37 practices: a note on memorization

Memorization is a tried and true method of internalizing important information, both in Tibetan monasteries and in our own culture in the days of yore. My eighth-grade English class was assigned to memorize 135 lines of poetry over the course of the school year, and I memorized Paul Revere’s Ride just to get the assignment out of the way — not really the intention of my teacher, Mrs. Roberts. She hoped that by memorizing a series of poems that resonated with us, we would end the year with an indelible love of poetry. I disappointed her in the moment, but decades later, I can still recite parts of it: “…On the 18th of April in ’75: / Hardly a man is still alive / Who remembers that famous day and year…” (Reminders of impermanence are not exclusive to Buddhism.)

Some of us aspire to memorize all 37 verses of Togme Zangpo’s instructions, so we can have them at hand till death do us part. That doesn’t have to be everyone’s aspiration, but even if it’s beyond your scope to commit them all to memory forever, memorizing each verse as we study it (or at least chanting it a few times every day) is a very effective way to contemplate it.

An intermediate goal might be to memorize the 7 preliminary practices, clear the slate when you get to verse 8, and memorize the verses of the next section (in this case, the 3 levels of motivation to practice, verses 8-10). That would give you whole sections to work with and contemplate together, without the pressure of trying to hold on to everything as we go along.

How to memorize: When Situ Rinpoche was teaching the Ornament of Precious Liberation at PTC a couple of decades ago, he assigned us to memorize the summary verse for each chapter. He advised that the best way to memorize dharma is not to pick it apart phrase by phrase, as we often do, but to chant or repeat the whole verse again and again. This way, rather than becoming an abstract exercise in memorization, each repetition helps us internalize the whole meaning, and is useful whether we fully memorize it or not.

My point is that effort put into memorization of dharma is never wasted. In fact, it’s one of the classic list of ten dharmic activities.

Resources we are using for the class are here.

The study guide starts here.

The full study guide in progress is here (or find it by clicking on “37 practices” in the tag list). Orientation to the study guide is here (or find it in “about the 37 practices study guide” at the top of the page).

The index of the study guide and recordings of the classes are here.