blind men feeling an elephant
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
(xia1 zi5 mo1 xiang4)
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。
(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.)
(Investors in this emerging market are like the blind men feeling the elephant; they’re still exploring how it reacts and operates.)
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.”
The parable of the blind men and the elephant has been used more generally to show how knowledge, even when arrived at experientially or empirically, is partial, and can therefore be misleading.
The simplicity and genius of the story has meant that it has captured the imagination of people in many cultures and countries around the world. In Chinese, it is encapsulated in the idiom 瞎子摸象 (blind men feeling an elephant).(Paul Cooper, Taipei Times)
Isolated research in individual scientific disciplines risks gaining only partial knowledge, rather like the story of the blind men inspecting the elephant.
There’s something I’m not quite understanding here. I feel like the proverbial blind man working out what an elephant looks like.
A: How are your legs? Not too tired? This is the final stretch. We’re almost at the top. B: So do we need to walk up that path? I think I’ll be fine: it looks like a gentle ascent, and there are steps all the way. A: Appearances can be deceptive. The path gets quite steep further on, and the steps become broken and irregular. We’re not out of the woods yet. B: What does that signpost say? If we take the right fork we will get to a temple in 25 minutes. A: Nice try. We’re going