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The Elephant & The Student

March 11, 2009

A student was meditating with his teacher in India as he did every morning. It was a meditation about God, about the fact that everything at the deepest level is God, and about the fact that God in essence is love. During the session the student believed that he reached a very deep level of God realization in himself, and felt that he understood the meaning of his teacher’s words: “You must learn to listen to God.”

Caparisoned elephants during Sree Poornathrayesa temple festival, Thrippunithura, Kerala, South India.

Caparisoned elephants during Sree Poornathrayesa temple festival, Thrippunithura, Kerala, South India.

Walking on the narrow path back to his home after the session had ended, the student continued to meditate ecstatically on the fact that everything is God and that God is love. Now, coming toward him on the same path but in the opposite direction was an enormous elephant rhythmically swinging its long trunk left and right. The elephant driver, sitting high atop the elephant, hollered at the student, telling him to get out of the way. But the student, immersed deeply in his realization that everything is God, felt that since God is love no harm could possibly come to him if he simply stayed on the path and continued meditating. Meanwhile, the elephant driver was becoming louder and louder as he shouted for the student to get out of the way.

As you can imagine, the meeting between the student and the elephant was not very pleasant for the student. The elephant’s trunk swept the student roughly off the path and into a huge thorn bush. The student, realizing not only that he was bleeding profusely from his fall but that he had also broken his arm, got up and quickly went to the town healer.

A few days later, the student returned to his teacher with his arm in a cast and numerous bandages over his body and explained in great detail what had happened. Then, in an almost accusatory voice the student said: “You told me everything was God and that God was love. How could this possibly happen to me?”

The teacher, nodding his head, said “yes, it’s true that everything is God. But didn’t I also tell you that you had to listen to God?”

“Yes,” said the student, “I was listening to God deep in my own heart.”

“That’s all well and good,” the teacher responded. “But didn’t you realize that the elephant driver was God too? He told you to get out of the way.”

Retold by Dennis Lewis from an ancient Indian story.

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