Saturday, November 15, 2008
SAMYAK SMRTI -- OUT & OUT REMEMBRANCE
The characters in the photo, from the edition of Fukan-zazengi written in Master Dogen's own hand read SHO-NEN, representing the Sanskrit SAMYAK SMRTI, which is conventionally translated into English as "right mindfulness."
What is SMRTI?
Setting aside the secondary issue of what English word to use as a translation of SMRTI, and going back to the source, what did Ashvaghosha really mean by SMRTI?
We see from Saundarananda that Ashvaghosha emphasized very much the vital importance of SMRTI, as a safeguard against faults. Faults can be understood as manifestations of a lack of integrity and self-restraint -- Ashvaghosa cites hypocrisy along with passion, malice, delusion and the rest. So what did he mean by SMRTI? How does it work?
The origin in Sanskrit of the word SMRTI is the verb whose root is SMR, to remember. SMARATI means "he remembers."
On November 11th, I was watching on TV the faces of people involved in remembrance day services, especially the faces of very old people who really were remembering. Clearly, there is a part of the brain that is particularly deeply implicated in the act of remembering, and these old people were allowing that part of the brain to function unimpeded.
Sitting outside in the sun just now, listening to low-flying aircraft buzzing overhead, like missiles straight from Mara, it occurred to me that SMRTI must have to do with using those parts of the brain that are particularly implicated in memory, in order to suppress, or inhibit, the "reptilian faults" (DOSHA-VYALAN) arising from within the deepest and oldest parts of the brain.
FM Alexander called this kind of inhibitory activity "thinking" -- by which he most certainly did not mean intellectual thinking.
My Sanskrit is not yet good enough to make the argument convincingly, but I suspect that Ashvaghosha also used the word "thinking" (CITTA) to express this kind of inhibitory activity.
In Saundarananda 16.33, Linda Covill translates Ashvaghosha as follows:
Right mindfulness conjoined to the plan for the discovery of the truth, and right concentration -- these two occur in the ordinance on yogic practice, and are a basis for peace in order that one's thoughts may be circumscribed.
The final words of this sentence in Sanskrit are CITTA PARIGRHAAYA.
CITTA is here translated by Linda Covill as "thoughts," but the Monier-Williams Sanskrit dictionary defines CITTA as "attending, observing; thinking, reflecting.... etc."
PARIGRAHAAYA is here translated by Linda Covill as "in order that... may be circumscribed." -AAYA represents the dative case, denoting purpose or result ("in order that"). Monier-Williams defines PARIGRAH as "to take hold of on both sides, embrace, surround, enfold, envelop; to fence round, to occupy on both sides; to seize, clutch, grasp, catch; to take or carry along with one; to take possession of, master."
So maybe a case can be made that CITTA PARIGRHAAYA expresses not so much the circumscribing, or fencing around, of thoughts but rather the mastery of thinking.