Sunday, November 23, 2008

Illustration Friday, Opinion

—Photo and illustration by Robert McLaughlin
created with Poser 6 and Photoshop Elements 6

I’m sure you’ve heard the story of 6 blind men and an elephant.
“The story of the blind men and an elephant originated from India. It has been attributed to the Sufis, Jainists, Buddhists, or Hindus, and has been used by all those groups. The version best-known in the West is the 19th Century poem by John Godfrey Saxe. Buddha used the simile of blind men in Tittha sutta in Udana (Pali canon). Buddha used a row of blind men as an example in Canki sutta as well to explain the blind following of a leader or an old text that had come down generation after generation.

“In various versions of the tale, a group of blind men (or men in the dark) touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one touches a different part, but only one part, such as the side or the tusk. They then compare notes on what they felt, and learn they are in complete disagreement. The story is used to indicate that reality may be viewed differently depending upon one’s perspective, suggesting that what seems an absolute truth may be relative due to the deceptive nature of half-truths.

“Various versions are similar, and differ primarily in how the elephant’s body parts are described, how violent the conflict becomes, and how (or if) the conflict among the men and their perspectives is resolved.”
The Blindmen and the Elephant
John Godfrey Saxe

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

The first approached the Elephant
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side
At once began to bawl:
“Bless me, it seems the Elephant
Is very like a wall”.

The second, feeling of his tusk,
Cried, “Ho! What have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ‘tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear”.

The third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Then boldly up and 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 wondrous beast is like
Is mighty 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 Hindustan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right
And 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 prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

—“Blind monks examining an elephant”
an 1888 ukiyo-e print by Hanabusa Itchō

[My observation is that we might all do a little better at being humble about our opinions. Forgive the pontifications!]

Creative Commons License
This work by Robert C. McLaughlin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


studio lolo said...

Oh how I loved this fascinating and entertaining post! The poem was a nice rounder, and of course your illustration is beautiful. Thank you!

stephen said...

The iamge you create is bold and strong. I love the strong black and whites. I would love to see more of the story with the monks illustrated. Love the landscape.