A school teacher took the register for his small class of six blind and partially sighted students. These children were excellent pupils. Curious about everything, they asked Mr Shanti hundreds of questions about every topic under the sun.
“Is there a god, sir?” Ruby once asked at the start of a science class.
Before Mr Shanti could reply, Amy shouted out, “Yes, but he’s a scary man.”
“No, no, he’s not,” interjected Roy, “My mum told me he lives in trees and flowers and nature.”
Mr Shanti usually encouraged discussion but this time he changed the subject and began teaching the children about the great elephants of Africa — the largest animals to roam the plains. He shared some fact that amazed the class: that an elephant can weigh up to 14,000 pounds, which is as much as a school bus; it can suck almost 8 litres of water in its trunk before squirting it into its mouth; and that it can warn other elephants of danger by making infrasonic sounds that carry for five miles.
The children were intrigued. “Elephants sound amazing!” they exclaimed. “Please sir, could you take us to an elephant so we can touch it and hear it?”
Mr Shanti thought this was a fantastic idea. He did a little research and was delighted to find out that a circus was visiting nearby for a few days. He called up the company and the friendly owner enthusiastically invited the schoolchildren over for a visit.
In nervous anticipation, the group went to the circus with Mr Shanti. They arrived in the afternoon when most of the animals and circus troupe were resting or preparing for the evening’s show. Bert Jackson, the man in charge, took them to Millie, a gentle old elephant that didn’t mind new guests. The boys and girls cautiously gathered around her and waited for Mr Shanti to tell them what to do.
“Be relaxed children, Millie is safe to touch. You can give her a pat from wherever you are and make friends with her,” said the teacher.
Without any ado, Millie made the first move and wound her trunk playfully around Ruby, who stood near her face. Ruby squealed. “Oooh! Millie feels like a slippery snake.”
Hearing this, the rest of the excited children outstretched their arms to touch Millie. Roy was standing by Millie’s stomach and rubbed her. “No Ruby, elephants feel just like a rough dry wall,” he concluded.
Barrie grabbed Millie’s thick hind leg. “You two don’t know what you are talking about. Millie is just like a pillar.”
The two twins, Amy and Amir giggled. Amy could feel a light wind as Millie’s tail swished near her. “You have got it wrong. This elephant is just like a fan of some kind,” she said.
“No, no, Amy, you’re mistaken,” said Amir who was also by the tail. “Millie is just like a long rope with hairy bits.”
“Ouch!” shouted Jake, “I think Millie is more like a scary spear or something.” He had run his hands along the long and smooth ivory tusk and touched the tip.
A mild disagreement brewed between the children who each felt that he or she was right. Mr Shanti smiled with approval.
“Children, you are all correct. Well, partly correct. The trunk is like a slippery snake, the body is like a rough wall, the legs are like a pillar and so on. The elephant looks just as you have described it,” he said.
“Sir, how can the elephant be all the things we said? Can one thing look like so many different things at the same time?” asked Barrie.
“Exactly, that’s exactly the truth Barrie. And it applies to even bigger and greater things than just an elephant.”
“Like what sir?” asked Ruby.
Mr Shanti chuckled and said. “Well, your discussion about god. It’s exactly the same. Who is he? What does he look like? Is he scary or kind? Everyone argues about it – even grown-up people. Some people say he lives in the heart, some say in nature, some say as a light and some as a person. So these are all correct because each is an aspect of him. We must learn to respect ideas from different cultures.
“But sir, is there a complete answer? said Amir.
“Well, yes, if you combined all the perspectives then you would get a broader and more complete picture, that’s for sure. Some spiritual teachers include all aspects in their teachings.”