《太上感应篇 》


The most high one says: “Disasters and blessings have no entry gates of their own; they are summoned by people. The effects of good and evil are like shadows following their forms.”

And so heaven and earth have spirits who record crimes, and in proportion to the severity of their crimes, they shorten human lives appropriately. Because of this not only may a person’s life be cut short, but he also becomes poor or destitute, his calamities are many; People all hate him; punishments and disasters follow him Good fortune avoids him while evil stars persecute him. And when his span of years is complete, he dies.

And then there are also the gods of the three towers and the north star, residing above the heads of ordinary people. They too record people’s crimes and evil actions, and shorten the years of life in the sentence. And there are the three corpse spirits, residing in the human body. On each Kēngshēn day in the cycle of 60 days, they ascend to heaven to report people’s crimes and failings. On the last day of the month the Stove God also does this. For ordinary people offenses cut off a jì (12 years) if great, while small offenses cut off a suàn (100 days). Offenses great and small arise from countless matters, and those seeking immortality must avoid them.

Chapter II: How To Be Good

Follow the right path, and retreat from the wrong one. Do not follow evil paths, nor sin in secret. Accumulate merit, show a compassionate heart in all things. Be loyal, filial, friendly, and brotherly; by correcting yourself, transform others. Pity orphans and be compassionate to widows, respect the elderly and be kind to the young. Do not even injure insects, grasses, and trees. Be saddened by other people’s misfortunes and delight in their good fortune. Help those in need and rescue those in danger. Regard the gains of others as though they were your own. And regard the failings of others as your own failings. Do not expose other people’s weaknesses, nor boast of your own strengths. Condemn evil and promote virtue, renounce much and accept little. Suffer humiliation without resentment, receive benefits as though startled. Extend help, but do not request compensation, help others without later regrets.

Chapter III: What Happens To Good People

When a person is known as virtuous, people all praise him. Heaven’s Way protects him, happiness and wealth follow him, All evil forces stay away from him; gods guard him. Whatever he does is successful, and he can aspire to join the gods and immortals. He who would become a heavenly immortal must perform 1,300 good deeds. He who would become an earthly immortal must perform 300 good deeds.

Chapter IV: The Crimes of the Wicked

But sometimes there is someone who behaves without righteousness, and moves against rationality, who mistakes evil for ability, and inflicts injury on others, who secretly defames the virtuous, and behind their backs slanders his ruler or his parents, who ignores those born before him, and disobeys his masters, who deceives the unknowing, and bears false witness against his fellow students, who lies, calumniates, deceives, and practices deceit, who exposes the failings of clan elders, who exercises power but not compassion, who is cruel, irrational, and self-willed, who does not distinguish right from wrong, and turns his back on those whom he should befriend, who oppresses those below him and claims their merit for himself, but cringes before those above him to win their favor, who has no feeling for favors received, but is tireless in remembering resentment, who makes light of heaven’s ordinary people, but agitates and disturbs the empire’s order,

who rewards those without righteousness, but punishes the innocent, who slays people to take their wealth, and overthrows people to occupy their positions, who slays captives and slaughters those who surrender, who denigrates the righteous and expels the wise, who wrongs orphans and coerces widows, who ignores the law and receives bribes, who takes the straight as crooked and the crooked as straight, who treats (and punishes) a trivial matter as though it is important and on seeing an execution adds to its suffering, who knowing his faults does not correct them, and knowing the good does not do it, who blames his failings on others, and obstructs divination about them, who slanders the holy and the wise, and ridicules and scorns the Way and its virtues,

who shoots whatever flies and entraps whatever walks, who exposes animals’ dens and startles nestlings, who blocks burrows and destroys nests, who injures pregnant animals and breaks eggs, who seeks failure for others and destroys their merit, who endangers others to protect himself, and robs others for his own benefit, who exchanges the worthless for what is valuable, and sacrifices the public good for private gain, who lays claim to the abilities of others, and who hides other people’s merit, who publicizes the weaknesses of others, and exposes other people’s private affairs, who squanders people’s wealth, and separates their families, who attacks what others love, and who helps others to do wrong, who ambitiously seeks power, and ruins others in seeking success,

who destroys the plants and fields of others and breaks up betrothals, who grows rich by deceit but remains uncultivated, and by deceit escapes punishment but remains without shame, who claims credit and denies blame, who gives out evil as though it were a dowry and sells iniquity like a commodity, who sells and buys empty glory, but conceals treachery in his heart, who crushes the strengths of others, but protects his own deficiencies, who when in power persecutes and coerces, and even violently kills and maims, who for no reason cuts cloth, and without ritual roasts animals, who scatters and wastes the five grains, and troubles the ordinary people, who ruins families, and appropriates their wealth, who misdirects water and sets fires, in order to damage people’s houses, who confounds other people’s plans in order to spoil their work, who damage people’s tools, in order to make them unusable,

