How To Memorize Sutras

By Swei Zhung

People who have participated the Dharma assemblies at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in the last two years may have seen the impressive flower arrangements in the Buddha hall.

Upasika Liu Zhungsui is in charge of arranging the flowers offered to the Buddhas. She is a flower-arrangement teacher from Taiwan. I first saw her arranging flowers in the City three years ago. At that time, she paid close attention to the position, angle and proportion of the flowers and leaves, and her arrangements had a feminine style.

In the last two years, Upasika Zhungsui has seemed to pick the flowers at random and arrange them as her heart dictates. She no longer stresses the traditional style, and there is a streak of natural vitality in her arrangements. Close friends tease her, saying that her arrangements seem to embody the principles of the Dharma Flower Sutra, Shurangama Sutra and Earth Store Sutra: no wonder they are so impressive. Through vigorous studying at the City, she has thoroughly memorized those three sutras. Moreover, she has comprehended the essentials of memorizing sutras.

She always says that memorizing sutras is the best Dharma door for her to cultivate, because she cannot have the tiniest bit of discursive thinking, if she does, then she cannot memorize anything. In two months, she has thoroughly memorized the whole Dharma Flower Sutra, over 60,000 characters. She memorizes an average of more than 1,000 characters a day. With a smile, she says she becomes so engrossed in her work that she’s reluctant to even go to the restroom.

Every night, she recites the sutra text she has memorized during the day to a fellow cultivator. She has found that if she recites to someone who is vigorously cultivating, she can recite fluently and clearly; in front of those who are busy and scattered, she cannot recite as smoothly. Isn’t this is a mysterious response?

She also memorized the Vajra Sutra, but at that time she didn’t know the “character contemplation” method of memorizing sutras, so she tended to forget what she had memorized. In January of this year, during an evening lecture, Upasika Zhungsui introduced this method of memorizing sutras to the City’s assembly. It is summarized below for the reader’s benefit:

How to Memorize Sutras:

1. Start with a short sutra.
2. Recite the text until you become familiar with it, marking any words which are confusing or unclear.
3. Refer to the explanatory texts or tapes in order to clarify he meaning.
4. Set the order of memorization based on your familiarity with and the length of each chapter, proceeding from easy to hard. It is inadvisable to skip chapters if they are related in meaning.
5. Use the “character contemplation” method for better and longer lasting results.
6. Set up a daily memorization schedule.
7. To enhance memory and avoid mistakes, regularly recite in front of others.
8. Correct any mistakes, and review regularly.

“Character contemplation” means contemplating the form of the character; from characters, proceed to contemplate sentences, then paragraphs, pages, chapters, and finally, the whole sutra. Contemplate the characters being lined up one by one in your mind, just as if you were laying out a page of text. Close your eyes in order to avoid becoming scattered or lax. Concentrate attentively in order to contemplate the whole character clearly.

Note: Be mindful in thought after thought and do not overlook even simple characters. In general, the simpler the character, the easier it is to forget and get wrong. Therefore, you should contemplate character by character.

Since she has memorized so many sutras, fellow cultivators always praise and admire her, saying, “You must have memorized them in your past lives. We can’t memorize now because we didn’t do so in past lives.” Upasika Zhungsui thinks many people simply lack self-confidence, so they think they cannot memorize. She earnestly says, “Anything we do in Buddhism is accomplished by the Buddhas’ and Bodhisattvas’ vows. If we think in this way, then we won’t become arrogant or lack confidence.”

Upaiska Zhungsui has another little secret for memorizing sutras. She requests water for anointing the crown everyday. In front of the image of Earth Store Bodhisattva in her room, she follows the instructions in the Earth Store Sutra: “They should place a bowl of pure water before the Bodhisattva for one day and one night. Then, placing their palms together, let them state their request and drink the water while facing south. As the water is about to enter their mouths they should be particularly sincere and earnest. After drinking it they should abstain from the five pungent plants, wine, meat, sexual activity, false speech, and all killing and harming.”

As long as we hold the precepts and cultivate sincerely, by the aid of the Buddhas’ and Bodhisattvas’ vows, we can certainly all memorize sutras.


Mantra | Sutra | Teaching | Sharing