The Blind Men and the Elephant
A number of disciples went to the Buddha and said, “Sir, there are living here in Savatthi many wandering hermits and scholars who indulge in constant dispute, some saying that the world is infinite and eternal and others that it is finite and not eternal, some saying that the soul dies with the body and others that it lives on forever, and so forth. What, Sir, would you say concerning them?”
The Buddha answered, “Once upon a time there was a certain raja who called to his servant and said, ‘Come, good fellow, go and gather together in one place all the men of Savatthi who were born blind... and show them an elephant.’ ‘Very good, sire,’ replied the servant, and he did as he was told. He said to the blind men assembled there, ‘Here is an elephant,’ and to one man he presented the head of the elephant, to another its ears, to another a tusk, to another the trunk, the foot, back, tail, and tuft of the tail, saying to each one that that was the elephant.
“When the blind men had felt the elephant, the raja went to each of them and said to each, ‘Well, blind man, have you seen the elephant? Tell me, what sort of thing is an elephant?’
“Thereupon the men who were presented with the head answered, ‘Sire, an elephant is like a pot.’ And the men who had observed the ear replied, ‘An elephant is like a winnowing basket.’ Those who had been presented with a tusk said it was a ploughshare. Those who knew only the trunk said it was a plough; others said the body was a grainery; the foot, a pillar; the back, a mortar; the tail, a pestle, the tuft of the tail, a brush.
“Then they began to quarrel, shouting, ‘Yes it is!’ ‘No, it is not!’ ‘An elephant is not that!’ ‘Yes, it’s like that!’ and so on, till they came to blows over the matter.
“Brethren, the raja was delighted with the scene.
“Just so are these preachers and scholars holding various views blind and unseeing.... In their ignorance they are by nature quarrelsome, wrangling, and disputatious, each maintaining reality is thus and thus.”
Then the Exalted One rendered this meaning by uttering this verse of uplift,
O how they cling and wrangle, some who claim
For preacher and monk the honored name!
For, quarreling, each to his view they cling.
Such folk see only one side of a thing.
Jainism and Buddhism. Udana 68-69:
Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant
I was really amazed when I read the original story and saw the parallels between it and some of the discussions that I have been reading on this site. The story, which I have included below, is about men born blind, describing something that they had never experienced before. Something that was too big for any of them to really understand, from the perspective of their limited experiences.
The blind men could not see, with their eyes, the complete truth. They based their idea of truth on their own past, personal experiences, and that which was within their reach. They used their limited senses to feel, than label what they felt according to things that they had felt and experienced before, from their personal, individual realm of influence.
Ok, so, why do we have all these discussions about God, some of which become rather un-Christ-like, when we call ourselves Christians? When it comes to seeing God, I am sorry to say, we are all born blind! Not one of us has seen God. How then can we talk as if we have all the answers? Yes, we have Bibles, and I think it would be safe to say “hundreds” of translations! It is no wonder that there is so much disagreement. What spirit would cause us to fight and argue? The Holy Spirit? I don’t think so! Why would we want to fight and argue? Maybe pride or a part of the flesh that wants to stamp out beliefs, other than our own, which we see as deadly error? Self-righteousness?
Most likely it is because most of us are convinced that ‘our’ understanding of the Word, in our chosen translation, is the real ‘Truth’ and other folks’ beliefs are in error. Our goal or mission in life, is to enlighten those that are in error or darkness. Does not the Bible say to let our light shine?
What is Truth? Can I know “Truth”? Is it possible that the ‘light’ that we believe we have could really be ‘darkness’? How can we know? What if it really is darkness, instead of ‘Light’? Do we really care what God thinks? Maybe ‘darkness’ is the reason why many discussions end in ‘un-Christ-like’ attitudes. James says, “Where do the conflicts and where do the quarrels among you come from? Is it not from this, from your passions that battle inside you?” We need to know the source of our passions; what spirit we are moved by.
The passion to defeat or destroy, “what we believe is wrong” is not new. Here is how the disciples wanted to deal with a situation of the rejection of their Messiah, and what Jesus had to say about it. Luke 9:53-56 (Amplified) says, “But [the people] would not welcome or receive or accept Him, because His face was [set as if He was] going to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John observed this, they said, Lord, do You wish us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, even as Elijah did? [2Ki. 1:9-16] But He turned and rebuked and severely censured them. He said, You do not know of what sort of spirit you are, For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.... And they journeyed on to another village.”
Darkness in the Bible can also be related to ‘Blindness’. The ‘blind’, may have experienced the light or some effects of the light, but by their fruits they are not guided by the ‘light’ or have the source of the light within!
None of us have ever seen God, but we all have experienced and seen elements of what he has done, in various degrees.
