Ten Men And The Elephant

The ten men and the elephant is a parable in many variations from the Indian subcontinent, dating back more than 2,500 years.

In a small village in India there were ten men who had heard of but had never seen the greatest animal in the jungle, the elephant. Determined to see an elephant, they hired a guide to find one. After several days of trekking in the jungle, the guide saw an elephant and called forth the ten men. The men approached the elephant and in their excitement each touched a different part of the it. The man who touched its tail said the elephant was like a snake. The man who touched the elephant’s leg said the elephant was like a tree trunk. The man who touched the elephant’s tusk said it was like a seashell. Each of the ten men described the elephant very differently. Soon the ten men, each insisting that their view of the elephant was right, started to argue and eventually came to blows.

Clearly, the ten men were blind and didn’t know it. As to the elephant, it is like the universe, big; bigger than one blind man can imagine it. Moreover, it appears different to each viewer; as such, it is beyond description, it is what it is whatever it is.

The moral of this parable is that the one who sees the universe can guide others to see it but others may not see it as he does. Moreover, the universe is beyond the limited perception of anyone who cannot see; especially when experienced up close, from a specific perspective and based on memories of other experiences associated in likeness. As well, when we are certain of the infallibility of our perceptions, we are blind and don’t know it. Further, taking our perceptions too seriously, we make fools of ourselves and at times hurt others and/or ourselves. Even holding as many as ten funny, as in odd and at odds, views doesn’t not allow us to know what we are looking at; but it’s funny, as in laughable, when we think we do.