Friday, November 17, 2006

Blind men, an elephant

I really enjoy exploring the creative thoughts of others, from around the world and especially the Middle East (where cultural roots run deep). I look in libraries, lecture halls, on the streets or wherever and for whomever has a different or new opinion.

Bouncing my ideas off someone else's can be exhilarating or exasperating, but always worthwhile to me. So how do I keep from going nuts with all this difference of opinion... The Blind Men and an Elephant!

A Jainist version of the story says that six blind men went to determine what the elephant was like.

The blind man who touches a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the tail-toucher claims it's like a rope; the one who feels the trunk compares it to a tree branch; the man who felt the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the belly-toucher asserts it's like a wall; and the tusk feeler insists the elephant feels like a solid pipe.

A wise man explains to them:

All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said.

This resolves the conflict, and is used to illustrate the principle of living in harmony with people who have different belief systems, and that truth can be stated in different ways (in Jainist beliefs often said to be seven versions). This is known as the Syadvada, Anekantvad, or the theory of Manifold Predictions., Blind Men and an Elephant

Ok, I'll admit to having "just another opinion" and probably holding onto a huge tail or ear of my own choosing. So to keep my head on straight, I think I'll keep asking those other guys what they've got a hold of—that's all I really need to know!