IF the popularity of books must be measured by either the number of copies in which they appear or the devotion of their readers, the T'ai-Shang Kan-Ying P'ien, i. e., "The Treatise of the Exalted One on Response and Retribution," will probably have to be assigned the first place of all publications on the globe. Its editions exceed even those of the Bible and Shakespeare, which of all the books published in the Western world are most numerous, and many millions of devout Chinese believe that great merit is gained by the dissemination of the book.
The T'ai-Shang Kan-Ying P'ien is a work of Taoist piety and ethics. It is not so deep as Lao Tze's Tao-Teh-King, but its moral maxims which are noble and pure, are presented with a more popular directness.
The main idea of the title is expressed in the words Kan, "response," and Ying, "retribution," which mean that in the spiritual realm of heaven there is "a response" to our sentiments, finding expression in "a retribution" of our deeds.
T'ai-Shang, literally, "the Grandly High" or "the Exalted One," is a current name of Lao Tze, the old philosopher, author of the Tao-Teh-King, who is revered by Taoists as the great teacher of mankind, the
superior man, and the highest authority of religious truth.
Lao Tze's philosophy has percolated into the Chinese nation and we can distinguish three strata: the first represented by the Tao-Teh-King, the second by the T'ai-Shang Kan-Ying P'ien, and the third by the stories appended to it. The first is profound though partly obscure, the second elevating, yet mixed with those popular notions which belong to the domain of mythology, and the third is devout in tone, but sometimes silly in its details.
The text of the T'ai-Shang Kan-Ying P'ien consists of several parts: (1) an introduction, (2) moral injunctions, (3) a description of evil-doers and their penalty, (4) sayings from various sources, and (5) the conclusion. Internal evidence suggests that we have before us a compilation in which we can distinguish at least three authors of decidedly different characters. The introduction (being itself a compilation) and the passage "Punishment of Evil-Doers" apparently come from the pen of the final redactor, presumably a Tao Shih, a Taoist scholar or priest, while the second part, "Moral Injunctions," constitutes the most valuable portion of the book. The third part, "The Description of Evil-Doers," is written by a moralizer, or even denouncer, rather than a moralist. Possibly (nay even probably) he is identical with the final redactor, but scarcely with the author of the "Moral Injunctions." He has incorporated quotations from an unknown Taoist source (e. g., the beautiful passage, 1170-1198) and lines from the Buddhist Dhammapada (1210 ff.).
The passage on good words, good thoughts, and good deeds, and also on evil words, evil thoughts,
and evil deeds sound like remote but clear echoes of the Zendavesta.
The second part, "Moral Injunctions," reaches the loftiest height of a truly moral and catholic spirit. It is short enough, but with all its conciseness every word of it is noble and deserves a place side by side with the best religious literature of the world. It should be quoted and requoted, learned by heart and acted upon by all mankind. The third part, "A Description of Evil-Doers," is on a lower level. The moral spirit of its author is narrower, more sectarian, nor free from superstitious notions. The introduction of the treatise (1-147) exhibits the attitude of a disciple,--a faithful devotee, who, however, has merely touched the hem of the Master's garment.
Some passages of the introduction, and perhaps its final redaction, seem to be written by the author of the third part.
The treatise, which is decidedly a work of Taoist devotion, shows obvious influences of Buddhist and Confucian doctrines. Though it is not a canonical book its authoritative character is universally recognized in China, and it may be regarded as a typical exposition of the moral convictions of the average Chinese. It has become the most important guide of the people's conscience.
Though the T'ai-Shang Kan-Ying P'ien may not have existed in its present shape before the fifteenth or sixteenth century, it contains passages which are very old, and though we are not prepared to give a detailed analysis of its contents, we will state here that some portions are quite ancient, belonging to the sixth century B. C. This is true not only of the Confucian
[1. Especially 172-175.]
and Buddhist maxims but also of the first sentence. Rev. James Legge makes the following statement concerning the words, 4 ff., in one of the footnotes of his translation: "This paragraph, after the three first characters, is found in 3o Khwan under the tenth and eleventh notices in the twenty-third year of Duke Hsiang (549 B. C.),--part of an address to a young nobleman by the officer of Min 3ze-ma."
The mythological background of the arguments of the T'ai-Shang Kan-Ying P'ien can be characterized as superstitious by those only who know nothing of comparative religion and are not familiar with the fact that the idea of Recording Angels is all but universal in a certain phase of the history of religion.
The treatise has its shortcomings, both in form and contents. Its materials are not systematically arranged, and side by side with maxims of highest morality we find such trivial injunctions as the one that we should not cook food with rotten sticks. Further, the idea of retribution is upon the whole conceived to work in a mechanical and external way, being doled out in exact proportions of merit and demerit. Yet, after all, if we consider the significance of its main idea, who will deny that there is a retribution which, though not meted out with a tape measure, is after all unfailing? We will judge mildly, if we consider that even in the Lord's Prayer God is asked to "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors"--a passage which sounds more mercantile in the original which means "Let off to us our debts as also we let off our debtors." The suggestion is made here as well as in our Chinese treatise, that as our dealings are, so Heaven and God will deal with us; and considering all in all, the underlying idea is true.
