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Volume III - The Art of Personality

Part II - Rasa Shastra - The Science of Life's Creative Forces

Chapter XVI


Monogamy and polygamy depend upon temperament. A monogamous temperament could never be otherwise than monogamous. And there are temperaments that will always have a tendency towards polygamy; no matter how happily placed in life, or how carefully guarded; these naturally seek variety of experience in sex.

In the lower animal creation, the polygamous temperament is seen to predominate. There one male has a number of females. One male is capable of procreation through a number of females, and in this respect man is no exception.

To permit polygamy is simply to recognize a natural human tendency with frankness. But to permit polygamy does not in any way mean the same as to enjoin polygamy. Muhammad, for instance, advised many temperaments that they should marry one woman only.

To permit polygamy does not mean, either, an interference with the ideal of monogamy, and it certainly need not tend to bring about a decrease in the number of perfectly mated monogamous lives. Among Muslims really monogamous lives are no rarer than among other communities that wish to maintain an appearance of conforming to a more artificial standard of morals. It would not, for instance, be difficult to find Muslim families where the men have been definitely monogamous over a period of four or five generations.

Since the male represents strength and power, his life is not only hazarded in the wars and battles that have existed in all ages, but is also risked in the adventurous sports and dangerous occupations of peace. There is consequently in all communities a greater loss of life in the male than in the female population. Under this disparity of numbers it is a question how far it is a virtue to enforce a system that robs a large number of women of their natural rights, without leaving them any choice in the matter. If it be a virtue it none the less means a loss of members of the community. Actually the average individual does not keep with honesty to such a standard, and so loses the opportunity of procreation without restraining passion. Thus morals are undermined, and prostitution encouraged.

In Afghanistan, which is considered backward in progress by the East, but where polygamy, being a natural tendency, is recognized both by law and religion, there are few instances of sexual crime; prostitution is practically unknown and there are no foundling children.

There are again cases when polygamy from every reasonable point of view seems a necessity. In a marriage, for instance, where the wife is insane, or diseased, or childless. And besides these physical reasons there are intellectual reasons. Looking into life one sees men unlike in all things. Perhaps one man is equal in his physical strength to ten average men; another is intellectually a giant among his fellows. In Sanskrit Mana means mind; and the real man is mind. One mind may be equal to a thousand minds. One mind may have innumerable sides, each eager for expression. One mind may be capable of managing innumerable activities, and of supporting innumerable interests.

It was the custom in a country where people lived by agriculture, that each man should receive as his portion a certain plot of land. Some availed themselves of the privilege and others disregarded their inheritance. Now one man, a good husbandman, saw a field lying untouched and unclaimed, and he passionately desired it. He knew that by his labor it could become a fair and beautiful place. And going to the ruler of his country, he demanded of him this field he had found lying waste and unclaimed.

The ruler replied, 'You are a good husbandman. You have in no wise neglected that which you have. And for myself I feel grieved that this goodly field that you have seen should lie overlooked. For it is my desire that my land should be a happy and rich country and that every part of it should be filled with prosperity. But if I should grant you this portion, what restraint could I have over other dishonest and neglectful husbandmen? For it is rare to find a man such as yourself. For the most part the husbandmen are slothful and thriftless, thieving and dishonest, scarcely worthy to keep that possession and that liberty which they already have, but ready at all times to snatch at what is not theirs by right.'

'But' said that good husbandman to the ruler, 'if a portion of land remains unclaimed, weeds will grow and all manner of harmful things may breed there. So there is a double loss to your country, for these harmful things spread to other enclosed and cultivated places, and the seeds of the weeds are blown everywhere by the wind.'

'This I know well,' said the ruler of the country, 'but it is my duty to make my laws having regard to the worst of my subjects.'

It is the lawless, the degenerate, and the mentally incapable who breed and multiply under a system of enforced monogamy. While families that have inherited talent and position are weakened by every kind of artificial restraint, and their unmarried womenfolk in tens of thousands lead artificial lives with natural instincts repressed by conventions of education, law, and religion.

It is not unusual for travelers from the West to comment with a kind of contempt upon the swarming poorer populations of Eastern towns. But it will never be easy for Western missionaries to turn the educated Eastern men and women to their views of civilization once these have seen the teeming streets and slums of European towns, where dirt, disease, and drunkenness have so degraded humanity. And not only in the slums of the West does one see violence done to human nature, but there are vast sections of humanity whose lives can be called little else but lives of slavery, who are caught and wedged in the wheels of a civilization that crushes and destroys so much beauty of ideal, of personal freedom and expression. Nature is adaptable, and the individual is not always fully conscious of his loss. Therefore, not being fully conscious of it suffers but slightly. The loss of the individual is none the less felt in its entirety by the whole of society. While such things exist under one scheme of civilization, that scheme cannot afford to ignore every other system.


In all ages the thinkers who sought to solve the problems of the universe have come to the realization that man is the result, and also the aim of creation. In other words, they have come to the realization that life, the consciousness, which alone is the divine essence, rises upwards from the lowest creation, from the mineral up through the vegetable and animal world, and fulfills its purpose in humanity.

The human creation has therefore been regarded by them as the most sacred creation. The whole tone of Christianity, for example, teaches this. The ideal of the birth of Christ gives an idea of the sacredness of human birth.

The same desire to elevate the ideal of human birth can be seen in every religion. And since religion has at all times held the lives of people within its grasp, religious customs of various kinds have developed everywhere to surround marriage with sacredness. Because of the idea of the sacredness of human birth, marriage was held sacred. But at the same time polygamy prevailed unrestricted by religion until the coming of Muhammad.

