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The Blind Men and the Elephant


The Buddhist version follows the English poem.


The Blind Men and the Elephant

by John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)


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.

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!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, "Ho, what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a SPEAR!"

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!"

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he:
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a TREE!"

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!"

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!"

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!


...from the Buddhist Canon:

[Be sure to check out the link, because there is a great photograph there, too.]

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?'

"There upon 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

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

Udana 68-69: We give a version of this well-known Indian tale from the
Buddhist canon, but some assert it is of Jain origin. It does illustrate
well the Jain doctrine of Anekanta, the manysidedness of things. Cf.
Tattvarthaslokavartika 116, p. 806. Mihir Yast 10.2: Cf. Analects 15.5, p.