Perception of Objects

Yoga acknowledges that we experience things at a point in time. This ‘point in time’ may be a moment of stress, a moment of calm reflection, or when two events experienced closely together highlight a perspective or deliver an insight. Our perceptions of an event or an experience can vary greatly depending on the point in time. In effect, what we find significant at one moment in time may look very different at another moment in time. What stands out as the most significant aspect may, upon reflection, seem less so or completely irrelevant when viewed from another point in time. With experience, we come to see that our perception is fallible and changing.

There is a famous story that illustrates this, as noted in the parable below.


A number of disciples went to the Buddha and said, “Sir, there are many wandering hermits and scholars living here 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, would you say about these scholars?” The Buddha answered,

“Once upon a time there was a Raja (a King) who called to his servant and said, ‘go and gather together in one place all the men who were born blind and show them an elephant.’

“‘Very good, sir’, replied the servant, and he did as he was told. 

“The Raja said to the blind men assembled, “Here is an elephant”.  To one man he presented the ears, to another the trunk, to another the tail, to another the leg, another the tusk and to another the side of the elephant. 

“When the blind men had felt the elephant, the Raja went to each of them and said, “Well, blind man, have you seen the elephant? Tell me, what sort of a thing is it?”

Thereupon the man who had observed the ear said, “Sire, an elephant is like a fan”; and the man who had been presented with the tusk said it was a spear.  “An elephant is like a tree”, said the man who knew only the leg, and another said that the elephant was a wall or a rope. “Then they all began to quarrel, shouting, ‘Yes it is!” ‘No it is not!’.  ‘An elephant is not that!’ ‘Yes, it is like this!’ and so on, till they came to blows over the matter. The raja was delighted”

The Buddha said to his disciples

“Just as these preachers and scholars are holding specific views they become blind and unseeing.  In their ignorance they are by nature quarrelsome, wrangling and disputatious, each maintaining reality is thus and thus.  Such folk see only one side of a thing”.

There are two teachers in the parable, 1) the Buddha who is asked by his disciples what he has to say concerning the scholars who are in dispute and 2) the Raja who was the one who asked his servants to bring the blind men to the elephant. 

There is method being applied by each of these teachers.

Buddha did not engage in theoretical explanations in his attempt to help his disciples find an answer to their questions.  The Buddha told a story of the Raja.  The story of the raja is as powerful today as was hundreds of years ago. – It is a story to conjure images and relates quickly to a part of the brain that allows the truth to surface.  A universal truth and yet a very personal truth.

As humans we take hold of idea and make our truth the only truth. 

And, as humans we have the capacity to recognize this tendency within ourselves. Understanding that we have a capacity to watch ourselves. Understanding that we have a view of who we think we are and then to recognize that this is only one view.

If the Buddha had tried to give an answer to his disciples by way of intellectual explanation, the result would likely be a replication of the rabble depicted in the parable.  Each disciple would likely argue that they had heard the explanation most clearly and that they were correct in their interpretation.  In the Buddha’s choice of teaching, each disciple is left with an image – a point of reflection about the experiences that are observed within humanity.

What this parable teaches us is that we need to test the veracity of our knowing to ensure that what appears to be evident, or truth, may only be partial. We need a way to test our knowing …..