who, on seeing another’s success, wishes him banished and ruined, who, on seeing another’s wealth, wishes it bankrupted and scattered, on seeing beauty in another, is stirred to appropriate it, who when owing property to another, wishes him dead, who, when requests are not met, casts curses and hatred, who, on seeing the failures of others, says they are based in adequacy, who, on seeing someone’s bodily deformity, laughs at it, who, on seeing talent and ability worthy of praise, devalues them,

who buries charms to oppress others, and uses chemicals to kill trees, who is abusive to teachers, and is disrespectful to his father or older brother, who violently seizes things or makes demands, who enjoys fraud and theft, who plunders to become rich, and seeks promotion through deception, who rewards and punishes without equity, and indulges in unlimited enjoyment and excessive pleasure, who tyrannizes subordinates and fills others with fear, who makes accusations against heaven and criticizes people, who shouts at the wind and scolds the rain, who urges people into litigation, and madly joins secret brotherhoods,

who makes use of the gossip of his wife or concubine, and disobeys his parents’ instructions, who embraces the new and forgets the old, who says with his mouth what is not in his heart, who covets wealth and deceives superiors, who invents evil talk to ruin innocent people, who defames others and feigns honesty, who even scolds spirits yet claims to be upright, who abandons proper social relationships and follows perversity, who turns his back on those close by to seek distant people, who dares point at heaven or earth that they may witness his evil designs, and to call upon spirits to witness his degrading deeds,

who regrets his occasional charity, who borrows money without returning it, who seeks more than his share, and spends pretentiously beyond his means, whose lust and desire exceeds all measure, and whose heart is poisonous even while his face is compassionate, who [as a merchant] sells bad food, and [as a teacher] misleads people into cults, who shortens the foot, and narrows the measure, lightens the scales, and skimps on the bushel, who adulterates the genuine with the fake, and reaps an illicit profit, who drives respectable people into lowly pursuits, and deceive the simple, whose greed is without limit, and who curses and scolds to be believed,

who, addicted to liquor, becomes rebellious and unruly, and who battles his own family, who, if he is male is not loyal or kind, if female is not gentle and obedient, who, if male, does not accord with his wife; if female, does not respect her husband, who, if male, always likes to boast; if female, is jealous and suspicious, who, if male acts without manners to wife and children; if female, lacks propriety towards her parents-in-law, who makes light of ancestral spirits and disobeys the commands of superiors, who makes and does what is unhelpful, whose chest bears a treacherous heart, who curses both himself and others, who hates and loves based on prejudice, who commits the improprieties of stepping across wells and stoves, and jumping over food and people,

who kills infants and aborts the unborn, and commits many secret iniquities, who sings and dances at the solemn festivals of Huì (on the last day of the month) and Là (on the last day of the year), and who shouts in anger on the first day of the month or in the early morning, who snorts and spits and pees while facing the north [and its god], who sings and hums and weeps when facing the stove [and its god], and who lights incense from the stove fire, who uses dirty fuel to prepare food, who rises at night and goes out ill-clad, who inflicts punishments on the eight festival days [when bodies are more vulnerable], who irrevently spits at shooting stars and points at rainbows,

* Once again a brief shift in the meter relieves its monotony.

who irreverently points at the three brilliances (sun, moon,and stars), and who stares at the sun and the moon, who in spring sets fire to the woods to hunt, or who scolds while facing north, or who for no reason slays turtles and strikes snakes,

* Although there are other interpretations, turtles and snakes are both sacred animals in some contexts.

Chapter V: The Fate of the Wicked


For crimes such as these, the masters of fate, depending upon the gravity of the offence, cut short a person’s life by twelve years or by a hundred days. And after that the person dies. And if at death there still remain unpunished crimes, the bad luck is visited upon children and grandchildren.


And for all those who have wrongfully seized the property of others, they must compensate for it with their wives and children and other family members, even unto death. Those who do not die and inflicted with disasters of water, fire, theft, loss of goods, disease, slander, and more until it offsets their unlawful appropriations.


Furthermore, for those who unlawfully killed people, it is like solders who exchange swords and kill each other. To seize property unjustly is like relieving hunger with putrid meat or slaking thirst with poisoned wine: it brings temporary satisfaction, but ultimately death.

Chapter VI: Hope for Those Who Repent


When a person’s heart is moved by goodness, although the goodness has not yet been achieved, nevertheless felicitous spirits are already following him. But when a person’s heart is moved by evil, although the evil has not yet been achieved, nevertheless spirits of misfortune are already following him. A person who formerly did bad things but afterward repents and does no more evil, and continues in good behavior, then gradually he must obtain good fortune and happiness. This is called “changing disaster into good fortune.”


Therefore a joyous man speaks what is good, thinks what is good, and does what is good; each day he does these three things, and in three years Heaven will bequeath to him good fortune. But an unlucky man is he who speaks what is evil, thinks what is evil, and does what is evil; each day he does these three things, and in three y3ears Heaven will strike him with misfortune. Why would we not be diligent in following this?