Many in our society are skeptical when someone or some group makes a claim to know Truth. And rightly so. Even scientific observation is never fully objective. Science again and again needs to adjust its conclusions (is salt or cream or eggs bad for us—or good?!) because researchers’ blind spots and biases can skewer their results.
Some persons go much farther and deny even the possibility of us knowing Truth. They say that each of us can only know our own “lived experience” but never be sure of objective or universal values.
An old poem by John Godfrey Saxe seems to have anticipated our postmodern skepticism. It describes the
…six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind).
Depending on which part of the elephant they touch, they conclude the elephant is like a wall, a spear, a rope, or other things. So they
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.
Yes, our experience and knowledge is limited, like those blind men. We can never take in the whole picture.
So it seems inescapable that Truth is forever beyond our reach. Except for one thing. In the poem, who saw the incident? How can the story be told unless there’s someone who saw it happen—saw the elephant and each blind man touching a part of it?
Indeed, in the first version of the story, told by Buddha, the raja or king looks on as one man thinks the elephant is like a wall, one like a rope, and so on. That’s how we have the story: the king saw what went on. His understanding was not limited like the blind men.
Is it possible that some King sees all of reality and life, sees this group grabbing onto this aspect of life and that group latching onto that? And can tell the full story of what’s happening? Such a One would be able to fit the various parts of understanding into a complete whole, would know how life fits together. Such a One could—and does—give us Truth.