Accumulation of Hidden Merits
Daoism advocates the accumulation of Hidden Merits ( 陰功 Yingong ). According to the Tablet of Supreme Correspondence ( 太上感應篇 Taishang Ganying Pian ), one should "accumulate merits and be benevolent". Correspondingly, Daoism opposes self-indulgence in doing all kinds of improper or even mean deeds. Some people are very much afraid that others do not know they have done a wee bit of good deeds, whereas they will secretly do something bad once nobody is looking, for they think they can escape notice so as not to be punished. Daoism has a completely different attitude toward this, because no good or evil deeds can evade the principle of retribution, and although the hidden merits and evils may not be known to mortals, they must be known to spirits in Heaven and on Earth. The Tablet of Supreme Correspondence says, "fortunes, whether good or bad, fall on people according to their own deeds and behaviors. Retribution for evil doings and reward for good works are like the shadows following a person." It means that spirits supervise everyone's thoughts, words, and actions.
Good and Evil Doings are under the Supervision of Spirits
The reward for good deeds and retribution for evil doings depends on the human heart. The heart and corresponding behaviour are under the supervision of spirits. This supervision has its system. The Tablet of Supreme Correspondence says, "there are spirits specially responsible for punishment, who decide on people's life spans according to their their evil acts. Those whose life span is decreased will be impoverished and exhausted, undergo repeated sufferings, encounter disgust, and be followed with penalties and disasters, and auspicious occasions will keep clear of them while the star of calamities will bring them calamities. Death will befall those who are completely deprived of their life span." This statement from the Tablet of Supreme Correspondence is taken from Ge Hong, who borrowed it from another source in turn. That proves that it is consistently held in Daoism that spirits supervise the people and give award or retribution according to their good or evil doings. As for the exact titles of Spirits, they are not as important. As for the deprivation of one's life span, a short span is three days according to the section "Subtle Guidelines ( 微旨 Weizhi ) " in the Inner Chapter of the Master Who Embraces Simplicity ( 抱朴子內篇 Baopuzi Neipian ). So the deprivation of one short span due to sins means the deprivation of three days' life. Greater than a short span is a long span, which is equal to 300 days. A long span will be taken away for big faults, and that means a decrease of 300 days' life. The so-called good and evil doings, merits and faults not only refer to one's words and actions, but also refer to the thoughts in one's mind. Ge Hong says that those who have evil thoughts but do no evil deeds will be deprived of short spans and those who have done something so evil as to harm people will be deprived of long spans. If the short and long spans taken away exceed one's life span, the misfortune will be passed on to one's descendants after one's death. The Book of Changes ( 周易 Zhouyi ) says, "the family which has accumulated good works is sure to enjoy even more blessings, while the family which has accumulated evil will certainly suffer extra disasters."
The Range of Hidden Merits
Since people's every word, action, and even idea is under the supervision of spirits, there is no way to deceive the spirits in Heaven and on Earth. Hidden evils can deceive humans but not spirits. People should warn themselves anytime and anywhere to avoid bad doings and evil actions and to do good and kind deeds. Thus there is a wide range of Hidden Merits, which are not limited to any special fields. Daoist moralistic storybooks call on people to "make things convenient for others all the time and accumulate Hidden Merits everywhere". There is no limit to Hidden Merits, since they should be done in all matters, and so of course there is no limit to the occasions when people should warn themselves against misdoing. Ge Hong says that there are several hundred deeds that decrease one's life span, and they cannot be explained concretely one by one. These several hundred deeds include only the greater ones. In fact, in the extensive fields of social life, interpersonal communication, and the handling of the relation between human and nature, exist innumerable instances where Hidden Merits may be damaged or accumulated.