“I will not move from here until I have it written down, notarized, and signed.”

“There is no god higher than truth.”

Mahatma Ghandhi

“Driving the Garden State Parkway to New York, I pointed out two crows to a woman who believed crows always travel in threes. And later just one crow eating the carcass of a squirrel. “The others are nearby,” she said, “hidden in trees.” She was sure. Now and then she’d say “See!” and a clear dark trinity of crows would be standing on the grass. I told her she was wrong to under- or overestimate crows, and wondered out loud if three crows together made any evolutionary sense. I was almost getting serious now. Near Forked River, we saw five. “There’s three,” she said, “and two others with a friend in a tree.” I looked to see if she was smiling. She wasn’t. Or she was. “Men like you,” she said, “need it written down, notarized, and signed.”

Stephen Dunn

I’m a bit curious what Dunn thinks of that woman.  In the end, does he approve of her attitude?  Disapprove?  It is easy enough for me to come up with an opinion about whether Dunn finally approves or disapproves of the woman’s attitude, but — honestly — I don’t think I can really tell.

At one point, he admonishes her that she’s “wrong to under- or overestimate crows”, but I can see that’s before she quite possibly changes something in Dunn’s take on her by saying, “Men like you need it written down, notarized, and signed.”

Some of the mystics are a bit like Dunn.  At first you think those particular mystics have a preference.  Especially a silly preference, such as, “I’m fond of gods”, “I like the Tao”, or “I want to worship my opinions”.

You can read a lot into those mystics.  More than is really there.  Maybe we all do.

Only much later do you realize some of those mystics are quite close to being mere reporters.  Yet not even journalists.

They only report to you what they’ve seen.  And not even that, really, for they take back what they say about having seen.  As Stephen Mitchell points out in his introduction to The Bhagavad Gita,  “The most profound sacred texts have a way of self-destructing.  They undermine their own authority and gleefully hoist themselves on their own petard.”

To be sure, I don’t think Mitchell had The Bible in mind when he said that.

If any preference comes through some of those mystic’s words or deeds, it’s only the preference you might find in someone who feels compassion.  But feels a detached compassion.   An “oddly objective”, detached compassion.

So far as I can see, Stephen Dunn is not one of those mystics.

But he might be a bit like one of those mystics:  “Men like you,” she said, “need it written down, notarized, and signed.”

And so, in a sense I think, did Siddhārtha Gautama.  One day he sat beneath a tree and swore, “I will not move from here until I have it written down, notarized, and signed.”  And with that resolution — which, it seems, he did not intellectually consent to, but which was simply torn from his throat — began his cascade into enlightenment.

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5 thoughts on ““I will not move from here until I have it written down, notarized, and signed.”

  1. I still don’t get the “written, notarized and signed” quip. Is it that true believers don’t need concrete evidence so she was certain she could never convince him of her truth? And he was presenting her as an irrational true believer that didn’t care that she couldn’t convince him? And then what is the connection to Siddhartha? Was she deliberately quoting him? What do you think?

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    • I’ve had time to step back from that post and think a bit about it, Squirrel, and I’m not so sure I did as good of a job as I would have liked to have done. I was trying to suggest that the Buddha was a pretty hard-nosed realist, but I don’t think it comes across that way. Sorry about that.

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