Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Elephant in the Rock

--by Eknath Easwaran (Jul 13, 2009)

In ancient India lived a sculptor renowned for his life-sized statues of elephants. With trunks curled high, tusks thrust forward, thick legs trampling the earth, these carved beasts seemed to trumpet to the sky. One day, a king came to see these magnificent works and to commission statuary for his palace. Struck with wonder, he asked the sculptor, “What is the secret of your artistry?”

The sculptor quietly took his measure of the monarch and replied, "Great king, when, with the aid of many men, I quarry a gigantic piece of granite from the banks of the river, I have it set here in my courtyard. For a long time I do nothing but observe this block of stone and study it from every angle. I focus all my concentration on this task and won’t allow anything or anybody to disturb me. At first, I see nothing but a huge and shapeless rock sitting there, meaningless, indifferent to my purposes, utterly out of place. It seems faintly resentful at having been dragged from its cool place by the rushing waters. Then, slowly, very slowly, I begin to notice something in the substance of the rock. I feel a presentiment . . . an outline, scarcely discernible, shows itself to me, though others, I suspect, would perceive nothing. I watch with an open eye and a joyous, eager heart. The outline grows stronger. Oh, yes, I can see it! An elephant is stirring in there!"

"Only then do I start to work. For days flowing into weeks, I use my chisel and mallet, always clinging to my sense of that outline, which grows ever stronger. How the big fellow strains!  How he yearns to be out! How he wants to live! It seems so clear now, for I know the one thing I must do: with an utter singleness of purpose, I must chip away every last bit of stone that is not elephant. What then remains will be, must be, elephant."

When I was young, my grandmother, my spiritual guide, would often tell just such a story, not only to entertain but to convey the essential truths of living. Perhaps I had asked her, as revered teachers in every religion have been asked, "What happens in the spiritual life? What are we supposed to do?"  Granny wasn’t a theologian, so she answered these questions simply with a story like that of the elephant sculptor. She was showing that we do not need to bring our real self, our higher self, into existence. It is already there. It has always been there, yearning to be out. An incomparable spark of divinity is to be found in the heart of each human being, waiting to radiate love and wisdom everywhere, because that is its nature.

--Eknath Easwaran, in God Makes the Rivers To Flow

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Previous Reflections:

On Jul 13, 2009 Liz, iJourney Audio Editor wrote:

My goodness, what a beautiful piece!  This amazing story reflects my life work:  to keep chiseling away at the stone to expose, shape and ultimately be left with my true, highest self to radiate and impact the world.  “With an utter singleness of purpose,” I hold this vision for myself at the very moment that I write this reflection and for the rest of my life.

On Jul 13, 2009 Prasad, iJourney Visual Editor wrote:

A lot went through my mind as I read the piece. I remembered recent conversations with a CEO of a large bank in India where he believed that his employees wanted to do what is right because they know goodness from inside out even though they don’t act on it because it is covered with assumptions, attitudes and negative experiences. I remembered a famous sculptor, I believe it is Michelangelo saying that the sculpture is already in the stone and his job was just to chisel out what does not belong. I also realized that my life’s work — igniting the genius within — is all about bringing the elephant in the rock to life. It is not about ‘tabula rasa’ approach — but unlearning and opening up to the essence inside. It also struck me that the philosophy that guides my photography is to keep zooming in till I compose a picture that consists of pure essence and nothing else. I also realized that I make others happy in relationships when I acknowledge and appreciate the divinity in them and not when I identify what is wrong and what could be improved. I just kept seeing so many threads of my life woven and connected to what Eknath Easwaran mentioned — we do not need to bring our higher self into existence. It is already there. My job is to get the rest out of the way so that I can operate out of my higher self.

While I was writing this note, I got a phone call and my mood changed. For a while, I could not come back to my reflection. The higher self was pushed out by my emotions and had to wait for several hours before I could complete this note.

Is my experience unique? I was very much in touch with my higher self and how did I allow myself to get caught in negative emotions? I first thought it was natural that it happens till I reread the last part of the passage: An incomparable spark of divinity is to be found in the heart of each human being, waiting to radiate love and wisdom everywhere, because that is its nature.

What about you? How often are you in touch with the elephant in the rock? Who radiated love and wisdom for you allowing you to get in touch with your true nature? How do we keep it alive more often? Any ideas?

On Jul 13, 2009 BK Vinay wrote:

These small stories mean more than mere advice or tips. You have really done a good job. May many more come through this medium so that people can come out with collector's collection.