Bill Krebaum wrote:
"The tale of the elephant and the blind men is quite instructive. Do you
know where it comes from? Is it available in print?"<
I have a poetic version of it in "The Riverside Anthology of Children's
Literature, 6th Ed." It is in the section entitled "Modern Fables,"
with the author listed as John G. Saxe. Here's the text:
The Blind Men and the Elephant
A fable that owes much to the Jataka tale "The RedBud Tree," this is a
nineteenth-century verse that presents the same moral. [From John
Godfrey Saxe, "Poems" (Boston, 1852).]
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, "Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!
The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"
The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he;
"Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear
Said, "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!
The sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong.
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong.
I've heard other versions as well, shorter than this, with only 4 blind
men (snake, wall, tree, and rope) and been told that it is an ancient
I've never heard it told quite the way Doug presents it, though. Most
notably different are the bit about the tail as the common root, and the
interpretations of the parts as specifically representative of different
philosophies. That's the most sophisticated version I've been exposed
to, and my favorite. :-)
Doug Freyburger wrote:
"What you are perceiving as many gods that Pagans worship, is in fact,
nothing more than different aspects of the One God.
Consider that tale of the blind men and the elephant. Several blind men
travelling together heard of an elephant and were conducted to one. One
felt the trunk and said "An elephant is a snake". One felt the legs and
siad "An elephant is a forest" an other felt the body and siad "An
elephant is a wall", and the last one felt the tale and said "An
elephant is a collection of aspects like the branches of a bush, each
leading back to a single common root".
When discussing other religions, think of this tale. Which of the blind
men are you? The snake and wall ones are monotheists who disagree on the
nature of diety. The forest one is a ploytheist. The tail one deals with
aspects and how they can make monotheism and ploytheism seem the same.
In the end, they are all feeling different pieces of the same elephant,
and they are all correct in their own context, but their context is
incomplete, as any human context must be."<
And this is exactly what I was saying in my original post "On
And personally, I have a little problem with the "being" part of
"supreme being," as would some of those Buddhists and Hindus, I think.
Brahman (whatever you wish to call it) is 'beyond' being or non-being.
Precedes existence or non-existence. Neither is nor is not. "Neti neti"
Anybody ever run across 'that' gripe before?
"Every god, every mythology, every religion is true..."
--- Joseph Campbell