The Fable of The Blind Men and the Elephant

With thanks to Inma VP for the inspiration and the image above (Image creator is unknown) …. Please read to end of poem …

THE BLIND MEN AND THE ELEPHANT.
A HINDU FABLE.

A poem by John Godfrey Saxe (1872) illustrates th story, and the issue.

i.

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.

ii.

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!”

iii.

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried: “Ho!—what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ‘t is mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

iv.

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!”

v.

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he;
” ‘T is clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

vi.

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!”

vii.

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!”

viii.

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!

Moral

So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

But surely the picture of the blind men and the elephant also points to something bigger — The elephant itself?

 

Blind Men and the Elephant – Image Creator is Unknown

Indeed, each of the blind man has a limited perspective on the objective truth, but that doesn’t mean a truth isn’t there, for truth isn’t relative at all – the elephant is there to discover in its totality.

In the areas of the Spiritual or Religious and theology, we have only our personal perspective, in other disciplines we may have hints, even so this doesn’t mean any and all versions of Truth are equally valid. Actually, if we know (or believe) that the Whole Elephant is there, perhaps we should seek every opportunity to experience more of the elephant, a metaphor for example for the Devine?

In mankind’s attempt to understand his environment, we codify what we see in a way which we can understand within the knowledge and perspectives we have available at the time. As we evolve I would suggest that our perspective will …. we may see more of the elephant, perhaps one day we may see all of the elephant.

Here, I would give the floor to a beautiful mind with regard to an aspect of this …

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth” – Marcus Aurelius

Further From Wikipedia …

Modern treatments

The story is seen as a metaphor in many disciplines, being pressed into service as an analogy in fields well beyond the traditional. In physics, it has been seen as an analogy for the wave–particle duality.[19] In biology, the way the blind men hold onto different parts of the elephant has been seen as a good analogy for the Polyclonal B cell response.

“Blind men and elephant”, from Martha Adelaide Holton & Charles Madison Curry, Holton-Curry readers, 1914.

The fable is one of a number of tales that cast light on the response of hearers or readers to the story itself. Idries Shah has commented on this element of self-reference in the many interpretations of the story, and its function as a teaching story:

…people address themselves to this story in one or more interpretations. They then accept or reject them. Now they can feel happy; they have arrived at an opinion about the matter. According to their conditioning they produce the answer. Now look at their answers. Some will say that this is a fascinating and touching allegory of the presence of God. Others will say that it is showing people how stupid mankind can be. Some say it is anti-scholastic. Others that it is just a tale copied by Rumi from Sanai – and so on. Shah adapted the tale in his book The Dermis Probe. This version begins with a conference of scientists, from different fields of expertise, presenting their conflicting conclusions on the material upon which a camera is focused. As the camera slowly zooms out it gradually becomes clear that the material under examination is the hide of an African elephant. The words ‘The Parts Are Greater Than The Whole’ then appear on the screen. This retelling formed the script for a short four-minute film by the animator Richard Williams. The film was chosen as an Outstanding Film of the Year and was exhibited at the London and New York film festivals.

The story enjoys a continuing appeal, as shown by the number of illustrated children’s books of the fable; there is one for instance by Paul Galdone and another, Seven Blind Mice, by Ed Young (1992).

 

“We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” — Werner Heisenberg

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The Ability to Observe without Evaluating

In my view and perhaps the view of others, for just and compassionate communications, we will all evolve, each in their own time to separate the Observation from the evaluation. I say this for when we combine observation with evaluation (our ego), others may hear criticism and may take offence (their ego) to what we are saying, or they will hear our projected observation that may be quite uninformed and therefore unjust. For each time we engage with the world, we interpret it through our ego, beliefs, fears, experience and learned dogma.

The human mind generally looks at every experience or thing as something to be labelled, it discriminates and comes to a conclusion perhaps in the range from good to bad … in this way by labelling an experience, good or bad, right or wrong, even profit or loss or pain or pleasure – we can then move on because we have am outcome, we have a judgement on the experience or the event, hence in doing this we actually create duality in the world as we go along. However despite all I say below, there are times when we do need to evaluate circumstances and experiences to navigate safely the physical duality world, the world of form and feelings.

