Once upon a time there was a rich man who had four wives. The day came when he realized that he would soon die, and the thought terrified him. So one by one he sent for his wives.
He asked his second wife, “Honey, all the years we’ve been together I’ve taken good care of you, haven’t I? Whatever you wanted to eat I provided, and I always made sure that you were comfortable and gave you whatever clothes you desired, didn’t I? Now I don’t have much time left and I’m scared. When I die, will you come with me and keep me company?” But his second wife flat out refused, saying, “I can’t go with you.”
Disappointed by this, the husband called for his third wife. “Sweetie, in order for you to be my wife, I went through so many hardships. The hardships and tears I had to endure in order to make you mine…. If you think about how much I love you, won’t you come with me?” But his third wife replied, “It was you who chased me, it was you who loved me. I never chased after you, and I’m not going to start now.”
Next, he called for his fourth wife. “You are the one I love above all others. I always thought about you before myself, and even went cold and hungry to make sure you had everything you needed, didn’t I. Will you come with me when I die?” “Yes, you were so kind,” his fourth wife said, “so I’ll go with you, but only as far as your tomb.”
At last he asked for his first wife, and spoke with a sad, heavy voice: “I’m sorry I never paid much attention to you during our time together, but the fact that we lived together as husband and wife can’t be denied. Would you be my companion on the path of death?”
To his astonishment his first wife said, “Of course I will. I don’t care whether you were a good husband or not. Considering all of the years we spent together, who else would accompany you except me?”
In this story, the second wife represents our body. We pour so much effort into taking care of it. We feed it when it’s hungry, keep it warm when the weather’s cold, and cool it off when it’s too hot. But no matter how hard we work to take care of our body, it won’t follow us when we die.
The third wife stands for money and power. People expend so much effort and go through so many hardships in order to obtain money and power. They’ll even sacrifice their health and families, yet when death comes they can’t take even one penny with them, and all of their power is useless.
The fourth wife represents family members, such as your children and spouse. You love them so much that you will go without sleep and endure hunger to ensure that they have enough to eat. Yet even they can go with you only as far as your grave.
The first wife represents karmic consciousnesses. Even after you take off your body, these will chase after you. These are the record of all of your thoughts and actions while alive. Regardless of whether you did good or bad, each action, each state of mind has been recorded within you one by one. Like the first wife, these will chase after you like your own shadow.
Let’s take a look at these for a minute. Even though you make up your mind to do something good or to behave well, it often happens that you wind up doing the exact opposite, doesn’t it? That happens because of the functioning of those karmic consciousnesses. They prevent you from thinking and perceiving in accord with truth. So when they arise, let go of them and entrust them to your foundation. However, you are the one who has input these karmic consciousnesses, so you are the one who decides what to do when they come back out, and thereby erase them or re-input them. So don’t blame others for your mistakes, and don’t wish hardships or trouble upon anyone.
If you often raise thoughts like an animal or a demon while alive, then after you die it will be hard to avoid being born at that level. On the other hand, if you often raise sincere and kind thoughts, you’ll naturally be drawn towards heavenly realms.
Excerpted from My Heart is a Golden Buddha,
copyright 2006 The Hanmaum Seonwon Foundation