The Story of the Elephant, Which Was Variously Perceived by Different People


Four blind men went out together to find out what this "elephant" was like. One man went up to the elephant, put his hands on its side, and said the elephant was like a wall. Another went to the elephant's tail, grasped it, and said the elephant was like a snake. The third one accidentally poked the elephant in the eye; the elephant stomped him with its foot; he yelled for help, but the man who had patted the elephant on the side said that walls don't stomp people. The man who was holding its tail could feel that the elephant was moving, and he yelled "be careful" because snakes do strike, but he didn't try to help because snakes don't stomp people. As for the alleged stomping (which he could not see), we know that bad things do happen to good people -- and he wasn't sure that third blind man was all that good, either.

The fourth blind man waved a stalk of sugar cane in front of him; the elephant took it and chewed it and loved it. The elephant gave the man a string of jewels that had been wrapped around his trunk. The man sold these, became rich, retired to the Bermuda Islands, and ran a preaching ministry called "The Elephant's Message." He went all over the world on radio and by tracts, and hundreds of millions of Hindus converted because the elephant symbol attracted them.

The moral of this story is "think about the Other, not just your own curiousity, and don't be selfish with your sugar cane."



Appendix: text critical note: Many people have heard a story of the blind men and the elephant. In this folk account, the blind men took the elephant as being like a wall (its side), like a tree (its leg), like a rope (its tail), or like a large snake (its trunk). Comparing the above account with the folk account, we see clearly that the above account is the original. The folk account has expanded the number of elephant-interpretations from two (wall and snake) to four, moved the "snake" analog to the trunk, and added a leg/tree interpretation. This simple elaboration is an obvious characteristic of retelling of stories from mouth to mouth.

However, the folk account has lost the original "moral" of the story, because the gory part (stomping) and the high-intelligence part (sugar-cane approach) have been suppressed -- the stomping probably to make it more suitable for children, and the high-intelligence part probably from envy on the part of less-intelligent tellers.

We see the importance of recovering the original ...

The original, in this case, has fortunately been recovered by our team of highly-sophisticated archeologists, whose evidence is beyond doubt, and its authenticity has been validated by the burial of the stomped-man's bones with the tablets on which the account was written.

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         P.S. we hope you recognized this as satire ... on the modern habits of mind in re-constructing texts received from ages past ... email link is on main menu for any discussion/inquiries...