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Volume III - The Art of Personality

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

Chapter XVIII


The world looks with contempt on the woman of the street, as a web of evil that drags men's lives to ruin; as a being whose conduct cannot be honorable, as one scarcely worthy of being spoken of. But she gives a welcome to many a one who is quite destitute, or so low or so disagreeable that he could find no other refuge if refused one by her. The drunken dissipated men, blind with animal passion; men traveling; strangers in a town who are lonely; most strange of all, men who are advised by a physician to have intercourse with a woman, all find these a welcome at her door. She is the victim of so much of the evil of the world; she is a martyr crushed by the refuse of the world. She is as it were a human cesspool of the dirt and degradation of society.

Things appear good or bad to the individual according to his own standard, formed usually on his own good or bad experiences of life. But it is possible to leave aside one's own standard, except as a means by which to judge oneself, and to search for the hidden cause of results. If a man does this he will find innumerable customs existing for material profit which are not called prostitution although there is really no other name for them.

From the earliest times man has bought and sold all things that he needed, and he seldom considers the real value of what he buys, but he fixes a price by the degree of his need and by his difficulty in satisfying it. For instance, in wealthy European cities one has seen the working day of workmen, and even of children, sold for next to nothing, so that the misery of their conditions cried aloud. And again at another time they have received a wage for the same work that enabled them to lift their heads with some of the dignity that human kind should show. Or again, at the other extreme, children have been paid a wage that could have supported a whole family. And these differences in money paid for the same working lives depended on no other fact than the supply of hands in the world of industry. Thus most unnatural customs appear natural to man, who still prides himself on the thought that mankind is always evolving, and that the latest phase of civilization is the best from all points of view.

And however unnatural it may seem to a man, it should be natural to him that the least price he can give to a woman in exchange for herself is his heart, even when he offers to contract marriage with her. If a woman through poverty, willingly sells him her body for money, it is shame to him if he does not meet her needs and help her from principle, and not only from lust.


East and West, women show the same unrelenting attitude of sternness towards the prostitute; and one reason is that in all countries women are the main upholders of religion, and no great religion has ever permitted prostitution. But the chief reason for this sternness is undoubtedly the truth, unconsciously known to everyone, that although the human being who has never had an ideal is to be pitied, the woman who has had an ideal and has allowed the circumstances of life to break it, has herself thrown away her soul. And it is hard for any woman to tolerate the thought that another woman should be born without an ideal of womanhood.

'The prostitute, grown old, makes a business of her calling, and the girls she has are her slaves,' says Sadi. Where slavery was banished in its outward appearance in society, prostitution, which is really a slave business, simply changed hands. The expert prostitute is the center of this traffic. She not only brings up young girls to it, taking her share of the profits, but also to her gravitates the ruined or deserted women, who are too ashamed to go home or who perhaps have none to go to. Before her they feel no shame. And with her welcome, unspoiled by the cold reproaches of hard speech that the virtuous too often proffer with their assistance, she gives kindness and sympathy and also practical help and a means of subsistence.

Only in her spring-like youth does the prostitute find anyone to care for her. After that time is passed she often begins to live on the earnings of other women. Sometimes she herself is in the hands of a man who is the real slave owner of the business; and at other times she has her men agents who help her to spread her trade for their own profit.

The customs of this trade, which is learned and taught like any other, seem to vary little from country to country; although here and there one finds definite reasons why it should flourish a little more or less. When one part of a community is considered entirely subject to another part, or where one race is subject to another in the same country, this business seems to increase. Also military camps have always promoted it. The very conditions of camp life must give scope to it.

Sometimes the human being finds himself in an occupation, which works against this conscience. He follows it for the sake of his livelihood only. It satisfies him for a time because it satisfies his material needs, but there comes a time in his development when he can bear his yoke no longer. And many times, even in the lives of the most degraded, comes this moment when they feel that they must grow out of their surroundings, or break away at all costs.

There was once an Indian woman, a singer, who led this degraded life of the prostitute, but she had one quality. When others sang only to please the rich, she would also sing to those who could not pay her. And this generosity in her was the means of leading her to meet and see such souls as she would hardly otherwise have seen in that profession. At last the qualities of kindness and charity of heart so developed in her that her voice became an inspiration and a source of uplift to many devotional souls. And thus she grew away from her profession and in the end became renowned for her piety throughout India.


The outlook of the great teachers whose teachings have changed the outlook upon life of millions and millions in the world, has always been alike in this: they have never been willing to point out the fault in another, and to hurt the faulty one. It was in their best interest for the dignity of humanity, in their modesty and service, that lay the beauty and greatness of their great lives.

The mystic voice of Amir has said, 'Such beauty lies in Thy forgiveness, that it seems to me that it would have been a sin in me if I had not sinned; for then I should not have known Thy loving kindness and the wonder and beauty of Thy true nature and being.'

Crime is natural. If crime were not natural, from where would it come? All men are subject to fault; their very virtues develop into faults. The great teacher has, therefore, taught patience, which means to be patient, and not to expect patience. He has taught respect, which means to show respect, not to demand it. He has taught unselfishness, which means to be unselfish without expecting a reward. The great teacher has found his religion in his study of life, and has shown the interdependence of human lives; and that what a man gives, that he receives. He has taught man to lift his light upon high, so that he may live in the light; in that light which is never extinguished in man although usually kept under a covering of cloud or bushel of selfishness and greed, so that its owner lives in a darkened room.

There comes a stage in the moral evolution of man when he perceives and understands the moral of beneficence, and he learns to return good for evil. At this stage in his progress he hears a chord that connects and runs through him and through all. He finds himself as in a dome, in which good and evil find re-echoing tones. Evil done to him echoes within him in a desire to do evil in return; and good done to him echoes within him in a desire to return good. Therefore, in order that his own actions may in their turn call out nothing but good, he desires always to do good, and to return both good for good and good for evil.

But there is a higher stage to which he may progress. And then it seems to him that this connecting chord swells into a great sea, and he realizes that the interdependence of lives is such, because the spirit is one, and because it is the spirit that unites and the spirit that gives life.

checked 18-Oct-2005