There is a story about four blind people who wanted to ‘see’ an elephant. (In some versions of the story, it is five people, in other versions, it is six). When the circus came to town, they got special permission from the animal trainer to experience the animal first hand.
The first person touched the side of the elephant and said “I am so happy; all my doubts are cleared. I can see that an elephant is like a brick wall”. The second, who touched the trunk, replied: “How can you say that? I can see from my own direct personal experience that an elephant is like a big snake.” The third person, at the tail, argued that an elephant resembled a piece of rope – while the person near the leg likened the animal to a pillar.
Then those four people began to argue. Each person was convinced that he was right because each was speaking from direct personal experience… and, in a way, he was right. Yet each person was wrong because of limited perception.
When it comes to relating to the Absolute, God, Ultimate Reality (whatever term you prefer to use), we are all like blind people. It is not possible to “put” the concept of the Infinite into your finite mind – we can only comprehend a part. Yet, we can use this comprehension to gain a deeper connection to the Whole.
Traditionally in India, each person has been taught to see God as his /her own Self. But understanding Indian cosmology, mythology and philosophy can be difficult for many Westerners. They seem to be full of contradictions and paradoxes. Indian philosophy and imagery do not easily translate into western terms. For example, don’t try to understand Durga by equating Her warlike attitude and calling Her the ‘Indian Athena’. To understand the Indian attitude towards feminine principle, you must develop an entirely new mindset. And I deeply believe that this understanding will bring added inspiration to your ongoing yoga practice – in whatever tradition you choose to follow.
Hence begins my storytelling (and analysis) this evening ...