This is the fifth in a short series of posts about the memorisation of root texts and outlines, as required in the study classes known as Foundation Programme (FP) provided by Kadampa Buddhist Centres. The others can be found through links on this page.

Now we have established why the requirement for text memorisation is included in FP and we have fired ourselves up with enthusiasm by thinking hard about the special qualities of the texts, we come to the actual job of memorisation.

I would love to be able to start the next sentence as follows:

The easy way to memorise texts permanently and without any effort  is to…

Unfortunately, I cannot do this. At the end of the day, text memorisation basically boils down to hard work. You need to sit, alone, with the text, read it line by line, and try to remember it. There are no magic short cuts, macros or apps to do it for you. Do you know what – that is what I love about text memorisation. When you’ve done it, you know you worked for it!

<edit: on re-reading this section, I think I would like to add that although there is hard work involved, it is also joyful work! The process of  memorisation involves concentration, and as Kelsang Sherab relates in this post, concentration is, in itself, joyful.>

There are many different techniques to try, and different ones work for different people.

I asked my Facebook friends for their insights, and here is what some of them said:

I think the most important thing is to enjoy memorisation rather than be daunted by it. You’re putting into your heart something that will help you in all your future lives. The technique of memorising is simply repetition and familiarity, and that will only come from making the time to do it, which depends upon enjoying it. Kelsang Pagpa

If you are using text written or compiled by Tsongkhapa and the Kadampa Lineage you should find these texts much easier to memorize as they have been designed specifically for that purpose. I suggest putting the condensed meaning into a flow chart, seeing how the body of work fits together visually, then work on learning the analogies and stories within the text as they will often illustrate the meaning of the main body. Then finally I would work on learning specifics…
Another great way to learn is to put it into practice as you are studying it. Also when your involved in a study program finding time throughout the week to mix your mind and meditate on the current subject matter.
Mneumonics can be used to learn lists of things, I know a RT who uses this with great results. In fact I know several people in this tradition who can recite word for word Geshe-la’s books. Declan Ring

I found playing the cd of the root texts of joyful path in the car very helpful when i was learning it for fp. Martin Karen Drake

First, it is important to recite the text out loud. It also helps to read it as a rhythm, which is easier in the Tibetan texts due to the passages of text containing a fixed number of syllables. The monks here memorize in the morning, then recite the same passages in the evening to ensure it sticks…

This is from the book The Sound of Two Hands Clapping:
After rising and doing the usual chores, such as cleaning his room or that of his teacher, the young monk sits down cross-legged on a bed or on a cushion on the ground and performs a few devotional recitations; in particular he invokes Manjushri, the patron bodhisattva of wisdom. This invocation ends with the syllable dhı, the sonic seed of this bodhisattva, which is repeated as many times as possible in a single breath: dhı, dhı, dhi, dhı , . . . Such repetition is thought to increase the intellectual faculties and hence to help one memorize. The young monk then proceeds to memorize the passage given to him the night before. He loudly reads it from his text bit by bit, rocking his body back and forth. He starts with the first word or two of the first sentence or line of a stanza (often but not always the text is written as poetry; the verses of seven, nine, or eleven syllables, grouped in four-line stanzas, are easier to retain than prose), reciting that element until he has mastered it. He then moves on incrementally until he has memorized the whole sentence, which he recites, still in a loud voice, several times. The same process is repeated for subsequent sentences;
and after memorizing each, he recites the sentences that he has just memorized. Thus, by the end of the session, the whole passage forms a whole that can be integrated with the passages he has already memorized.
The process of memorization is aural. Without relying on visual mnemonic devices, Tibetan monksmemorize their texts by vocalizing them. The only support is a tune to which the words are set. In certain monasteries (such as Nam-gyel, where monks are expected to memorize an enormous amount of liturgical material), the text is memorized to the same tune to which it is later chanted. In scholastic monasteries or in smaller monasteries, there is no fixed tune. But in both cases, students concentrate entirely on the text’s sonic pattern, ignoring other associations as much as possible. Losang Tenpa of Shar Gaden Monastery

I have personally tried several different methods.

I have tried to read the text and then re-write it again and again. I found this effective, but rather time consuming and wasteful in terms of paper!

I have tried making a recording of myself reading the outlines with a pause between each line. Then, on playback, I would say the next line of the text, and then listen to myself say the actual line, so I can check if it is right. This worked quite well, but again it is quite time intensive, it takes some work to make the recording, and one has to listen to one’s own voice, which is never a happy experience.  I have not listened to the official NKT CD which give the outlines and root texts, but I suspect it may be possible to use it in a similar way to this.

But here is my preferred method: Simple and effective.

Firstly, choose a time when you know you will not be interrupted or disturbed. Select a section of text for memorisation; for the sake of argument, let us imagine we are trying to memorise first two verses of the root text ‘Eight Verses of Training the Mind‘.

We start by extracting the following commitment from ourself:

I will not get up off this chair until I have memorised this section of text.

Now we know that we are not going anywhere until we have memorised the text. There is no point in procrastinating any longer. Now is the time!

We go for refuge and generate Bodhichitta. We then ask our Spiritual Guide / Buddha / Je Tsongkhapa / Manjushri (or all four) to help us in our memorisation efforts.
We begin by reading the first line of the first verse, and then try to say it out loud. We repeat this until we have it correct. We then do the same to the second line. We then recite the first two lines together. Then we memorise the third line, and say all three lines together. We then memorise the fourth line, and then say all four lines together. We now have the first verse. We repeat the first verse several times, becoming more and more familiar with the words and the rhythms.

We then follow the same four steps for the second verse. When we have memorised the second verse, we say the first and second verses one after the other a few times.

We have now memorised the section of text we set out to master. We give ourselves a hearty pat on the back, and with a feeling of rejoicing in our virtuous effort, we dedicate our virtues to the attainment of enlightenment for the benefit of all living beings.

Following this, we should try to repeat the two verses we have memorised as often as possible, rejoicing and dedicating all the way.

This is one way to memorise texts, building slowly session by session.

There is more advice coming in the final post in this series – Stay tuned!