It’s almost the end of January, I feel that it was just yesterday that we welcomed a new year.
A week ago, just like always, I accompanied my beloved to attend a faith group meeting. We share and discuss how we’re doing with our lives. They provide guidance for all of us to stick to our faith and never forget the love from above.
Last week, there was this one story the group leader shared with us, and it provided insight about our temporary human life here. It’s quite a popular story, The Story of Four Wives, which originated from Buddhist teachings. It really doesn’t matter what religious belief you have, but I personally believe that any of you can relate to it, as all roads lead to Rome (that’s a figure of speech; I mean’t one teaching, one God, one philosophy).
I retrieved this exact copy of the story from an easy Google search. Turns out it’s quite a popular story.
Once upon a time there was a rich King who had four wives. He loved the 4th wife the most and adorned her with rich robes and treated her to the finest of delicacies. He gave her nothing but the best.
He also loved the 3rd wife very much and was always showing her off to neighboring kingdoms. However, he feared that one day she would leave him for another.
He also loved his 2nd wife. She was his confidante and was always kind, considerate and patient with him. Whenever the King faced a problem, he could confide in her, and she would help him get through the difficult times.
The King’s 1st wife was a very loyal partner and had made great contributions in maintaining his wealth and kingdom. However, he did not love the first wife. Although she loved him deeply, he hardly took notice of her!
One day, the King fell ill and he knew his time was short. He thought of his luxurious life and wondered, “I now have four wives with me, but when I die, I’ll be all alone.”
Thus, he asked the 4th wife, “I have loved you the 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. Her answer cut like a sharp knife right into his heart.
The sad King then asked the 3rd wife, “I have loved you 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! When you die, I’m going to remarry!” His heart sank and turned cold.
He then asked the 2nd wife, “I have always turned to you for help and you’ve always been there for me. 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 walk with you to your grave.” Her answer struck him like a bolt of lightning, and the King was devastated.
Then a voice called out: “I’ll go with you. I’ll follow you no matter where you go.” The King looked up, and there was his first wife. She was very skinny as she suffered from malnutrition and neglect. Greatly grieved, the King said, “I should have taken much better care of you when I had the chance!”
In truth, we all have the 4 wives in our lives: Our 4th wife is our body. No matter how much time and effort we lavish in making it look good, it will leave us when we die.
Our 3rd wife is our possessions, status and wealth. When we die, it will all go to others.
Our 2nd wife is our family and friends. No matter how much they have been there for us, the furthest they can stay by us is up to the grave.
And our 1st wife is our Soul. Often neglected in pursuit of wealth, power and pleasures of the world. However, our Soul is the only thing that will follow us wherever we go. Cultivate, strengthen and cherish it now, for it is the only part of us that will follow us to the throne of God and continue with us throughout Eternity.
I think there’s something in there, don’t you think? Then I found the Buddhist’s interpretation of it, and it’s called ‘Karma (The Four Wives)‘:
“In one of the Agama Sutras, the Buddha’s early sermons, there is a very interesting story:
Once there was a man who had four wives. According to the social system and circumstances of ancient India, it was possible for a man to have several wives. Also, during the Heian period in Japan, about a thousand years ago, it was not unusual for a woman to have several husbands. The Indian had become ill and was about to die. At the end of his life, he felt very lonely and so asked the first wife to accompany him to the other world.
‘My dear wife,’ he said, ‘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?’
He expected her to answer yes. But she answered, ‘My dear husband, I know you always loved me. And you are going to die. Now it is time to separate from you. Goodbye, my dear.’
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. Sometimes 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, your first wife refused to accompany you after your death. How can I follow you? You loved me only for your own selfish sake.’
Lying in his deathbed, he called his third wife, and asked her to follow him. The third wife replied, with tears in her eyes, ‘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 third wife thus also refused to follow him to death.
Three wives had refused to follow him after his death. Now he recalled that there was another wife, his fourth wife, for whom he didn’t care very much. He had treated her like a slave and had always showed much displeasure with her. He now thought that if he asked her to follow him to death, she certainly would say no.
