Doubt's Dominion

Zhuangzi’s Butterfly - Presbyteros - The Doors - The Secret - Reveries - The Sum


Zhuangzi’s Butterfly


While others boys were busy in the trees

yodeling from branch to branch

like Tarzan in the green

I counted iron nails

and two-by-fours

and the force

of the face









the wide

open space

where I might

ascend for awhile

and feed on bright stars

and wonder how and where

the wings of the butterfly are held

by a tiny point from thorax to windswept air




The priest recites the ancient, inevitable words,

not the newfangled German tacked up on a door

or the English slogans 

so fashionable now on the bursting t-shirts 

of the dancing Madonnas

and our Lady of the Gaga dolls —

no, his words go back to the Latin and Greek,

the Hebrew scriptures, the Aramaic script,

and the Phoenician that gave it birth.

Yet even that, he feared, was not the beginning:

before the cities of Paris, Rome, or Jerusalem

were Thebes and Uruk;

before culture flowed on the banks of the Seine, Tiber, or Jordan

were the Nile and the Euphrates. 


The Doors


Some might call agnosticism the doorway drug

to atheism and decadence

to loss of belief

and purpose out of sight,

yet if people want these things

they’ll find such a door

in earth or sky


Among doors

agnosticism is the trickiest

for no sooner are you through it

than you realize it’s revolving


Your straight line

or call it second nature

has brought you back

to that world you thought you left behind

with different eyes





The thumb is a Taoist monk.

A lug, it lags behind the index finger,

Mister Smarty-pants, Confucian, writing down rules

till the cows come home.

Pointing everything out.

But when it comes to grasping things,

the index finger’s a dolt.



The Secret


They've all found The Secret

the Truth, in the Light, on the Way, only through Him

or they've found Buddha or Brahman

or Dao, that other Way.

Or they've found the scientific method

magic decoder ring

of riddles past and revelations to come.

Or they've found politics

with its flame-thrower on the opium field of dreams

or aestheticism: All Arts All for the Sake of Art

leaving politics to the grubby likes of Sartre.

They've all found the Secret

except the agnostic

for whom there is, as of yet, no secret.

Or if there's a secret, 

no one's telling. 

For the agnostic there are only mysteries

endlessly revealing and unrevealing

endlessly dissolving and re-emerging. 





Agnosticism is the step you take

toward atheism

toward existentialism and Sartre

until Camus stays your gait

and steers you toward something

that might be something else


It's hard to imagine death

because everything with which you imagine it

is a function of life


Your brain thinks it

but your fingers can’t imagine it


You’ve never not breathed

or at least

not that you can recall


The only metaphor that makes sense

from your toes to your cerebral cortex

is sleep

and in that sleep of death what dreams may come

or not

So you imagine yourself going to sleep

and then waking up

except that you don't know what it is

that you're supposed to have dreamed

You imagined that you’d wake up

in some other world of pink clouds and harps

at the sound of your alarm clock

your eyes refreshed with the long sleep

One short sleep past, we wake eternally


You remember buying a ticket for the boat

and thinking that you were going to be dipped

in the River of Oblivion

but you don’t feel refreshed at all

more like hungover

you can’t even remember the party

or anything


You look over to the clock

 and all it says is 3:00 AM



The Sum

Some people feel a love so deep and powerful that they give it a name and a history, and make of it a universal Meaning. So that when you drink the wine of the communion you feel the divine blood course through your body and you know that you shall be released. The sum of everything leads to Jesus.

Some people find empty pockets about them everywhere. Empty pockets in which being only appears to be born. A mockery of meaning amid the absurdity. The nausea of seeing that you’ll never understand the black root of a chestnut tree; that even the word black is an illusion you use to cover the ineffable face of things. We’re all lost, adrift, condemned to freedom. The sum of everything leads to Sartre.

Some feel the desire to move beyond desire and suffering. Once you see that you're trapped in the paradox, you're released. You stand on the lake shore and see the ocean. You stand on the edge of the world and see the stars. The sum of everything leads to Buddha. 

Some see a slow, inexorable accumulation of facts. From stardust to revolving earth. From layers of sediment 300 thousand years old to the city of Edinburgh, with its geologist James Hutton measuring time. From a single-celled organism to a brain with over a hundred trillion synapses. Survival and evolution. After millions of years, you exist for a brief moment, pass on your genes, and disappear. The sum of everything leads to Darwin.

Some feel a flow of energy linking the waves of the electric air. Connecting and dissolving. Knitting and unravelling. Invisible and visible. Momentary and eternal. There’s no you, at least not in a personal sense. You are That, and all this is That. The sum of everything leads to Shankara

Some feel something of these but aren't sure how to sum it all up.

Should we calculate the relation between the perspectives in some sort of theosophical or Bahá'í way? Should we capitalize Way? Should we see the truth of all Grand Sums in some Greater Sum?

Agnostics suspect that this would just start the cycle again, so that the next thing we'd have to do is divide the One, and then argue the limited conjectures of Its design. Agnostics — who seem destined to doubt till the end of time — suspect that this will just bring about division. Just when we reached unity. Just when we summed it all up. 



Next: The Deadly Force of Chance   

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