A temple in the district of Wu-Kung-Hien contained a library which students from the district school often consulted. One winter day, four of them used some of the sacred books for fuel to heat the room, while another burned one book to warm some water for his toilet. Only one of their number, Kang Tui-Shan by name, was indignant at their conduct, but he dared not offer a word of censure.
The next night Kang Tui-Shan had a dream in which he and his fellow-students were led before the tribunal of the three divine Lord-Superior Magistrates. The six prostrated themselves and one of the gods said: "Buddha is a great saint, why have you dared burn his sacred books to warm yourselves?"
The four students struck their foreheads against the ground and besought pardon for their crime, but were condemned to death. The one who warmed water for his toilet was doomed never to receive any advancement during his life. Finally the god asked Kang Tui-Shan why he had not remonstrated with his companions.
"I knew that they were doing wrong," answered Kang, "but as they are my elders, I was afraid my reproaches would off end them."
"I will pardon you," said the god, "but when you have risen to a prominent position do not fail to give your support and protection to the religion of Buddha."
When he awoke Kang wrote down his
[1. The name of this divine tribunal is Shen San-Kuan Ti Chün, which, literally translated, means the Divine Trinity of Official Lord Superiors. They are the gods of heaven, of earth, and of water. Their birthdays are celebrated on the fifteenth of the first, seventh, and tenth months, respectively. The first distributes blessings, the second forgives sins, and the third saves from fire.]
dream. He obtained the degree of Chwang-Yüen when the four other students failed in their examinations and were excluded from the contest. Six months later the plague spread in their country and all four perished with their families, while the student who burned the sacred books to heat water was still, in his old age, merely a poor schoolmaster. He died from starvation in the seventh year of the reign of Shih-Tsung of the Ming dynasty (A. D. 1529).
Now it is a greater sin to waste sacred books than to mock and slander sages and saints. Paper, whether written or printed, often contains maxims that wise men have bequeathed on us. If we use it for unclean purposes, if we trample it underfoot, instead of carefully preserving it, we are committing a crime as serious as if we slandered them.
[1. The first rank in the list of doctors.]
[This respect for books is not peculiar to the Chinese. Among Western authors, Milton in his "Areopagitica" on the freedom of the press, uses very vigorous language, saying:
"Books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those
fabulous dragon's teeth, and, being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet, on the other hand, unless wariness be used, as good almost kill a man as kill a good book: who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the earth; but a good book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life. It is true, no age can restore a life, whereof, perhaps, there is no great loss; and revolutions of ages do not oft recover the loss of a rejected truth, for the want of which whole nations fare the worse."]