Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER V.: On the Tractate of Actions and Their Retributions. - The Sacred Books of China. The Texts of Taoism. Part I: The Tao Teh King. The Writings of Kwang Ze Books I-XVII
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CHAPTER V.: On the Tractate of Actions and Their Retributions. - Lao Tzu, The Sacred Books of China. The Texts of Taoism. Part I: The Tao Teh King. The Writings of Kwang Ze Books I-XVII 
The Sacred Books of China. The Texts of Taoism. Part I: The Tao Teh King. The Writings of Kwang Ze Books I-XVII, trans. James Legge (Oxford University Press, 1891).
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On the Tractate of Actions and Their Retributions.
1. The contrast is great between the style of the Tâo Teh King and the Books of Kwang-ȝze and that of the Kan Ying Phien, a translation of which is now submitted as a specimen of the Texts of Tâoism.Peculiar style and nature of the Kan Ying Phien. The works of Lâo and Kwang stand alone in the literature of the system. What it was before Lâo cannot be ascertained, and in his chapters it comes before us not as a religion, but as a subject of philosophical speculation, together with some practical applications of it insisted on by Lâo himself. The brilliant pages of Kwang-ȝze contain little more than his ingenious defence of his master’s speculations, and an aggregate of illustrative narratives sparkling with the charms of his composition, but in themselves for the most part unbelievable, often grotesque and absurd. This treatise, on the other hand, is more of what we understand by a sermon or popular tract. It eschews all difficult discussion, and sets forth a variety of traits of character and actions which are good, and a still greater variety of others which are bad, exhorting to the cultivation and performance of the former, and warning against the latter. It describes at the outset the machinery to secure the record of men’s doings, and the infliction of the certain retribution, and concludes with insisting on the wisdom of repentance and reformation. At the same time it does not carry its idea of retribution beyond death, but declares that if the reward or punishment is not completed in the present life, the remainder will be received by the posterity of the good-doer and of the offender.
A place is given to the treatise among the Texts of Tâoism in ‘The Sacred Books of the East,’ because of its popularity in China. ‘The various editions of it,’ as observed by Mr. Wylie, ‘are innumerable; it has appeared from time to time in almost every conceivable size, shape, and style of execution. Many commentaries have been written upon it, and it is frequently published with a collection of several hundred anecdotes, along with pictorial illustrations, to illustrate every paragraph seriatim. It is deemed a great act of merit to aid by voluntary contribution towards the gratuitous distribution of this work1 .’
2. The author of the treatise is not known, but, as Mr. Wylie also observes, it appears to have been written during the Sung dynasty.The origin of the treatise. The earliest mention of it which I have met with is in the continuation of Ma-twan Lin’s encyclopedic work by Wang Khî, first published in 1586, the fourteenth year of the fourteenth emperor of the Ming dynasty. In Wang’s supplement to his predecessor’s account of Tâoist works, the sixth notice is of ‘a commentary on the Thâi Shang Kan Ying Phien by a Lî Khang-ling,’ and immediately before it is a commentary on the short but well-known Yin Fû King by a Lû Tien, who lived 1042-1102. Immediately after it other works of the eleventh century are mentioned. To that same century therefore we may reasonably refer the origin of the Kan Ying Phien.
As to the meaning of the title, the only difficulty is with the two commencing characters Thâi Shang. Julien left them untranslated, with the note, however, that they were ‘l’abréviation de Thâi Shang Lâo Kün, expression honorifique par laquelle les Tâo-sze désignent Lâo-ȝze, le fondateur de leur secte1 .’The meaning of the title. This is the interpretation commonly given of the phrase, and it is hardly worth while to indicate any doubt of its correctness; but if the characters were taken, as I believe they were, from the beginning of the seventeenth chapter of the Tâo Teh King, I should prefer to understand them of the highest and oldest form of the Tâoistic teaching2 .
