This is the fourth in a series of posts looking at how we can remember Dharma Lists. Links to the others can be found on this page.

Now that we have memorised our rhyming pairs, we can start to memorise our list. As an example, I will use the list of Benefits of Relying Upon a Spiritual Guide. You can learn this list as we go through these posts, and you will be able to experience for yourself the joy of being able to recall this precious wisdom.

There are nine benefits in the list as presented by Geshe Kelsang in his book, The New Meditation Handbook. The benefits of relying upon a qualified Spiritual Guide are:

  1. He or she will lead us along the spiritual path, which is the only way to solve all our problems and make our life meaningful
  2. His or her blessings will gradually draw us closer to the attainment of full enlightenment
  3. All the Buddhas will be delighted with us
  4. We shall be protected from harm caused by humans and non-humans
  5. We shall find it easy to abandon our delusions and non-virtuous actions
  6. Our practical experience of the spiritual path will increase
  7. We shall never be born in the lower realms
  8. In all our future lives, we shall meet qualified Spiritual Guides
  9. All our virtuous wishes for beneficial conditions within samsara, as well as for liberation and enlightenment, will be fulfilled.

To memorise the first item on the list we need to create a memorable mental image which links this particular LIST, the NUMBER OF THE ITEM and the ITEM ITSELF.

The image I use is that of Geshe-la waving a delicious bun towards me, while walking backwards up a path. He is smiling and beckoning me to follow him and the delicious smell of the bun is wafting towards me in visible cartoon smell shapes which hang in the air and reach my nose.

For me, this image encapsulates everything I need to remember. Geshe-la being there indicates that the LIST is to do with the benefits of relying upon a Spiritual Guide. The bun reminds me that this is benefit NUMBER one. Geshe-la encouraging me along the path reminds me of the ITEM ITSELF, namely that this benefit is that he will lead me along the spiritual path. From here I can also remember that I will solve all my problems and make my life meaningful (although this isn’t explicit in the image).

This image works for me because it is as simple as possible while retaining all the main elements necessary. It is rather humorous – Geshe-la walking backwards, grinning at me and waving a bun!

When you are devising images to use, they should be simple with no unnecessary detail. For example, I could incorporate a sky, or a sun or a forest around the path, but none of these details have any benefit in terms of remembering the list, item number or meaning. Therefore they should be left out.

Humorous or bizarre images are usually the best as they stick in our memory well. For worldly memorisation tasks, sexual images often work well too, but I would advise caution in their use for Dharma topics, as they could easily be non-virtuous or disrespectful.

I will now give all images I use for the this list. See if you can identify which parts of the image link to the list, the number and the meaning.

  1. Geshe-la waving a delicious bun towards me, while walking backwards up a path. He is smiling and beckoning me to follow him and the delicious smell of the bun is wafting towards me in visible cartoon smell depictions
  2. A shiny black lace up shoe. Geshe-la is tying the lace and the two sides of the shoe are coming together. As he does so there are lights and sparkles drifting down from him onto the shoe. The sides of the shoe represent myself and enlightenment drawing closer together.
  3. A huge tree with many Buddhas sitting in the branches looking down at me, all smiling, giving me the ‘thumbs up’ sign and applauding. Geshe-la sits in front of the tree smiling and nodding at me.
  4. Geshe-la slams a glass door on humans and non-humans wh0 would try to harm me. They run up flat against the glass, with their mouths open and their tongues out sideways like in the cartoons.
  5. I imagine being a bee (with a tiny head like mine on the front) alongside a hive with Geshe-la sitting on top. I buzz my wings and effortlessly fly up off the floor, away from its dirt and problems.
  6. I imagine walking along a forest path with long sticks in my hands. As I walk the sticks rub and knock against trees and bushes. Not only do I see where I am going with my eyes, but I gain practical experience of the path through the additional sense input of the movement of the sticks in my hands. Geshe-la walks in front of me.
  7. I imagine heading upwards to heaven instead of downwards to the lower realms. There is a big ‘no entry’ sign on the lower realms. Geshe-la is sitting on a cloud in heaven looking at me and smiling.
  8. I imagine a white five bar wooden gate, with Geshe-la sitting on top of it. It should be far too narrow, but he is sitting there perfectly stable and happy. Behind him is another gate, and he is sitting on that one too. There is a long line of gates, one behind the other stretching out into the distance and a Geshe-la on each one..
  9. I imagine a bright red sign outside the Temple at Manjushri Centre. It points inside and it says ‘Fulfilment of all wishes’. Geshe-la is inside sitting on the throne.

This is my list of images, which I have committed to memory.  Now, when I want to, I can call to mind the entire list. I can also remember, for example, the fifth benefit on its own if I wish.

Now for some homework! Find a Dharma list with ten or fewer items and try to create simple, memorable images for  each item. Try to make them simple, funny and/or bizarre – the whackier, the better.

Stay tuned for the next post, where I will explain how to deal with lists of more than ten items.

Love Vide x