There are numerous stories in history that serve to teach the lesson that those who disrespect righteous beliefs are met with retribution. A lay Buddhist named Zhou Siren (also known as Zhou Anshi) from the Qing Dynasty wrote a book titled Anshi’s Collection to elaborate on this principle. Below we share a few examples from this book that pertain to emperors and their courtiers from various dynasties in ancient China.
During the Northern Wei Dynasty (386 – 534 AD), Emperor Taiwu (408 – 452 AD) had great trust in one of his high-level officials named Cui Hao. Cui was an extremely knowledgeable man with unbelievable memory and exceptional wisdom. He, however, did not believe in Buddhism and urged the emperor to denounce Buddhism and eliminate the monks. Cui once went into a rage and burnt his wife’s Buddhist books when he caught her reciting scriptures. His two younger brothers, Cui Yi and Cui Mo, were devout followers of Buddhism. Wherever they went and saw Buddha statues, they paid tribute. Cui Hao often teased and admonished them for their beliefs.
About three years after Cui Hao persuaded Emperor Taiwu to ban Buddhism and kill monks, he offended the emperor, who subsequently had him jailed and brutally tortured. To further humiliate him, dozens of guards also poured human waste on Cui’s body. His painful groans travelled far and wide. Since ancient times, few have suffered as much in capital punishment as Cui Hao. The entire clan of Cui, except for Cui Mo and Cui Yi because they did not share in Cui Hao’s ideals, was implicated and killed. Their bodies were scattered on the streets for people to see.
After Emperor Taiwu eradicated Buddhism in his country, a monk named Tanshi mysteriously appeared in his imperial court one day. An imposing figure, the monk held a khakkara in his hand and appeared fearless and upright. Shocked, Emperor Taiwu ordered his guards to kill the monk, yet no one seemed to be able to get near Tanshi. The emperor was furious and drew his own knife to slay Tanshi. After failing to touch Tanshi, Taiwu had him thrown into a tiger cage. The tiger, however, appeared very frightened at the sight of the monk. Taiwu next sent into the cage his head priest, Kou Qianzhi. This time the tiger roared and tried to eat him. Emperor Taiwu suddenly came to the realization that the monk was no ordinary person. He immediately released the monk and asked him to visit his palace. He kowtowed to the monk non-stop, asking for forgiveness and promised to reinstate Buddhism. In fact, seven years after the initial ban, Buddhism made its way back to the Northern Wei people’s lives.
We see time and again that even emperors and high-level officials were not spared when they committed crimes against the righteous beliefs of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.
The first emperor of the Qin Dynasty (221 – 207 BC), also known as Qin Shihuang, listened to his courtier Li Si’s suggestion to burn books and persecute scholars between 213 and 206 BC. During the campaign, the Hundred Schools of Thought were pruned. What awaited both men, however, were the killing of Li Si’s entire clan and the miserable death of Qin Shihuang outside the capital city not long afterwards.
Emperors Huandi and Lingdi of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 – 220 AD), as well as emperors Zhaozong and Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD), became enamored of their empresses’ and concubines’ beauty and allowed them to intervene in state affairs. Ill advised, they ordered the killing of numerous scholars and righteous people. The result was that their respective reigns did not last long.
Emperor Wudi of the Northern Zhou Dynasty (557 – 581 AD) fell victim to his courtier Wei Yuansong’s ill advice and decided to eradicate Buddhism. Just four years later, Wei was demoted and died shortly afterwards. Wudi then contracted a sudden disease, and his whole body became rotten. He soon died at the age of 36.
Emperor Wuzong of the Tang Dynasty was heavily influenced by Zhao Guizhen and Li Deyu, who suggested that he destroy all Buddhist temples in the country. In less than one year, Zhao was killed and Li died in exile. Wuzong died at the age of 32, even before he was able to produce an heir.
Among the numerous emperors during the Five Dynasties (907 – 960 AD) and Ten Kingdoms (907 – 979 AD) period (an era of political upheaval in China, between the fall of the Tang Dynasty and the founding of the Song Dynasty), no one topped the governing capabilities of Emperor Shizong of The Later Zhou Dynasty. Yet Shizong disrespected Buddhism and was responsible for the widespread destruction of Buddhist statues under his rule. In less than one year, he lost his reign.
Despite these trials and tribulations, righteous beliefs always seem to be able to find a way back to people’s hearts. No more than thirty years after the Qin Dynasty’s “Burning of Books and Burying of Scholars” movement, Buddhism was reborn in the country. A few years after the Han and Tang Dynasties’ abandonment of Buddhism, Buddhism flourished again. In the Northern Zhou Dynasty, Buddhism returned in just six years. In the Tang Dynasty, Buddhism was revived in less than one year.
Those who suggested and implemented the elimination of righteous beliefs brought shame and destruction to themselves. Li Si and Cui Hao were the first culprits who banned Buddhism, so they received the most immediate and severe retribution in their lifetime.
Emperor Huizong of the Northern Song Dynasty (960 – 1127 AD) converted Buddhist temples to Taoist temples. Though he did not promote Buddhism, he did promote Taoism. As such, his fate of house arrest was not as bad as some of the other emperors.
In a nutshell, no matter who you are (emperor, courtier or commoner), which period in history you belong to, if you disrespect and slander righteous beliefs, you are committing a grave crime and will ultimately receive retribution.