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The Merchant With Four Wives

A Sufi Parable

Once upon a time . . .

there lived a rich merchant who had four wives.

He loved his fourth wife the most of all. He adorned her with robes and jewels and treated her to delicacies. He took great care of her, and gave her nothing but the best he could offer.

He also loved the third wife very much. He was very proud of her and always wanted to show her off to his friends. However, the merchant always lived in great fear that she might run off with other men.

He, too, loved his second wife. She is a very considerate person, always patient, and was the merchant's most trusted confidante. Whenever the merchant faced some problems, he always turned to his second wife and she would always tide him through difficult times.

Now, the merchant's first wife was a very loyal partner - nice, kind, patient, and considerate. She had has made great contributions to him in maintaining his wealth and business as well as taking care of the household. However, the merchant did not love the first wife, and although she loved him deeply, he hardly took notice of her.

One day, the merchant fell ill.

After meeting with many of the greatest doctors in the land, he knew that he was going to die. He thought long and hard of his rich and luxurious life and told himself, "Now I have four wives with me. But when I die, I'll be alone. How lonely I will be!"

So he went and met with his fourth wife. He said to her, "I loved you most, endowed you with the finest clothing and showered great care over you. Now that I am dying, will you follow me and keep me company?"

"No way!" she replied. "Now I need to go out and find myself another husband!" and she walked away without another word. The answer cut like a sharp knife deep into the merchant's heart.

The sad merchant then turned to his third wife. "I have loved you so much for all my life," he said. "Now that I'm dying, will you follow me and keep me company?"

"Not at all!" replied the 3rd wife. "Life is so good over here! I am having so much fun, why should I spoil it? Now I have to go meet with my lawyers!" And the merchant's heart sank and turned cold.

The merchant then asked his second wife, "I always turned to you for help and you've always helped me out. Now I need your help again. When I die, will you follow me and keep me company?"

"I am sorry," she said, "but I cannot help you this time. I have so many other things to do. I can only send you to your grave." The answer came like a bolt of thunder and the merchant was devastated.

Then the merchant heard a voice say, "I will leave with you. I will follow you wherever you go."

He looked up and saw his first wife standing nearby. She was so thin and pale, and looked so weak standing there that she almost looked as if she suffered from malnutrition.

With his heart full of sorrow, the merchant cried and said, "I should have taken so much better care of you while I could have!"

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The breakdown:

We are all "the merchant." We all have four "wives."

The fourth wife is our our status, our possessions and wealth (or lack of it). When we die, they all go to others.

The third wife is our body. No matter how much time and effort we lavish towards making it beautiful and healthy, it will leave us when we die.

The second wife is our family, lovers, and friends. No matter how close they are to us when we're alive, they can only be with us up to the grave.

The first wife is our soul - often neglected in our pursuit of material wealth and sensual pleasures, while in truth it is the only thing that follows us wherever we go.

The time to love "the first wife"...is now.

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