In one of the sutras called Agongyo, a collection of Gautama Buddha’s sermons, there is an interesting story:
Once there was a man who had four wives. According to ancient India’s social system and circumstances, a man could 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 terribly ill and was about to die. At the end of his life, he felt very lonely and asked the first wife to accompany him to the other world.
“My dear wife,” he said, “I love 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 replied, “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 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 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 refused to follow him to death.
The three wives had refused to follow him after his death. Now he recalled another wife, his fourth wife, for whom he did not care very much. He had treated her like a slave and had always shown 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 an 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 concludes the story as follows:
Every man and woman has four wives or husbands. What does this signify?
The Great Natural Way, Rev. Hozen Seki, Part 2 next week