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, the ten men 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 what it is whatever it is; but whatever it is, it is big.

The moral of this parable is that the universe (the elephant) is beyond our limited perception. When we are certain of the infallibility of our perceptions, we are blind and don’t know it. Taking our perceptions too seriously, we can make fools out of ourselves and at times hurt others or ourselves. Even holding ten funny, as in odd, views may not allow us to know what we are looking at; but it’s funny, as in laughable, when we think we do.