Today I will tell two stories about killing.
I. A Contemporary Account of a Human-Faced Sore
Sometime around 1945, there was an abbot in Chengtian Monastery of Suzhou, China. Though he was a Buddhist, he believed in externalist teachings and made offerings to a fox spirit in his temple. As a result, the fox spirit came and went about the temple freely without interference, and it was not afraid of people at all. The fox lived together with the people there peacefully. At that time a senior monk, the Venerable Daming (“Great Brightness”), was in seclusion reading the Buddhist Canon. The fox would go to the Venerable Daming’s secluded cell and cultivate with him. While the senior monk read the Sutras, the fox would sleep on the bowing cushion that the monk used for bowing to the Buddhas. When the senior monk wanted to bow, he would say to the fox, “I’m going to bow now! Please go away!” The fox would then obediently trot out of the room. After the senior monk finished bowing, it would come back and continue napping on the bowing cushion. That went on every day, and in the course of time the two became friends in the Way.
One day, the senior monk was in a bit of a temper. When he wanted to bow to the Buddhas, he said to the fox, “If you don’t leave, I’m going to beat you to death!” The fox opened its eyes, glanced at the monk and then, ignoring him, closed its eyes again and went back to sleep. It was probably thinking, “Well, monks all have compassionate hearts and use expedient methods.” So the fox stayed where it was and didn’t leave.
Then the senior monk angrily said, “How can this be? You really think you’re the boss here, huh? Well, I’m going to beat the living daylights out of you!” He raised a club menacingly, trying to scare the fox away. But the fox didn’t pay the slightest attention to him. The senior monk, in a moment of anger, brought the club down on the fox. Without meaning to, he accidentally hit too hard and cracked the fox’s skull. Its brains spilled out and stained the bowing cushion with blood. He had really killed the creature. Having violated the precept against killing, the senior monk was filled with regret and didn’t know what to do. How could he eradicate this kind of offense karma? He racked his brains but could not come up with a solution. All of a sudden he had a flash of insight: he remembered having heard someone say that if you gave the flesh of a fox you had killed to other people to eat, your offense karma would be dispelled. So the senior monk skinned the fox and gave the meat to some laborers. He thought that would take care of the problem.
What a surprise it was when, seven days later, the fox’s soul went to the senior monk and said, “I went to King Yama to file charges against you. I want you to pay me back with your life.” Hearing this within his state of samadhi, the senior monk was terrified and started to recite the Great Compassion Mantra. Due to the Mantra’s aid, the fox couldn’t get near the monk and therefore couldn’t hurt him. However, it would not leave him alone. It constantly came to trouble him.
After seven days, the fox decided it couldn’t gain revenge on its own so it rallied up a crew of helpers. Guess who the helpers were. They were the souls of Japanese soldiers who had been killed during the Japanese invasion of China. The fox gathered a large army and fired cannonballs at the senior monk. They fired for many days without being able to hit the monk’s body. Why was this? The monk was concentratedly reciting the Great Mantra without leaving his seat. Thus the cannonballs fell on all sides of the monk’s body but did not hit him directly.
After many days without food and drink, the senior monk was completely exhausted. For a moment he felt dizzy, and a cannonball hit his right knee. The Japanese soldiers immediately retreated. Seeing the threat of the cannons vanish, the senior monk was relieved. He thought the trouble was all over. Just as that thought crossed his mind, he felt pain at the spot hit by the cannonball. He looked down and discovered that on his right knee was a human-faced sore which had a mouth and teeth. The sore was swollen and painful, and no medicine could heal it.
One day someone told the senior monk, “Plastering the sore with some tender meat can stop the pain.” He tried it, and it worked. However, after the tender meat was eaten up by the sore, the pain started again. He was tortured in this way and endured indescribable suffering. After spending several days in pain, the senior monk realized that he could be freed from his pain only if he eradicated his karmic obstacle. And so he started to cultivate earnestly and paid no attention to the pain. He endured the excruciating pain and bowed to the Buddhas single-mindedly, repenting of his killing karma. After three years, he finally got well.
This senior monk was an old-time cultivator who had visited various places looking for wise teachers and learning from them. He had visited the four great holy mountains (Wutai Mountain, Emei Mountain, Jiuhua Mountain, and Putuo Mountain) and the eight lesser mountains in China. He had some real skill in cultivation. Although the killing of the fox had been an accident, he still had to repent and bow to the Buddhas to eradicate his karmic obstacle. From this story we should know that killing brings on extremely severe karmic retribution. All of you, pay attention to this! Refrain from killing, and create merit instead by liberating more living beings. If you casually kill living beings, you’ll be afflicted with some strange and incurable disease or else become crippled, and then regret it for the rest of your life.