3. I quoted on page 13 the view of Hardwick, the Christian Advocate of Cambridge, that ‘the indefinite expression Tâo was adopted to denominate an abstract Cause, or the initial principle of life and order, to which worshippers were able to assign the attributes of immateriality, eternity, immensity, invisibility.’Was the old Tâoism a religion? His selection of the term worshippers in this passage was unfortunate. Neither Lâo nor Kwang says anything about the worship of the Tâo, about priests or monks, about temples or rituals. How could they do so, seeing that Tâo was not to them the name of a personal Being, nor ‘Heaven’ a metaphorical term equivalent to the Confucian Tî, ‘Ruler,’ or Shang Tî, ‘Supreme Ruler.’ With this agnosticism as to God, and their belief that by a certain management and discipline of the breath life might be prolonged indefinitely, I do not see how anything of an organised religion was possible for the old Tâoists.
The Tâoist proclivities of the founder of the Khin dynasty are well known. If his life had been prolonged, and the dynasty become consolidated, there might have arisen such a religion in connexion with Tâoism, for we have a record that he, as head of the Empire, had eight spirits1 to which he offered sacrifices. Khin, however, soon passed away; what remained in permanency from it was only the abolition of the feudal kingdom.
4. We cannot here attempt to relate in detail the rise and growth of the Kang family in which the headship of Tâoism has been hereditary since our first Christian century, with the exception of one not very long interruption.The family of Kang. One of the earliest members of it, Kang Liang, must have been born not long after the death of Kwang-ȝze, for he joined the party of Liû Pang, the founder of the dynasty of Han, in bc 208, and by his wisdom and bravery contributed greatly to his success over the adherents of Khin, and other contenders for the sovereignty of the empire. Abandoning then a political career, he spent the latter years of his life in a vain quest for the elixir of life.
Among Liang’s descendants in our first century was a Kang Tâo-ling, who, eschewing a career in the service of the state, devoted himself to the pursuits of alchemy, and at last succeeded in compounding the grand elixir or pill, and at the age of 123 was released from the trammels of the mortal body, and entered on the enjoyment of immortality, leaving to his descendants his books, talismans and charms, his sword, mighty against spirits, and his seal. Tâo-ling stands out, in Tâoist accounts, as the first patriarch of the system, with the title of Thien Shih, ‘Master or Preceptor of Heaven.’ Hsüan Ȝung of the Thang dynasty in 748, confirmed the dignity and title in the family; and in 1016 the Sung emperor Kăn Ȝung invested its representative with large tracts of land near the Lung-hû mountain in Kiang-hsî. The present patriarch—for I suppose the same man is still alive—made a journey from his residence not many years ago, and was interviewed by several foreigners in Shanghai. The succession is said to be perpetuated by the transmigration of the soul of Kang Tâo-ling into some infant or youthful member of the family; whose heirship is supernaturally revealed as soon as the miracle is effected1 .
This superstitious notion shows the influence of Buddhism on Tâoism. It has been seen from the eighteenth of the Books of Kwang-ȝze what affinities there were between Tâoism and the Indian system; and there can be no doubt that the introduction of the latter into China did more than anything else to affect the development of the Tâoistic system.Influence of Buddhism on Tâoism. As early as the time of Confucius there were recluses in the country, men who had withdrawn from the world, disgusted with its vanities and in despair from its disorders. Lâo would appear to have himself contemplated this course. When their representatives of our early centuries saw the Buddhists among them with their images, monasteries, and nunneries, their ritual and discipline, they proceeded to organise themselves after a similar fashion. They built monasteries and nunneries, framed images, composed liturgies, and adopted a peculiar mode of tying up their hair. The ‘Three Precious Ones’ of Buddhism, emblematic to the initiated of Intelligence personified in Buddha, the Law, and the Community or Church, but to the mass of the worshippers merely three great idols, styled by them Buddha Past, Present, and To Come: these appeared in Tâoism as the ‘Three Pure Ones,’ also represented by three great images, each of which receives the title of ‘His Celestial Eminence,’ and is styled the ‘Most High God (Shang Tî).’ The first of them is a deification of Chaos, the second, of Lâo-ȝze, and the third of I know not whom or what; perhaps of the Tâo.
But those Three Pure Ones have been very much cast into the shade, as the objects of popular worship and veneration, by Yü Hwang Tî or Yu Hwang Shang Tî. This personage appears to have been a member of the Kang clan, held to be a magician and venerated from the time of the Thang dynasty, but deified in 1116 by the Sung emperor Hui Ȝung at the instigation of a charlatan Lin Ling-sû, a renegade Buddhist monk. He is the god in the court of heaven to whom the spirits of the body and of the hearth in our treatise proceed at stated times to report for approval or condemnation the conduct of men.
