Śaṅkarācārya’s Elephant

Here’s another story, this time not an exalted Purāṇa but a common folk-tale, more telling than any dissertation stored in a University Library.

A skeptical prince who was a pupil of Śaṅkarācārya [around 700 CE], the revered teacher of the Vedantha School, decided to test his teacher.

Once when the illustrious scholar was walking up the royal pathway to the palace, the prince unleashed an elephant from the army stables directly onto Śaṅkarācārya‘s path.

The Brahmin, not known for valor of this sort, proceeded to climb up the nearest tree.

The prince approached the teacher, bowed respectfully and inquired as to why he had climbed the tree, since according to his own teaching, all, including the approaching elephant, was illusion.

‘Indeed’ said Śaṅkarācārya ‘the elephant was unreal, but so was your presumption that there was a me, climbing a tree.’

To ‘See’ is all about catching the beam in your own eye. You catch the beam, you catch yourself catching the beam…all the way back to ‘True-Nothing’.

That simple. And that difficult.

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