II. An Ancient Account of a Human-Faced Sore
In the Tang Dynasty, during the reign of Emperor Yizong, there was a National Master named Dhyana Master Wuda (“Penetrating Enlightenment”). When the Dhyana Master lectured on the Sutras in Ju’an Monastery in the city of Chang’an, Emperor Yizong personally attended his Dharma lecture and presented him with the gift of a precious seat made of sandalwood. That made the Dhyana Master arrogantly consider himself an eminent monk without compare. Just as that thought crossed his mind, the Dharma-protecting spirits abandoned him. And the creditor who had followed him for the past ten lives finally got his chance for revenge, and gave him a blow on his knee. On the monk’s knee, a human-faced sore appeared which had eyebrows, eyes, a mouth, and teeth. It demanded to be fed with wine and meat. If it wasn’t given wine and meat, the monk would suffer unspeakable pain. The doctors could do nothing to treat him.
Before National Master Wuda had become famous, he had met a monk who was suffering from a terrible case of boils in a monastery in Chang’an. Pus and blood flowed from the filthy boils, which stank enough to make people vomit. No one dared to approach the monk. Dhyana Master Wuda, who was living in the room next door, tended the monk every day. Disregarding the filth and stench, he took care of the monk, brought him meals, and washed his boils clean. The days passed, and soon summer turned into autumn. With the cooling of the weather, the sick monk gradually got well. Before they parted, the monk told Dhyana Master Wuda, “Thank you for taking care of me. If, in the future, you run into any trouble, come look for me at Meng Mountain in Sichuan Province. Just look for the two huge pine trees on the mountain. My name is Kanakavatsa.”
Dhyana Master Wuda remembered this incident and went to Meng Mountain to look for the monk who had suffered from boils. From afar he saw that halfway up the mountain there were two pine trees whose tops were hidden in the clouds. He went to the pine trees and found a golden temple. The monk he was looking for was standing in front of the temple, smiling. The monk led him into the temple. After Dhyana Master Wuda bowed to the monk, he started to recount his troubles. The monk told him that if he went on the following day and washed in the spring at the foot of the cliff, he would get well.
The next morning, a lad led the Dhyana Master to the spring at the foot of the cliff. Just as the Master was about to rinse the human-faced sore, it spoke up and said, “Don’t rinse me yet! There is a grievous matter between us that has not been settled. You are an eminent monk who is well-read. You must have read the History of the Western Han Dynasty. Do you know the story of how Yuan Ang executed Chao Cuo by cutting him in half at the waist? You were Yuan Ang, and I was Chao Cuo. For ten lives since then, you have cultivated diligently as a monk, so I had no opportunity to gain revenge. When you had that one arrogant thought, you gave me the chance I’d been waiting for. Now, since the Venerable Kanakavatsa ately wants to settle our grievance and use the Dharma water of samadhi to wash me, I will not harbor a grudge against you anymore.”
These words scared Dhyana Master Wuda out of his wits. He hastily scooped up some water and rinsed the sore. An intense, bone-searing pain struck him, and he passed out. After a long time, he regained consciousness and saw that the sore was gone from his knee. He knew then that that monk was a sage, and he wanted to return to the temple to bow to him. But when he turned around, there was no temple to be seen. Dhyana Master Wuda built a small hut at that spot and recited and bowed every day. He composed a repentance ceremony which is the three-volume ate Samadhi Water Repentance that we know today.
These two accounts are quite similar. They both alert people to the fact that the retribution of cause and effect never fails. The first story is an account of retribution received in the same life, while the latter describes retribution that came to fruition after ten lives. In any case, whenever the karmic conditions ripen, we will have to undergo the retribution. The stories I told today tell us that killing is harmful and should not be treated as child’s play. Nowadays, the more advanced science gets, the more lethal weapons become. How can we eradicate the causes that have been planted? The whole world is in a mess. Any little incident could trigger a massive war. The souls of those who have been wronged are taking advantage of the opportunity to get even. When will the cycle of vengeance end? The only solution is to stop killing; otherwise, there will never be a day of peace.