Sunday, January 9, 2011

In the Beginning

The name of this blog reflects an ancient parable that originated in India.  Over the years it has taken on many forms, but basically it goes like this.
Several blind men were once brought to encounter an elephant for the first time.  As they approached, the first man began to examine the elephant’s trunk and declared that an elephant is like a great snake.  The next encountered the tusk and proclaimed that an elephant is like a wonderful spear.  As one man examined the ear, the elephant was determined to be like a large leathery blanket.  The one who grasped the leg assured his companions that an elephant was, in fact, like a great tree.  The next passed his hands over the enormous side of the elephant and insisted that it was like a great wall.  The last man took hold of the elephant’s tail and was certain that an elephant was like a rope.

Each of the men insisted that his perception was the right one and declared the others to be absolutely wrong.  The debate grew into a heated argument with each man growing louder and more insistent about the truth of his opinion and the error of the others.  Finally, the elephant grew tired of the tumult and wandered off, leaving the blind men to argue about the nature of an elephant.

Initially, this parable was probably intended to illustrate the foolishness of debating various religious persuasions.  However, this analogy could just as easily be applied to any complex issue where there are differing opinions.  Too often limited perspective, huge egos, and a need to be “right” override dialog, cooperation, and humility. 

I would like to rewrite the end of this parable like this:

As the elephant turned to walk off, the men were all exposed to a different part of the elephant and realized that their initial assumptions were limited.  With a genuine desire to learn from one another, they all began sharing what they each knew about the elephant, and before long, each one had a complete understanding of what an elephant is really like.

I am just naïve enough to believe that open and honest dialog can resolve the majority of our conflicts, lead to a more complete understanding of reality, and possibly enable us to develop a sustainable planet.  It is my intention to share my perceptions as I hang on to my little part of the elephant.


  1. do you have to let go of the tail to someday experience the trunk?? and if so than this is truly a hard thing, to let go of the only thing you know in hopes of reaching something you only know secondhand. and if so than what if you let go and can't find the trunk and then being blind can't find your way back to the tail? and you wonder about aimlessly questioning if the elephant even existed???

  2. The good news is that there are still plenty of elephants around. The catch is that you just have to get out of the house and drive around a bit. They are there, and usually unexpected, but they are there. On a rarer occasion one will come right up to your front door.

    Simple determination and open mindedness, not veiling ourselves from the world, would seem to ensure that, eventually, we will find an elephant. We just have to be willing to experience life. Get out there. Then when we do find one, we can grab whatever part it lets us. Just be careful because I've had one step on my foot and it is not pleasant.

  3. Ben,

    Thanks for your comments. However, I think our concept of the elephant is different. To me, it is the universe. And at this point in time and space, we only have one of them.

    I'm not sure what your concept of the elephant is, but I would interested in finding out.

  4. multiple elephants is an interesting concept, but to me the elephant does represent God, which is one all encompassing elephant. there is nothing else but the elephant. the universe is the elephant as we are the elephant. perhaps i was wrong in thinking i had to let go of the tail, or even that i could, perhaps i am the tail, or at least part of it. at first i thought why would we share with each other about the elephant when we could go strait to the source, but maybe an open dialog with each other is an open dialog with the source...or maybe we're all just sinners in the hands of an angry God....problem is i just don't know

  5. Ah, there is a great jewel of truth. We don't know, which is why we need to listen to and respect one another's perspectives while we collectively search for a deeper understanding.

  6. Well, i was going for using a metaphor blended with the realities of my own life. when I first came to Thailand I created a blog called "In search of the White Elephant" which here is a symbol of God. The thing is the searching, which means getting out of our comfort zone. Facing fear and the unknown. To me the elephant represents life itself, which in turn is the universe at it's highest manifestation. In five years here I have seen many elephants, but only getting out there, or keeping my eyes open. And even in those cases I had to take initiative to interact with the thing. I believe God is manifest all around, but we have to search and take notice. Once we shut down our senses and desire, God apparently ceases to exist. But if we expect to find that elephant, we will go looking, our sensitivity increased, and we will begin to notice all aspects of his reality as we go about doing that, rather than just the one narrow perspective we held inside our safe and predictable comfort zone.

    so it's not really multiple elephants, it's just God manifest in multiple ways, out there, available, should we choose to notice, and every time offering a different perspective on the multifaceted reality that surrounds us and guides our lives, whether we're aware of it or not.

    something like that.

    But elephants are relatively rare. I'd like to have the level of sensitivity where I see reality manifest in things as common as dogs, cows, buffalo, or chickens (we have many around here, without needing to go searching).

  7. I think our perspectives are very similar. We are merely expressing them in different ways. However, I don’t feel that I need to search for God because He/She/It fills the entire universe. He is not lost, and I don’t think He is hiding. To me, finding Him is simple. Everything I see, everywhere I go, He is before me. But most of all, He is within me. I simply need to open myself to His very real presence at this point in time and space.

  8. ah.. the ultimate goal. but we have to start somewhere, right? enter, the white elephant. if only we could just flip a switch and see reality from all angles at that instant. i wish it were so easy. but this would seem to be a process.. a long, drawn out ordeal... i look forward to future postings... am searching for truth, and meaning... but most of all: purpose.