Using Mnemonics in sutta study

First, if you’d like a study partner please contact me via email Westbury08@gmail.com and I can also refer you to a discord group I’m a part of (Buddhist related, not mnemonic specific) I’m also on messenger for ease of contact. I’d love to be a part of the project.

If you’d like to “do” a lot as a fun initial project to get a good outline for the suttas, there’s a lot of fun mnemonic exercises to check out. These practices come solely from Memory Training and specifically the Memory Palace exercise, and with no direct connotation to Dhamma. I’ll give a few examples below:

Taking on each MN sutta: there are 152 suttas so you will need 152 images. You can make these as artificial or actual that you want depending on your initial time.

Example: Artificial: MN 1 Mulapariyaya - mula sounds like the name for money, and par is like pear, associate those 2 together, along with the number if you’d like to memorize in sequence.

Actual: mula=root, pariyaya = sequence so maybe imagine roots creating binary digits or sequence of numbers.

there’s multiple ways of doing this with number such as phonetic rhyme (1=sun, 2=shoe, 3=tree). Or by visual 1 looks like a stick, 2 looks like a swan, 3 looks like handcuffs, or you can use a more complex method called The Major System which translates each single digit number to a consonant of the alphabet and you create a set image of it.

At this point you will have your images indicating what the word sounds like and/or it’s “definition image” (binary roots), and the numbers image.

My visual is an expensive (mula) pear(pari) scented candle with 1s and 0s on it (sequence) and roots growing out the bottom.

After making a list of these odd and diverse images, the last step is to place them in a location that you can identify 152 stations. I like to use Bodhinyana Monastery and Jhana Grove. Also this helps with the topic you’re memorizing and is associated with a Buddhist place which is succinct. If you’ve only visited the location a few times, remember google images may refresh your memory of rooms and such.

There’s a bit more to know on this topic, but theartofmemory.com is a good place to check it out, or also the book Moonwalking With Einstein is a good intro which your local library should have.

I can go on and on if you have any further questions on specifics to mnemonic techniques.

After completing a section of the list, it’s important to go back over it a few times that day, at least once the next day, and then maybe once a week. After a month or so you can go over the whole sequence maybe once a month on a long drive.

The cool thing about this is that you’re making a mental file folder and the information and images can mature and thereby can seep deeper into our experiential life with our familiarity. Rote memory is the surface of understanding, but also can be a really enjoyable and useful one for knowing what we’re talking about. It makes me feel like a silly kid naming things “inaccurately” all over again, but it brings our child like enthusiasm up too!

With this outline, when you’re listening to Dhamma, reading quotes, or passively hear references, take a second to place a quick image in your palace location, and later on checking the accuracy of the image and their understanding when you’re sitting down at the books.

I did this with 2 pieces of information just today:

Cetokhila Sutta

the 3 pecks of the chick (recollection of past lives, knowing kamma, and knowing the 4 noble truths).

Also the 5 stumps of progress:
Lack of faith in the Buddha
Dhamma
Sangha
Vinaya
and slothfullness

Chicks (3 knowledges) pecking Cheetos (cetokhila) on top of tree stump (5 stumps)

and I’m already familiar with the list of Iddhipadas, but maybe I’ll place a yogi levitating in the scene somewhere to keep all the concepts in one place.

Jhana Grove is my file cabinet, and the folder is a precise location within the grounds. :slightly_smiling_face:

At one point I had learned the Major System to help with memorizing the Patimokkha rules and their numbers. But after a while I started to have second thoughts about all the contortions I was going through creating mnemonics. I became affraid that all the strange imagery I was generating might somehow slip into my consciousness in such a way that if that material ever carried along with me into a future monastic rebirth I could end up with a a tendency to bizarre concepts of the rules.

But it’s an interesting topic for discussion!

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