July 9, 2006

A Popular Indian Fable

Posted in mythology, religion, scripture, theology at 11:24 am by Jerry

I’ve been reading Myths To Live By by Joseph Campbell. I usually wait until I’ve finished a book before I blog about it, but just for kicks, I thought I’d throw something down I thought was intriguing.

The book is definitely a good read for those who like comparing religions and exploring their psychological purposes. I recognized some of the passages Campbell quoted from eastern texts, but there was one that I not only didn’t recognize, but it also seems like it has something different than other eastern tales I’ve read.

A young aspirant whose guru had just brought home to him the realization of himself as identical in essence with the power that supports the universe and which in theological thinking we personify as “God.” The youth, profoundly moved, exalted in the notion of himself as at one with the Lord and Being of the Universe, walked away in a state of profound absorption; and when he had passed in that state through the village and out onto the road beyond it, he beheld, coming in his direction, a great elephant bearing a howdah on its back and with the mahout, the driver, riding — as they do — high on its neck, above its head.

And the young candidate for sainthood, meditating on the proposition “I am God; all things are God,” on perceiving that mighty elephant coming toward him, added the obvious corollary, “The elephant also is God.” The animal, with its bells jingling to the majestic rhythm of its stately approach, was steadily coming on, and the mahout above its head began shouting, “Clear the way! Clear the way, you idiot! Clear the way!” The youth, in his rapture, was thinking still, “I am God; that elephant is God.” And, hearing the shouts of the mahout, he added, “Should God be afraid of God? Should God get out of the way of God?”

The phenomenon came steadily on with the driver at its head still shouting at him, and the youth, in undistracted meditation, held both to his place on the road and to his transcendental insight, until the moment of truth arrived and the elephant, simply wrapping its great trunk around the lunatic, tossed him aside, off the road.

Physically shocked, spiritually stunned, the youth landed all in a heap, not greatly bruised but altogether undone; and rising, not even adjusting his clothes, he returned, disordered, to his guru, to require an explanation. “You told me,” he said, when he had explained himself, “You told me that I was God.” “Yes,” said the guru, “You are God.” “You told me that all things are God.” “Yes,” said the guru again, “all things are God.” “That elephant, then, was God?” “So it was. That elephant was God. But why didn’t you listen to the voice of God, shouting from the elephant’s head, to get out of the way?”

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