From our individual beliefs and experiences we may each of us have a different understanding of words, people or events, as different beliefs on what things mean, come from our varied life experiences, beliefs and dogma – hence it is not unusual that many of us amy have a different perspective on any given experience.

To observe without evaluating is a higher state of consciousness, the highest form of intelligence.

There are those who unconsciously react without thought or reflection, who are driven by their desires, their egos, some dogma, their past, as well as those with the illusion of knowledge and who in their beliefs are seemingly devoid of compassion, empathy or kindness.

However this idea of rugged individualism will ultimately fail, it is failing now, for in my view humanity thrives best in concert with others in a collaborative, co-operative dynamic, rather than the current state of blame, judgement, regurgitated dogma which results in conflict and confrontation.

For me, I am happy to understand that we are NOT just our minds – however the mind is not the best tool on it’s own to understand our motivations, our feelings, which may initiate actions. The stimulus … “why” we do things, but as I have mentioned previously on this site, understanding this is possible for those that wish it to.

My view that each time we judge others and then project our own beliefs (which originated from our experiences, dogma, our beliefs and thus expectations) as ego onto others we reveal an unhealed part of ourselves, a part of us that is not strong, authentic and whole.

Whilst it may be impossible not to form an impression of some kind for someone we just met, or form an opinion of the behaviours of others we already know – what we can do, is change what happens next, for to judge another is to assume a position to which we have no right …. we cannot know another for we have not lived their life, walked in their shoes, so to speak, the best we can do is to assume they are like us – which is an illusion, as in fact many of us hardly know ourselves, so to judge another, to feel superior over another is in my perspective a failing, a destructive aspect of society and humanity.

Tolerance … Wonderful diversity … for we are all the same, we all seek engagement with our community, our friends and those we love. Everyone, every life has an equal value in the Universe.

For me, Judgement and projection of our beliefs onto others is not an enlightened activity, it is, like competition and comparison essentially meaningless.

Once we have the awareness of this aspect of us and we desire to change this propensity to judge and project, it can and is ameliorated and alleviated over time, normally by the internal witnessing of your thoughts and actions. It is something we have to do for ourselves, for we cannot save or change others, for change is something we each have to do for ourselves.

We must remember that we are the witness to the story, not the player in the story.

As Buddha said …. “Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, the wise man, gathering it little by little, fills himself with good.”

My posts are simply my perspective and are offered in the spirit of discovery, exploration and empowerment – take what resonates with you and leave the rest.

Writing a Healing Journal

Writing meditation is an exercise that I have used, and today some 20+ years later I still carry a notebook.

The purpose of this is to help direct our mind to understand and then change our behavior, by understanding the causality of that behaviour. This created for me a place to start.

The way I have understood this is that any challenge we have undergone, in the past or even a current challenge is often not understood at a feeling level – because we are face to face with it, we cannot understand the entirety of the experience.

Find your ideal outdoor space and start to write

Hence by writing we can forge a connection between the conscious mind and that part of our mind that houses feelings. Now do correct me if I am wrong but feelings are placed in the mammalian part of the brain, referred to as the Limbic system … it’s where emotions and feelings are, it also where all decisions are made … so I have found by writing every day we gradually form a link between the feeling part of the mind and the rational mind … over time we create a perspective as we convert the feelings into something we can understand … a cause .. we have to do this as the Limbic system does not have language hence, we have to understand its messages another way …. gradual and regular journal writing did that for me, perhaps it can do it for you?

Gradually over time, we form a link between the parts of the brain and will understand that a frustration we might be feeling may be something like a past regret, a depression or some level of anxiousness about something in the future …the quickest way to start to understand this is to say …. if you are feeling guilt, depression or shameful then the event you are thinking about occurred in the past. If you are feeling fearful or anxious then the event you are concerned you expect it to occur in the future.

Many of the common feelings come from fear … control comes from fear, aggression comes from fear … even conformity is based on control which mostly comes from fear, there can also be fear that non-conformity will hinder us in attaining their goals or being accepted … Governments love it, but conformity is a pipe dream as it is quite unattainable – that is where Government use fear, blaming minorities, scarcity and alleged external threats to control us, to subdue us. The only real threat to most countries comes from within, from the egos of those in power, those with a profile and the illusion of knowledge and maybe even the politicians themselves.

