The Truth

The blind men and the elephant

blind_men_and_elephant
Then in the early morning, a large number of monks, having put on their robes and carrying their bowls and outer robes, went into Savatthi for alms. Having gone for alms in Savatthi, after the meal, returning from their alms round, they went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As they were sitting there, they said to the Blessed One: “Lord, there are many priests, contemplatives, and wanderers of various sects living around Savatthi with differing views, differing opinions, differing beliefs, dependent for support on their differing views… and they live arguing, quarreling, and disputing, wounding one another with weapons of the mouth, saying, ‘The Dhamma is like this, it’s not like that. The Dhamma’s not like that, it’s like this.'”
“Monks, the wanderers of other sects are blind and eyeless. They don’t know what is beneficial and what is harmful. They don’t know what is the Dhamma and what is non-Dhamma. Not knowing what is beneficial and what is harmful, not knowing what is Dhamma and what is non-Dhamma, they live arguing, quarreling, and disputing, wounding one another with weapons of the mouth, saying, ‘The Dhamma is like this, it’s not like that. The Dhamma’s not like that, it’s like this.’

 
“Once, in this same Savatthi, there was a certain king who said to a certain man, ‘Gather together all the people in Savatthi who have been blind from birth.'”
“‘As you say, your majesty,’ the man replied and, rounding up all the people in Savatthi who had been blind from birth, he went to the king and on arrival said, ‘Your majesty, the people in Savatthi who have been blind from birth have been gathered together.’
“‘Very well then, show the blind people an elephant.’
“‘As you say, your majesty,’ the man replied and he showed the blind people an elephant. To some of the blind people he showed the head of the elephant, saying, ‘this, blind people, is what an elephant is like.’ To some of them he showed an ear of the elephant, saying, ‘this, blind people, is what an elephant is like.’ To some of them he showed a tusk… the trunk… the body… a foot… the hindquarters… the tail… the tuft at the end of the tail, saying, ‘This, blind people, is what an elephant is like.’

 
“Then, having shown the blind people the elephant, the man went to the king and on arrival said, ‘your majesty, the blind people have seen the elephant. May your majesty do what you think it is now time to do.’
“Then the king went to the blind people and on arrival asked them, ‘Blind people, have you seen the elephant?’
“‘Yes, your majesty. We have seen the elephant.’
“‘Now tell me, blind people, what the elephant is like.’
“The blind people who had been shown the head of the elephant replied, ‘the elephant, your majesty, is just like a water jar.’
“Those who had been shown the ear of the elephant replied, ‘The elephant, your majesty, is just like a winnowing basket.’
“Those who had been shown the tusk of the elephant replied, ‘The elephant, your majesty, is just like an iron rod.’
“Those who had been shown the trunk of the elephant replied, ‘The elephant, your majesty, is just like the pole of a plow.’
“Those who had been shown the body of the elephant replied, ‘The elephant, your majesty, is just like a granary.’
“Those who had been shown the foot of the elephant replied, ‘The elephant, your majesty, is just like a post.’
“Those who had been shown the hindquarters of the elephant replied, ‘The elephant, your majesty, is just like a mortar.’
“Those who had been shown the tail of the elephant replied, ‘The elephant, your majesty, is just like a pestle.’
“Those who had been shown the tuft at the end of the tail of the elephant replied, ‘The elephant, your majesty, is just like a broom.’
“Saying, ‘the elephant is like this, it’s not like that. The elephant’s not like that, it’s like this,’ they struck one another with their fists. That gratified the king.

 
“In the same way, monks, the wanderers of other sects are blind and eyeless. They don’t know what is beneficial and what is harmful. They don’t know what is the Dhamma and what is non-Dhamma. Not knowing what is beneficial and what is harmful, not knowing what is Dhamma and what is non-Dhamma, they live arguing, quarreling, and disputing, wounding one another with weapons of the mouth, saying, ‘The Dhamma is like this, it’s not like that. The Dhamma’s not like that, it’s like this.'”

 
Tittha Sutta, Udana 6.4

As a reminder for us zen master Thich Nhat Hanh offered a mantra to say to ourselves when we are caught in an argument or when someone puts you on a pedestal or criticizes you:

You are partly right.

 

This takes off the feeling of ‘all or nothing’, and allows us to open up to exploring another perspective while feeling allowed to also still entertain one’s own point of view. Because the truth is very often more complex than we can hold, see or understand on our own.

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