5.2 The Unknowability of Absolute Truth


In the Hindu view, the absolute Truth is never fully comprehensible. The story of the six blind men and the elephant illustrates this view. Here’s John Godfrey Saxe’s beautiful poem from 1872[4] relating the story:

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 his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening 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 ‘t is 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,  
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he;
“‘T is 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!

Each one of us is like a blind man describing the elephant when it comes to our understanding of truth, reality, existence as we cannot fully grasp it due to our inherent limitations. I am always reminded of this when magicians perform their tricks demonstrating how much my senses continually misunderstand the reality around me. As such, I subscribe to the sentiments in Vaclav Havel’s dictum, “Keep the company of those who seek the truth, but run from those who have found it.”



5.1 The Symbolism of Idols[3]
5.3 The Battle in our Minds[5]
Sailesh Rao
1 Comment
  • Roger Bajaj
    Posted at 20:11h, 27 November Reply


    I wish to embark on the study of hinduism and it’s scriptures etc, in an organized manner and seeking guidance for the same.

    Any assistance will be greatly appreciated.


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