Fortune in Life Is Uncertain, but Punishment in the Afterlife Is Assured

A rocky slope with evergreen trees at the top seen faintly through the fog.

A scholar plots how to enrich himself when his benefactor’s sons face misfortune. (Image: allison.hare via Flickr)

Is there punishment in the afterlife? Ye Zhuliang, a village scholar from a poor family in Huaixi, made his living as a teacher. One day, a rich man by the name of Ma, who lived in the same town, hired Ye to educate his two sons.

Soon, Ye earned the respect and kind treatment of Mr. Ma. To thank his master, Ye tried his best to educate Ma’s two sons.

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Over several years, Ye managed to accumulate a large amount of money. Mr. Ma, who served as deputy provincial chief, unfortunately died from an illness. His two sons were extravagant and profligate. Ye was more than happy to help them sell all the gold, silver, and treasures along with their fields, all of which he bought for himself.

Soon, Ye began looking at every angle, plotting how he could obtain all of the Ma family’s remaining property. Once he got it, Ye left Mr. Ma’s two sons in a miserable situation, suffering in poverty.

Corn growing beside a rice field in China.
Ye began plotting how he could obtain all of the Ma family’s remaining property. (Image: Richard Weil via Flickr)

Ye dreamed about punishment in the afterlife

One night, Ye dreamed of entering hell. He saw that Mr. Ma was standing in front of a judge, listing out all of Ye’s sins one by one. After hearing them, the official became angry. He ruled that Ye was ungrateful to Mr. Ma and wanted to sentence him to become a bull as punishment in the afterlife.

Ye begged for forgiveness repeatedly. He said that if he was allowed to leave the underworld, he would go back and return all of Mr. Ma’s property and also promised to take good care of Ma’s two sons.

The judge said: “Since you have the heart of repentance, I will let you go back. But if you don’t fulfill your promise, you will fall into the relentless hell forever.” All the souls falling into that place have committed unforgivable crimes during their lives.

Hearing this, Ye suddenly woke up from his dream. He said to his wife: “The glory and wealth that we enjoy today are from the Ma family. Even if we return all the property, we are still rich. Why do we forge animosity with the gods and ghosts?”

Ye decided not to appropriate the Ma family’s wealth anymore. The next day, he searched for Ma’s two sons. He found them living in a rundown house wearing tattered clothes. Their kitchen was empty and the stove was cold. When Ye saw them, he couldn’t help crying, and he took them back to his home. There he set out some clothes for them and gave them 130 ounces of silver to improve their lives.

A few months later, Ye returned all the property he had obtained from the Ma family. Ye also arranged for the two sons to make a living. One opened a pawnshop and the other went out to do business.

After experiencing these adversities, Mr. Ma’s two sons realized the fickleness and hardships in real life. They changed themselves and worked hard in their businesses. A few years later, they earned a huge fortune. So they wanted to give Ye back their father’s property, with interest, that Ye had bought up and then returned to them.

Roofs in an old Asian city.
Mr. Ma’s two sons realized the fickleness and hardships in real life, changed themselves, and worked hard in their businesses. (Image: via Pixabay)

However, Ye refused and said: “I was very poor before. I am now wealthy because of your father’s love. It’s nothing. I just repaid your father’s kindness. One day, when I meet your father in the underworld, we can still laugh together happily.”

Soon, it was the Mid-Autumn Festival. Ye was drinking and enjoying the moon, lying drunk under the window. In the low light, it seemed that he saw Mr. Ma coming to thank him.

Ma said: “What you did before was not too good. But my two sons had developed an extravagant lifestyle from their childhood. If I gave the property to them then, they would have quickly squandered it. Fortunately, you managed the property well for me. After experiencing hardships, my sons corrected themselves and attained today’s achievements.

You protected my property carefully and fulfilled my sons’ needs. I have reported your virtue to the underworld officials and they have transferred it to the Emperor of Heaven. Gods will bless you in the future.” Mr. Ma thanked him again and again before leaving.

From then on, all businesses that Ye managed were prosperous. Later, the Ma family also became a family of local scholars and officials.

Translated by Joseph Wu and edited by Helen

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