But his loneliness and fear were so severe that he made the effort to ask her to accompany him to the other world. The fourth wife gladly accepted her husband’s request.
‘My dear husband,’ she said, ‘I will go with you. Whatever happens, I am determined to be with you forever. I cannot be separated from you.”
This is the story of ‘A Man and His Four Wives.’
Gautama Buddha concluded the story as follows:
‘Every man and woman has four wives or husbands. What do these wives signify?’
THE FIRST WIFE
The first ‘wife’ is our body. We love our body day and night. In the morning, we wash our face, put on clothing and shoes. We give food to our body. We take care of our body like 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. As it is stated in a commentary, ‘When the last breath leaves our body, the healthy color of the face is transformed, and we lose the appearance of radiant life. Our loved ones may gather around and lament, but to no avail. When such an event occurs, the body is sent into an open field and cremated, leaving only the white ashes.’ This is the destination of our body.
THE SECOND WIFE
What is the meaning of the second wife? The second ‘wife’ stands for our fortune, our material things, money, property, fame, position, and job that we worked 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 life these things cannot follow us to death. Whatever fortune we have piled up, we must leave it. We came into this world with empty hands. During our life in this world, we have the illusion that we obtained a fortune. At death, our hands are empty. We can’t hold our fortune after our death, just as the second wife told her husband: ‘You hold me with your ego-centered selfishness. Now it is time to say goodbye.’
THE THIRD WIFE
What is meant by the third wife? Everyone has a third ‘wife’. This is the relationship of our parents, sister and brother, all relatives, friends, and society. They will go as far as the graveyard, with tears in their eyes. They are sympathetic and saddened…
Thus, we cannot depend on our physical body, our fortune, and our society. We are born alone and we die alone. No one will accompany us after our death.
THE FOURTH WIFE
Sakyamuni Buddha mentioned the fourth wife, who would accompany her husband after his death. What does that mean? The fourth ‘wife’ is our mind [or Alaya consciousness]. When we deeply observe and recognize that our minds are filled with anger, greed, and dissatisfaction, we are having a good look at our lives. The anger, greed, and dissatisfaction are karma, the law of causation. We cannot be separated from our own karma. As the fourth wife told her dying husband, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.'”
Let me have a little confession here: I’ve just deleted a very well thought-out paragraph that I’ve carefully typed, a really long one. I don’t think people will like to hear a sociologist’s point of view for such a humane subject. I don’t like to define things, because all of us interpret things in our very own unique ways.
OK. When I was first told about this story, the immediate perspective I gained was not about how each wife resembles these aspects of our lives, but a series of stages when a man, designed to be like god, transforms his human love from the very first stages of dating to the end of a marriage. I know – I’m naturally a skeptic – scratch that, a pessimistic person. I have trust issues. There, I said it. However, I so want to rely on others, desperately. So I went to God instead and I think it does solve my problems, but I’m still working on the trust thing on humans.
Anyway, I thought about how guys give all the attention you need, yet even more than that, when they first laid eyes on you. They give you everything you want, they go distances just to have a look at you, and they’ll do anything just to get a little bit of your love. During this time, a woman is youthful, beautiful. She is the embodiment of innocence, purity, thus the healthy body she has. You cannot deny looking at something beautiful, because it’s human nature. It’s like the Law of Gravity – you can’t deny that you can’t fly.
Then, after some time, she likes you too. She reciprocates as time goes by, as the guy showers her with flowers and chocolates and teddy bears, then more kisses and hugs and lotsa love. Whatever it is you’re working hard for, you give it to her. She gives thanks, and so you want to give her more. You want to be the best man out there for her. And you go out there, go to the furthest distances, get all the delicious food and prettiest clothes just to assure yourself that she will never leave you. You make her feel comfortable, secure; that someone able is taking good care of her.
