There was once a rich merchant who had four friends. He loved the fourth friend most and gave him only the best. He also loved the third friend very much. He was proud of his third friend’s talents.
The man’s second friend was a kind and considerate person, always patient and, in fact, the merchant’s personal confidante. Whenever the merchant faced problems, he always turned to his second friend, who always helped him. The merchant’s first friend was a loyal partner who had made great contributions in maintaining his wealth and business, as well as taking care of occasional personal matters. However, the merchant did not love his first friend, and though the friend loved the rich man deeply, he was hardly noticed by the merchant.
Then the merchant fell ill. He knew that he would soon die. He thought to himself, “Now I have four friends. But when I die, I’ll be all alone. How lonely I will be!” Thus, he asked his fourth friend, “I loved you most, endowing you with fine clothing and great care. Now that I’m dying, will you follow me and keep me company?” “No way!” replied the friend and walked away without another word. The friend’s answer stabbed the merchant’s heart like a knife.
The merchant then asked his third friend, “I’ve loved you also all my life. When I die, will you follow and keep me company?” “No!” replied the friend. “Life’s too good! I’ll find new friends when you die!” The merchant’s heart shattered.
He said to his second friend, “I’ve always turned to you for help, and you were always there for me. I need your help again. Will you follow me and keep me company?” “I’m sorry, I can’t help you this time!” replied the second friend. “I can only go with you to your grave.”
The merchant was devastated. Then a weak voice whispered, “I’ll leave with you. I’ll follow you no matter where you go.” The merchant looked up, and there was his first friend, dressed in rags, so skinny, with sunken eyes and loose skin. Greatly upset by his treatment of his most loyal friend, the merchant said, “I’m so sorry, my dear friend, I should have taken much better care of you when I could have!”
We All Have Four Friends
This story is to remind us that we all have four friends in our lives:
4. The fourth friend is our body. No matter how much time and effort we lavish in
making it look good, it will always leave us when we die.
3. The third friend is our possessions, status and wealth. When we die, they go to others.
2. The second friend is our family and friends. No matter how close they were when we
were alive, the furthest they can go with us in death, is to the grave.
1. The first friend is our soul, often neglected in our pursuit of material, wealth and
sensual pleasures. And guess what? Our souls are actually the only thing that we can
take with us. Perhaps it’s better for us to cultivate and strengthen them now, rather
than wait until we’re on our death bed to lament what we could have and should have done.