This whole experience is about how you and I relate to what makes up our personal world, what is our relationship to its various parts.

For this reason, once you discover what your concerns are, divide them into two groups, what you can do something about, like change your attitude to a past personal event or forgive those concerned (this brings freedom as well) and the second group … those things we can do nothing about … the actions of Government and bureaucracy … something that individually we can do little about … the reason we split the triggers, the categories for concern, is that we need to empower ourselves and trying to make sense of or understand a Government / Bureaucratic action is difficult, implausible … but detaching from it, we are no longer a victim, we can understand what is going on within.

To start, take a few minutes a day (most days if you can) … find a quiet place and start writing … I would go down to the local park, take my shoes and socks off, ground myself in the grass or the soil and begin.

I have found that after about a week of being quiet and writing, you will find yourself becoming more in tune with your feelings, you will become calmer … this can help with your day to day relationships —- My experience is that the changes in your understanding and behaviour will take place without any conscious effort, no matter how old, or what has happened in the past in the normal course of your life, writing a journal will literally calm and begin to bring a greater understanding to your life in just a matter of a few weeks.

A good thing about writing is that we can go back and look at it gain in the future, in my case this allowed me to look at what I had learnt and how I had changed. When an event no longer confronted me, I would remove the pages and burn them …. for some reason those issues would only very rarely return.

Though this experience behind this post is many years old, and speaks to an experience even older, I thought it may have value to someone.

This is not the only way, do what works for you, as I have said before my articles are simply my perspective and they are offered in the spirit of discovery and empowerment – take what resonates with you and leave the rest.

A Process of facing fears and personal transformation

Though this post is many years old, and speaks to an experience even older, I thought perhaps some of it may have value to someone.

I had been aware for some time of my limiting thoughts, emotional blocks and unconscious behaviours – these are basically hangovers from our past, our previous learned responses which had outlived their usefulness to the person we might wish to be …. for me they were stopping me taking a leap … however the strange part is that I had the answer within me .. what I needed to do was repeat a process which I had carried out once before – for when you think about it, everything in life is a process, in this case to confront these behaviours which were now irrelevant to my life and renew myself … in a way to renounce who and what I was, and allow myself the freedom to introduce myself to what next evolution of me … the same process is available for everyone, from that awareness, we eventually come to the Acceptance that action is needed … then when we are ready we do take action.

 

Thank you to the unknown photographers.

Twenty five years ago, I went through a period of intense personal change – looking back now, the process was based quite loosely on the 12 step program .. a proven program, which has been going since 1935 … in my case I am not driven by the need to stop drinking, but by the need to use the Transformational 12 steps program to help bring around personal change … to change the way I react without thinking – so that basically I don’t .. in fact to change my default response to pause and reflection before I respond – giving me that time to consider the impact of my words and deeds on others, but also our own evolution … in other words to respond from strength, instead of reacting from weakness – for me the outcome helped made me whole – after the completion of the program, I am content from within me … however the work doesn’t stop there, for now on it is also a continual process of self assessment, the development of your internal witness – on this occasion , I knew it was time, I was committed to change, in fact, I had been looking for a way to make it happen for months … and just before this time, I felt I was in darkness, always feeling my way forward, metaphorically falling over stuff .. this stuff was my past, my beliefs, my history, my limitations.

Note before starting … you need to be committed to this course of action without any reservation … if you are not committed, it won’t work .. you can’t fake it … it’s a process – I needed to follow the 12 steps, some are not easy because they can be a very confronting process – have the courage and belief in the process to follow where they lead, for if you want your future to be different from your today … it is journey to take .. you might use the analogy that the process, is almost a low level reformat of the way we look at life … it is equivalent to a process of clean up and clean out — for me it was worth it, let me assure you.

I went to a local AA meeting, just to feel the atmosphere .. to meet and talk to the people who had successfully come through the program .. a true strength, a compassion, but an overall humbleness from those (old timers) who had completed the program was all I felt … I went ahead with the steps in order, going through each until I was absolutely happy that I was totally committed to it – for me, as I was so committed to change and my previous experience with the program, it was not as difficult as I imagined, for I had been ready for such a process since before 2000.

