Observing Cause and Effect

Ma Shilin(馬士麟), a scholar from Changzhou(常州), once recounted a personal experience:

When he was young, he and his father studied in the northern tower. From their window, they could see the outdoor flower platform of an old man named Wang who sold chrysanthemums. One day, Ma Shilin woke up early, leaning against the window and peering below. The sky was gradually brightening, and he saw Wang ascending the platform to water the flowers. After finishing, as Wang was about to descend, a man carrying two buckets of manure arrived, wanting to assist Wang. Wang’s face showed displeasure, refusing to let the man up, but the man insisted. So, they both jostled on the slope of the platform. Unfortunately, rain started, making the terrace slippery. The slope was steep and high, and Wang pushed the man, who couldn’t withstand the force and fell from the platform. Wang hurried to help, but the man, pinned under the manure buckets, couldn’t get up. With a push, he gasped his last breath.

Fearing repercussions, Wang silently dragged the man’s body by his feet from the back door to the riverbank, placing the buckets beside him. He returned home, shut the door, and went back to sleep. Though young, Ma Shilin realized the gravity of the situation and refrained from discussing it further, quickly closing the window and leaving. As the day brightened, news spread of a person found dead by the riverside. The village officials reported to the authorities.

Nine years passed. Ma Shilin, now twenty-one and having achieved scholarly status, faced poverty due to his father’s death. He started teaching students in the same northern tower where he studied before. At that time, Liu Wulong was the inspector of Jiangsu. To prepare for an exam, Ma Shilin woke up early, opening the window to revise his studies. In the distance, he spotted someone carrying two buckets, the same man who had died before. Alarmed, he thought the man came for revenge against Wang, the chrysanthemum seller. After a while, seeing the man pass Wang’s house without entering, heading in another direction towards a wealthy family named Li’s house, Ma Shilin found it suspicious. He followed the man into the Li household. The servants were flustered, mentioning their mistress was giving birth and they were going to call a midwife. When asked if they saw a man with two buckets, they denied it. Suddenly, a maid emerged, announcing the birth of a son, negating the need for a midwife. Ma Shilin realized the man had come to Li’s house for a new life, not for revenge. Yet, he found it odd for a man of manure to have such good fortune. From then on, he observed the actions of Li’s son closely.

Seven years later, Li’s son, disinterested in studying, became fond of raising birds. Meanwhile, Wang, in his eighties, remained healthy and enthusiastic about growing chrysanthemums.

One day, Ma Shilin, again early at the window, witnessed Wang watering the flowers on his platform while Li’s son released pigeons from his rooftop. Suddenly, a dozen pigeons flew to the railing of Wang’s platform. Despite Li’s son calling them repeatedly, the pigeons remained still. In desperation, he threw a stone, accidentally hitting Wang. Startled, Wang fell from the platform, struggled to get up for a long time, stretched out, and passed away. Li’s son, terrified, quietly closed the window. When it was bright outside, Wang’s son and grandson found him. Seeing it was an accidental fall, they wept bitterly and arranged the burial.

This story was recounted by Mr. Liu Sheng’an, a resident of Changzhou. He added, “A man who carried manure and an old man, their karmic retribution intertwined so intricately, yet justly received. Those involved were unaware, but Ma Shilin, the observer, saw it all. Events of fortune and misfortune always have a cause and effect, with no room for error. Unfortunately, no one can calmly observe from the sidelines.

Translated from 《旁觀因果》 in 《子不語》:


🎨 《東坡題竹圖軸》杜堇 明

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