Since the first publication of the Kan Ying Phien, the tenets of Buddhism have been still further adopted by the teachers of Tâoism, and shaped to suit the nature of their own system. I have observed that the idea of retribution in our treatise does not go beyond the present life; but the manifestoes of Tâoism of more recent times are much occupied with descriptions of the courts of purgatory and threatenings of the everlasting misery of hell to those whom their sufferings in those courts fail to wean from their wickedness. Those manifestoes are published by the mercy of Yü Hwang Shang Tî that men and women may be led to repent of their faults and make atonement for their crimes. They emanate from the temples of the tutelary deities1 which are found throughout the empire, and especially in the walled cities, and are under the charge of Tâoist monks. A visitor to one of the larger of these temples may not only see the pictures of the purgatorial courts and other forms of the modern superstitions, but he will find also astrologers, diviners, geomancers, physiognomists, et id genus omne, plying their trades or waiting to be asked to do so, and he will wonder how it has been possible to affiliate such things with the teachings of Lâo-ȝze.
Other manifestoes of a milder form, and more like our tractate, are also continually being issued as from one or other of what are called the state gods, whose temples are all in the charge of the same monks. In the approximation which has thus been going on of Tâoism to Buddhism, the requirement of celibacy was long resisted by the professors of the former; but recent editions of the Penal Code2 contain sundry regulations framed to enforce celibacy, to bind the monks and nuns of both systems to the observance of the Confucian maxims concerning filial piety, and the sacrificial worship of the dead; and also to restrict the multiplication of monasteries and nunneries. Neither Lâo nor Kwang was a celibate or recommended celibacy. The present patriarch, as a married man, would seem to be able still to resist the law.
THE TÂO TEH KING, OR THE TÂO AND ITS CHARACTERISTICS.
[1 ] Notes on Chinese Literature, p. 179.
[1 ] See ‘Le Livre des Récompense et des Peines en Chinois et en François’ (London, 1835).
[2 ] The designation of Lâo-ȝze as Thâi Shang Lâo Kün originated probably in the Thang dynasty. It is on record that in 666 Kâo Ȝung, the third emperor, went to Lâo-ȝze’s temple at Po Kâu (the place of Lâo’s birth, and still called by the same name, in the department of Făng-yang in An-hui), and conferred on him the title of Thâi Shang Yüan Yüan Hwang Tî, ‘The Great God, the Mysterious Originator, the Most High.’ ‘Then,’ says Mayers, Manual, p. 113, ‘for the first time he was ranked among the gods as “Great Supreme, the Emperor (or Imperial God) of the Dark First Cause.” ’ The whole entry is (or ) . Later on, in 1014, we find kăn Ȝung, the fourth Sung emperor, also visiting Po Kâu, and in Lâo’s temple, which has by this time become ‘the Palace of Grand Purity,’ enlarging his title to Thâi Shang Lâo Kün Hwun Yüan Shang Teh Hwang Tî, ‘The Most High, the Ruler Lâo, the Great God of Grand Virtue at the Chaotic Origin.’ But such titles are not easily translated.
[1 ] The eight spirits were:—1. The Lord of Heaven; 2. The Lord of Earth; 3. The Lord of War; 4. The Lord of the Yang operation; 5. The Lord of the Yin operation; 6. The Lord of the Moon; 7. The Lord of the Sun; and 8. The Lord of the Four Seasons. See Mayers’s C. R. Manual, pp. 327, 328. His authority is the sixth of Sze-mâ Khien’s monographs. Khien seems to say that the worship of these spirits could be traced to Thâi Kung, one of the principal ministers of kings Wăn and Wû at the rise of the Kâu dynasty in the twelfth century bc, and to whom in the list of Tâoist writings in the Imperial Library of Han, no fewer than 237 phien are ascribed.
[1 ] See Mayers’s C. R. Manual, Part I, article 35.
[1 ] Called Khăng Hwang Miâo, ‘Wall and Moat Temples,’ Palladia of the city.
[2 ] See Dr. Eitel’s third edition of his ‘Three Lectures on Buddhism,’ pp. 36-45 (Hongkong: Lane, Crawford & Co., 1884). The edition of the Penal Code to which he refers is of 1879.