The Blind Men and the Elephant

by John Godfrey Saxe

Published by James R. Osgood and Company, 1873




It was six men of Indostan

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 resemble 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 with his scope,

“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant

Is very like a rope!”



And so these men of Indostan

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!



Although credited by the author as a “Hindoo Fable,” this parable is told throughout India and China, and –in a sweet twist of irony– its origin is claimed by the Jains, Buddhists, Sufi Muslims and Hindus alike.

Among other things, it’s used to illustrate  1) the principle of living harmoniously with people of different faiths, 2) the importance of seeing the “big picture” in any situation, and 3) the fault in basing a conclusion on insufficient evidence.

It can also mean that empirical knowledge has its limitations, especially in regard to objects beyond the scope of the senses. As Einstein said, “There comes a time when the mind takes a higher plane of knowledge but can never prove how it got there.”


premāñjana-cchurita-bhakti-vilocanena santaḥ sadaiva hṛdayeṣu vilokayanti—– The pure devotees see in their heart of hearts with the eye of devotion tinged with the salve of love. [Brahma Samhita 5.38]



This entry was posted in Old Yoga Stories, Poetry & Literature and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Blind Men and the Elephant

  1. Nancy A says:

    One of my favorite stories EVER. I love Rumi’s version. I think it is the perfect parallel to yoga which works differently for each person.

  2. Pingback: Things I Learned This Week – Plus Art!

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