Exploring Cycles of Incarnation: the Dowager Empress, Her Eunuch and the Emperor's Concubine

PureInsight | March 12, 2006

Real Stories of the Past, Present and Future

Hang Ming

[PureInsight.org] Mankind has
gone through several thousand years of history. What occurred in the
past may have been buried deep down in our memories. These memories may
serve as the triggers for our current likes and dislikes, hatreds, and
karmic retribution. Very often, when we hear stories from history about
certain famous personalities, heroes, generals, scholars, or even
bandits and so on, we may feel somewhat touched or excited and pay more
attention to those stories. It may be because we were there when those
stories took place long ago...

Through cultivation practice, some people might remember their deeply
buried memories, and become wise about the meaning of human lives. In
this article, I'd like to introduce Ann's incarnation story, from which
we may even learn a piece of the history of the Qing Dynasty which is
barely known to historians.

One evening in the year 2000, Ann and her mother were practicing Falun
Gong exercises in their backyard in front of the garage. Suddenly, Ann
felt something bumping against her legs. With surprise, she opened her
eyes and saw a dog rubbing its head against her leg and licking her
knee. Ann wanted to drive the dog away but it would not leave. So Ann
had no choice but to stop the exercise music. She went inside the house
and called her husband who was at work about what to do. Ann's husband
said, "Didn't you always want a dog? If this dog wouldn't go away, why
don't you keep it?" Ann told her husband that she had already changed
her mind, as cultivators are not to keep pets or kill living beings.
Even though she didn't want to keep the dog, Ann felt a little
concerned as it was now getting dark and rather cold. She thought: if I
were to drive it away, where else could it go? Ann's husband sensed
Ann's indecision over the phone, so he suggested she go out and buy
some food for the dog, and let it stay in the garage till his return.

After Ann returned home, her husband also came home. After he saw the
dog in the garage, he said to Ann, "This dog is a golden retriever. It
looks expensive. Its owner must be worried about it. If you have no
intention of keeping it, the best way is to put some notices up in the
community centers about the dog and wait for the owner to come
forward." So they gave the dog some food, water and toys and let it
stay in the garage for the night.

Ann woke up early in the morning the next day. It was still dark, so
she continued to rest in bed. When she was half-awake and half-asleep,
she saw a large cave similar to the famous Caves of Tunhwang and the
image was getting clearer by the minute. There was a large oval-shaped
mirror at the entrance of the cave. Inside the cave were statues of the
Emperors of each of the ancient Chinese dynasties on both sides. Ann
couldn't help herself and stepped forward and stood in front of mirror.
A whiff of mist came out from nowhere and enshrouded the mirror. As the
mist subsided, there appeared a woman dressed in the old-fashioned
attire of the Qing dynasty (Translator's note: The Qing was the last
dynasty of the Chinese imperial system that ended nearly a century
ago). The woman had an imposing and dignified manner, her eyes clear
and bright. Ann apprehensively looked at the woman in the mirror. At
that moment, a thunderous voice came from the universe, "This is a
dowager empress of the Qing dynasty, her name is XX, and you were XX!"
Fear and panic quickly overcame Ann as she heard those words, because
her impression of the Taiho (Chinese term for dowager empress) of Qing
was very bad. She had no good feelings towards this famous woman. So
Anne shouted loudly, "No! No! I am not her! I am not her! Let me get
out of here! Let me get out of here!" However, it seemed that the
situation was out of her control. Very soon, Ann entered the Forbidden
City. [Translator's note: the Forbidden City was the residence of the Chinese emperors in the Qing dynasty and was situated in Beijing.]
She saw the young Emperor was choosing his wives - the to-be Empress,
Feizi and Guiren [Translator's note: Feizi and Guiren were two of the
Emperor's concubines.] There was a young girl from a noble family
looking particularly outstanding - she wasn't shy like the other girls
and was quietly observing the situation and the people around her. In
the end, this girl was chosen as a Guiren. Within a few years, she
became pregnant and gave birth to a son.

Because the Empress only gave birth to girls, having a son for the
Emperor quickly elevated this girl's status in the royal court, until
she became second only to the Empress. Because of her giving birth to
the Crown Prince, this girl was greatly favored by the Emperor. This
girl was bold and intelligent, and sometimes the Emperor would even let
her manage the state affairs and allow her to sign official papers.
Gradually, she became the Emperor's trusted political advisor. A few
years later, however, the Emperor died of an illness at the Summer
Palace, Bishu Shanzhuang. Because the Crown Prince was still young,
both this girl and the Empress took up the responsibility of managing
the state affairs of the Qing Empire. This girl, the Dowager Empress
(Taiho), became the most powerful figure of the empire.

