Friday, June 1, 2012

The Blind Men and the Elephant

Can you describe a sunset?

Neither can I, as words fail.

The same is true for the divine, yet we try to describe God, or at least our experience of what we take to be the divine.

Indeed, you may feel that you have experienced God, and I may feel likewise...but the description of my experience does not invalidate your description, or vice versa. Both or neither may be accurate, but we are simply trying to describe a subjective why argue or debate? We do so when we try to make the subjective into the objective, and turn spirituality into religion (the inward into the outward.)

Consider "The Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant" by John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887):

It was six men of Indostan
    to learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
    (Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
    Might satisfy his mind.

The first approached the Elephant,
    And happened to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
    At once began to bawl:
God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"

The second, feeling of the tusk
    Cried: "Ho what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
    To me 'tis very clear
This wonder of and Elephant
    Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal
    And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands
    Thus boldly up he spake.
"I see." quoth he, "the Elephant
    Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out an eager hand
    And felt about the knee.
"What most this wonderful beast is like
    Is very plain." quoth he;
" 'Tis clear enough the Elephant
    Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
    Said, "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
    Deny the fact who can
This marvel of an Elephant
    Is very like a fan!"

The sixth no sooner had begun
    About the beast to grope
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
    That fell within his scope.
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
    Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan
    Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
    Exceeding still and strong,
Though each was part;y in the right,
    They all were in the wrong!

So oft in theologic wars
    The disputants, I ween
Rail on in utter ignorance
    Of what each other mean
And prat about an Elephant
    Not one of them has seen!