Salaam and Greetings of Peace:
There was once a rich merchant who had 4 wives. He loved the 4th wife the most and adorned her with rich robes and treated her to delicacies. He took great care of her and gave her nothing but the best.
He also loved the 3rd wife very much. He’s very proud of her and always wanted to show her off to his friends. However, the merchant is always in great fear that she might run away with some other man.
He also loved his 2nd wife. She is a very considerate person, always patient and in fact is the merchant’s confidante. Whenever the merchant faced some problems, he always turned to his 2nd wife and she would always help him out through difficult times.
Now the merchant’s 1st wife is a very loyal partner and has made great contributions in maintaining his wealth and business as well as taking care of the household. However, the merchant did not love the first wife and although she loved him deeply, he hardly took notice of her.
One day, the merchant fell ill. Before long, he knew that he was going to die soon. He thought of his luxurious life and told himself, “Now I have 4 wives with me. But when I die, I’ll be alone. How lonely I’ll be!”
Thus he asked the 4th wife, “I loved you most, endowed you with the finest clothing and showered great care over you. Now that I’m dying, will you follow me and keep me company?” “No way!” replied the 4th wife and she walked away without another word. The answer cut like a knife right into the merchant’s heart.
The sad merchant then asked the 3rd wife, “I have loved you so much for all my life. Now that I’m dying, will you follow me and keep me company?” “No!” replied the 3rd wife. “Life is too good here! I’m going to remarry when you die!” The merchant’s heart sank and turned cold.
He then asked the 2nd wife, “I always turned to you for help and you’ve always helped me out. Now I need your help again. When I die, will you follow me and keep me company?” “I’m sorry, I can’t help you out this time!” replied the 2nd wife. “At the very most, I can only send you to your grave.” The answer came like a bolt of thunder and the merchant was devastated.
Then a voice called out : “I’ll leave with you. I’ll follow you no matter where you go.” The merchant looked up and there was his first wife. She was so skinny, almost like she suffered from malnutrition. Greatly grieved, the merchant said, “I should have taken much better care of you while I could have!”
Actually, we all have 4 wives in our lives …
The 4th wife is our body. No matter how much time and effort we lavish in making it look good, it’ll leave us when we die.
Our 3rd wife is our possessions, status and wealth. When we die, they all go to others.
The 2nd wife is our family and friends. No matter how close they had been there for us when we’re alive, the furthest they can stay by us is up to the grave.
The 1st wife is in fact our soul, often neglected in our pursuit of material wealth and sensual pleasure. It is actually the only thing that follows us wherever we go. Perhaps it’s a good idea to cultivate and strengthen it now rather than to wait until we’re on our death bed to lament.
– from one of the Agama Sutras, the Buddha’s early sermons