“The Elephant in the Dark” – Rumi’s story and wisdom behind the adage

“The Elephant in the Dark” – Rumi’s story and wisdom behind the adage


Rumi’s “Masnavi” is a spiritual masterpiece consisting of poetic narratives and allegorical stories. One of the captivating stories from the “Masnavi” is the tale of “The Elephant in the Dark,” , which is a story rich in symbolism and imparts profound spiritual wisdom. This story has been found in ancient Buddhist, Hindu and Jain texts, but Rumi’s decribes it with his unique persian style of verse.

In Rumi’s narrative, a group of blind men is brought to an elephant. None of them has ever encountered this magnificent creature before. Each blind man touches a different part of the elephant and forms an understanding of the whole based on his limited perception.

The one who touches the elephant’s trunk perceives it as a thick snake, while the man feeling its ear thinks it’s like a broad, flat leaf. The blind man at the elephant’s side believes it to be a solid wall, and the one touching the leg describes it as a tree trunk. As each blind man shares his interpretation, they argue vehemently, each insisting that his version is the only truth.

Rumi uses this allegory to illustrate the limited nature of human perception and understanding, especially when it comes to comprehending the vastness of divine truth. The elephant symbolizes the divine reality, and the blind men represent individuals trying to grasp this reality through their subjective experiences.

In the story, a wise man passing by observes the argument and realizes the source of the disagreement. He enlightens the blind men, explaining that they are all touching the same elephant, and their varying perspectives contribute to a fuller understanding of the majestic creature. He encourages them to listen to one another and appreciate the diverse aspects each has encountered.

The moral of the story is that spiritual truth is vast and multifaceted, and individuals may perceive it differently based on their unique experiences and perspectives. Rumi encourages his readers to be open-minded, tolerant, and understanding, emphasizing the importance of unity in diversity on the spiritual journey.

“The Elephant in the Dark” serves as a timeless metaphor for the human quest for understanding the divine, urging seekers to embrace diverse spiritual experiences and interpretations with humility and openness.

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