Saturday, January 24, 2004

The blind men and the elephant

The parable of the blind men and the elephant is a story told by Lord Buddha:

Once upon a time there was a certain raja who called to his servant and said, "Come, good fellow, go and gather together in one place all the men of Savatthi who were born blind... and show them an elephant."

"Very good, sire," replied the servant, and he did as he was told.

He said to the blind men assembled there, "Here is an elephant," and to one man he presented the head of the elephant, to another its ears, to another a tusk, to another the trunk, the foot, back, tail, and tuft of the tail, saying to each one that that was the elephant.

When the blind men had felt the elephant, the raja went to each of them and said to each, "Well, blind man, have you seen the elephant? Tell me, what sort of thing is an elephant?"

Thereupon the men who were presented with the head answered, "Sire, an elephant is like a pot." And the men who had observed the ear replied, "An elephant is like a winnowing basket." Those who had been presented with a tusk said it was a ploughshare. Those who knew only the trunk said it was a plough; others said the body was a grainery; the foot, a pillar; the back, a mortar; the tail, a pestle; the tuft of the tail, a brush.

Then they began to quarrel, shouting, "Yes it is!" "No, it is not!" "An elephant is not that!" "Yes, it's like that!" and so on, till they came to blows over the matter.

Brethren, the raja was delighted with the scene.

Just so are these preachers and scholars holding various views blind and unseeing.... In their ignorance they are by nature quarrelsome, wrangling, and disputatious, each maintaining reality is thus and thus.

Friday, January 16, 2004

The Wheel of Fortune Goes 'Round and 'Round

Once I heard a good explanation of the "wheel of fortune" metaphor, it became one of my favorites. At the top of the wheel is a wealthy, powerful man--a king of men. At the bottom is a destitute peasant. On one side a man is on the way up, but on the other side a man is going town. The wheel of fortune never stops spinning. You're always on your way up, or on your way down--not only physically, but emotionally as well. It's a miserable process going up, and it's a miserable process going down. The guy at the top is miserable because he knows success is fleeting. The guy at the bottom is miserable because... well, he's at the bottom of life. But the wheel keeps spinning and spinning. ("Changes aren't permanant, but change is.")

The only escape from all the spinning, all the striving and struggling, all the misery, is at the hub of the wheel. Let the world spin around you, and remain unmoved.

Getting to the hub is, of course, the tricky part!

Black Elk said that to his people (the Oglala Sioux), the center of the universe is located at Harney Peak, South Dakota. But, he said, the center of the universe is really carried inside you wherever you go. That is, sacred places are not physical locations; they're conditions.