The Blind Men & The Truth of The Elephant
Seven blind men were on a quest to discover the truth of the elephant.
One day, the first blind man bumped into something. “I’ve found the elephant!” he yelled with excitement.
The group cheered and asked, “What is it like??”
The first blind man felt around and replied, “Hmm. It’s long and thick like a big snake!”
The second blind man reached out his hand and felt the elephant that was infront of him. “No” he said, “It’s sharp and pointy, like a spear!”
The third blind man bent down and grabbed the elephant. “You’re both wrong! An elephant is wide and round, like a pillar!”
The fourth blind man described what he was touching and said, “Well you’re close, but an elephant is actually wide and flat, like a huge fan.”
The fifth blind man said, “You guys are fools! An elephant is clearly large, rough and flat, like a brick wall.”
The sixth blind man said, “Heresy! I know for a fact that an elephant is long and thin, like a piece of rope. You should all be burned at the stake!”
The six blind men continued their heated arguing, each one convinced that what they were touching told them the truth of the elephant.
The seventh blind man simply shook his head. “Silly men!” he said with a sigh. “Don’t you realise that you are but holding one part of the elephant and that in truth, all of you are right!”
The six blind men stopped their arguing and asked, “What do you mean?”
The seventh blind man continued, “Well, you…” addressing the first blind man, “…are simply touching the elephant’s long trunk which feels like a big snake.”
He then addressed the other men, “You are touching its tusks which feel like a spear. You are touching its leg which feels like a pillar. You are touching its ear which feels like a huge fan. You are touching its side which feels like a brick wall. And you, my fiery friend, are holding its tail which feels like a piece of rope. You can not see or feel the whole elephant. You can only experience the part you feel. You must not judge or condemn others for knowing the elephant to be different from you. You are all right! Each one of you should share your knowledge of the elephant with each other and together you will come to true enlightenment. Only when all of your truths are combined will you fully discover the truth of the elephant.”
“You are clearly a man of deep thoughtfulness…”
“Why thank you!” the seventh blind man replied. He then paused, confused. The voice he had just heard did not sound like any of the other blind men. “Sorry, who said that?” he asked.
“I did.” the voice replied. “I understand you didn’t notice that I’ve been standing here the whole time. I can see you are all blind.”
“Yes, we are. So.. you have the gift of sight then?” the seventh blind man asked curiously.
“I do” the voice replied. “Would you like me to share what I see?”
“Oh, yes!” the seventh blind man said with a smile. “You see, we are on a quest to discover the truth of the elephant, and we have finally found one! Please, tell me what you see!”
“Are you sure you want to know? By what you said to the others before, you seem to already possess great wisdom about the elephant.”
“But that’s exactly the point of what I was saying!” the seventh blind man said encouragingly. “All of our perspectives are valid and important. Please share the truth of what you see and then your truth can be added to our truths.”
“Fair enough.” the voice replied. “Although I’m not sure you’re going to like it. What I see is quite different to what you may think is before you. The first blind man bumped into one of the other men and grabbed on to his companion’s arm. His blind friend seemed used to this and so wasn’t aware that when he spoke of the elephant feeling long and thick, like a snake, he was actually talking of his arm.”
“His arm??” the seventh blind man exclaimed, “So the elephant isn’t there at all?”
“Oh the elephant is there. He was not far off in fact. But, being blind, he didn’t know where to reach and he just grabbed for whatever he could find. An arm is as good as an elephant to someone who can’t see any different. The next three blind men made a similar mistake.Â One man is touching the pointy end of a tree branch and it feels to him like a spear. Another man is reaching up and touching the tree’s broad, flat leaves which feel like a fan. And the third man is kneeling in front of the tree and hugging its wide pillar-like trunk. You were right that the elephant’s leg is very similar in shape. You were also right that these three men should stop their fighting and realise they are simply holding different parts of the same object. You just couldn’t see that their squabble is over the truth of the tree. Sadly, none of them are actually holding the elephant.”
The seventh blind man was stunned and confused. “And what of the others?” he asked.
