Zhao Yongzhen (趙永貞) was born during Emperor Zhengde’s reign (1505 – 1521 A.D.) in the Ming Dynasty. When he was a teenager, he met a man who was gifted in fortune telling. The man looked at Zhao’s face and told him, “You have accumulated a lot of virtue from previous lives. If you participated in the provincial civil service examination at the age of 23, you will surely win first place. If you will continue to cultivate your kindness diligently, you will go to very high places. The world will be your oyster.” Zhao Yongzhen followed the man’s advice and participated in the provincial civil service examination when he was 23, but he did not even pass the examination, let alone win first place.
One night he had a dream where he was summoned to meet the Imperial Deity of Wenchang (文昌帝君), a Chinese deity in charge of education and examinations. In the dream, the Deity reproached him furiously, “You were supposed to win first place in the provincial civil service examination, but you peeped at your maid out of lust and flirted with a girl next door. This is the reason why you have been deprived of the honour!” Zhao Yongzhen anxiously defended himself. He said, “Although I had sexual fantasies about them, I didn’t touch or have sex with them. How could it be that what I did counts as a sin of lust? Do I deserve such severe punishment?” After having heard Zhao’s defence, the Imperial Deity of Wenchang reproached him again furiously, “Do you really believe one does not commit the sin of lust until he takes an action? As long as you harboured lustful thoughts, or as long as you were sexually turned on by those women, you must face the punishment even if you did not actually touch those women. Moreover, you have failed to treat those women with proper manners. What did you mean by flirting with them? What did you mean by patting them on the shoulder and touching their hands? Ask yourself what you were thinking in your mind. Because you are lustful in mind, you did not think twice before you flirted with those women. As a result, they have flirted with you in return and have started to fantasise about romance and sex. Heaven has deprived you of your first place in the provincial civil service examination, but you still do not repent for your sin! You are even defending your sin with your wit! Therefore, I am afraid that bigger disasters will befall you!”
Finally Zhao Yongzhen realised what a terrible sin he had committed. He fell on all fours and burst into tears. He sincerely repented and pledged, “I have learnt my mistake. I pledge to never look at women indecently or have any lustful thought. If I should indulge myself to any lustful thought, I will be willing to put myself to the heavenly punishment. I will be willing to be put to death.”
The Imperial Deity of Wenchang saw that Zhao Yongzhen had sincerely repented for his sin and had made a serious pledge. He told Zhao, “I can tell that you are sincerely repentant. If you will truly stop yourself from having any lustful thoughts and if you will advise the world’s people to refrain from lust in their speech, actions and thoughts, I will reinstate your first place and bless you with enormous good fortune.” Then the Imperial Deity of Wenchang pointed at Zhao’s heart with a pen. Zhao was shocked and woke up from the dream right away.
As Zhao recalled the details of the dream, he felt fortunate that he had accumulated a lot of virtue in his previous lives and that he had the enormous fortune to listen to the Imperial Deity of Wenchang’s criticism and advice in person. Otherwise, he would have continued to flirt with women throughout his life without even knowing it is a terrible sin to do that. After that, he often reminded himself of the dream and was vigilant at all times about his speech, behaviour and thoughts. He also started to cultivate his kindness and do a lot of good deeds.
Because Zhao Yongzhen truly repented his sin and because he had truly fulfilled his pledge, he won the first place at the next provincial civil service examination at the age of 26. (The provincial civil service examination was held every three years.) After that, he became all the more diligent in cultivating his virtue. He wrote a poem encouraging people to guard their chastity and to refrain from lustful thoughts and behaviours. After four years, he accumulated even more virtues and won the first place in the imperial civil service examination. Later Zhao Yongzhen was made a feudal lord responsible for guarding a region. Among his offspring, those who followed his advice on lust all attained wealth and success in their careers.
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