There is another weak point in the religious notions of our treatise, viz., the belief in demons which in the stories involves the superstition of obsession. But let us remember that the New Testament is full of it, and the era of witch persecution in Europe which is the worst aspect of obsession, is about simultaneous with the date of the T'ai-Shang Kan-Ying P'ien.
The Chinese may not as yet have passed entirely the stage of childhood diseases, but let us remember that the European race too had its measles.
Without being blind to the shortcomings of our "Treatise on Response and Retribution," considered as a whole, we cannot deny that its general tendency is noble, and true,--and, we may add, also practical.
Practical it is, and "practical" means that it is as exactly adapted to the life and views of the people of its origin as if it had been prepared for them and dictated to its author by Divine Providence. From this point of view we may say that it is a work of prophetic inspiration.
The shortcomings of the T'ai-Shang Kan-Ying P'ien appear to greater disadvantage in the stories which are appended to its moral maxims. Here the doctrine of the Exalted One reaches the broad strata of the masses, but even in this form a presentation of religious notions is needed so as to render its moral maxims intelligible among the superstitious. Perhaps we should say vice versa, that we see here how the uneducated assimilate a religious doctrine to their special wants. Every one has the religion he deserves, because every one adapts himself to his own spiritual needs.
The first translation of the Tai-Shang Kan-Ying P'ien,
made by a Western scholar, is Stanislas Julien's Le livre des recompenses et des peines, printed at Paris for the Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland. It contains the Chinese text of the book and in addition to the French translation of the main text, a French translation of the glosses and stories of the Chinese commentator, which swell the work to a volume of considerable size. The English version of Prof. Robert K. Douglas is a translation of extracts from this French edition made by M. Julien. It appeared in his excellent little volume Confucianism and Taouism, (pp. 256-271) in the series of Non-Christian Religious Systems, published by the Society for promoting Christian Knowledge, London, 1839. Finally Prof. James Legge has translated our treatise in the Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XL, pp. 233-246, under the title T'ai Shang, Tractate of Actions and their Retributions.
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Our text and illustrations of the stories are facsimile reproductions taken (with the exception of one picture) from a collection of Chinese texts made in Japan by Chinese scribes and artists. The scribe calls himself Lai Ho Nien of Kwei Ping. Stanislas Julien's text agrees pretty closely with ours--closely enough to render any further comments redundant. The stories appended to the main body of the book seem to differ considerably in different editions. At any rate they vary greatly in the French and Japanese versions at our disposal. They are of inferior worth and we deem it sufficient to have them here represented in extracts.
The present translation of the T'ai-Shang Kan-Ying P'ien is a product of the common labors of Mr.
Teitaro Suzuki and the Editor. Mr. Suzuki, who among the scholars of Eastern Asia living in our midst is one of the best authorities on the religious texts of ancient China, has gathered the necessary information concerning the lexicographical, grammatical, and archaeological meaning of the text; while the Editor is responsible for the arrangement of the whole, together with the final version of the English text in both the verbatim translation which is intended to be lexicographically exact, and the translation proper which is meant to offer a readable English version.
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Our frontispiece is a picture of the great philosopher Lao Tze whom the Taoists call T'ai Shang, The Most Exalted One; or more fully T'ai Shang Lao Chün, i. e., The Most Exalted Ancient Master. The artist represents him with a little square cap usually worn by the common people and dressed, not in silk, but in rough woolen garments; for we know that he practised the simplicity which he preached. But, in contrast to this simple exterior, his countenance indicates a rare depth of thought and his eyes beam with benevolence. We have set above the picture a quotation from his great book, the Tao-Teh-King (Chapter 70) which reads:
Shang jan pei hö, hwai yü.
"A saint wears wool, but in his bosom are jewels."
In addition to the illustrations which are inserted in the stories to which they belong, the present edition of the Kan-Ying P'ien is adorned by a few apposite sketches and ornamental designs. Facing page 1, the fly leaf of the Introduction, we have the Chinese
characters which denote the five blessings. These are, (1) longevity, (2) riches, (3) peacefulness and serenity, (4) love of virtue, and (5) [at an advanced] age a [happy] consummation of life.
The gate of honor which appears on page 48, bears an inscription which reads: "The Tao (i. e., divine reason) penetrates the past and the present"; in other words, it is eternal.
The inscription of the gate represented on page 80 reads: "Virtue harmonizes heaven and earth."
The design on the book cover bears the conventionalized form of the longevity symbol so popular among the Chinese.
The numbers of the words in the Chinese text (twelve hundred and seventy-seven characters in all not counting the heading nor the scribe's signature) are written underneath each column of both the Chinese text and the verbatim translation, and follow also the corresponding paragraphs of the English version.
Each footnote figure following the word to which it refers, is inserted in both the verbatim translation and the English text.
In those places where a word-for-word translation of the text would demand another order in English than obtains in the original Chinese, we have numbered the words as they would read in English.
The italicized headings of the several parts are placed within parentheses, because they are not in the original text and have been made by the Editor of the English version solely for the convenience of English readers.