Indian Analogy for tolerance – Four blind men discover an elephant

Jeff Sensei did write us an eMail and mentioned this old indian analogy. We like it because it got a lot to do with Aikido and tolerance:

“There are four blind men who discover an elephant. Since the men have never encountered an elephant, they grope about, seeking to understand and describe this new phenomenon. One grasps the trunk and concludes it is a snake. Another explores one of the elephant’s legs and describes it as a tree. A third finds the elephant’s tail and announces that it is a rope. And the fourth blind man, after discovering the elephant’s side, concludes that it is, after all, a wall.

Each in his blindness is describing the same thing: an elephant. Yet each describes the same thing in a radically different way.

if only we could all truly see…”

2 Kommentare

  1. Jeff Baldwin

    the elephant story is an old one. Rather then use the word “tolerance” which sometimes has the meaning of simply putting up with behavior that one does not necessarily agree with, I would purpose it is an opportunity to explore having a universal view. One of equanimity. Because we often can not see the entire elephant we should be open to the way other people see it. Their experience may be correct even though they can only know a small part. This is how we can listen to two teachers contradict each other and yet both still be correct. It is the time and place which the lesson is learned not just the words they use. It is the experience of learning.

  2. Francisco

    Surely we can not often see the whole picture and therefore imagine the unknown to be something known (if we have never seen an elephant, another animal or plant would do as comparison).

    For me the point is the question how each of these blind men accepted other’s opinion… It is for sure a proof of tolerance if they could cope thinking that maybe one might be wrong and the other might be right since an elephant can hardly be a snake, a tree, a rope and a wall all at the same time… On the other side it would be wrong to assure the elephant to be definitively a snake in other way than just making an analogy with a snake or a tree, etc.

    I sum up my idea of this tale’s sense: as a matter of fact an elephant is and remains an elephant, all blind men were hence wrong. In our ignorance we’d better try to find out the essence of the unknown elephant by adding experiences and working in common (otherwise we would never know there is a new animal called “elephant” and keep on believing it is a “wall” or a “snake”).
    This would be for me the meaning of tolerance.

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