Memorizing the Tipitaka


Memorization ‑ “Writing the Word of Buddha on my heart so that I can repeat it perfectly.”

Many of us have memorized a verse here or there, or even completed a series which might have 12 or 24 verses.  And that is all good.  But some people have memorized whole books of the Tipitaka.  There are even monks who have memorized the whole Tipitaka

Most people who do memorize use skills based on sheer repetition; that is, they say a verse over and over until they can say it correctly.  Then the next day they do that again.  Eventually they have it down fairly well - for about six months.  I did this for years.

Here is a system for you, which people used successfully to memorize scriptures like the bible:

1.  What are the benefits of Tipitaka memorization?

            a.  preparation for spiritual development - We need to have a prior memorization of the Buddha’s words, have it in our heart - our affective center, so we can face the world and see the path.

            b.  foundation for spiritual living - as committed Buddhists we all want to do what Buddha wants us to do.  A lot of what He wants us to do is given to us in the Tipitaka.  After I memorized the Dhammapada I saw many ways to apply it to life.  I began to see 3-5 applications from specific verses every day.  Then I thought: and there are hundreds of books in the Tipitaka!  I think Buddha would be seen much more in our daily life, and we would be more likely to follow his teachings if we knew more Dhamma by heart.

            c.  basis for understanding and integrating all truth - the Tipitaka is the main literal source of Buddha’s teachings for the Sangha.  But it is not our only source; we have parents, Buddhist friends, practical wise non-Buddhist friends, science, reason, our own experience.  All these are sources of learning for all of us.  But the Tipitaka gives us a solid foundation and sets the standard for integrating all other truths into a coherent system of knowledge.

            d.  increase self-knowledge and self-worth - You can memorize it!  You really can!  You can also use this same method to memorize anything - recipes, people’s bios, textbooks, to do lists, anniversaries.  It can really help you in hundreds of ways.

2.  How can I memorize?

a. Pick a topic (telling the truth; being a good husband and father; etc.) and a passage (1 verse to a chapter on that topic) and a version of the Tipitaka you like (how do you want to have this memorized forever?).

            For example, you can begin with Dhammapada, verses 33-43, which is one of the primary books on spiritual development and one of the books most frequently put to heart.

            b. Memorize 2 verses (8 lines) daily

               1) read the first verse out loud three times

                        Dhp. 33 “The fickle, unsteady mind, so hard to guard, so hard to control, the wise man straightens, as the fletcher straightens the arrow.

                        Go ahead, right now, and say this verse above out loud three times.  Look at it and make sure you are saying it correctly each time.

               2) write the verse one time, looking at it in its textual form and making sure you write it correctly



                        Go ahead and write it on the line above.

               3) read what you wrote above here, out loud, three times

               4) say the verse without looking at it

                        That’s it! You did it!

              5) repeat steps 1-4 with each verse

              6) After each step 4, say the accumulated verses together

c.  Follow a review pattern  Review each set of verses once daily for one week. 

Review consists of saying the verse.  If you cannot remember some verse, look it up and read it out loud twice.  For example, if you are memorizing Dhp. 3:33-43 it might look like this:




First week: Dhp. 3:33-42






am memorize vs. 33-34





pm review: vs. 33-34





Second week Dhp. 4:44-59






am memorize vs. 44-45





pm 3:33-43; 4:44-45

3:35-43; 4:44-47

3:37-43; 4:44-49

3:39-43; 4:44-51


            d. Use what you have memorized

                         1) teach a Tipitaka study group

                         2) in conversations and witnessing

                         3) in contemplation and personal application

                         4) with comparative Tipitaka study

                         5) get others to memorize with you


            e.  Recognize levels of memory work:

                        after six months you can double the number of verses

                        after one year you can omit the steps of writing it down

 and reading what you wrote.

3. Will I memorize?  People do not memorize for three reasons:

            1. they never begin

            2. they quit

            3. they have never learned how to memorize

Now you only have two reasons.  Enjoy!