To see life as a whole is beyond the power of the generality of mankind. The outlook of the average man is bounded by consideration of the welfare of the race or community to which he happens to belong. In the cycles that form the history of civilization man evolves and degenerates, and often his gain in the eyes of succeeding generations has been quite outweighed by a corresponding loss. Man sees no further than he sees. And ever and again the turn of the cycle has brought a period of cruelty, of intolerance, and of degeneration.

Krishna has said, 'Whenever Dharma is threatened, then am I born.' The Sanskrit word Dharma has wider significance than that usually given to 'religion;' it embraces as well the things of Caesar and whole of duty and law. The words of all those great teachers who have appeared to guide humanity at various dark moments of history are of supreme value, for the very reason that in their vision and knowledge of life they touched what is beneath and beyond life, and saw creation as a whole.

It is remarkable that at no time in history was polygamy restricted by religion until the coming of Muhammad. He was the first religious teacher to regulate marriage. Until he spoke on the matter, religion, which had always made marriage a sacred union, had nowhere put any limit to the number of wives a man had. Christ, Muhammad's great predecessor had not pronounced directly or indirectly upon polygamy, the prevalent custom among the Jews of the Old Testament.

Looking at the surface of things many are tempted to wonder, although few will express the thought, whether those great teachers of humanity who themselves led polygamous lives were actuated by sensuality, or by some base conception of life and humanity. Abraham, the father of religion, holy and pure; Moses, the divinely inspired law-giver; Solomon, who represents wisdom and justice, were all these, whose words are read Sunday by Sunday in services dedicated to the worship of Christ, and also Krishna, the Lord of the Hindus, actuated by sensuality or some base conception of woman?

Digging into their histories we find something very different. Take for example the life of Muhammad, who has been so denounced and misunderstood by the ignorant, although he had a larger number of followers than any religious teacher. He, with his broad outlook on life, he, whose actions were prompted by the highest ideals, had the greatest respect for women as for all humanity. Even in the short oath of allegiance that he exacted from his followers he found a place to show his ideal of woman. For his adherents swore 'to speak no evil of women.' As a young man full of strength and vigor he was the faithful husband of Khadija; and the proof of his sincerity and faithfulness to her is seen in her unswerving devotion to him. She was the first to believe in his inspired message and to sustain him in it. For the eighteen years of their married life they were everything to each other. She shared with him the dangers and insults of those rigorous years, when to all except herself and two or three close friends there seemed no possibility that he should ever succeed in his mission.

How then does this picture of the first part of his life compare with the latter part, after the death of the beloved Khadija? A great virtue indeed dictated that later conduct of his, which has been so distorted by those who know but little of his teaching. The few who followed Muhammad believed in him to the extent that they lived for him alone. He was to them the representative of God. They sacrificed all, even their lives for him. And he, in his turn, gave them all the protection that he could during their lifetime and supported their widows and children when they died. These women could hardly have returned to their own people for they were outcasts. Widows of men rejected by their families for giving allegiance to Muhammad, with pride they became members of the household of their Prophet.

Not even the most slanderous of the Prophet's detractors has been able to deny that they lived in happiness and harmony; nor able to prove that he ever dealt otherwise than kindly with the women whom he thus took under his care, many of whom were his wives in name only.

Each nation exaggerates the outstanding qualities of the hero it glorifies, and to each the history of the lord and hero of an alien faith, as it is told by its devotees, appears not only incredible but also repellent. The followers of Muhammad proudly trace relationship with their honored teacher. Thus no doubt this part of his life has been given an unreal prominence, and stories have arisen which have been maliciously perverted by other nations and creeds, unable to appreciate their origin. At the same time it is certain that Muhammad in this way brought about reconciliations between enemy tribes, to the great benefit of his people; a fact that his followers have always gratefully recognized. For the orphans and dependents of families that had been divided by ancient jealousies and blood feuds met together on an equal footing, as honored members of one family, under his protection.

In this way he gave to his countrymen a new ideal of patriotism. Hali, the poet of modern Hindustan, the beauty of whose verses and whose ideas of religious and social reform have evoked the admiration not only of his own countrymen, but also of the Western world, has expressed this fact in a beautiful lyric, which may be thus roughly translated into prose:

He who was truly a merciful teacher,
Who helped the feeble to fulfill their lives,
Who was an ever-present help in sorrow,
Who grieved with his own people and in the trouble of others,
He was my beloved Muhammad.

He who forgave the faults of the wrongdoers,
Who cleansed the hearts of the timorous and despairing from their fear,
Who vanquished evil with power and with might,
Who reconciled families long at war and embittered against each other,
He was my beloved Muhammad.

Akbar, the memory of whose reign is engraved upon the hearts of Hindu and Muslim alike for his wisdom in reconciling these two faiths, followed in this the example of the Prophet. For besides the freedom that he gave to his subjects to worship in their own way, whether Christian or Jew, Hindu or Muslim, treating the religion of each community not only with sympathy but also with respect, he also chose princesses from different provinces for his wives, and so promoted understanding between followers of different religions, different standards of morals, and different customs. And his reign is honored by all Indians as the most peaceful in the whole history of the Mogul Empire.

It was by quality of mind that the great teachers impressed their messages upon such vast sections of humanity. One mind may be equal to a hundred minds. Another to a thousand minds, such is the difference in the quality of men's minds. And it is the quality of a great mind that finds truth, not a quantity of lesser minds. The teaching of any of the great leaders of humanity is of greater value than the opinion that filters through any section of average humanity ant any time in history. For the great thinker who contemplates the flow of that divine consciousness, which is life, rises in his contemplation above the boundaries, which must limit the view of average men at any and every stage of civilization.

checked 18-Oct-2005