You have to want to do it .. I might add it doesn’t magically rid your personality of these reactions to stimulus, again its a process, what it does is that it makes you very aware of your personal triggers that create reactions and behaviours, it allows you to confront them and once you have, there is no fear, there is just a growing contentment, happiness, love and a strength – a wish to help others – remember we all have fears and reactive demons at sometime on our path, our journey.

I believed I needed to become less reactive to stimulus .. to be mindful, present in the moment, to forgive and forget the past hurts and failures .. to bring into the present only the learning, my goal was to live life mindfully, part of which means we need to stay present .. for that is the only place where anything is created, the only time when things are real and can be done … this also means letting go of expectations (investing in them anyway), whatever they are, to be open to the Universe through love and abundance. I came to the realisation that when we invest in expectations we are by the very nature, creating illusions as these events are in the future, they haven’t happened yet, as Buddha said attachments bring suffering, so if the expectations are unrealistic we are in fact setting ourselves up for disappointment and perhaps pain.

If you feel the need, from the awareness of self, look at the process, if you need any help … please write … I will help how I can.

Since this, I have had some realizations that came from unblocking my limitations, incredible clarity has come … all this was like breaking through the shell if you like that had enclosed my understanding … now I guess I am within a bigger shell … one day I will push through those limitations as well.

It took me a while to write about this … personal transformation is something we can only do for ourselves and mostly by ourselves … the change comes from within in fact everything does … it brought me strength, forgiveness, a commitment to love, to the self, and to my future self …. Good Luck!

This is not the only way, do what works for you, as I have said before my articles are simply my perspective and they are offered in the spirit of discovery and empowerment – take what resonates with you and leave the rest.

Why you might not want to Visit India.

I understand why you might not want to visit India …. It is a most confronting experience; the contrast is so evident between the rich and the poor who have literally nothing …. with little of no opportunity to improve their lives … India over time makes you question everything you thought was human, equitable and caring and truly makes you wonder about how this can be … but for me it also stripped away my own past and the connection to all that was there – all these learning experiences .. become integrated and distant from your present moment .. they make you more present and understanding, because we have to be, continual awareness of your surroundings is critical … the effect was that it felt like the past was being pushed further and further away from the present … so for that I am thankful – now those past difficult times are absent from my mind … any hurt no longer exists – it is but a past memory without emotive attachment.

There are no social programs to catch the poor … human life seems to have little value … strangely it was a surprise for me to remember after I arrived in India that it truly is a third world country, I guess I had little concept of what that actually meant …. It reminded me of another country when I was a child of about 10 when Dad moved us to the Solomon Islands … (the nature of roads, buildings and infrastructure) but the Polynesian peoples are a much more open and sharing culture, or at least they were then …. The reasons why India is a third world country were everywhere around us …. Workmen trying to cut thick rebar (reinforcing iron) with a chisel and a small sledge hammer rather than a grinder or saw – taking forever – bamboo scafolding reaching high on construction sites … wages are low and safety procedures seem lax … for instance power cables running along what passes for a footpath at waist height – unterminated power cables open on the street ,,,, no way was I going to find out if they were live, by touching them …Beggars … the real ones … (those who aren’t working for someone else in an enterprise) some will accost you as you come out of shops, restaurants and tut-tuts …. Then on the human side you have the lone mother with her baby … this visage breaks your heart … you can feel it … a beautiful child just starting out in life … and it hits you like a brick that this child, whose mother loves more than life itself most likely has little chance of living a long life …. You just give what you can – they will accept what you give them, as little as 10 rupees (about USD$0.15)… for that much will buy a meal in the street stalls … The medical system is poor, some say abysmal…. I have been told that people can collapse in the street and people will walk over them … but won’t help them. When I was ill I went to the local private hospital … where I was treated by a Western Educated specialist Doctor – blood was taken … the other tests — all appeared online via a private link later the same day. The whole experience, the visit to Doctor, Tests and pharmaceuticals cost less than USD$25.00.

So Yes I understand totally why you don’t want to go to India as a tourist …. I know I would not go again unless I went with someone … someone to have my back – I had thought that if I went again, I would go to Goa … the former Portuguese colony on the West coast, south on Mumbai …. Much more familiar and accepting to western eyes and values … I am told.