But you’re still human. You can’t possibly energize yourself for so long without going through negative feelings, being down, tired and all. And with that big house you built for her, and all the materials you’ve comforted her with, she finally gives you an assurance. You’re confident that she’s going to understand your human-ness, she can’t expect you to be an unstoppable spirit all the time. She listens to you when you really need it. That’s when a man feels completely at home, because he’s embraced altogether by his great works, his good wife, and it all happens within his comfort zone. The woman then realizes he’s a good man, so she decided he’s a keeper. She would spend the rest of her life staying by his side, married to him, sharing this religious commitment to take good care of each other through sickness and health, ’til death to them part.
For the rest of their lives, he slowly but surely take her for granted. Her soul grew stronger through much patience and resilience with her husband, because she never gave up on the man and his will to become godly. We are all designed to be godly. He grew greedy, lustful, angry and all the other earthly sins he learned without consciousness. He go home to his house every night, knowing that everything is taken care of and he does not have to shower his caretaker all those flowers and chocolates and teddy bears he used to do anymore. In fact, he barely knows anyone is living in this beautiful house anymore except him and his ego; his unconscious mind just assumes that the house is that way from the very beginning, taken care of, just like God has taken care of us and we didn’t think of how our lives would be if there is no eternal caretaker around ’til the end. We grasp the momentary things, we forget the eternal bliss, we don’t look back nor do we look forward, and we grew to believe that our lives are meaningless.
Now I believe that you, my reader, are just like me: You don’t want to be that husband. I, as a woman, don’t want to lock my Spirit inside a prisoner’s mind of our materialistic society and let it be inactive throughout my life on this earth. I want to keep letting it feeling active, ideally renewed every week, and rejuvenated once in a while. When we have the courage to give and share to other humans without expecting anything in return, I believe we’re showing our brightest light our Soul can ever shine. Somehow when you touch others and their lives, the whole world becomes brighter.
Then again, I am still dealing with my fears, trusting people and being taken advantage of. I was not raised by a Tiger mom. My mother broke a very simple promise once, which I think was very important promise to keep (at that time). I told her who my crush was. I told her how I wrote about him in my diaries and everything (I’m embarrassed to say the details), and she pinky-promised me not to tell anyone. The next day, and I mean the very next day, she told everything to her friend, who giggles at me and drops his name occasionally throughout that day. I was really angry, and I never trusted my mom for certain things these days (but of course I tell her the important stuff I believe she will never say a word to anyone). As I grew up, I began to realize that I do the exact thing to others, and that’s when I realized I’m human too. So I forgave her for breaking other important promises, but sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to forgive yourself.
In the end, all we can conclude from here is that we’re all just humans. The easiest way out is to end it all with a very cowardice statement: We are mortal beings who are limited in every way. On the other hand, we tend to forget that we can transcend ourselves when we’re wholly one with our Spirit. Somewhere deep inside, your instincts tell you that you’re capable of so much more than this. You have someone out there, up there, looking out for you at all times.
I don’t believe that our lives end here on earth. I never believe that eating good food, wearing nice clothes, looking good and building a good family is all there is to life.
Now, imagine you’re the wife. Even when you say the word ‘wife’, it’s like a baby’s saying ‘life’. We’re all babies inside. If I may quote Freudian beliefs, we’re like egoistic babies who love to whine about our current psychological (and perhaps physiological too) state in life, when actually it is precisely the cause of who we are, what we do, and what we believe in.
Maybe that’s why they always say, “Behind a great man there is a great woman,” because a wife’s role is so much more than a possession, an object, or anything static. A wife is an ideal – she’s an undying Soul, stripped off the earthly possessions, a worthy objective, a dynamite. It takes a big heart to make use of God’s grace to cope with that kind of husband and, at the same time, taking care of herself.
I guess that’s who any woman is intended to be, a daughter of Eve,a sinful woman, meant to turn around into a godly being. So does her man, and any man, for that matter.
I think that there are some great lessons we can learn just from hearing the story of these four wives, which lives in all of us human beings. Obviously, we can go on and on with this discussion. My note out of it is to simply remember that there is an eternal being guiding us through our difficult times, so that we can lead a more thriving life.