A Story On Differences and Community

The Blind People and the Elephant, a tale from India, this version by Donelle Blubaugh and adapted

Long ago six people lived in a village in India. Each was born blind. The other villagers loved them and kept them away from harm. Since the blind people could not see the world for themselves, they had to imagine many of its wonders. They listened carefully to the stories told by travelers to learn what they could about life outside the village.

They were curious about many of the stories they heard, but they were most curious about elephants. They were told that elephants could trample forests, carry huge burdens, and frighten young and old with their loud trumpet calls. But they also knew that the Rajah’s daughter rode an elephant when she traveled in her father’s kingdom. Would the Rajah let his daughter get near such a dangerous creature?

One day the villagers arranged for one of the Rajah’s elephants and a handler to come for a visit to satisfy the curious group.

When the elephant arrived, they gathered around it.

The first blind person reached out and touched the side of the huge animal. “An elephant is smooth and solid like a wall!” she declared. “It must be very powerful.”

The second blind person put his hand on the elephant’s limber trunk. “An elephant is like a giant snake,” he announced.

The third blind person felt the elephant’s pointed tusk. “I was right,” she decided. “This creature is as sharp and deadly as a spear.”

The fourth blind person touched one of the elephant’s four legs. “What we have here,” he said, “is the trunk of a large tree.”

The fifth blind person felt the elephant’s giant ear. “I believe an elephant is like a huge fan or maybe a magic carpet that can fly over mountains and treetops,” she said.

The sixth blind person gave a tug on the elephant’s coarse tail. “Why, this is nothing more than a piece of old rope. Dangerous, indeed,” he scoffed.

The people began to argue.

The first person said: “An elephant is like a wall,”

The second person said “A wall? An elephant is a giant snake!”

The third person said “It’s a spear, I tell you.”

The fourth person said “I’m certain it’s a giant tree.”

The fifth person said “Magic carpet. There’s no doubt.”

The sixth person said “Don’t you see? Someone used a rope to trick us.”

Their argument continued.

And they all began to shout at once “Wall!” “Snake!” “Spear!” “Cow!” “Carpet!” “Rope!”

“Stop shouting!” called an angry voice.

It was the Rajah, who had traveled to the village come to visit the group.

“How can each of you be so certain you are right?” asked the ruler.

The six blind people considered the question. And then, knowing the Rajah to be a very wise person, they decided to say nothing at all.

“The elephant is a very large animal,” said the Rajah kindly. “Each person touched only one part. Perhaps if you put the parts together, you will see the truth.”

“That’s is right,” said the first blind person. “To learn the truth, we must put all the parts together.”

And with that, the blind people went to the shade of a tree to discuss the elephant and the Rajah and the handler mounted the elephant to ride back to the palace.

About Leah

Leah and her husband, Kevin Purcell, live in Albany. They have two grown daughters that were raised at Albany UU. Leah has served as DRE at Albany UU since 2007; before that she worked in both private and public schools. She served as Chair of the Seaway Chapter of the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) and now serves on the LREDA Board.

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