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Home Feature Stories Sutra Adaptation of the Water Repentance

Synopsis of the Sutra Adaptation of the Water Repentance Text - Act IV

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Article Index
Synopsis of the Sutra Adaptation of the Water Repentance Text
Act I: Prelude
Act II: The obstacle of affliction
Act III: The obstacle of unwholesome action
Act IV: The obstacle of karmic retribution
Act V: Finale
All Pages
Act IV: The obstacle of karmic retribution

This entire Act describes the workings of karma through theatrical and artistic expression.

The Act begins with a theatrical sketch of a man and two women surrounded by people dressed in black holding a black net. One of the women tells the man she's pregnant with his child. Later, she learns there's another woman pregnant with the man's child. The first woman then kills herself, but her soul wants to take revenge on the man. Eventually, the man dies in a car accident.

The black net symbolizes how living beings are trapped by their karma. While living beings undergo karmic retribution, they create new negative karma, leading to new karmic retribution, in the midst of which they continue to create more negative karma. It forms a vicious cycle, trapping them in samsara, the cycle of rebirth. The way to break out of this cycle is to be aware of the principle of karma and to stop creating new negative karma.

The force of karma is very powerful. When karmic retribution becomes ripe, there's no way one can stop it from happening.

Scene 1: The dream
Scene 2: Living hell
Scene 3: The realm of hungry ghosts
Scene 4: The realm of animals
Scene 5: The realm of asuras
Scene 6: The human and heaven realms
Scene 7: Calamities around the world
Scene 8: The world climate is becoming abnormal
Scene 9: The suffering of wars
Scene 10: The suffering of hunger and famine
Scene 11: Repenting for our karmic retributions
Scene 12: Making vows after repenting


Scene 1: The dream

This section depicts the true story of a woman in 19th century China, who dreamed of an out-of-body-experience where her soul entered the bodies of animals about to be killed for her birthday feast.

The woman was married to a wealthy man who was a devout Buddhist, a generous philanthropist and a longtime vegetarian. The wife, however, was very fond of meat and fine cuisine. For her birthday, she wanted to have a sumptuous meal to celebrate. Her servants purchased a live pig, chicken, duck, and fish for the occasion. When her husband learned of this, he tried to dissuade her and asked her to spare the lives of these animals. She refused as it was her birthday and she wanted to celebrate.

The night before her birthday, she had a dream. In the dream, she entered the kitchen of her home, where the cook and servants were making preparations for her birthday feast. As the animals were about to be slaughtered, the wife felt her soul enter the body of their bodies in turn. She experienced the pain and suffering of the animals as they were being killed, cut into pieces, and boiled. When the cook was done slaughtering all the animals, a servant brought in a live fish. The wife's soul also entered the body of the fish. After killing the fish and scraping the scales off, the cook made it into fish balls, one of the wife's favorite dishes.

The next morning, the maid brought in the dish of fish-ball soup for breakfast. When the wife saw it, she was filled with fright and ordered the maid to take the dish away.

Feeling frightened, the wife told her husband about her dream and her deep remorse for eating meat.

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Scene 2: Living hell

The message of this section is that the law of karma is real. We cycle through the six realms of reincarnation due to karmic retribution.

If we do not believe in karma, we might do things that lead us to be reborn in the realm of hell. In fact, we can experience a living hell in our everyday world. When we are under tremendous suffering or mental affliction, that's what being in hell feels like.

This section continues the story of the wife, showing her struggles with her conscience over the killings she had done. Eventually she dies.

We are then taken to see the realm of the hungry ghost.

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Scene 3: The realm of hungry ghosts

The message of this section is that there are many people in our world who suffer from starvation and malnutrition. They are like the manifestation of the hungry ghost realm.

The theatrical sketch centers on two gourmands (people who pursue good food) who, not satisfied with eating fowl, want to eat meat from other kinds of animals. After eating these, they become sick, can no longer take in any food, and suffer greatly. Two men, one dressed in white and one dressed in black—symbolizing the messengers of death—appear with a long white sheet. One of the gourmands dies. Which realm he is reincarnated in his next life will depend on his karmic retribution.

We are then taken to see another realm, the realm of animals.

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Scene 4: The realm of animals

This section depicts the animal realm and shows how animals get abused and killed for their skin or meat, undergoing much pain and suffering.

The theatrical sketch shows women in a fashion show wearing fur and animal skins. Four women buy the fur clothing; after they die, they are reborn as the type of animal whose fur they'd worn in their previous life. Being animals, they have to labor for humans, enduring beatings and other abuse. The messengers of death then come and take one of the "animals" away, and where it will be reborn next will depend on its karmic retribution.

We are then taken to see another realm, the realm of asuras.

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Scene 5: The realm of asuras

This section depicts the asura realm. Asuras are bad-tempered beings who have a lot of anger and arrogance. They can be found in any of the five realms: heaven, human, animals, hungry ghost, or hell.

