The Abstract Elephant Magazine is an interdisciplinary, digital publication dedicated to understanding the issues of the human condition through the arts, the sciences, and philosophy. This magazine began with the intention to create a space for comparative endeavors and interdisciplinary research, since our basic belief is that improvement in the human condition takes place in open dialogue and debate.
Though ambiguous, “the human condition ” is a term generally used to describe events, situations, and characteristics that compose human existence. This can include issues of morality, philosophy, and features of existence like birth, mortality, emotionality and conflict. The intention of this magazine is to dismantle outdated ideas, perspectives or arguments regarding the human condition and to put forth newer conceptualizations regarding issues of human existence. TAEM intends to tackle what it means to be a human in today’s world on planet Earth. What are our societies like? How do we find meaning or purpose? What character flaws can we identify with and how do we overcome these? These are the kinds of questions we seek to address.
The second intention of TAEM is to be interdisciplinary in nature: to reflect on the human condition accurately, we believe it is crucial to utilize as many different disciplines as possible. Whether through the arts, the sciences, or philosophy, we don’t discriminate. A goal of the magazine is to bring together numerous perspectives, fields of study, and forms of writing to address the broad, overarching questions of humanity that are often suppressed in our day-to-day lives. Another goal behind our interdisciplinary methodology is to promote viewpoint diversity. The elephant cannot be grasped alone; though it is abstract, we can seek the truth in conversation with one another.
The third intention of TAEM is to promote unpublished or lesser known writers, artists, and academics. While our primary intention is to publish quality work of high academic, literary, or artistic merit, we also intend to aid those with unique ideas other publishers may have overlooked. As writers and academics, the editors of TAEM understand the common roadblacks in the academic and literary publishing worlds, and are dedicated to promoting struggling writers or artists with thought-provoking works. Additionally, we intend to create an avenue for undergraduate or graduate students seeking their first academic publications.
The Story Behind Our Name
The parable of the blind men and the elephant is believed to have originated on the Indian subcontinent, where the first written version is traced to the Buddhist text Udana 6.4 and dated to the 1st millennium BC. The parable is believed to be older than the Buddhist text, and has since been widely diffused across countries with variations in detail, outcome and meaning.
Taken from Udana 6.4, the parable of the blind men and the elephant is paraphrased below.
The Blind Men & The Elephant
Once upon a time in the city of Shravasti, there were many brahmans of varying sects, opinions and beliefs. They argued over doctrine and Dhamma, criticizing each other for variations in viewpoint. One morning, the brahmans encountered the Blessed One (Buddha) and asked of his opinion regarding their quarrels; he told them this story:
Once, in the city of Shravasti, there was a king who asked a servant to find all the men who had been blind since birth. After all the blind men had been gathered in one area, the king further instructed the servant to present the group of blind men to an elephant. The servant introduced each of the blind men to a different body part of the elephant, saying, “this is what an elephant is like.”
The king then went to the blind men and asked each man to describe to him what an elephant is like.
The first blind man had been shown the elephant’s head, the second had been shown the ear, and, in turn, he presented the rest of the blind men the tusk, trunk, body, foot, hindquarters, tail and tuft of the tail. Each blind man answered according to his experience, saying the elephant was like a jar, winnowing basket, plowshare, plow pole, granary, post, mortar, pestle and broom, respectively.
The blind men then began to fight and to argue over what the elephant was like, which pleased the king. The display was entertainment for the king, who knew that the clashing of views and beliefs would incite the primitive instinct to defend what belongs to oneself and to attack what is regarded as belonging to others.
The Blessed One turned to the brahmans and said, “with regard to these things, you’re attached. You see only one side.”
Why It Matters
As mentioned previously, this parable has a long history of being passed, shared, and altered across places and through time: there are as many understandings as there are people who have encountered this parable. Regardless, a moral is easily extracted from this parable: a singular perspective is insufficient when attempting to come to a conclusion regarding the nature of reality. Since individual perspectives cannot hope to grasp the whole alone, difference and variation are required if we are to understand anything at all about the nature of our existence.
It is natural that most issues are complex, that people will have different perspectives derived from their limited range of experience, and that people will express these opinions through dialogue and debate. The secondary moral the parable teaches is that such differences should not escalate into anger or aggression in an attempt to defend ourselves and injure what is in disagreement with ourselves. In a world where diverse opinions exist within family units, let alone the diversity that spans our globe, this parable teaches us that the key to harmony is to learn to differ in opinion gracefully, without succumbing to the instinct to claim, “only this is right; all else is wrong. ”