August 28, 1973, Tuesday evening
On the Value of Memorization
Ven. Master Hua
People who could not explain the twenty-five levels of existence before must pay back their debts and explain them today. [Editor’s note: Disciples gave explanations.] Those of you who know them have already spoken. Those who do not know cannot speak anyway. For the time being, we’ll consider those debts repaid.
Now I will ask you another question: What are the Eighteen Uncommon Dharmas? Does anyone remember? In the past we had several exams on this while riding in the car, but I fear you’ve already let this list slip your minds. However, this examiner is not going to let you pass so easily. You have to truly remember it for it to count. That way, you will be able to explain this list whenever you are called upon to do so. Most people cannot speak extemporaneously. They must prepare a draft beforehand and then read from their draft. But if you remember lists and terms clearly, you can explain them at any time. Then your audience will have no choice but to respect you. Having studied the Buddhadharma for so many years, how can you always answer with an “I don’t know” when people ask you about a certain topic? What have you been studying.
Having studied all this time, you still haven’t weaned yourself from the traditional method that is pervasive in the American education system. You pull a slip of paper from your sleeve and read while peeking at the paper. There’s not much point in that. That’s not your own stuff. What belongs to you is what you have committed to memory. Most of you have forgotten what you have studied over the years. Some of you still remember. Those who remember are those who work hard. They are serious. No doubt they reflect on the Buddhadharma that they have studied—even reviewing it just before they fall asleep at night. They do not engage in excessive false thinking. Those who do not pay attention have listened to the sutras for many years, and still, they have no understanding whatsoever. How pathetic!
Guo Yi [Bhikshuni Heng Yin] has an excellent memory. Why do you suppose that is? We should look into this question. During the first summer session, there was an exam to see who could memorize the Shurangama Mantra first. She was the first one to commit it to memory. However, during the actual exam, Guo Qian placed first. That disciple is also very intelligent, but his memorization was in fact just a little bit behind Guo Yi’s. She took about one month to memorize the 554-line Shurangama Mantra, doing her memorization for about forty-five minutes each day.
Elder Master Miao of Gaomin Monastery managed to commit the Shurangama Mantra to memory after studying for only four hours. I studied it for two hours a day, for a period of three days. I studied one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. By the third day I could recite it from memory. That’s the way I remember it. It took me thirty minutes to commit the Great Compassion Mantra to memory. I was sitting on a train from Lalin to Beiyinhe [Editor’s note: villages in Manchuria, China]. When I first acquired the Great Compassion Mantra, I considered it a rare treasure. Therefore I studied it while on the train. By the time I got off the train thirty minutes later, I had memorized it.
Timely Teachings. Page 315 -316