Bai Qi (d. 257 B.C.) was one of the ablest generals of the Qin kingdom during the Age of Warring States (475-221 B.C.). Having successfully occupied more than seventy enemy fortresses and cities, he was conferred with the title Prince of Wu An.
During his campaign against the Zhao kingdom, battling the army of Zhao general Zhao Kuo at Changping (today, in Shanxi Province), General Bai Qi emerged as victor after his forces circled the enemy, forcing them to surrender or to starve. As he had done on other occasions, he had nearly all the enemy prisoners, reputed to be more than 400,000 men, put to death. As can be imagined, this loss shattered the state of Zhao.
Years later, General Bai was ordered to finish off the remnants of Zhao but was defeated. When the Qin king ordered him to press on his attack on Zhao, General Bai feigned illness in order to avoid further battle. Enraged, the king of Qin revoked General Bai's princely title, delivered a sword to him and commanded him to kill himself with the blade.
Clutching the sword, General Bai Qi supposedly spoke these words: "Which evil act of mine offends heaven? At Changping, I had 400,000 Zhao prisoners killed! That's enough to warrant 10,000 deaths for myself!"
He then took his own life.
Now his own journey through several different incarnations would begin.
(1) Hungry Ghost
In the reign of the Tang emperor Gao Zong, during the era Xianheng (A.D. 670-674), the monk Daoying lived and worked in Fahai Temple.
One morning the chief abbot Huijian observed two men approach the temple in a leisurely manner. He then saw them make a sudden turn and enter the wing of the temple where Daoying lived, where they then suddenly vanished. Abbot Huijian knew that the pair had to be ghosts, and so he sought out Daoying to tell him what he had just seen.
"Yes, they are indeed ghosts," said Daoying. "Not only that, but they are personal emissaries of the Qin king Zhuangxiang."
(King Zhuangxiang was the third Qin dynasty ruler, who reigned from B.C. 249 to 247, just before the reign of Qin Shihuang, the first Qin emperor.)
"And why has King Zhuangxiang sent them?" asked Huijian.
"They have been sent by King Zhuangxiang to our realm to entreat us to offer him, the king, more food sacrifices. According to them, the king has been a wandering hungry ghost for a long time, and he is desperate for something to eat. He also has three hundred hungry-ghost retainers in our realm who are likewise starving."
Daoying had personally communicated to the two ghostly emissaries that he would provide the proper offerings for the king and his hungry ghost retainers. The emissaries further informed Daoying that among the three hundred Qin ghosts there was one whose crimes were especially heavy, dooming him to become a wandering hungry ghost. In fact, so heinous and monstrous had been his deeds in life that he had wandered for eighty years without eating anything.
That particular hungry ghost was none other than General Bai Qi, formerly of the Qin royal dynasty.
(2) Animals: Centipede and Pig
Once in the midst of a snowstorm, a Mr. Wu Shan crushed a one chi-long white centipede. On closer inspection, Wu Shan saw on the dead arthropod's back two characters: "Bai Qi." Another anecdote tells us how the friend of Pan Congxian, Ruan Jun, was once at the butcher's when he witnessed a pig being slaughtered. On the pig's back there could be clearly seen three characters: "Qin" (i.e., "of the Qin dynasty") and "Bai Qi."
(3) Back From Hell Itself
There was once a seventeen year old girl, a Miss Chen, who lived south of the Yangtze. Now this girl had never gone to school, so there would have been lots of historical facts unknown to her. One day she came down with a very serious illness and was confined to bed.
When she was about to die, she summoned her family to her bedside and suddenly exclaimed: "I am General Bai Qi who lived during the Age of Warring States. When I was alive, I killed more than 100,000 men, and in hell, I endured all types of punishments without cessation. Only recently, have I been able to leave and take residence in the body of this girl at her birth. But now you can see I am about to die, for I would not be allowed in this existence to live beyond twenty years. My fate . . . is . . . thus . . ."
With those words, the young woman slowly closed her eyes as her time on earth expired.
From these vignettes, you can see the karmic journeys of Bai Qi's soul--from hungry ghost, to lowly centipede and then pig, to resident of hell, then to the body of the unfortunate short-lived girl and then into some other newborn baby's body and so on and so on and so on . . . !
Behold the never-ending reward for those who commit unspeakable acts! Can anyone deny being afraid of receiving the same fate? Can anyone refuse to take care so as not to meet such a fate?
from Yinguo baoying gushi leibian (A dictionary of karmic retribution stories), compiled by Tang Xiangqing. No publisher or location listed. 1982; pp. 57-59.
The book from which this story comes was printed to be distributed freely. It is thus a category of book called shanshu, "good book(s)," religious tracts which are printed by donations and handed out for free. I obtained it either on Taiwan or at an Yiguandao temple (see 4/17/09 for more about Yiguandao, or IKT) in Southern California more than twenty years ago.
One chi is approximately a third of a meter.
Interestingly, while in the incarnation of the dying Miss Chen, General Bai Qi claims to have "killed more than 100,000 men," as opposed to the 400,000 plus for which he is usually credited according to Chinese annals. (The general was an actual historical person and is considered to have been a master strategist and tactician.) The story does not identify who Wu Shan, Pan Congxian, and Ruan Jun were.
Stories of centipedes rescuing heroes notwithstanding, the centipede, one of the "five evil" creatures, and the pig are lowly animals, and any human's reincarnation as either one should be a powerful statement on that human's status within the wheel of karma. In other words, it shows us how far that human has been degraded from once having been a human being. Before being reborn as Miss Chen, General Bai Qi goes through the three horrible stages of nonhuman existence in Chinese Buddhism: hungry ghost, animal and hell-imprisoned being.
For a much less grimmer story alluding to rebirth, see "To the Other Realm and Back," 7/10/07.