Elephants and blind men

The well-known story of the six blind men trying to describe an elephant is often portrayed as an allegory of religious diversity: the descriptions of the elephant are different for each person, based on the particular aspect with which he came into contact:

The first touches its leg and says that an elephant is like a tree, another touches its side and says that an elephant is like a rough wall. Another feels its tail and says that an elephant is like a piece of rope. Each comes into contact with a different part of the elephant and is convinced that their own explanation is correct and that the others are wrong. None of them realises that they are all experiencing just one part of the same elephant and that none of their explanations are complete.

The suggestion is that diverse religions are likewise each only seeing part of the fuller and more complete truth. The problem with this explanation is that it takes the perspective of a sighted person who can actually see the whole elephant: without this perspective the story makes no sense. To make the claim that “all religions are just seeing a different part of the same truth” is to claim knowledge of that truth, and to claim to stand in a similar relation to the truth as the sighted observer in the elephant story.

Over at bethinking.org, Chris Knight offers an alternative version of the story which provides significantly more illumination on the question of religious diversity. Read it here:

The Blind Men and the Elephant at the Zoo

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3 thoughts on “Elephants and blind men

  1. Classically the King is the sighted one. In the context of Hinduism this is an appropriate image, with there in fact being an underlying unity in that we are all Godde experiencing life as individuals. We need to dig deep within ourselves in order to discover that our inner Self is in fact the inner Self of everything.

    Unfortunately early exploration into religion and mysticism was shaped by a bias – that there was an underlying unity to all religion that gets expressed variously according to cultural filtering. This group may be lumped with the essentialists as they look for a a common unity underlying all religion. Monotheists argue that this is an incorrect representation or an abstraction of their. However, much monotheism consists of thoughts and monuments to a Godde no one hears or sees or feels. Given the lack of meaningful evidence for Godde exhibited by much monotheism it becomes easy for an outsider looking in to lump Christianity into that image, i.e. that the faith itself is merely perspectival and conjectural.

    Not everyone sees it this way though. Another group of researchers, the contextualists, maintain that there is in fact a plurality of perspectives and a multiplicity of faith Sources. As a contextualist I personally lean toward at least three distinct faith destinations: 1) Self or Brahman or Fundamental Unity; 2) Dynamic Emptiness or Conditionalism; and 3) Godde (YHWH, Jesus & the Spirit) the Creator & Sustainer.

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