Buddhas and Bodhisattvas with their boundless dharma power are sacred. The Buddha is compassionate and came to provide salvation to all sentient beings. Hence, everyone must be pious and respectful toward Buddha. Regardless of being an emperor, general, minister of state, or an exceptional hero, none are exempt. There once were real people who slandered Buddhas, damaged scriptures, and received karmic retribution. The slandering of Buddha by Emperor Wuzong of Tang, who died abruptly, is a typical example.
In the 6th year of Huichang (during the era of Emperor Wuzong of Tang’s reign), on the 15th day of the first month of the lunar year, a teacher was passing by the mausoleum of King Mu of Zhou when suddenly he heard people talking in the woods. Being worried that it might be bandits, he quickly hid in the undergrowth, not daring to make a sound. The moon was bright, so he used its clear light to carefully observe the scene. He could see two people wearing short sleeves and skull caps talking, but he could not hear what was being discussed.
Suddenly, a man floated down from the sky. He was wearing a red coat and an official’s headgear. His hands grasped a tablet used by officials when going to meet the emperor. The man was like a statue from a Town God’s temple. He landed on the ground without making a sound and asked: “Where are the imperial bodyguards that guard the mausoleum? Come out quickly and meet me.”
The imperial bodyguards came out in response and respectfully said: “We are here. What are your instructions Great Town God?” The Town God replied: “You two must remain here on guard; the messenger who will take your place is delayed.” The imperial bodyguards hastily asked: “Excuse me deity, why can’t he take over, and how long do we have to wait?”
The Town God replied: “He has gone to collect the soul of the newly deceased Dragon King of the West Sea. He was supposed to come back, but because he has a new mission to carry out, you’ll have to wait another 18 days till they come back.” The imperial bodyguards then asked: “Why was it postponed?”
The Town God replied: “Emperor Wuzong of Tang committed terrible crimes by persecuting the sacred Buddha Dharma, destroying Buddha statues, and wilfully massacring Buddhist monks. The gods are furious and decreed that the remaining 12 years of his life must be taken away. This is not the only punishment, as he must also experience the intolerable pain of a serious illness to help people understand the retribution that comes with slandering Gods and Buddhas and cruelly injuring or killing the followers of the Buddha School. Then he must be sent to hell to experience all sorts of torture and boundless amounts of torment. Eighteen days pass in a flash; you must still guard with dedication. Wait until the souls of Emperor Wuzong of Tang and the Dragon King of the West Sea are collected, then you can be replaced.”
The two bodyguards couldn’t help but say: “This damn Emperor Wuzong, he really deserves the punishment! And he has been a burden on us.”
Suddenly, the sound of the bells from a line of merchant carts drifted past. The Town God and the imperial bodyguards shook their bodies and disappeared in an instant. The teacher observed everything yet felt uncertain. He returned home and quietly told his wife what had happened. The couple was very curious and tried to find out information about Emperor Wuzong of Tang.
Within two days, posters requesting doctors to come forward and treat the emperor were put up in the capital Chang’an. A significant reward would be given out for curing emperor Wuzong’s strange illness. But within 20 days, an imperial edict from the new emperor was received so the whole nation could mourn the passing of Emperor Wuzong. People rushed to spread the news, making all sorts of comments. Everyone guessed that it was Emperor Wuzong’s retribution for slandering the Buddha and the Dharma.
Later, it was known from the doctor treating Emperor Wuzong that the illness was extremely frightening. The Emperor’s head was as big as a water bucket, his whole body was full of bad skin ulcers, festering with an unimaginable stench, his eyeballs hurt so much that they were protruding, his mouth and tongue were bleeding. The pain was unbearable and he was crying day and night nonstop. He would have been better off dead, as no medicine could cure him.
Later, the conversation between the Town God and the bodyguards spread around and became known to all. Without a doubt, it had been made clear which violations the gods would not tolerate.
Emperor Wuzong’s retribution from attempting to eradicate the Buddha Dharma was shocking, and the real reason for the illness gradually spread around among the ordinary people. Moreover, the punishment in hell is more harsh, infinitely more terrible, and you can never escape! Though people have not personally seen it, they do not have the slightest doubts about hell. Actually, this is the punishment Emperor Wuzong deserved.
No matter if one is high ranking like an emperor, as wealthy as owning the four seas, with a strong character, decisive and diligent, because he slandered the gods and the Dharma, destroyed Buddha statues, and massacred Buddhists, he committed heinous crimes that could not be compensated for by any amount of achievements from one’s official career.
Translated by Fu Ming