In India legends and stories about elephants abound. Even philosophers used the example of the elephant to illustrate a great moral precept.
One well-known legend tells how an Indian mahout (elephant driver) ordered his six sons--all of whom were blind--to wash the family elephant. Each boy was given a certain portion of the elephant's body to wash. Delighted to have this chance to learn something about elephants, the sightless boys took great pride in the opportunity given them by their good father, and were all extremely careful in the diagnosis of their first experience with the elephant.
About an hour later, when the elephant washing was over, the six blind boys simultaneously shouted, "Now I know what an elephant is like!" Then the first son addressed the second son: "Well, what is the elephant like?" The second brother, who had been washing the sides of the animal, promptly declared: "It is just like a huge wall." The first son, who had been washing the elephant's trunk, retorted scornfully: "You are talking nonsense. The elephant is just like a bamboo pole."
Listening to the quarrel between his two brothers, the third son, who had washed the elephant's ears, laughed and interrupted: "You fools, you don't know anything. The elephant is like two big banana leaves."
Hearing what he thought to be absurd remarks from his brothers, the fourth son, who had been washing the four legs of the elephant, stated firmly: "You are all wrong. It is ridiculous for you to fight about something you evidently know nothing about. The elephant is only a large roof of flesh supported by four fleshly pillars."
The fifth son, who had been washing the tusks of the elephant, was by this time shaking with laughter, but he managed to speak up: "My blundering brothers, listen to me. I declare, as a result of personal experience, that the elephant is nothing but a pair of bones."
This was too much for the sixth son, who had washed the tail of the elephant. "All of you must be crazy," he exclaimed, "or under the spell of hallucinations. The elephant is only a piece of rope hanging from heaven."
This boy, being the youngest and quite short, could not reach the top of the elephant's tail, and so thought that the animal was a heavenly rope suspended just above the earth by the gods.
The father, who had been nearby, cooking some rice for the elephant, heard in great merriment all this squabble about the animal, but he came running to his children when their argument waxed into a free-for-all fight. "You assorted young fools, stop this fighting!" he commanded. "All of you are right and yet all of you are wrong."
The boys cried in unison: "How can that be?" To which the father replied: "It is I who have seen the whole elephant, and I know that all of you are right because you have each one described a part of the elephant. But all of you are wrong because the whole elephant is neither a pair of tusks, nor four legs, nor one trunk, nor a huge wall of flesh, nor a tail; but he is an aggregate of all of these. The tail or the trunk separated from the elephant, could not be termed an elephant."
The story very well illustrates the condition of modern theoretical religions or "isms." Most religious denominations possess only partial knowledge of the elephant of truth. Zealous followers argue with one another like the six blind brothers, each claiming to know the whole truth.
The time has come when seekers can heal their inner blindness by awakening, through meditation, the latent Christ-wisdom within them. In this way they may experience the feeling of brotherhood, understanding, and see truth revealed in the light of their own inner Self-realization.
When the blindness of ignorance and denominational bias is healed by the Self-realization of God, the whole elephant of truth will be perceived as the essence of all religions. Then interdenominational friction and religious and racial prejudice will cease. There will be one church, one brotherhood, one scientific highway of religions, one temple of truth everywhere.
From SRF Service Readings, Volume III, Number 20 "The Oneness of Religion" by Paramhansa Yogananda