When the life and teachings of men like Muhammed and Buddha are compared, the most extraordinary differences become apparent. What in effect Buddha placed before his followers as the highest ideal was, "You may live a good life as a layman, but if you want to live a superior life you must become a monk." Muhammed, on the other hand, said literally, "No faithful follower of mine shall ever become a monk." He even told his followers that under certain conditions they could practise polygamy and have four wives. Both these men are revered as wise, and yet such divergences exist in their teaching. The divergence arose because in their wisdom they had consideration for the degree of evolution of the people to whom they spoke, of their physical, mental, and ethical needs, and of the circumstances of their lives. They gave to the people what they most needed, and the highest wisdom within their comprehension. They did not give them the hidden philosophy, the highest teaching open to man.
Even today it is useless to preach ethics to a gangster. He is not ready. Through the power of the Mind, a Sage can place himself in perfect sympathy with every man. He can see the next step ahead which can be taken without undue difficulty. It was temperamentally and climatically easy for the Indians of that period to renounce marriage, and it was therefore easy for Buddha to bring them a step further along the path by teaching complete monasticism. But the wild tribes amongst whom Muhammed lived could only grasp something much grosser, and so Muhammed in his wisdom gave them what would make them a little less savage; he gave them a practical ethical code for daily living, and at the same time stimulated their faith in after-death rewards. Instead of telling them to retire to monasteries, which they were incapable of doing, and instead of telling them to practise meditation, which they would not have understood, he said in effect "No, go on with your daily life but five times a day let go of all personal affairs for a few minutes. Kneel down, remember God, and pray." The Arab people of that time could do that, and it acted as a check on their more barbarous instincts.
Such was the wisdom of Muhammed and Buddha. But for us in the twentieth century to take the path of either would be foolishness, because it was not given to us but to a people of other times. The Sages do not give a doctrine which is once and for all delivered to all mankind. They give a teaching suited to a particular section of mankind and for a particular period.
-- Notebooks Category 6: Emotions and Ethics > Chapter 1: Uplift Character > # 316