THROUGH MANY LIVES

A Chinese Story

translated by George Souliť

 

Some people remember every incident of their former existences; it is a fact which many examples can prove. Other people do not forget what they learned before they died and were born again, but remember only confusedly what they were in a precedent life.

Wang The-acceptable, of the Yellow-peach-blossom city, when people discussed such questions before him, used to narrate the experience he had had with his first son.

The boy, at the time he spoke of, was three or four years old. He did not say many words, and some people thought he was dumb. One day, The-acceptable was writing a letter, when he was disturbed by a friend. He put his writing-brush down on the table and left the room. When he came back, his letter was finished, and written much more correctly than he would have believed himself able to do. Besides, he did not remember having finished it. The puzzle did not trouble him very much.

Another day the same thing occurred; he left the room, leaving a letter unfinished on the table; when he came back, the letter was nearly ended. Nobody but the boy had been in the room. Troubled and suspicious, he rose and feigned to go away; but he came back immediately and noiselessly. From the door, he saw his boy kneeling on the stool and writing the letter.

The little man suddenly saw his father and asked to be forgiven. The father of course laughed:

"We all thought you were dumb; if you are such a learned man, the family happiness will be great! How could we punish you?"

From that date he had good lessons given to the boy, who very early passed successfully his third degree examination and became one of the most celebrated "Entered among the learned" of his time.

When his father asked him whether he remembered what he had been before being what he now was, the boy said that the first life he could remember was that of a young student; he lived in a monastery to save as much as he could of his income. When he died, the King-of-the-Darkness punished him for his stinginess and condemned him to become a donkey in the same monastery he had lived in.

He wanted to die, but did not know what to do; the priests loved him and were very careful. One day he was on a mountain road and was tempted to throw himself downhill; but he had a man on his back and was afraid of the punishment the King-of-the-Darkness would inflict upon him if he killed that man. So he went on. Many years passed; he died at last, and was born again as a peasant. But, as he had forgotten nothing of his former lives, he was able to speak a few days after his birth. His father and mother judged the thing highly suspicious and killed him.

After that, he was born in the family of Wang The-acceptable. Appreciating the surroundings, and bearing in mind that he had last been killed because he spoke too early, he was very careful this time not to utter a single word. But when he saw the paper and ink he could not resist his love of literature and finished the letter.