Taiho ruled the Qing dynasty for decades but the historians invariably
said bad things about her and she was given all sorts of labels. But
the truth was, when the young Emperor was still alive, the country had
already become totally unmanageable and the Qing Empire was at the
brink of collapse. This young girl, in her twenties when she took over
the rule, nevertheless prolonged the reign of Qing for decades and this
was no easy feat. Where did her courage come from? Who gave her such
power and authority? And how did she manage to prolong the reign of the
Qing? In fact, the demise of Qing was the will of the heaven, and no
one could change its fate. I believe the true story about whether Taiho
was a good or bad character will be revealed one day.

In the unofficial Chinese historical accounts and folk tales, Taiho was
a cold and bullying character, and there were many stories about her
cruelty to people. But were there reasons behind those accounts? And
perhaps there were some unknown facts behind those stories. Maybe the
following anecdotes about Taiho may shed some light on the truth.
Perhaps, after all, this infamous character in history was like you and
me, with feelings and emotions.  

During the many years of Taiho's rule, there was a eunuch who was Taiho's right hand man. [Translator's
note: eunuchs were castrated males who served in the royal palace as
personal servants to the royal persons in ancient China
.] One
day, Taiho went for a stroll in the Yihe Garden (the royal garden in
Beijing) with the eunuch and was resting in the long corridor. A young
princess ran up to Taiho and said angrily, "Who gave you the authority
to rule the country? Was it simply due to your giving birth to the
Crown Prince? Whereas my mother has nothing because she didn't give
birth to a son!" Although the young princess wasn't Taiho's own
daughter by blood, she had doted on the child. So she was quite
surprised by the princess's outburst. The power struggles and jealousy
of the political circle sometimes even polluted young children. Taiho
did not utter a word but calmly turned towards the eunuch and gave a
slight indication with her eyes. The eunuch understood the hint and
went forward and slapped the young princess several times on the cheek
with a lot of force. This unexpected painful punishment made the young
princess start to sob. Taiho reached forward and hugged the young
princess, caressing her cheeks lovingly and consoling her, and scolded
the eunuch, "How dare you touch the young princess! Come quickly and
kneel down before the princess and apologise to her!" She then turned
to the young princess again and with a caring tone, she said, "You can
stop crying now and remember not to make those silly comments again.
I'll punish that stupid eunuch!" Then the young princess left as she
was told. From this incident, it isn't hard to see that Taiho was
indeed very shrewd and not an ordinary woman.  

Living in the royal palace, not only did Taiho have to manage the state
affairs, but she also had to deal with the various interpersonal
conflicts of the more than a thousand people who lived in the royal
palace. Among the many ladies living in the palace, there was a
beautiful and slim dancer who was much favored by the young Emperor
when he was still alive. Because this dancer was much favored and
spoilt by the Emperor, she often gossiped about others and created
minor frictions among the palace residents. After the death of the
Emperor, this spoiled dancer also lost her status in the royal court
and, because of this dancer's past behavior, Taiho was rather unhappy
about her and often made life difficult for her. The situation was
noticed by the eunuch who often tried to do things to please Taiho. So
one day without consulting Taiho, he had the dancer's both arms and
legs cut off but kept her alive in a big pot. He then told Taiho about
this and thought that he would be much praised for his "unique" idea.
Taiho was shocked by the cruelty of this eunuch after learning this and
consequently scolded and punished him severely.

There have been some historical accounts about Taiho, the Dowager
Empress of Qing, which are not entirely true. Although Taiho was shrewd
and calculating, she was also very generous, decisive and always kept
her promises. She also showed much kindness to those government
officials, court ladies and eunuchs who respected her. She was always
able to treat people around her with gentleness even when she had a bad
day managing the nation's affairs in the imperial court.

Of course, as mortal beings, people make mistakes; Taiho was also no
exception. But we'll not dwell on the rights and wrongs of her life

Here are a few untold stories about Taiho which were seen by Ann.

