In one of the Agama Sutras, which are Buddha’s early sermons, there is one very interesting and intriguing story with deep message. It is about a man and his four wives.
Once upon a time there was a man who had four wives. In ancient India it was not strange to have many wives. So he decided to have four and took care of them and loved them as he thought they deserved. After some time, the man began to feel ill and lonely. Soon enough he knew he was going to die. At the end of his life, he decided to ask his wives to follow him after death. So he called the first wife.
He said: “My dear wife, I loved you day and night; I took care of you throughout my whole life. Now I am about to die, will you please go with me wherever I go after my death?”
The first wife replied: “My dear husband, I know you always loved me. And you are going to die. Now it’s time to separate from you. Goodbye, my dear.”
He certainly didn’t expect this answer. He was convinced that she will say yes. His heart broke in million pieces. So, he called his second wife.
He said: ”My dear second wife, you know how I loved you. Sometimes I was afraid you might leave me, but I held on to you strongly. My dear, please come with me.”
The second wife said: “Dear husband, your first wife refused to accompany you after your death. How can I follow you? You loved me only for your own selfish sake.”
The disappointed dying man called his third wife and asked her to follow him after death.
She said: “My dear, I pity you and I feel sad for myself. Therefore I shall accompany you to the graveyard. This is my last duty to you.”
The man was devastated. The only woman left was his fourth wife. He treated her almost like a slave so he was pretty sure she was going to say ‘no’. However, he was terrified to die alone and was desperate to have someone with him so he called her and asked her to come with him.
The last wife said: “My dear husband, I will go with you. Whatever happens, I am determined to be with you forever. I cannot be separated from you.”
At the end of the story, Gautama Buddha explains that every human being has four wives or four husbands. This is what they represent:
The first wife represents the body of a person. Everyone loves their own body. We take care of it, wash it; we put on clothes and shoes. We give food to it and we try to protect it from anything and anybody. Just like the first wife in the story. However, after death, our body leaves us and cannot follow us.
The second wife signifies our fortune and all the material things one has in life. The job and position we have worked very hard for, the money we have earned the properties we own etc. People are very attached to these things because they allow us to have a decent life. But we came into this world empty-handed and we must leave the world that way. So, after death, no material possession can follow us. Just like the second wife told her husband: “How can I follow you? You loved me only for your own selfish sake.”
The third wife represents the strong connection we have with our parents, brothers or sisters, friends, and the society we live in. But, as we’re born alone, we die alone. All our beloved people will follow us only to the graveyard with grief and tears.
The fourth wife was mentioned in the story like the one that decides to follow her husband anywhere. Why? What does it represents? The fourth wife represents our mind, consciousness, our karma. And our karma always stays with us. As the fourth wife said: “I will follow you whenever you go.”