Sri Ramakrishna would often caution his devotees about the pitfalls in their attempts to understand the Truth. He would say that people are often blinded by limitations such as past samskaras, etc., and fail to perceive the Truth. To illustrate this idea he used to narrate a beautiful story.
Once, a group of blind men were passing through a street. They came across a procession and were told that there was a highly decorated elephant at the helm of the procession. One blind man touched the leg of the elephant and said that the elephant was like a pillar. Another touched the trunk of the elephant and said that the elephant was like a thick club. Then the third man touched the belly of the elephant and said that the elephant was like a big jar. The fourth one touched the ear of the elephant and said that the elephant was like a big winnowing basket. Thus they began to discuss hotly among themselves about the shape of the elephant.
A passerby seeing them quarrelling thus said, “What is it that you are quarrelling about?” The blind men narrated to him everything and requested him to arbitrate.
He said, “None of you have felt the elephant completely. The elephant is not like a pillar, but its leg is. The elephant is not like a winnowing basket, but its ear is. The elephant is not like a club, but its trunk is. Similarly, the elephant is not like a big jar, but its belly is so. The elephant is the sum total of all these i.e., legs, ears, trunk, belly and so on.”
Sri Ramakrishna would conclude that because of their limitations people are unable to perceive the Truth. Only by intense spiritual practice or Sadhana one can overcome limitations such as identification with the body and mind. Only by transcending such limitations one can arrive at true knowledge.
-by Swami Shantatmananda, Sunday Guardian, 21st Jun 2014