The young Taiho once got bored with life in the royal palace, so she
went out of the Forbidden City with a few trusted court ladies and
eunuchs to visit a few lively places in Beijing. She went into a wine
house and saw there was a large crowd gambling inside. Taiho, who was
dressed in male clothing, looked rather handsome but mysterious. She
became curious about what the crowd was doing so she squeezed in to
have a look. As she watched, she became quite interested and started to
take part in the gambling. She staked a very expensive piece of jade
and this action shocked all the gamblers present, wondering who this
rich young man was. Taiho's main opponent was a foreign trader, who
upon seeing the value of the stake, also put down his whole ship full
of goods as the stake. The foreigner became extremely anxious and
panted nervously because of the value of the bet. Taiho was quite calm,
however. Due to Taiho's lack of experience in gambling, she lost the
game; so she left the jade to the foreign trader without hesitation and
left the wine house.

On another occasion, Taiho again left the Forbidden City and visited a
busy street in Beijing. There came a wedding procession with people
playing gongs and drums. There were many people watching the procession
and they seemed to be gossiping about something. Taiho went into the
crowd to listen and found out the wedding was between a rich government
official in his seventies and a teenaged girl! Taiho was furious,
thinking: how dare this dirty old man damage the morality of society
this way! So she asked a eunuch who was with her to stop the
procession. Upon learning this, the old man became very angry and said:
"I'm an important official in the government; there is no one who can
stop me!" Hearing this, Taiho was infuriated and said, "Stupid old man,
you have no idea what sins you're committing! Stop at once, otherwise
I'll have you sacked!" The eunuch then told the old man that the order
was an imperial instruction from Taiho - to stop the wedding and send
the young girl home. The old man panicked and became very scared. He
prostrated himself in front of Taiho to ask for her forgiveness.

On one occasion, Taiho took a few court ladies and eunuchs with her and
visited the night market in Beijing. There were many people in the
bustling market. A drunken foreign sailor, with a bottle in his hand
and a cigarette in his mouth, was holding a woman in his arms as he
walked passed Taiho. Taiho was enraged, thinking the sailor's behavior
seriously offended public decency and should be stopped immediately. So
she asked a eunuch to pass a message on to the foreign sailor. The
sailor shouted angrily in response, "I will do as I please and no one
can do anything about it!" Taiho was infuriated and said: "Open your
eyes and see who you're speaking to! Everyone in the country knows who
I am! You've insulted the Qing Empire by damaging our morality. You
shall be sentenced to death..." After learning who Taiho was, the sailor
started to panic and plead for his life, but it was too late as Taiho
had already made up her mind ...       

After Ann got up in the morning, she shared what she had seen with her
mother. To her surprise, Ann's mother told her that in the past she had
seen herself as a dancer in the royal palace of the Qing dynasty.
Suddenly, Ann understood ... although Ann was the only child in the
family, her mother never seemed to have cared for or loved her. Ann's
childhood and teenage years were filled with painful memories of being
hurt and punished. There had been many nights when Ann would cry
helplessly and wondered whether she was actually the daughter of her
mother by birth, for she could not believe a mother would treat her
daughter in such a manner... Indeed, without practicing cultivation, who
could understand the karmic retribution and relationships among one

All of a sudden, Ann also understood that the dog which came to her
yesterday was the incarnation of the eunuch who had served Taiho in the
Qing dynasty. The sadness and misery which Ann could see in the dog's
eyes had been confusing for Ann. Indeed, the eunuch was like a dog,
being extremely loyal and obedient to Taiho. The eunuch, however, had
done many bad deeds behind Taiho's back and very often he would put the
responsibility for the deeds on Taiho and say that those were her
instructions. Because of the many wicked things he had done, he became
a dog in this lifetime as the result of karmic retribution, even though
he did those things in order to win the favor of his master, Taiho. In
the six-fold path of reincarnation, who has become whom? It is indeed
very puzzling to mankind!

Upon realizing this, Ann ran to the garage to take a look at the dog.
Many pairs of the shoes were scattered about on the garage floor. As
Ann was picking up those shoes, she noticed that the only pair of shoes
that had been bitten and damaged by the dog was her own. Ann sighed as
she understood that the dog had not forgotten its personal grievances
even as a dog. However, Ann, the former master of the eunuch, treated
the dog with kindness and bought it food and toys. More than a month
later, Ann found the dog's owner and returned it.

The fate of the eunuch is a lesson for us all. We must do things with a
righteous mind and with principles. Doing bad things to others to gain
personal favor is something we shouldn't do, otherwise, the sin one
commits will have be repaid during the cycles of reincarnation. This is
what's called "good begets good and bad begets bad."

Readers! If you believe in karmic retribution, your mind and action
will be righteous and proper. If you don't, then simply treat this
story as a fairy tale and please don't go looking for who has become
whom in history. Please remember! Please

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