During the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), when the Mongols under Genghis Khan had conquered China, there was a rich man who had a lot of money but no children. He and his wife were very lonely. They wanted a son, but just couldn’t have one.
The rich man always moped about that. “What good does all my money do without any kids to share it with?”
“Why don’t you go to the temple and ask the monk there?” a friend suggested. “He can see the past and the future. If anybody can help you, he can.”
So the rich man and his wife went to the temple. They paid their respects to the Buddhas. When they saw the monk, they fell on their knees and knocked their foreheads on the floor.
“Teacher, Teacher, we beg you, tell us what is wrong. We want a child more than anything else, but we just can’t have one.”
The monk cast their fortunes, and used his powers to look into the past and the future. Then he told the rich man, “You ran up a huge debt in your past life by killing animals. You killed the children of many animals, so in this life, you don’t get any children of your own.
“This debt is very heavy, and it’s not enough just to pay it back. You have to be sorry and repent. If you can save eight million lives, you can balance out your debt. If you kill one more bug or one more worm, even by accident, you have to save one hundred more lives to make up for it.
“This is the best way to change your luck and to get a son.”
The rich man was deeply touched. He went to the main shrine of the temple and swore before the Buddhas that he would never kill again. When he and his wife got home, they got to work saving lives, and spent most of their fortune on it. They bought pigs, chickens, and ducks from the market, and arranged for them to live out their natural life spans in temples. They bought fish and crabs and eels and put them back in the water. They were very pious and went to many services in temples, to repent their past mistakes.
They kept it up for several years. Long before they had saved eight million lives, they had a healthy, happy little boy.
Their son was so intelligent that when he grew up, he passed the imperial examinations with ease the very first time.