Zhou Rongzu was a scholar in Caozhou in the capital city, Bianliang, in the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 AD). His ancestors had accumulated considerable wealth. Zhou Rongzu's grandfather, Zhou Feng, had great respect for Buddha and Gods. He built a Buddhist institute, read Buddhist scriptures and chanted verses daily. He donated generously to help the poor. His family business prospered. Zhou Rongzu's father only attended to the family's business. He did not believe in the divine. He undertook a home improvement project. To avoid the expense of paying for wood, stone, bricks and tiles, he tore down the Buddhist institute for its construction materials. However, after the construction was complete, he fell ill. All treatments failed. He was bedridden and passed away. People figured that this was caused by his refusal to believe in Buddha.
After his father passed away, Zhou Rongzu took over the family business. He was a learned man and had passed the imperial exam at the county level. He decided to take the imperial exam in the capital city, hoping to land a government position. He took his wife and their infant son, Changshou, with him. He buried a large quantity of gold and silver that he had inherited in a cellar underneath a section of the wall in his backyard. Zhou asked one of his attendants on duty to take care of the house. He only took with him a smaller amount of gold and silver coins and left for the exam.
At the time, a very poor man named Jia Ren also lived in Caozhou. He barely made a living by hauling dirt and building walls. He lived in a deserted kiln. He often wondered why others unfairly lived extravagant lives while he was in such poverty. Whenever he had time, he would go to a temple to pray, "I hereby pray that being an ordinary man, how come I have to endure such poverty. In case I were to have a little wealth, I would show kindness to the widowed, the orphaned, the elderly and the poor. I beg mercy from Your Majesty!"
One day, after praying, he dozed off under the eaves of the roof. Suddenly he saw a spirit asking the deity in charge of incrementing people's blessings to review his stored wealth. The deity in charge of blessings replied, "Jia Ren, in his past lives, did not show respect to heaven and earth, nor to his parents. He slandered Buddha and badmouthed monks. He also killed people, wasted clean water, and wasted food. In this life time, he is destined to die in hunger and cold." Jia immediately begged upon hearing this, "Your Highness, please grant me a little clothing and food. I have also tried to be a good man. When my parents were alive, I showed respect for them and supported them the best I could." The spirit said, "We deities have inspected what Jia Ren did. Although not many good deeds have been recorded, we do know that he was obedient to and supported his parents. Given that he's suffering from hunger and cold, we will take into consideration his limited filial piety. We understand His Majesty's virtue in promoting growth and prosperity, let's take a look to see if there are some blessings that belong to other families, that are suitable for lending him to make up for his bit of filial obedience." The deity in charge of blessings said, "I have examined the book on the Zhou family in Caonan Village in the area, which in the past had accumulated enough blessings for three generations. Because of the disrespect to Buddha shown by Zhou Rongzu's father, the family deserves some penalty. I am now going to transfer the Zhou family's blessings to Jia Ren for 20 years. At the end of the 20-year period, Jia is to hand the fortune back to the original owner, the Zhou family. Wouldn't this work out well in both regards?" The spirit agreed, "You may do that." Jia Ren kowtowed to thank the deity for the blessings. When Jia woke up, he recalled the promise from His Highness that he was to be loaned blessings for 20 years. He was not sure whether he should believe his dream. The day before a wealthy family had given him a work order to build a wall. He decided to look for the bricks to get the wall built first.