷甚,缘壁而上,穴屋而出。自视,则伏身茂草,居然蛇矣。遂矢志不残生类,饥吞木实。积年馀,每思自尽不可,害人而死又不可,欲求一善死之策而未得也。一日,卧草中,闻车过,遽出当路,车驰压之,断为两。

冥王讶其速至,因蒲伏自剖。冥王以无罪见杀,原之,准其满限复为人,是为刘公。公生而能言,文章书史,过辄成诵。辛酉举孝廉。每劝人:乘马必厚其障泥,股夹之刑,胜于鞭楚也。

异史氏曰:毛角之俦,乃有王公大人在其中。所以然者,王公大人之内,原未必无毛角者在其中也。故贱者为善,如求花而种其树;贵者为善,如已花而培其本。种者可大,培者可久。不然,且将负盐车,受羁馽,与之为马;不然,且将啖便液,受烹割,与之为犬;又不然,且将披鳞介,葬鹤鹳,与之为蛇。

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