Only the Dead Will Know the Truth

A bookish person was quite daring. The rain had just stopped and the moon shone brightly one night. He took a jar of rice wine to the graveyard. He looked around and said, “What a beautiful night! Yet I'm here all alone. Who from the netherworld would like to join me for some drinks?”

A short while later, some sparkling was seen among the wild grasses. The ghosts, about a dozen of them as one could tell from their shadows, circled around 10 yards from him. He walked around the circle, and poured a large bowl of rice wine on the ground. The ghosts all lowered their heads and sniffed the wine. One ghost marveled at the quality of the wine, and ventured to ask for more.

The bookish person asked while pouring more of the wine, “Why don't you reincarnate?” One answered, “Those who had done good deeds have already reincarnated. Those who committed monstrous crimes are stuck in hell for punishment. Of the thirteen of us, four are still serving their term for their sins and once they are paid for they may reincarnate. The other nine, due to karmic debts, can no longer reincarnate.”

The bookish person was curious, “Why don't you repent in exchange for salvation?” The ghost answered, “One has to repent while still alive. Once dead, one can't make it up!”

The person turned the jar upside down to show them that he had poured out all the wine. The group of ghosts stumbled away.

One turned his head and uttered, “As a starving ghost, I appreciate your excellent wine. There is nothing that I can do in return, except to offer one advice, which truth one will not know until after death – if one needs to repent, one has to do so while still alive!”

Adapted from Yuewei Caotang Notes

Sima Guang Mends His Ways

Sima Guang, 1019 – 1086 AD, was a historian, scholar, and high chancellor in the Song Dynasty. He was the lead author of Comprehensive Mirror in Aid of Governance, a pioneering reference work of Chinese historiography, published in 1084 AD, in the form of a chronicle.

He used to tell others a story of his childhood:

“When I was little, my sister and I were trying to break walnuts that still had a green shell. Neither of us could remove the shell. When my sister was away, a maid helped me peel the shell by soaking it in boiling water. After my sister returned, she was curious who cracked it open. I told her I did. My dad happened to overhear it. He scolded me, 'How can a small kid tell lies?' From that point on, I never dared to tell lies.”

Adapted from Ancient Reflections on Moral Education