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Blind Monks Examining an Elephant by Hanabusa Itcho
眾瞽探象之圖,英一蝶作。

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
照片:維基共享資源

Chinese practice

瞎子摸象

blind men feeling an elephant

(xia1 zi5 mo1 xiang4)

人對事件、事物或過程的理解方式有個特性,就是我們傾向把所能感知到、對我們有利的資訊,想像成是完整的,並據此形成自己的觀點,卻不知道(或不願去想像)這些訊息可能是不完整的。這種傾向在一個古老的寓言故事中完全體現了出來,這寓言起源於印度,並在佛教、印度教和耆那教經籍中以不同的形式出現,第一個版本可追溯到佛教典籍《自說經》,年代可追溯至公元前一千年。這個故事是圍繞著一群盲人展開,他們想知道大象是長什麼樣子,而各自觸摸了大象身體的一部分,結果每個人對大象長什麼樣子的描述,卻是各自表述、大相逕庭。

例如,在據信編纂於西元一○○至二二○年間的《大般涅槃經》(英文本譯者為山本晃紹)中,第三十九章〈獅子吼菩薩品〉對於「佛性」的討論,提到了一個故事──國王要求他一位大臣在一群盲人面前展示一頭大象,然後問他們大象的模樣為何。

「其觸牙者即言象形如蘆菔根。(摸到象牙的人說:「大象就像是蘿蔔。」)

其觸耳者言象如箕。(摸到象耳朵的人說:「大象就像一個揚穀箕。」)

其觸鼻者言象如杵。(摸到象鼻的人說:「大象就像一根杵。」)

其觸腳者言象如木臼。(摸到象腳的人說:「大象就像一個木製的研磨臼。」)

其觸脊者言象如床。(摸到象的背脊的人說:「大象就像一張床。」)

其觸腹者言象如甕。(摸到象的肚子的人說:「大象就像一個甕。」)

其觸尾者言象如繩。(摸到象尾巴的人說:「大象就像一條繩子。」)」

於是國王說道:

「所有這些盲人都無法辨認大象長什麼樣子,但又不是說他們都沒做出任何對大象的描述。所有這些描述都是大象的一個面向,若沒有這些部分,就不成其為大象。」

這部經所討論的,是「佛性」的存在。「the blind men and the elephant」(盲人與大象)的寓言如今已有更廣泛的用法,表示知識是偏頗的──即便這些知識是靠親身經驗所獲得的──因此可能會造成很大的誤導。

這個寓言的簡單性和巧思,讓世界各地不同文化和國家的人都受到了啟發;在中文裡,它體現在「瞎子摸象」這個成語裡。 (台北時報林俐凱譯)

你做出評斷之前要有通盤的了解,不要只是根據個人瞎子摸象的侷限視野和理解。

(You should have understood it completely before making your assessment, not just got a partial understanding and insight like the proverbial blind man feeling the elephant.)

投資者在這個新興市場其實就如瞎子摸象,還在摸索它的反應和運作型態。

(Investors in this emerging market are like the blind men feeling the elephant; they’re still exploring how it reacts and operates.)

英文練習

the parable of the blind men and the elephant

A feature of the way people tend to understand an event, an object or a process is that we take all of the information our perception avails us of and, imagining it to be complete, form an opinion based upon that, unaware (or unwilling to conceive) that this information may well be partial. This tendency is perfectly captured in a parable of considerable antiquity, originating in the Indian subcontinent and appearing, in one form or the other, in Buddhist, Hindu and Jain texts, the first version being traceable to the Buddhist text Udana, dated to the mid 1st millennium BC. This parable revolves around how a group of blind men trying to understand the appearance of an elephant individually explore different sections of the animal and come away with radically different ideas of what it looks like.

In a discussion on the Buddha-Nature that appears in Chapter 39 (On Bodhisattva Lion’s Roar) of the translation into English by Kosho Yamamoto of the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana (Nirvana) Sutra, thought to have been compiled between 100 AD and 220 AD, for example, there is a story in which a king asks his minister to show an elephant to a group of blind people and then asks them what the elephant was like.

“The person who had touched its tusk said: ‘The elephant is like [a radish].’

The man who had touched its ear said: ‘The elephant is like a winnow.’

The one who had touched its trunk said: ‘The elephant is like a pestle.’

The person who had touched its foot said: ‘The elephant is like a handmill made of wood [or mortar].’

The one who had touched it by the spine said: ‘The elephant is like a bed.’

The man who had touched its belly said: ‘The elephant is like a pot.’

The man who had touched it by its tail said: ‘The elephant is like a rope.’”

The king then says,

“All these blind persons were not well able to tell of the form of the elephant. And yet, it is not that they did not say anything at all about the elephant. All such aspects of representation are of the elephant. And yet, other than these, there cannot be any elephant.”

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