The Blind Men and a Queer Animal


In the Buddhist version of the , a young man approaches Buddha with a dilemma…. Part of a series on truth.

Dozens of hermits and wandering scholars are making contradictory claims about reality.

Some claim everything is infinite.

Others claim all is finite.

Then some claim just certain artifacts are infinite while other artifacts are merely finite.

Who’s right?

In response Buddha tells a story:

Once upon time a great king told a servant to round up all the blind men in their province and let them feel an elephant.

The servant does so. And each blind man inspects the elephant.

One reports an elephant is like a pot–he inspected the head.

Another reports an elephant is like a winnowing basket–he touched the ear.

Another suggests an elephant is a plowshare–he felt the tusk.

Yet another reported the animal was a plow–he ran his hand along the tusk.

And another said it was a grainery–he made his way over the side of the elephant.

Some held the foot and said an elephant was a pillar. Some climbed on the back and decided it was an overturned mortar.

Others messed with the tail and pronounced the animal a pestle. Then others ran their fingers through the tuft of the tail and asserted the beast was a brush.

It wasn’t long before the blind men fell to blows with each other.

At this point, the king explained to his servant that the preachers and scholars who fight and argue for their limited view of reality are simply blind and unseeing.

And, in typical Buddha fashion the story ends. The student is required to figure out the conclusion on his own.

Not a bad educational strategy. In fact, it’s an exceptional strategy.

The only problem with Buddha’s conclusion is that he doesn’t interact with the original problem: Men argue, yes. But is what any of them saying true?

Just because they are bigoted, blind and quarrelsome doesn’t mean they are wrong.

Buddha’s answer amounts to an attack on character. But not a reply to any of the truth claims presented.

Blind Men and a Queer Animal [Indian Version]

In the Indian version of the Blind Men and the Elephant parable, the conclusion makes another bald assertion: All religions lead to the same God.

You’ve more than likely heard this parable before.

The argument goes like this: each blind man is feeling the same part of the same elephant. All are partly right. But in their limited view, all are wrong.

Another way to say it is like this: All paths lead to the same mountain. Or like this: Religion is a wheel whose varied disciplines are spokes that ultimately lead to the same peace and harmony at the core.

In other words, no one has a superior view of religion.

Here’s my point: This assertion is leveled at Christianity all the time. [Frankly, it’s leveled at pretty much all religions, but since I’m a Christian, I’ll interact with the Christian side.]

It’s meant to convey that we have no right to claim an exclusive hold on truth: Who dares anyone say they have a superior view of religion?

To suggest they do would be inflammatory and offensive.

First off, why should I believe that all religions lead to the same God? Second, isn’t that a superior view of religion–in itself inflammatory and offensive?

While such an assertion is clothed in humility, it demonstrates an undercurrent of arrogance and imperialism.

It says “I have the superior view of religion. Not you.”

It’s an appearance of truth. But that’s all. It’s nothing more than an arrogant claim that needs to be backed up.

In fact, any close inspection of world religions will reveal that all religions DO NOT lead to the same God.

Spelling Out the Uniqueness of Christianity

For instance, in the monotheistic three alone you have vast disagreements about who God is. Judaism and Islam reject Christ as God who Christians embrace as the one part of the Trinity.

While the prevailing slogan might be “Unite or perish!” by those committed to a religious consensus in the name of tolerance, to do so means watering down Christianity [all religions, in fact].

But in the end, it indicates a refusal to interact with the veracity of Christianity’s truth claims.

So, if you are sincerely interested in an introduction to the unique nature of Christianity, read Erwin Lutzer’s . Leslie Newbigin’s . Or Ravi Zacharias’ .

And listen, spelling out how Christianity fundamentally differs from other religions is not an invitation to fight. Rather, it’s an invitation to explore who we feel–based on the evidence–is our only messiah, Jesus Christ.

Your Turn

What other versions of the blind men and the elephant parable have you heard? Can you suggest any other books on comparative religion? On the uniqueness of Christianity?

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