Once the Buddha’s monks, out begging in town, overheard a mixed group of wandering ascetics and brahmins arguing with each other over which one’s doctrine represented the truth. Some insisted the world was finite, some, infinite; others, part finite and part infinite; still others, neither finite nor infinite; and so on.
When the monks returned to their master, they told him about the quarrelsome scene, and he replied, “Those who stake their truth against the truths of everyone else are blind. They do not see into the supreme truth that binds them all together.”
Then the Buddha told them a parable. “Long ago,” he said, “a king ordered all the blind men in his capital who had never heard of an elephant to assemble in a field near the royal palace. His servants arranged them in a circle in the middle of the field, surrounding an elephant they could not see. The king announced to the blind men, “Straight ahead of you stands an elephant. Advance, feel the elephant for yourself, and tell me what it is.’
“Each blind man walked forward and wound up feeling a different part of the elephant. One man ran his hand over the head and trunk and declared, ‘The elephant is like a pot.’ Another felt an ear and cried, ‘No, it is more like a winnowing basket.’ A third touched a tusk and yelled, ‘You are both wrong! It is like a plow.’ A fourth patted the body and one leg and shouted, ‘Nonsense! It is a granary mounted on a pillar!’ A fifth handled the tall and screamed, ‘Fools, all of you! It is a broom!’ And on and on it went.
“Well, the king just laughed and laughed, my monk,” the Buddha concluded. “And so should you laugh over the beggars you saw today, each one ignorantly pleading his own narrow view.”
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