Blind men and elephants

David R. Israel davidi at
Wed Apr 2 16:56:33 UTC 1997

To the question --
Lars Martin Fosse

> >1) Which Indian text relates the story of the blind men and the
> >elephant?

Anand Nayak replies:

> The story appears in some Theravada Buddhist  texts: v.g.
> Dirgha-agama, Lokaprajnaptisutra ( ed. of Taisho Issaikyo, No.1,
> pp.128-129).

and so far as I know, Gautama Buddha is the first identified source 
for that famous allegorical tale.  However, it may well be that John 
Godfrey Saxe's 19th century poem was inspired by some other version 
down the long story-stream; off hand, the most likely alternative 
candidate is probably the retelling of the tale by the great Sufi 
teacher, Jelaluddin Rumi, in his oceanic book of stories *Mathnawi*.  
(I don't know exactly where, in this classical Persian work, the tale 
appears.)  I think one would not be incorrect in saying that the Pali 
texts of the Buddha's teaching, on the one hand, and Mathnawi of 
Rumi, on the other, represent the two great classical loci for this 
tale of the elephant & the blind men.  Ralph Waldo Emerson, for one, 
was wrote about the work of some Persians (Hafez in particular) -- I 
don't recall if he made specific mention of Rumi, but he did seem 
conversant in writings of several Persians; similarly, both he and 
Henry David Thorou were students of Buddhism (etc.) -- so it seems 
(in short) not implausible that a Bostonian of that era could have 
acquainted this tale via either route . . .

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