Which wife do you love most?

This is one of my favourite stories about what is important in life and our priorities concerning it. I heard this story from Swami Tattwaroopananda and it gives a good impression of how we might (re-) orient our lives. Don’t mind the polygamy!

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There was once a king who had 4 wives. He lived a wondrous life and enjoyed everything fully. Amongst his wives he preferred his 4th wife as she was the youngest and the most beautiful. He always doted on her and showered her with affection and gifts. He always went to her first for all purposes. If by some chance she was not able to satisfy him he would then go to his 3rd wife, who he loved most after his 4th wife. If she was not able to satisfy him the king would then go to his 2nd wife. In all this he had completely forgotten his 1st wife; she had been subject of neglect both in affection and care. Now the king became very ill and was told by his physician that he would not live more than a month or so. At this the king was devastated and called his 4th wife to him.

She entered shining in costly silk, smelling of jasmine and laden with jewels. He explained the situation and asked her if she would accompany him beyond and she refused saying that she would follow him to the funeral grounds but no further. The king was gravely disappointed and called his 3rd wife. She also wore a beautiful silk sari but wore fewer ornaments than the 4th wife. Again he explained his plight and asked if she would accompany him. She also refused saying that she would follow him to the pyre but no further. Again the king was disappointed and called to him his 2nd wife. She looked a little thinner than the previous two with only a few jewels and her silk sari frayed slightly at the edges betraying its age. She also refused saying that when he dies she will go to another man. The king in his sickbed felt himself completely alone as none would follow him unto death, then he thought of his 1st wife. He felt so guilty to call her after having ignored her for so many years but still he called her. She entered his chamber displaying on her person the marks of her neglect: she was very thin, wore no jewels but only and old and faded cotton sari. With tears in his eyes he told her that he would be dead within a month and asked her if she would follow him. She replied that she has always been with him since the beginning, even though unseen she has always followed him, follow him still and will follow him wherever he is going.

The 4th wife is our physical body on whom we devote the most attention but will not go with us past the funeral grounds. The 3rd wife is our family and friends who also give us much pleasure in life but cannot see us past the pyre. The 2nd wife is our wealth that we use to satisfy our desires but the moment you die it goes to someone else. The 1st wife is both dharma & karma (our duty & our actions), who goes with us everywhere and is with us always unseen. She is the only one to go with us into the beyond. Knowing this, which wife should we give our attention and love?

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