AFTER THE DEATH OF HIS DAUGHTER ANNIE, CHARLES DARWIN TRAVELS TO CHINA, VISITING TIANTONG, CH'AN TEMPLE
by Michael Cherry
Monday, 2 June 1851:
Trek through the mountain was arduous,
but with numerous compelling sights.
Dense mist here threatens to enshroud
Different green than in England. Why?
Know nothing about their insects.
Tired today. Stomach. Didn't get far.
Collected one new beetle specimen.
Highly developed mandibles, very efficient.
Naming him Acrocinus Thomasiculum,
after my young Royal Society interpreter.
Good sort. Speaks like a native.
No scientist but always scribbling in his book,
nearly as often as I do.
Mountain peaks beckon through clouds.
Along the path, nothing is hidden.
Eyes of the forest watch along the way.
Buildings in the temple complex not like any
churches I ever saw. Peered into one larger
structure while walking past. Rows of
the Chinese, sitting motionless, without
a sound. Appeared to be at peace.
Feeling I should be back looms over me.
Can't be there now.
Glad to stop moving for a time. Stomach
worse than ever. But settled into quarters now.
At home amongst fellow heathens.
Discussed their religion with T.
If they have no God, whom do they curse?
Received today by the abbot, a Mr. Hongzhi. T. interpreted,
as abbot speaks not a word of English and I
no Chinese. Tried hard to understand. Their creed
is all about impermanence, and how to live with it,
how to get on with life without being broken by past.
That's the only part of it made sense to me.
If I had studied medicine, like my brother?
Found myself walking with Mr. Hongzhi today, without
T. present. Unlike Englishmen who jabber away
in our foreign tongue to people we know can't understand
a word of it, this old gentleman didn't attempt to speak
to me. Yet he seemed to be trying to intimate
something. His gaze is powerful.
(Note: Must remember to investigate origin or use of
different shaped skin around eyes. Why this variation?)
Bird song awakens morning.
In the temple: chopping wood, carrying water.
Outside the temple: all beings looking for food.
Everything continues on the way.
While seeking the Robe of True Seeing,
these tattered black robes will suffice.
Incense trails away from the altar.
Not one grain left in my bowl.
1. She used to love dictionaries. Just the sound of words. We played mnemonic games.
2. She accompanied me on many a daily walk. We walked hand in hand. Sometimes she sang a song she had learned from school friends.
I can't remember the tune of any of them.
3. After her final treatment, she thanked the nurse.
Even in this broken old hut,
moon enters through cracks in the roof.
Tried to sit with monks today. They have little expectation for
a foreigner, so I have a sort of license to fail.
The goal is to still thoughts. I don't grasp how this is
possible. The abbot has instructed me to count
my inhalations and exhalations. I find my thoughts continue.
T. tells me their term for this restlessness of thought is "monkey mind"!!
Thoughts are starting to slow. Not sure what is supposed to be
beneath them. Asked abbot (through T.) if he means I will find God
or see Heaven when the thoughts stop. In response, he struck
his stick loudly upon the floor. What this means I do not understand.
Can these monks really push aside the veil?
What do they see?
Stomach was mild today, so spent hours in sitting hall. Thoughts dropped
away for some moments. Hours passed as minutes.
It is as if
It is like a vast night sea.
It is like being a vast night sea
that fills all space.
It was like a death.
I felt a sort of "light," not from long ago,
but as if from beyond time,
but I couldn't hold it.
I can describe it no further.
I can describe it no further.
The body of illumination flows by like a stream.
Even the swiftest hawk cannot take it.
Stark nightmares. Stomach unruly. Brain
too agitated today to still thoughts.
I fear this Chinese peace
is not enough for men such as me.
To forget the self is to awaken as all
the ten thousand things.
Annie, you keep rushing in.