Blind Monks and the Elephant Image from Wikimedia Commons

Blind Monks and the Elephant
Image from Wikimedia Commons

A very good friend is Baha’i, and told me this week about the wonderful Ridvan celebration Baha’i from around the world take part in, honoring the commencement of Baha’u’llah‘s prophethood.  Concurrent with this, I was confronted with a very strong opinion regarding the incorrectness of observing anything other than the One True Path.  I’m Christian, and enjoy the celebrations of my friends, neighbors, and those I admire, regardless of their spiritual traditions – how is my belief of the One True Path not diluted or polluted by supporting the differing beliefs of others?

There is an ancient Indian poem about the six blind men and the elephant.  Each came to the elephant and experienced a different part of the animal’s great body, compared the experience with what they already knew, and came away with part of the truth.  Each was right, each was different, and each was incomplete.  How does this parable apply to living peaceably in a world of such diverging views?

I believe, as many faithful of many faiths do, in a Creator Who is truly Infinite.  I, as many of my earth-bound friends are also, am a very finite being.  How can I comprehend entirely the majesty of an infinite Being?  Many of the world’s major scriptures include phrases which describe the principle of Divine knowledge being given to seekers in the language and to the understanding of the seeker.  Just as books are written about the same subjects in many languages so we can all share in knowledge, spiritual knowledge is given with many symbols so each person is able to understand Truth in the manner best suited to him or her.  Different paths of learning don’t negate Truth, but rather help us explore, see, and appreciate many different facets, and serve to expand our limited, finite knowledge.  The Muslim philisopher Dr. Tariq Ramadan speaks about this perceived dichotomy of faith beautifully in his book The Quest for Meaning, and I find his perspective on the subject particularly illuminating.

Each of us is made uniquely, each of us has a particular perspective to share, each of us can contribute, and each of us can learn.  The Indian parable teaches that all the blind men were wrong in their observations, but that isn’t quite the reality.  Each was right, and rather than arguing with each other, each could have learned so much from his neighbor through listening.  By exploring, learning, and appreciating other perspectives, our own beliefs are expanded and strengthened.  When we join in the celebrations of faith of our neighbors, rather than diluting or polluting our own beliefs we are deepened and enriched.  The Infinite is beyond my ability to see, but I catch glimpses through the joy of my friends.