Many of these observations are from the aspect of a remote observer – a tourist if you will … but when you live in one place as a base for months … the Indian people reveal their caring side, and their humanity … it’s just different from mine … they are a different culture, hence have a different perspective on life. I still receive emails from people I met there …. They like us are living day to day and trying to live and make sense of the present moment .. unlike us … the biggest aspect of their culture is that lack of caring for others, relevant education and hence opportunity …. It seems for many to be their ambition is to have a full time job in the totally bloated Bureaucracy – But perhaps that will change over time … I hope for the sake of the 160 million “Untouchables” that something does … for they are condemned by their birth in the most part, to a life we could not even conceive of.

As I said on one of my blogs … if you go to India …. (1) Only drink bottled water … never drink tap water (2) Before you drink the bottled water, make sure that the cap seal is in place as some sellers will refill water bottles with tap water – don’t drink this, for you will get ill. (3) Take toilet paper with you everywhere … true!

E.M. Forster said “When you go to India, you come face to face with yourself” – I couldn’t agree more!

Meditation – a first look

Let’s look at an overview of meditation itself.

For me, I believe we don’t meditate to find peace. We meditate to be at peace with what we find – in Mindfulness meditation we develop the ability to accept the emotions and feelings that occur during the meditation.

For meditation, we need to develop the ability to stay present. What I mean by that is to stay in the moment, without reliving the past or having expectations about the future.

Imagine yourself meditating half way down a long hallway in a house, from the front door to the back door. The thoughts come in the front door, you note them and accept them (for they are you) … then you lightly move on, without engaging in the thought itself, (it will go, once you don’t validate it) the thought then moves on down the hallway and out the back door, it may come back, each time it does follow the same process, it will lose its urgency – its .. “you need to engage with me.”

The thought may be about the past (depression, regret or shame perhaps) or about the future, such as anxiety or fear about a forthcoming event, or perhaps the fear of loss. We cannot invest or follow the thought (no matter how important or urgent it seems), for the moment we do, we drop out of meditation, because we are no longer present, so we can no longer be mindful.

Once we regularly meditate, we develop mindfulness, in part it allows us to understand what we can change, and what we can’t – to detach from things we cannot control, for instance, other people’s action (or any influence outside of us) that effects us. I find now, that mindfulness itself is not difficult, but what is difficult is to remember to be mindful in our day to day lives.

Note; Mediation is not something to be achieved, it is something we have to be the person to properly meditate – it can be a slow process of becoming, but take heart, even sitting on a mat for 30 seconds with a clear mind, is worth celebrating, remember little steps forward – often. Each day if you truly wish it, it will get better it – but it does takes time – remember nothing worth having is a easy fix.

Sleep – the great restorer

Once I regularly meditated, it affected my whole life. Sleep, became deep and restorative. Sleep, especially uninterrupted sleep can be elusive, yet mindfulness meditation assisted me in getting more restorative regular sleep, without medication.

Mindfulness meditation can allow us to gradually develop greater control over our emotions, which leads to clarity of thought in difficult situations. For me the revelation was that once I realised that everything changes, nothing seems to be that imperative in the moment, remember it’s not the situation that is causing you pain, it is your thoughts about the situation.

India – a happenstance, an inspiration

I have had many challenges in my time in India, culturally, emotionally, physically and health wise, they have dramatically changed me, to in my view, prepare me for what is to come.

More than anything they have changed how I look at large groups of people, the herd of humanity so to speak, it enabled me to change, to assume nothing, to project nothing, when we can do this we can push through the surface and to see them for who they are as individuals. People in India are little different to us, except in that they are a product of their culture, their community, their environment and beliefs, and this can manifest in many ways, one maybe an emotional repression, but remember they all want what we want at the end of the day … their life like ours is a reflection of the personality, for most of humanity this is the ego mind which creates our life individually and on a wider view, collectively for all of us.

This experience came as I hobbled across the road yesterday in Dehradun. A young man, without legs … sitting on a kind of board with wheels came up to me … it truly breaks your heart, but a big smile on his face changes the impact, changes everything – it hit me as it always does, that it is truly in our attitudes where we create our lives.

In the West we may have some expectations of life, he had none, there is no safety net for him here, no social programs … but he was smiling .. a lesson and inspiration for all of us.

It reinforced in me a way to live .. from humble gratitude, staying present, accept, flow and help who you can, how you can, when you can.