Stories About Sexual Abstinence


Translated By Tara Lau

The Treatise on Response and Retribution Volume One says, “Depending on the severity of a person’s individual offences, the spirit of justice shortens his or her original lifespan in proportion to the level of wickedness involved. Furthermore, not only the offenders have their life shortened, various punishments such as misery, poverty, ill repute, misfortunes, illness, legal penalties and the like will be bestowed and last until death results. 

There are various demigods and spirits such as the Hearth Spirit and Gods of the North who shadow each individual and record impartially each their offences. If a person has committed a great evil, twelve years are shaved off his lifespan while small offences warrant only a reduction of a hundred days.  Hence points out another proverb, “There is a god overhead three feet above you when you look up.”

Do not assume that if one has done evil in secret no one will know. In fact, gods and spirits of heaven and earth thoroughly see it and thoroughly know it.

During Emperor Tongzhi’s reign during the Qing dynasty (1636-1911), there was a talented scholar from Shandong on China’s eastern coast named Zhou Boshun, who was quick-witted and good at scholarly learning. After passing the imperial examination at the prefectural level, he was recommended to go on to a provincial level exam. As it happened, knowing through the official public announcement that he had succeeded again, he was overjoyed and invited several newly made friends to celebrate with him by dining at an entertainment house. After the banquet, he stayed behind secretly with prostitutes to further indulge himself in lustful pleasures.

And thus, one night just as he was beyond himself with glee and self-indulgence, his elderly father back home had a dream, where a deity counselled him, “After your son passed the imperial examinations, in four years he could excel at the final-level exam and be eligible for a career placement through an interview by the emperor. It would then mean long term wealth and prosperity for him. However after passing the exam in the provincial capital, he was given to prostitution in violation of the precept against lust. So now he has been stripped of luck and fortune by Emperor Wenchang, the god of culture and arts. Prostitutes, of course, can be paid for by anyone, and it is not the same as defilement of women or adultery, but while he’s learned much through saints and sages, he’s been ill-behaved without self-control. This for sure will cause a great loss to his karmic virtue. Nonetheless, your ancestors did do a lot of good by saving countless people and even benefiting me personally. That’s why I am speaking to you now in this dream. Because of the virtue, blessing and privileges accrued by your ancestors, if your son can repent and do good, then there is still hope for him to regain his original luck and fortune. But you must reprimand him and urge him to be on his best behaviour from now on!”

Soon, when the elated young man returned from the provincial capital, his father demanded to know what he had done while he was there. As planned, he flatly denied having done anything untoward, assuming he could easily conceal the facts, but this time he was also amazed by his father’s interrogation, saying to himself that while he had not told anyone about his whoring rendezvous, how could his father know?

Now as to the father, seeing that his son would not confess and repent, he felt sad and angry, and so decided to tell him all of what the counselling deity in the dream divulged. Only then did Zhou realize that everything one did was inspected by gods, and feeling so frightened he could not help sweating all over. In remorse, he burned incense and prayed to God, bowing his head in repentance. And begging for an opportunity to right the wrongs he had committed, he vowed to never commit them again.

Indeed, later, Zhou Boshun was able to completely abstain from lustful behavior and tried his best to do good. Three years later he passed the highest level of the imperial examinations and was placed for a senior civil service post after an interview with the emperor, and his career became bright and prosperous since then. 

The anecdote is documented in Collected Evidence of Exhortation Against Lust.

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