There is a classical Indian story about three blind men and an elephant. Each of the three blind men are trying to understand exactly what the elephant is like, but experiencing different parts of the large creat/ure. The first blind man is feeling all over the leg of the elephant and says, “It is like a strong tree.” But, the second is holding the trunk, explaining, “It is like an ever changing vine.” The third blind man is running his hands across the large body of the elephant, exclaiming, “No, it is endless, like a wide mountain.” What does this story have to do with Westerners and Yoga? To each of the blind men, the conclusions they have reached about the Elephant is correct, given their experiences and sensory data. Based on their experience with the elephant, they are correct. The problem is with the data itself and forgetting their own limitations. They are not seeing the whole picture and not experiencing the totality of the elephant because the creature is much larger than they are able to grasp. Also they are forgetting their own limitations, i.e., forgetting that they are blind.
In some ways this story illustrates how Westerners view Yoga and the Vedic Sciences. Our conclusions seem valid, given our culture, upbringing and faculties that we commonly use here in the West, yet we often fail to see the bigger picture. Practices like chanting and praying to multi armed Gods and speaking of peace and oneness do not resonate with the individualistic, somewhat cynical, hip image so perpetual in the West. Yoga and the Vedic Sciences are deep and vast and not able to be grasped so quickly. In many ways our perspective is tainted by what we cannot see, and have not been exposed to. Before we close our mind to an entire way of looking at the world, it is first wise to look at ourselves, to look at our own biases, preconceptions and blind spots.
Let’s say we stumbled upon these three blind men while they were arguing about the true nature of the Elephant. One insisting it is like a tree, the other a vine and another a mountain. If like most people we would try to intervene and say, “hey guys, an elephant is a large living creature that roams the Earth in large groups, is sensitive and intelligent.” But why should the blind men believe us? They may suspect that we have ulterior motives. They cannot see the things we are describing. They may be suspicious and feel we are trying to trick them. Perhaps we will profit by selling them our description of the elephant. Most of us are suspicious when relying on second hand information that challenges our core beliefs, which are based on our core experiences. Many are like the blind men, suspicious of Yoga and the deeper layers of it.
Let’s just say we are talking to a blind man who does not believe in light. He has only known darkness. He has never seen the world. What could we say to convince him that sight exists, that light exists? According to his experience, light is not even possible in dreams. Perhaps he will believe us, but perhaps not. There is no concrete proof possible, because it is the experience of sight that is it’s own teacher. The same is true of love and God and everything else meaningful in life. The blind man does not need data and information in order to believe in light, he needs medicine or an operation. He needs to see! No amount of information can convince a person to change their fundamental beliefs and principles. Knowledge is a product of experience, everything else is a belief.
Belief is only necessary for that which we do not know. Belief is based on doubt. For example, for sighted people there is no need to believe in the color yellow. We have experienced the color yellow. Yellow is a fact, if we have sight. But to a blind man, the concept of the color yellow must be a belief because he has no factual knowledge, no experience with the phenomena. If we were to describe the color yellow to the blind man, we would have to refer to things that are a part of his experience. Perhaps something like ” Yellow is like the smell of a lemon and the warmth of the sunshine and the taste of vanilla and the sound of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and he would be more confused than enlightened after that description.
So what to say about our beliefs when it comes to the things we do not know? We too are like the blind men searching for light when it comes to higher concepts like God, or the meaning of life. We must rely on our beliefs because we do not yet know the answer. Our core beliefs are based on our experiences, just like the blind men. In the West we are skeptical of concepts like ‘God” or “worship,” because we are used to these concepts being based on blind faith, which goes against our nature. As sentient beings we are looking for life to make sense, and our part in it to make sense also. Everyone wants to believe in something higher, something transcendent, but we do not want to feel mentally enslaved in the process. In some ways Western religions have unknowingly done that and made us cynical in the process. Western religions are based on worship (Bhakti Yoga) and service. (Karma Yoga ) These are both honorable and important paths, but there is a lack when it comes to satisfying the mind’s need for answers (Jnana Yoga) and the need for proper techniques (Raja Yoga – Hatha Yoga) and methods to increase our level of consciousness, to give that necessary experience of truth, not just dogma or second hand explanations. These truthful experiences are what change our core beliefs.
Sam Geppi has over 20 years of Vedic Study and experience. He is a Hatha Yoga instructor and certified Vedic Astrologer and Teacher through the ACVA (level 2) as well as author of “The Ascendant”. Visit His Astrology Forum and Community [http://todaysastrology.net] at Todays Astrology.net – Also Get Free Daily horoscopes [http://freedailyhoroscope.org] at his website Free Daily Horoscope.org