At the Feet of Sri Ramakrishna
Finding wisdom for our everyday lives in the words of one of India's greatest saints
(more about Sri Ramakrishna)

The Blind Men and the Elephant

Four blind men went to "see" an elephant.

One touched the elephant's leg, and said, "The elephant is like a pillar."

The second touched the trunk, and said, "The elephant is like a thick stick or club. "

The third touched the belly, and said, "The elephant is like a big jar."

The fourth touched the ears, and said, "The elephant is like a winnowing basket. "

So they began to argue with each other as to what an elephant was like.

A passer-by, seeing them quarreling, asked, "What are you arguing about? "

They told him everything, and begged him to settle the matter.

He said, "None of you has seen the elephant properly.

"The elephant is not like a pillar; its legs are like pillars.

"It is not like a thick stick or club; but its trunk is.

"It is not like a big water-vessel; its belly is like a water-vessel.

"It is not like a winnowing basket; its ears are like winnowing baskets.

The elephant is the combination of all these."

In the same manner those quarrel who have seen one aspect only of the Deity.


This familiar story is told in many ways:

  • the number of blind men may vary (I usually tell the story with six; the Buddha told a version with an indeterminate number, "all the men of Savatthi who were born blind"!);
  • the "likeness" may change (in my version, the legs are tree-trunks, the trunk a snake, and so on); and
  • the statement of the moral is variously worded.

But they all mean the same thing: Our vision is limited, and we tend to take our limited version as the whole story.

Even this parable has many manifestations; how much more so God?

There's a sweet version of the story in verse here. It follows closely the story as I tell it.

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