The theatrical sketch shows three gangsters and a couple. One gangster gets into an argument with the man, which quickly turns into an all-out brawl. One gangster sets a fire, killing the couple. The leading gangster becomes terribly frightened by the consequences, and eventually is caught for the crime and jailed. The messengers of death then come to take his life away. Where he will be reborn next will depends on his karmic retribution.

Next we are taken to see two realms, the heaven realm and the human realm.

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Scene 6: The human and heaven realms

This section depicts the human and heaven realms. In the realm of heaven, heavenly beings enjoy pleasure and happiness. Those in our world who are wealthy, can get whatever they want, and have their desires fulfilled enjoy a kind of heaven on earth.

The theatrical sketch shows a rich man who indulges himself in the pleasures of food and women. He then develops a disease which makes all his friends shun him. A fire burns down his house, and he finds out he has contracted a sexually transmitted disease. While getting treatment, the two messengers of death come, signaling the next stage of his karmic retribution.

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Scene 7: Calamities around the world

This section shows a video of the Earth undergoing destruction due to natural disasters and human activities.

Our Earth used to be a beautiful planet, with clean rivers and beautiful mountains, where people lived in harmony with Mother Nature. But now humans are destroying mother earth, causing global warming, which brings about natural disasters around the world. Such is the result of the collective negative karma created by humans. Besides natural disasters, man-made disasters, such as war, also cause much suffering to people.

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Scene 8: The world climate is becoming abnormal

This section shows the natural disasters that ravage our planet, with four different color flags representing disasters of earth, water, fire, and wind. When natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, snow storms, tornados, or forest fires happen, they can cause a lot of destruction and casualties, bringing considerable suffering.

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Scene 9: The suffering of wars

This section expresses the suffering of war, doing so through video and a theatrical sketch of a battlefield where people pick up the dead and the injured. The man in the center of the stage performing with a Chinese Yo-Yo represents the throwing of bombs. Wherever the bombs land, war and destruction occur.

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Scene 10: The suffering of hunger and famine

This section uses video and a theatrical sketch to express the suffering caused by famine and starvation. In the sketch, people who had died in the previous scenes "wake up" to find themselves reborn in places of famine, where they have to scavenge for food, surviving on grasses or tree roots.

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Scene 11: Repenting for our karmic retributions

The previous sections show how for countless lives, living beings have been cycling through the six realms, enduring much suffering, without being able to liberate themselves because they do not realize the law of karma and continue to create negative karma. Nevertheless, if people can repent for their unwholesome ways which bring about such karmic retribution, there is hope to break out of this vicious cycle.

The scene shows Dharma Master Wu Da's cabin rising up from the center stage. People dressed in black crawl toward the cabin, reaching for Dharma Master Wu Da, seeking liberation from their sufferings. In a formation representing an ocean, those onstage lead us to repent through song and sign language, the lyrics expressing some of the things to repent for:


Let us repent for the wrongs we've committed through our body,
speech and mind, leading to the karmic retribution of reincarnation in the hell realm
Let us repent for committing unwholesome acts instead of practicing goodness,
leading to the karmic retribution of reincarnation in the animal realm
Let us repent for our killing, our self-indulgence and greed,
leading to the karmic retribution of reincarnation in the hungry ghost realm
Let us repent for leading an unwholesome life and acting arrogantly,
which lead us to develop the personalities of asuras.
Let us repent for pursuing profit and self-gain,
thus giving rise to unwholesome thoughts which dispel wholesome thoughts
Let us repent for being cruel to animals by hunting and harming them;
one day we will reap karmic retribution
Let us repent for breaking the law, being undisciplined and rebellious,
and not being filial to our parents nor abiding by moral ethics
Let us repent for not respecting the Buddha or his teachings and for doubting
that the Dharma can liberate living beings from suffering
Let us repent for the obstacles of affliction, unwholesome action, and karmic retribution
that we have created; and let us dedicate any merit we have to all living beings

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Scene 12: Making vows after repenting

This section presents a representation of a Dharma ship, symbolizing the ship of Dharma which can rescue people from the sea of suffering and take them to the safety of the shore.

The message is that though living beings have gone astray before, now that they've encountered the Dharma, they can turn themselves around. After repenting, all make vows to create a better world with less suffering. Vows are made through song and sign language:

We vow to turn the realm of hell into a Pure Land
by eliminating karmic obstacles
We vow to turn our animosity to goodwill and transform violence
into kind actions
We vow to help all living beings in need
so they can attain peace and happiness
We vow to harbor no thoughts of killing,
and help all creatures co-exist in harmony
We vow to get rid of our bad habitual tendencies and
our deluded thoughts and perceptions
We vow to mitigate disasters and epidemics
so people won't suffer from pain, illness, and loss
We vow to help provide abundant supplies of food and clothing
so people won't suffer from starvation and cold
We vow to bring harmony and peace to society
so there'll be no wars in this world
We vow to spread the teachings of the Buddha
so people can understand life's principles and eschew misguided views
We vow to walk the Bodhisattva Path and
help inspire the mind of awakening in people


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