We all can read the Word of God and study the things that it contains about God; His Nature, His Son. Through Him and the Holy Spirit we can have a more intimate knowledge of God, even have a relationship with Him. The more intimate the relationship, the more God reveals of Himself and His Heart to the passionately hungry person of humility.
Why is it that people want to focus on sections of the Bible (the leg, the tail, the body, the trunk, the tusks, etc.; creating doctrines)? Maybe it’s a love for darkness and the things of this world; the likes of a child that carelessly rushes through their chores in order to be free to go do their own pleasures in vain playing. They lack a real passionate love for their parents which results in obedience, chores well done; a close relationship with the parents.
There is likewise, in the church world, little true love for the Light, to sit at His feet, meditate on His Word, seeing the whole Bible as an introduction and invitation to know The Heavenly Father, through an intimate, obedient, relationship with the Son, and His Spirit.
It is apparent, (by people’s actions and what they communicate) that there is more desire to prepare for retirement, provide health care, and maintain the latest pleasures and fashions of life in this vain, empty world, than to be truly and intimately known by Jesus, buying an ample supply of oil to keep the light of the Holy Spirit burning.
There is no way that anyone can know God and be conformed to this world. Romans 12:1-2. How can a spiritually blind person grasp the Truth of John 3:16 and James 4:4? Too many are resting in a false security of something that they thought or said at one point in their lives. They rely on a ‘faith/belief’ that the demons possess, failing to realize the need of faithfulness, resulting in, fruits from a heart that is full of the Light!
Paul says, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” 1 Corinthians 13:11,12
We need to examine ourselves. Are we truly in the Light? Does our life daily produce the fruit of living in the Light directed by the Holy Spirit. ...or are we like the blind men, relying on our senses, or emotions, living within a religious box, telling others how to get ‘saved’ but leaving them bound to this world and their fleshly desires? Have ‘we’ experienced the true deliverance, the washing of the Word, that brings Light into the darkness (spiritual confusion) and sight to the spiritually blind(those that live by what they feel rather than the Light of the Truth)?
2 Corinthians 13:5 “Examine and test and evaluate your own selves to see whether you are holding to your faith and showing the proper fruits of it. Test and prove yourselves [not Christ]. Do you not yourselves realize and know [thoroughly by an ever-increasing experience] that Jesus Christ is in you--unless you are [counterfeits] disapproved on trial and rejected?”
Romans 1:18-25 “For God’s [holy] wrath and indignation are revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who in their wickedness repress and hinder the truth and make it inoperative. For that which is known about God is evident to them and made plain in their inner consciousness, because God [Himself] has shown it to them.”
“For ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature and attributes, that is, His eternal power and divinity, have been made intelligible and clearly discernible in and through the things that have been made (His handiworks). So [men] are without excuse [altogether without any defense or justification],” [Ps. 19:1-4.]
“Because when they knew and recognized Him as God, they did not honor and glorify Him as God or give Him thanks. But instead they became futile and godless in their thinking [with vain imaginings, foolish reasoning, and stupid speculations] and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools [professing to be smart, they made simpletons of themselves]. And by them the glory and majesty and excellence of the immortal God were exchanged for and represented by images, resembling mortal man and birds and beasts and reptiles.”
“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their [own] hearts to sexual impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves [abandoning them to the degrading power of sin], Because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, Who is blessed forever! Amen (so be it).” [Jer. 2:11.]
Mal 2:16 “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, “and the one who is guilty of violence (by implication wrong; by metonymy unjust gain),” says the LORD who rules over all. “Pay attention to your conscience, and do not be unfaithful.”
Mal 2:17 “You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” Because you say, “Everyone who does evil is good in the Lord’s opinion, and he delights in them,” or “Where is the God of justice?” (Noah Webster Dictionary evil 1. Having bad qualities of a natural kind; mischievous; having qualities which tend to injury, or to produce mischief.)
Do you want to see the Light? ...to be full of the Light?
“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”
“Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is diseased, your body is full of darkness.”
Jesus spoke out again, “I am the light of the world. The one who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
May we all realize our need for Light and eyes that see, ears that hear, a heart that understands and a will that pushes on to victory.
I want to heed the warning to the church in Laodicea. Rev 3:17-22 Because you say, “I am rich and have acquired great wealth, and need nothing,” but do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, take my advice and buy gold from me refined by fire so you can become rich!
Buy from me white clothing so you can be clothed and your shameful nakedness will not be exposed, and buy eye salve to put on your eyes so you can see!
All those I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent! Listen! I am standing at the door and knocking! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into his home and share a meal with him, and he with me.
I will grant the one who conquers permission to sit with me on my throne, just as I too conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”