Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Elephants All The Way Down

Exploratorium, San Francisco, California, USA

November 25, 2006



This essay, Elephants All The Way Down, is the companion piece to Authentic Truth: The Coca Cola Animals  Incident, And More.

It was written at the same time as


In an ancient Hindu legend, the creator Brahma creates the world then rests each of its four corners on the back of a celestial elephant. The psychologist William James asked an Indian holy man to explain what supports each of those four celestial elephants on the backs of which rest the four corners of the world.

"Each of the four elephants" said the holy man "stands on the back of another elephant.".

James paused, and then asked "And what supports those  elephants?".

"Each of those  four elephants" replied the holy man "stands on the back of another elephant.".

"And what" asked James "supports those  elephants?".

"Ah!" said the holy man. "I can see where your inquiry is going. The answer is: there's elephants all the way down.".

* * *

You could say it's bad news  there's elephants all the way down  because no matter how deep you go there's always one deeper. Let's say, for want of a good game to play, each elephant represents an inauthenticity  in our lives. Each inauthenticity skews  the one it supports. Or, in other words, each inauthenticity in our lives is underpinned  by the one supporting it. Furthermore (as the I-Ching may have said) the superior man  realizes he can't change an inauthentic underpinning. But he can be authentic about where he's being inauthentic. It's like a Zen koan. That's how authenticity is restored.

Ain't it the truth? There's always something else. The only game in town  is inquiring into all those elephants underpinning our lives. To quote Socrates: "The unexamined life is not worth living.". Extending it to Werner Erhard: "An untransformed  life is not worth living.".

Because each inauthenticity is underpinned by another inauthenticity, the restoration of authenticity is always only temporary. There's elephants all the way down, therefore we're inauthentic all the way down. And that's the good news. If the way to restore authenticity is to be authentic about where we're being inauthentic, then we have an endless supply  of raw material to work with.

Pretty soon you realize the temporary restoration of authenticity doesn't suffice. It's not a life worth living. Pretty soon you realize it's the ongoing endless inquiry itself  into inauthenticity that suffices. That's  a life worth living.

Any out of reach inauthenticity keeps total Self expression at bay resulting in a loss of power  ie disempowerment. You know you're disempowered because you're disempowered. But you can't tell by what. Eventually, when nothing else works - not avoidance, not pretence, not making excuses, not even enough beer - you start the inquiry, you start examining your life.

I've noticed in my own life it doesn't take much to get in touch with the things I'm not being authentic about. I may be saying it doesn't matter whether or not I spend time with the people who are dear to me. It does. I may be pretending my life would have less hassle if I had more money. It will or it won't. And each time I tell the truth about where I'm being inauthentic, I can see what being inauthentic that way costs me.

In the case of not spending more time with the people who are dear to me, it costs me love and affection. In the case of pretending my life would have less hassle if I had more money, it costs me not living my real calling in life.

Once I've gotten the cost, in an almost spontaneous occurrence the next possibility for my life falls out of my mouth. In the case of not spending more time with the people who are dear to me, the possibility of being open and available  comes forth. In the case of pretending my life would have less hassle if I had more money, the possibility of being generous  comes forth.

That's what there is to know about elephants:

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