Posted by: Upāsaka | 12/31/2020

Memorizing the Dhammapada

I train nearly everyday to physically prepare myself for collapse. I try to read up on survival medicine, foraging techniques, shelter building, etc. to prepare for the same and yet, I am doing precious little to preserve the flame of wisdom. For some time, I have wanted to memorize key suttas but if I had to pick one complete book the Dhammapada would be it. So, every day I intend to memorize a verse. There are 423 verses in the Dhammapada meaning that I should spend about a year and a half on this project. I am going to use the technique outlined below:

Daily Procedures

Priority of reviewing old verses: Always give priority in your mind to the retaining of old verses even over the learning of new ones. What’s the point in going on to new ones if you don’t hold onto the old? This doesn’t mean you should re-memorize the old ones… just that you should begin every day’s work with review of old verses. Look on that as what you need to do to earn the privilege of acquiring some precious new verses. (Work before play!)

Repetition over time: Saying a verse 100 times in one day is not as helpful as saying it every day for 100 days. The absolute key to successful Tipitaka memorization is repetition over a long time period. This is how you retain old verses while learning new ones.

Memorizing the verse numbers: An important note is that it is well-worth the extra effort to memorize the verse numbers / paragraph and structural information as if they were part of each verse/paragraph. This will help prevent you from dropping out verses or even whole paragraphs when you’re reciting the book all the way through. It will also help you in being able to pick individual verses out to quote them. Finally, it will help you to be able to recall the verses as you are reading Buddhist books that cite them… you won’t have to look them up! Dhammpada 1:1-3’s verse numbers would be said like this (if you learn them in pali): “Yamakavagga-One. Manopubbangama dhamma …; Yamakavagga-two Grace manopubbangama dhamma….” DON’T SHORT-CUT THIS DISCIPLINE!! It actually makes memorization easier in the long run!

Photographing the verses with your eyes: Memorization is partly visual. This is not to say that blind people can’t memorize the Tipitaka, but just that the memorization process is connected very closely to the eye. Read each new verse ten times, covering each words as though photographing it with your eyes. I can still remember where some particular verses were on the page of the Tipitaka I first used to memorize them. Burn each verse into your brain with your eyes.

Say it out loud: Another help in memorizing is to say the verse out loud to yourself. The additional sensory input to your brain helps the memorization process. It doesn’t have to be very loud, just loud enough so you can hear it. Also, try putting some feeling and interpretation into reciting the verses… this is actually a form of meditation on the verses as you are learning them.

Sample daily procedure: The following is an example of how someone could go about memorizing Dhammapada at the rate of one verse per day:

1) Day one: Read Dhammapada 1:1 out loud ten times, looking at each word as if photographing it with your eyes. Be sure to include the verse number. Then cover the page and recite it ten times. You’re done for the day.

2) Day two: Yesterday’s verse first!! Recite yesterday’s verse, Dhammapada 1:1 ten times, being sure to include the verse number. Look in the Tipitaka if you need to, just to refresh your memory. Now, do your new verse. Read Dhammapada 1:2 out loud ten times, looking at each word as if photographing it with your eyes. Be sure to include the verse number. Then cover the page and recite it ten times. You’re done for the day.

3) Day three: Yesterday’s verse first!! Recite yesterday’s verse, Dhammapada 1:2 ten times, being sure to include the verse number. Again, you should look in the Tipitaka if you need to, just to refresh your memory. Old verses next, altogether: Recite Dhammapada 1:1-2 together once, being sure to include the verse numbers. Now, do your new verse. Read Dhammapada 1:3 out loud ten times, looking at each word as if photographing it with your eyes. Be sure to include the verse number. Then cover the page and recite it ten times. You’re done for the day.

4) Day four: Yesterday’s verse first!! Recite yesterday’s verse, Dhammapada 1:3 ten times, being sure to include the verse number. Again, you should look in the Tipitaka if you need to, just to refresh your memory. Old verses next, altogether: Recite Dhammapada 1:1-3 together once, being sure to include the verse numbers. Now, do your new verse. Read Dhammapada 1:4 out loud ten times, looking at each word as if photographing it with your eyes. Be sure to include the verse number. Then cover the page and recite it ten times. You’re done for the day.

This cycle would continue through the entire book (chapter of your choie). Obviously, the “old verses altogether” stage will soon swell to take the most time of all. That’s exactly the way it should be. The entire first book of the Dhammapada can be read at a reasonable rate in less than fifteen minutes. Therefore, the “old verses altogether” stage of your review should not take longer than that on any given day. Do it with the Tipitaka ready at hand, in case you draw a blank or get stuck… there’s no shame in looking, and it actually helps to nail down troublesome verses so they will never be trouble again. Therefore, your 21th day should look like this:

21) Day sixty: (eight days off in that span means you’re on your 19nd new verse, which would be Dhammapada 1:20) Yesterday’s verse first!! Recite yesterday’s verse, Dhammapada 1:20 ten times, being sure to include the verse number. Again, you should look in the Tipitaka if you need to, just to refresh your memory. Old verses next, altogether: Recite Dhammapada 1:1-1:20 together once, being sure to include the verse numbers. LOOK IN THE TIPITAKA IF YOU NEED TO, SO THIS PROCESS WON’T TAKE TOO LONG!!! Now, do your new verse. Read Dhammapada 1:20 out loud ten times, looking at each word as if photographing it with your eyes. Be sure to include the verse number. Then cover the page and recite it ten times. You’re done for the day.

Long-Term Retention

Assuming you continue this procedure in Dhammapada with no missed days (other than your one day off per week), you should be done with the chapter one to nine in 26 weeks. When you have learned Dhammapada 128, “Papavagga 9:12. Neither in sky nor in mid-ocean..” you should stop to celebrate!!!

But after your celebration is done, you need to get back to work. If you have done the “old verses altogether” stage faithfully, this next stage should not be overly burdensome, even though it may seem like it will. RECITE THE ENTIRE BOOK FROM MEMORY FOR 100 CONSECUTIVE DAYS. If you have done your work well, after about the second week you probably won’t even need the Dhammapada anywhere near you while you do this. Thus, you can do this step while in the shower, while driving, while washing dishes, while walking down the road, while exercising… IT WILL ADD NO EXTRA TIME TO YOUR BUSY SCHEDULE!! What is more, it is in this stage that you begin to see the scope of the entire book of Dhammapada (or whatever book you have memorized). You will see large themes that unite chapters together, you will see the flow of the argument, you will discover new things that you never knew before.

Be tough with yourself… 100 days without missing a single one! You can do it, and you’ll be glad you did.

When that is over, then stick the book in a slot (Monday morning, let’s say), and recite on Monday morning for the rest of your life. You will never forget it. However, don’t forget to weed the garden… as I will describe now:

“Weeding the garden”: As you recite a book over a long period of time without looking at the Tipitaka, you will gradually being to make little mistakes or leave verses out. Again, this is why memorizing verse numbers is so essential!!! However, to “weed the garden,” simply take one of your Monday morning times after the 100 days (perhaps every other month) and just read the book by sight all the way through. This will correct errors… this will “weed the garden.”

Now, you are ready to memorize your next book!!!

I will be using Acharya Buddharakkhita’s version of the Dhammapada. Please find day one here:

1. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.


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