In various versions of the tale, a group of blind men (or men in the dark) touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but only one part, such as the side or the tusk. They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement.
The stories differ primarily in how the elephant's body parts are described, how violent the conflict becomes and how (or if) the conflict among the men and their perspectives is resolved (based on Wikipedia).

The blind men and the elephant (wall relief in Northeast Thailand)
The blind men and the elephant (wall relief in Northeast Thailand)

John Godfrey Saxe
One of the most famous versions of the 19th Century was the poem "The Blind Men and the Elephant" by
John Godfrey Saxe (1816–1887).
American poet John Godfrey Saxe based this poem, on a fable that was told in India many years ago. It is a good warning about how our sensory perceptions can lead to some serious misinterpretations; especially when the investigations of the component parts of a whole, and their relations in making up the whole, are inadequate and lack co-ordination.
And so these men of Hindustan Disputed loud and long, Each in his own opinion Exceeding stiff and strong, Though each was partly in the right And all were in the wrong.
And so these men of Hindustan Disputed loud and long, Each in his own opinion Exceeding stiff and strong, Though each was partly in the right And all were in the wrong.

The poem begins:


It was six men of Hindustan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind


The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me!-but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"


The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried: "Ho!-what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me't is mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"


The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"


The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he;
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"


The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"


The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"


And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!


So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

Buddhist Version

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.Jainism and Buddhism. Udana 68-69: Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant source
"Blind monks examining an elephant", an ukiyo-e print by Hanabusa Itchō
"Blind monks examining an elephant", an ukiyo-e print by Hanabusa Itchō

This is another verson of the blind men and the elphant. Rocky Radeff

I chose this picture because it is a depiction of of the story. The elephant is made of the objects that the blind men thought the elphant was. This picture can almost some up the whole story.

The updated story of the blind men and the zoo

  • Six blind men [3] are in search of an elephant, to discover what it is like. So they visit a zoo [4] and go their separate ways, exploring the animals with which they come into contact. One man goes up to the first animal that he encounters – a camel giving rides. He decides that it is an elephant. After a thorough investigation, he concludes that elephants are hairy, with two humps on their back, foul breath and long thin legs. The second blind man passes the elephant, ignoring the Braille sign next to it. Soon afterwards, he encounters an ostrich and concludes that this is an elephant, with feathers, two legs and a rather dangerous beak. The third and fourth men have equally unfruitful encounters with other animals. The fifth blind man ends up at the elephant enclosure and, oblivious to everything else around him due to the volume of his iPod, concludes that an elephant is like a castle, with four columns to support the armoured walls and two spears jutting forward either side of a large hollow hosepipe, which must be used for washing away its enemies.
  • A little later, the final blind man also reaches the elephant enclosure, having consulted the Braille direction signs scattered around the zoo and having asked one of the many friendly zookeepers in order to ensure that he really was in the right place for the elephant. Feeling his way around the elephant, this man mutters to himself, ‘I wonder what an elephant is really like.’ To his amazement, he hears the reply, ‘If you really want to know, I will show you.’ Immediately, his vision clears and he can see the whole elephant. He engages the elephant in earnest conversation until closing time, finding out just what the elephant thinks about the zoo, the visitors and the surroundings. At the same time, the man carefully takes note of all of the elephant’s characteristics.
  • On meeting up with his friends on the bus home, the sixth man finds that his friends have different and strange ideas about what an elephant is, but none of them have any idea what an elephant is truly like. The blind man explains to them his own encounter with the elephant – not just what it feels like, but that an encounter with this elephant can literally open their eyes and ears and reveal the inner nature of the elephant. Some believe him and return to the zoo to encounter the elephant for themselves. The others ignore him, continuing to listen to their iPods or dismissing him as crazy.
  • elephant-with-blind-men.jpg
  • -Jenna Hasson

Another interpretation

I chose this picture because it really just stood out to me. Most of the other images were mostly darker colors and grays, but this one was so bright. You can see the curiosity on the peoples faces and it depicts the excitement that comes along with discovering new things.

I found this picture on

- Megan Carlton

I though this was different because it actually had the poem on the picture. I also like the picture because it's a more calming photo. I just found it on Google images.

~Shelby Gillen

This is another interpretation of the parable, The Blind Men & The Elephant which I found on Yahoo Images. It shows
an easier drawing of the way each man reacted in the story.

This picture is from a site which discusses the truth of religions. The reading acknowledges that the story is ment to show that no religion is completely wrong or completely right. However, the article reverses this idea, by applying it to the story itself. The person who wrote the story is himself only grasping a part of the elephant and believes that his idea is the only truth. The argument is further explained here (It is the third article down).

-Andrew Ziegler