The ancient parable of the blind men and the elephant illustrates the teaching of Anekantavada, or manifold truth. In the parable a group of blind men is asked to each lay hands on a different part of an elephant, and to describe what they perceive. Each of the men has hold of a different part of the elephant, so the one holding its leg says, “it is like a tree trunk.” Another, who has hold of its trunk, says “No! It is like a rope!” Another, who has hold of its tail says “You are both wrong! It is like a branch!” and still another, who is feeling the elephant’s side says, “What are you all saying? It is like a wall!”. And so, each is firm in their belief that their perception is truth, when they are all, in fact, touching limited parts of the same great thing.
Science and Spirituality are also both like the blind men touching the elephant.
I have to giggle when people accuse me of being too involved in science and discounting the “Truth” of spiritual teachings. I am by no means a scientist. I don’t think that anyone reading any of my books can accuse me of being a scientist. However, I do value some of what science can reveal to us about the mechanisms of the manifest world, because those insights help me to walk my spiritual path more effectively.
Science is limited by design. It is a process that was developed to attempt to provide an objective way to explore the workings of the physical, mechanical universe. The scientific process is only able to test the physical through experiments that can be replicated. That is all science will ever be able to describe, as that is all it was created to describe.
The scientific process does a fairly good job at taking the person out of the process. That is not to say that science is infallible– it certainly and emphatically isn’t. Sometimes long held scientific “fact” is revealed to be wrong through further explorations using the scientific process. And, some scientists who were held to be “crackpots” by their peers because they theorize beyond what can be physically tested, reveal stunning new perceptions of the manifest universe. Science is not meant to be a belief system. It is meant to be a way to circumvent belief, so that the individual scientist’s beliefs don’t affect the outcome of the process. But, we also know that the beliefs and intentions of the scientist do often affect the outcome of the experiment and, more often, the interpretation of the collected data. So, no, science is not infallible, nor is it the only “true” perception.
Spirituality is also a process of trying to understand our universe and our place within it. The spiritual process is one of using various methods to connect with a greater consciousness, which in many cases is believed to be the originating consciousness that is responsible for all of the manifest and unmanifest multiverse. In other words, God (substitute the Diety or concept of your choice here). Unlike the scientific process, which strives to be objective and to eradicate subjective influence, the spiritual process is highly subjective by design. It cannot be otherwise because of the nature of what is being explored. On this path, the replicate-able experiments are processes like meditation, prayer, contemplation and ritual. A basic form is developed (a spiritual practice), through which data is collected (subjective experience). This is what is called the spiritual path– the process of collecting experience while attempting to use various forms to better facilitate connection with Divine Consciousness.
One of the great pitfalls in this amazing journey of spirituality is that of learning what experience is truly coming from connection with Divine Consciousness, and which is coming from the ego’s perception. This can be very difficult because the ego is really good at using spiritual-seeming information and experience to distract one from true connection with Divine Consciousness. A large part of the spiritual journey is learning objective perception from within subjective experience.
So, why do I say that spirituality is one of the blind men feeling the elephant? Shouldn’t spirituality lead us to perceiving the whole elephant? In my experience, the more you cultivate your spiritual consciousness, the more you realize that you cannot perceive the whole elephant because you’re not just feeling it– you’re IN it. There is TRUTH, but we cannot perceive the totality of it. What we can do is become more and more aware of the fact that we are perceiving only a small part of the elephant of truth we are attempting to know, no matter which part we are feeling up.
So, it really is not a matter of science vs. spirituality. It is a matter of recognizing that each process explains things that the other cannot. There is a place in the middle where both perspectives can be honored and valued.
One thought on “Science + Spirituality AKA The Blind Men and the Elephant”
Well it’s 2018 and just read this but great article. Easy to understand and helpful on my journey through mental illness and developing my own belief system.