Home » » One can state what one can feel but truth can only be understood when object is seen as a whole, and not as parts.

One can state what one can feel but truth can only be understood when object is seen as a whole, and not as parts.

A long time ago in the valley of the Brahmaputra River in India there lived six men who were much inclined to boast of their wit and lore. Though they were no longer young and had all been blind since birth, they would compete with each other to see who could tell the tallest story.

One day, however, they fell to arguing. The object of their dispute was the elephant. Now, since each was blind, none had ever seen that mighty beast of whom so many tales are told. So, to satisfy their minds and settle the dispute, they decided to go and seek out an elephant.

Having hired a young guide, Dookiram by name, they set out early one morning in single file along the forest track, each placing his hands on the back of the man in front. It was not long before they came to a forest clearing where a huge bull elephant, quite tame, was standing contemplating his menu for the day.

The six blind men became quite excited; at last they would satisfy their minds. Thus it was that the men took turns to investigate the elephant’s shape and form.

As all six men were blind, neither of them could see the whole elephant and approached the elephant from different directions. After encountering the elephant, each man proclaimed in turn:

“O my brothers,” the first man at once cried out, “it is as sure as I am wise that this elephant is like a great mud wall baked hard in the sun.”

“Now, my brothers,” the second man exclaimed with a cry of dawning recognition, “I can tell you what shape this elephant is – he is exactly like a spear.”

The others smiled in disbelief.

“Why, dear brothers, do you not see,” said the third man, “this elephant is very much like a rope,” he shouted.

“Ha, I thought as much,” the fourth man declared excitedly, “this elephant much resembles a serpent.”

The others snorted their contempt.

“Good gracious, brothers,” the fifth man called out, “even a blind man can see what shape the elephant resembles most. Why he’s mightily like a fan.”

At last, it was the turn of the sixth old fellow and he proclaimed, “This sturdy pillar, brothers, mine, feels exactly like the trunk of a great areca palm tree.”

Of course, no one believed him.

Their curiosity satisfied, they all linked hands and followed the guide, Dookiram, back to the village. Once there, seated beneath a waving palm, the six blind men began disputing loud and long. Each now had his own opinion, firmly based on his own experience, of what an elephant is really like. For after all, each had felt the elephant for himself and knew that he was right!

And so indeed he was. For depending on how the elephant is seen, each blind man was partly right, though all were in the wrong.

Submitted by Camilia
Riordan, 1986, pp. 30-33

An ancient and well known fable from India.
What do the blind men have to teach us?

Poem version by John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887):

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 an 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!

One can state what one can feel but truth can only be understood when object is seen as a whole, and not as parts.

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