Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Spirituality 101: Blind Men and the Elephant

If asked to describe God or what is the absolute Truth, one can only give a partial answer at best (even if the answer fills a library). Yet quarrels and wars are fought between different people and groups who think that they have the single irrevocable answer. Such sectarianism gave rise to the parable about the blind men who touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but only one part, such as the side or the tusk. They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement.

There are different versions of the story that differ in how the elephant's body parts are described, how violent the conflict becomes and how (or if) the conflict among the men and their perspectives is resolved.
In some versions, they stop talking, start listening and collaborate to "see" the full elephant. When a sighted man walks by and sees the entire elephant all at once, the blind men also learn they are all blind. While one's subjective experience is true, it may not be the totality of truth. If the sighted man was deaf, he would not hear the elephant bellow.
It has been used to illustrate a range of truths and fallacies; broadly, the parable implies that one's subjective experience can be true, but that such experience is inherently limited by its failure to account for other truths or a totality of truth. At various times the parable has provided insight into the relativism, opaqueness or inexpressible nature of truth, the behavior of experts in fields where there is a deficit or inaccessibility of information, the need for communication, and respect for different perspectives.
In short, no one person can see the whole of larger truths (we are all 'blind' to varying degrees in different ways) and we are limited by our own personal perspective. Even knowing the whole truth of small human events is a rarity. It is only our arrogance in thinking otherwise that gives us the illusion of absolute certainty of the manifold nature of truth.

"Blind Leading The Blind"

The expression "the blind leading the blind" is a metaphor applied to leaders who know as little as their followers and are therefore likely to lead them astray / uninformed and incompetent people leading others who are similarly incapable or unable.

"There Are None So Blind As Those Who Will Not See"

"...this saying has its roots in the Bible, "Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not."
In other words, the most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know...thus, willfully 
lacking perception, awareness, or discernment.

There are those who are unwilling to see because they're unable; and then, there are those who are unable to because they're unwilling. Those willing to struggle are best suited to begin to see the truth....