he story occurred when the famous Bao Zheng (999 – 1062 AD) was prime minister in the Northern Song Dynasty. There was an orphaned boy about ten years old in a certain village. He was handicapped, with broken legs, and lived a very poor beggar’s life. In front of the village was a river without a bridge. Villagers crossing the river needed to tread water, which was very inconvenient for them, and especially difficult for the elderly. The situation was worse when the water level was high and the river became impassible. Year after year, no one did anything to change the situation. But one day people found that the handicapped boy was piling up stones on the riverside. They asked him and he replied that he wanted to build a stone bridge so that villagers could cross the river more easily. People didn’t take him seriously. Many laughed at him, thinking him to be crazy. But months and years passed and the pile of stones had become a little hill. The villagers began to change their opinions and were moved by the child’s persistence. They began to join him to collect stones.
The villagers got builders to help build the bridge. The boy also did all he could to help and work with everyone. But before the bridge was completed, the boy was hit in the eyes by some pieces of rocks and went blind. People felt sorry and blamed heaven for letting such a poor child with such a good heart experience such a tragedy. But the boy did not complain, and kept coming to the construction site to quietly help with whatever he could. With everyone’s hard work, the bridge was finally completed. People celebrated joyfully and focused their attention on the poor boy who was handicapped and then rendered blind during the building of the bridge. The boy could not see anything, but the happiest smile of his life appeared on his face too.
An unexpected thunderstorm developed, as though it was to freshen up the bridge by washing the dirt and dust off of it. But after a deafening thunderclap, the people found that the boy had fallen to the ground. People were all shocked to find that the boy was struck and killed by the lightning. They wept for the boy, feeling heaven was being unfair.
It so happened that the Prime Minister Bao Zheng whom people affectionately called “Justice Bao,” came to the village on business at that time. The villagers all came in front of him and complained about the unfairness regarding the child. They asked him, “Why are good people not rewarded accordingly? How will people want to be good in the future?” Affected by the villagers’ emotions, the prime minister wrote a statement, “Thou shall do bad, rather than good” and left.
After going back to the capitol, Bao Zheng made a trip report to the emperor, but omitted the incident. Although he was very perplexed by the fact that the good boy encountered so much tragedy, he felt uneasy at having written the words he had. It so happened that the emperor wanted to see him in private because the emperor had just had a new son. The little prince was very lovely, but for some reason he would not stop crying all day. The emperor wanted Bao to take a look and see if he could figure out why. The boy had very fair and fine skin, but on his tender little hand, Bao saw a row of words. Looking closely, it turned out to be exactly what Bao had written while he was at the village. Bao blushed badly and rushed to rub the words off the prince’s hand. Strangely, the words immediately disappeared. The emperor was upset about the disappearance of the words and asked for an explanation. Bao went on his knees and explained to the emperor, and begged for forgiveness for his not having told him about the incident. The emperor felt the matter quite peculiar, and ordered Bao to make a trip to the world of ghosts to find out exactly what had happened.
Bao lay on the bed and rested his head on the “earth-and-hell pillow” and made a trip to the world of ghosts. It turned out that in a former life, the boy was a terrible villain and committed hideous crimes. It required three reincarnations to pay back what he had done. The Gods originally arranged to have his first life be an orphan and to live an impoverished and lonely life. In his second life he was to be completely blind. In the third life he was to be hit and killed by a bolt of lightning. The boy’s first life was poor and he was handicapped. But he decided to be a good person and always tried to help people. The Gods then decided to let him clear away his karma of the first two lives in his first life, so they let him go blind. But the child did not feel sorry for himself or complain. Rather, he still only thought of others all the time. The Gods then let him also clear away his karma of the third life in his first life. So they killed him with lightning. The king of hell asked Bao, “Isn’t it a good thing that one can clear away one’s karma of three lifetimes in one lifetime? Because he only did good deeds and always wanted to help other people, and was never concerned about himself, he accumulated a lot of virtue. That was why he reincarnated as a prince right after his death.”