Tashan Temple is one of the biggest temples in Kuichi, Chekiang. Worshipers flock there, and so do many tourists and sightseers. One day two scholars came to the temple, T’ao Shihliang and Chang Chiht’ing. We told earlier how the Wise Master began the tradition of having Free Life ponds in temples. Of course Tashan Temple had a big Free Life Pond, and when these two scholars saw the thousands of eels and fish swimming happily in the pond, they were touched. They wanted to do something, too.
“I’d like to buy these eels and take them to the big river where they have more space to swim around. That river flows into the Yangtze River, so they’ll have all the space they need. They’ll be free for the rest of their lives. What do you think?” T’ao Shihliang asked.
Chang Chiht’ing said, “That’s a good idea. Let me help.”
“I don’t have much money. Let’s see if we can get some more people to pitch in so we can set more eels free.”
“Great! I’ll do my best,” Chang answered. Chang had an ounce of silver, so he donated that, and then he went to all the nice people he knew and asked them to help. All together, they collected eight ounces of silver that way.
T’ao and Chang were happy. They hired some workmen and made arrangements with the monks in the temple. Then they took thousands of eels from the pond and released them in the river. Later, they forgot all about freeing those eels, but one night in the fall, T’ao had an odd dream. He dreamed that a god strode up and announced very formally, “You two gentlemen may be scholars, but you were originally fated to fail all of the imperial examinations. Let it be known that because you have released thousands of animals and returned to them their natural freedom, you have earned great merit. You have earned enough merit to pass the imperial examinations. I have come to congratulate you on your coming good fortune.”
When he woke up, T’ao went to tell Chang about his dream.
“That’s amazing!” Chang said. “I had exactly the same dream last night, too!”
Sure enough, when they took the imperial examinations that year, both T’ao and Chang passed. They became important government officials, and they always remembered that their fortune came because they had been kind to dumb animals.