In one of the Agama Sutras, the Buddha’s early sermons, there is a fascinating story:

Once there was a king who had four wives. When the king was about to die, he felt very lonely and so asked the first wife he loved dearly to accompany him to the other world.

‘My dear wife,’ he said, ‘I loved you and took care of you throughout my life. Now I am about to die, will you please accompany me wherever I go after my death?’

He expected her to say yes. But she said, ‘My dear husband, I know you always loved me. And you are going to die. Looks like it is time to for us to separate from each other. Goodbye my dear.’

So, he called his second wife to his sickbed and begged her to follow him in death.

He said, ‘My dear second wife, you know how I loved you. Even though at times I was afraid you might leave me, but I held on to you strongly. My dear, please come with me.’

The second wife expressed herself rather coldly. “Dear husband, when your first wife who you loved so dearly has refused to accompany you, how can I follow you? You loved me only for your own selfish reasons. So, I can’t come with you.”

Lying on his deathbed, he called his third wife and asked her to follow him.

With tears in her eyes, the third wife replied, “My dear, I feel very sad for you. Therefore, I shall accompany you to the graveyard. This is my last duty to you.”

The third wife thus also refused to follow him to death.

Three wives had refused to follow him after his death. Now he remembered his fourth wife who he hardly cared about. He always ill-treated her. He was sure if he asked her to accompany him, she certainly would say no.

But his fear of loneliness and the unknown was so intense that he asked her to accompany him to the other world.

The fourth wife gladly accepted her husband’s request. “My dear husband, I will go with you. Whatever happens, I am determined to be with you forever. I cannot be separated from you.”

Gautama Buddha concluded the story as follows:
‘Every man and every woman has four wives or husbands. What do these wives signify?’

The first ‘wife’ is our body. We love our bodies. We adorn our bodies, put on the best of clothes. We feed and take care of our bodies as the first wife in this story. But unfortunately, at the end of our life, the body, the first ‘wife’ cannot follow us to the next world.

What is the meaning of the second wife? The second ‘wife’ stands for our fortune, material things, money, property, fame, position, and job that we work hard to attain. We are attached to these material possessions. We are afraid to lose these material things and wish to possess much more. There is no limit. At the end of our lives, these things cannot follow us to death. We can’t hold our fortune after our death.

What is meant by the third wife? Everyone has a third ‘wife.’ It’s our relationship with our parents, siblings, spouse, relatives, friends, and society. They will go as far as the graveyard, with tears in their eyes. But can’t go further than that.

The fourth ‘wife’ is our Karma. We cannot be separated from our own Karma. As the fourth wife told her dying husband, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.'”

(Source: Modern day Parables)

Unfortunately, we take care of all our wives but completely forget to take care of our fourth wife, our Karmas, an essential aspect of our lives. We are always busy accumulating wealth and indulging in ourselves. We get so attached to our relationship that we completely ignore this vital element of our lives. Karma is the effect, and everything that happens in our lives is the causation of it. Do you want to live a happy and fulfilled life? Pay close attention to your Karmas; the only way you can experience your life completely.

Vibha S Kapil