The parable of the blind boys and the elephant
The parable of the blind boys and the elephant, generally attributed to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, was related by a friend of Mahatma Gandhi’s, a young lawyer called Virchand Gandhi, at the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions where he was representing Jainism. He said:
If you will only permit a heathen to deliver his message of peace and love, I shall only ask you to look at the multifarious ideas presented to you in a liberal spirit, and not with superstition and bigotry, as the seven blind men did in the elephant story.
Once upon a time in a great city an elephant was brought with a circus. The people had never seen an elephant before. There were seven blind men in the city who longed to know what kind of an animal it was, so they went together to the place where the elephant was kept. One of them placed his hands on the ears, another on the legs, a third on the tail of the elephant, and so on.
When they were asked by the people what kind of an animal the elephant was one of the blind men said, “Oh, to be sure, the elephant is like a big winnowing fan.” Another blind man said, “No, my dear sir, you are wrong. The elephant is more like a big, round post.” The third, “You are quite mistaken; it is like a tapering stick.” The rest of them gave also their different opinions.
The proprietor of the circus stepped forward and said: “My friends, you are all mistaken. You have not examined the elephant from all sides. Had you done so you would not have taken one-sided views.”
Brothers and sisters, I entreat you to hear the moral of this story and learn to examine the various religious systems from all standpoints.
Despite the different descriptions, there was only one elephant.