We’ve got a TTP exam on Monday, and I’m trying to cram my head full of facts this weekend. Dharma study involves lots of memorization. Memorization seems to have gone out of fashion – why learn stuff when you can just look it up on Wikipedia? That’s fine if you’re trying to finish a crossword, but it doesn’t work quite so well if someone is shouting at you: you can’t ask them ‘please hang on a minute while I look up how to practice patience!’ To be able to practice something you need to really know it. Memorization is hard work, but it makes both meditation and daily practice so much easier. How frustrating is it when you spend the first five minutes of a meditation trying to remember what Lamrim object you are supposed to be focusing on today?!

When I was at school there was a real rebellion against rote learning (I never even learnt my times tables – I’m still paying for this gap in my education every time I go shopping). I guess the idea was to encourage us to really understand the topics rather than just knowing the answers… which is a good theory, but I think it missed the point. In my experience, you can’t really memorize something you don’t understand: it just doesn’t stick. So memorization can be a vilid learning technique, it doesn’t just turn us into parrots.

And, of course, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Yes, memorization gets harder as you get older (everything does!), but the more we exercise this aspect of our mind the stronger it will become. In Training the Mind in Seven Points, it says:

To remember this,
Train in every activity by words.

Geshe Kelsang explains:

‘These two lines from the root text advise us to memorize certain words to recite at appropriate times so as to remind us of our essential practice.’

Just memorizing one verse, or a sentence that particularly inspires us, can help to keep us on track.

Right, back to my books – wish me luck!

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