“Well…” the voice continued, “There is another man who is, believe it or not, literally touching a brick wall. It feels exactly like a brick wall, but he so desperately wants it to be an elephant his imagination compliments his desires. He can not accept the truth that is right in front of him. I do so wish he could see. He might be disappointed at first, but walls are rather lovely to look at up close and eventually he could continue on his quest to find the elephant that is actually standing so close to him. As it is I fear, he may well be standing in front of a brick wall for years, thinking his quest is over.”
“How sad,” reflected the seventh blind man. “But what of the man holding the tail that felt like a rope? He was so confident! So quick to condemn the others! What is he really holding? A tail? A rope? A vine from a tree?”
“Nothing.” said the voice. “This blind man is holdingÂ absolutelyÂ nothing in his hands. He simply heard the other men claiming knowledge and felt like a fool when he reached out and couldn’t feel a thing. See, he wasn’t standing near the tree or the wall or the elephant. He was facing in completely the wrong direction. But his pride and his fear could not leave him empty handed, and so he claimed to hold the truth of the elephant, knowing no one else could prove otherwise.”
“Other than you, of course.”
“Other than me.” said the voice, sadly. “I see all too clearly his pride and his lies and his fear, and yet he will live his life and never see me.”
The seventh blind man and the voice went silent for a long while. Eventually, the man swallowed hard and asked, “Sir, please… Can you tell me who you are?”
“Haven’t you guessed already?” the voice replied with a smile. “I am the elephant.”
“The elephant??” the seventh blind man said, now more confused than ever. “But elephants can’t talk!”
“How do you know? You are on a quest to discover the truth of the elephant. How do you even know that an elephant has a trunk like a snake or ears like a fan or a tail like a rope? You cannot see. You are blind to the truth of the elephant and you are also blind to the truth of yourself. You claim wisdom and insight that all truths are right and everyone is just holding different parts of the elephant, but you do not know. You are as blind as everyone else. But maybe… you don’t have to be.”
“What do you mean?” the seventh blind man said, a little worried.
“Well, I am a talking elephant. I quite possibly possess other magical qualities that you are unaware of.”
“You mean…” the blind man stammered. “Can you heal my eyes?”
“Do you want me to?” the elephant asked curiously. “Do you realise what that would mean? If I gave you your sight, you would see things as they really are. You would see where I am and what I look like. You would know the truth and the truth would set you free. But there is a downside.”
“How could there be a downside to knowing the truth?” the blind man asked.
“Well, when you see the truth, you also see the lies. You would see your companions and be able to point them away from their false “elephants”, but they will still be blind. They will not believe you.”
“Of course they won’t, but they’ll believe you!”
“They will call you arrogant and narrow-minded for claiming to know the truth.They will rather you continued to teach what you taught before. That each of their truths are true. That message is one of peace and tolerance. The real truth divides and causes conflict. Why don’t you simply stay blind and continue n the path you were on when I found you?”
“But how could I? Oh, please let me see you! My quest was for the truth of the elephant… no matter what that turned out to be.”
And with that, something like scales fell from the man’s eyes and the brilliance of light pierced his vision. As his sight slowly came into focus, there before him was the scene of his six blind friends, exactly as the elephant had described them. And next to the tree, there was the elephant. Grand and magical and bright green. With a huge trunk and two glorious wings and smiling eyes that twinkled in the sunlight.
â€œOf course they wonâ€™t, but theyâ€™ll believe you!â€
There remains an unanswered (implied) question; Why doesn’t the elephant cure everyone’s blindness?
This is particularly strange given that they know very well what will happen… â€œYou would see your companions and be able to point them away from their false â€œelephantsâ€, but they will still be blind. They will not believe you.â€
Is there some way the seeing guy can convince the blind guys that they can see now? Ie. Catch an axe? Or is he to them exactly like another blind guy certain of what he knows (only using the language of being able to see) ?
If the latter, its a strange intervention by the elephant. And a strange search to be on altogether.
Well, I decided to leave the story hanging.
Maybe the elephant will cure them all.
I’m sure the story could continue to explore how the relationship between the elephant, the seeing man and his blind friends developed.
If I was the seeing man, I would definitely be asking the elephant to cure the blindness of all my friends.