For those arrows made of the five senses are smeared with the poison of fanciful notions.... They must be deflected as they rain down by the mighty man who takes his stand in the arena of disciplined conduct, bearing the bow of resolution and wearing the armour of mindfulness [SMRTI-VARMANA].
When mindfulness is in place like a gatekeeper at his gateway, then the faults cannot violate you, as enemies dare not attack a well-guarded city. Defilement does not arise in a man who is mindful with regard to his body.
Therefore when walking, be aware that you are walking, and when standing still, know that you are standing still. This is how you should maintain mindfulness at those times and others.
So to be brief, dear friend, you should make yourself proficient in mindfulness of inward and outward breathing in order to eliminate such fancies. With this procedure you can adopt countermeasures against such fancies in good time, as medication against sickness.
Trans. Linda Covill, Clay Sanskrit Library
A friend asked me about getting Ashvaghosha's books. My advice was to go to Amazon and search for Clay Sanskrit Library. In that list you will find two books by Ashvaghosha: Buddha-carita (Life of the Buddha), and Saurananda (Handsome Nanda). I heartily recommend them both. To me Ashvaghosa's writing is very gripping, very real. I sense in it something that I could never get so directly from Chinese and Japanese texts, which have a tendency to inscrutability and ambiguity. I feel Ashvaghosha's style is closer to my own culture. It is not so oriental. It is -- dare I say it? -- more Aryan. It is like coming home. It is like being re-united with a long-lost relative whose very existence you only ever dreamed of. It is like being misguided for 13 years in the matter of upright posture by an oriental control-freak, and then finding that the true masters of uprightness had been living there all the time in your own home nation.
Looking at Linda Covill's translations of smrti in context and looking at the Sanskrit on the facing page, I think that the above four excerpts are all excellent translations. I cannot see any reason to be prejudiced against the word mindfulness as a translation of smrti -- apart maybe from an unenlightened person's lack of mindfulness with regard to his own prejudices.
It seems that Ashvaghosha's message and encouragement is that not losing smrti (Chinese = FU-BO-NEN) involves a kind of constant vigilance against, for example, anger. That seems to me, in my own particular circumstances, influenced as I have been for a long time by fanciful notions about who I am, to be an extra-ordinarily difficult challenge.
Alexander work, alongside developmental work with primitive reflexes, helps me to know more definitely what I am guarding against -- a neck-head-back-limb pattern that I want to be released out of -- whether breathing in or breathing out.
The means are at hand, and they are means in which I believe. But applying them constantly, moment by moment, persistently guarding against the wrong pattern of reaction without falling into the old trap of trying to be right / fearing to be wrong and thereby stimulating that very pattern ... it is not easy. It is a battle. Ashavaghosa's military metaphors, of which there are many, are very apt.