The blind men and the elephant

A number of disciples went to the Buddha and said, “Sir, there are living here in Savatthi many wandering hermits and scholars who indulge in constant dispute, some saying that the world is infinite and eternal and others that it is finite and not eternal, some saying that the soul dies with the body and others that it lives on forever, and so forth. What, Sir, would you say concerning them?”

The Buddha answered, “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.”
Then the Exalted One rendered this meaning by uttering this verse of uplift,

“O how they cling and wrangle, some who claim,
For preacher and monk the honored name!
For, quarreling, each to his view they cling.
Such folk see only one side of a thing.

– from the Tittha Sutta.

Samsara

Imagine this scene: a layman sits in front of his house, eating a fish from the pond behind the house, holding his son in his lap. The dog is eating the fishbones and the man kicks the dog. Not an extraordinary scene one would think, but ven. Shariputra commented:

“He eats his father’s flesh and kicks his mother away,
The enemy he killed he dandles on his lap,
The wife is gnawing at her husband’s bones,
Samsara can be such a farce.”

What had happened? The man’s father died and was reborn as a fish in the pool, the layman caught his father, the fish, killed it, and was now eating it. The layman’s mother was very attached to the house so she was reborn as the man’s dog. The man’s enemy had been killed for raping the man’s wife; and because the enemy was so attached to her, he was reborn as her son. While he ate his father’s meat, the dog – his mother – ate the fish bones, and so was beaten by her son. His own little son, his enemy, was sitting on his knee.

– Unknown

Fluttering Mind

When we sit in a quiet forest when there’s no wind, the leaves are still. When the wind blows, the leaves flutter.

The mind is the same sort of thing as leaves. When it makes contact with an object, it vibrates in line with its nature. The less you know of the Dhamma, the more the mind vibrates. When it feels pleasure, it dies with the pleasure. When it feels pain, it dies with the pain. It keeps flowing on in this way.

– Ajahn Chah, Theravada, Thai Forest Tradition.