Which suttas did buddha explicitly tell us to memorize?

if there’s enough interest in this, i’ll start up a wiki page for it. here’s some of the passages i have in my notes:

sutta passages that are expected to be memorized

suttas explicitly worded 

these suttas contain context and/or wording that is quite explicit in  that the Buddha expects the monks to have these passages committed to memory.

SN 56: 13, 14 : four noble truths

  • SN 56.13 short sutta contains standard formula for 4 noble truths.
  • SN 56.14 is the same as 56.13 except first noble truth is in form of 6 sense bases instead of 5 aggregates
  • in SN 56.15, the buddha says “Bhikkhus, do you remember the Four Noble Truths taught by me?”, and although the monk's response is just an outline, it's implied that SN 56.13 and 56.14 should be the suttas that are memorized.
  • in SN 56.16, once again buddha asks “Bhikkhus, do you remember the Four Noble Truths taught by me?”,  this time the answer has to do with how to deal with outsider ascetics who claim to overturn the 4 noble truths.

AN 6.29 udaayi sutta

6 recollections are expected to be memorized. the buddha asks Udaayi, "what are the 5 recollections?" and udaayi after faltering answers wrongly. the buddha calls him a foolish man, and then asks aananda what the 5 recollections are. ananda answers correctly, of course. after ananda answers, the buddha tells them to remember a 6th recollection that he just made up, showing the evolutionary aspect of the oral tradition to adapt to how situations change.

  1.  standard formula for first 3 jhanas, and their purpose is for "pleasant abiding here and now"
  2. luminosity perception for attainment of knowledge and vision
  3. 31 body parts, for removal of lust
  4. 9 cemetary contemplations for uprooting asmi-mana
  5. standard formula for 4th jhana
  6. sati and sampajanna present while in various postures

SN 12.45 at nyatika

the teaching in this sutta is a subset of the standard 12 link paticca samupada, roughly equivalent to the links that are dealt with in guarding the sense doors, and the aaditta pariyaya (fire sermon) sutta where the 6 sense bases are burning. 

what's fascinating about this sutta is we get to witness that even a perfect enlightened samma sambuddha still has to take time and figure out how to craft the wording of the teaching to be useful, easy to memorize, effectively communicated to disciples of diverse socio economic backgrounds, etc. 

Now on that occasion a certain bhikkhu was standing listening in on the Blessed One. The Blessed One saw him standing there listening in and said to him: “Did you hear that Dhamma exposition, bhikkhu?”

6“Yes, venerable sir.”

7“Learn that Dhamma exposition, bhikkhu, master it and remember it. That Dhamma exposition is beneficial and relevant to the fundamentals of the holy life.”

doctrinally important passages implicitly worded 

these suttas don't explicitly tell the monks to memorize, but they are doctrinally important passages where it's implied that they should be memorized in at least some abbreviated form.

AN 2.5 relentless sutta

perhaps "evam sikkhitabbam" could be considered an explicit command to memorize teaching.
"Therefore, bhikkhus, you should train yourselves thus: ‘We will strive indefatigably, [resolved]: “Willingly, let only my skin, sinews, and bones remain, and let the flesh and blood dry up in my body, but I will not relax my energy so long as I have not attained what can be attained by manly strength, energy, and exertion.”

Long-ish passages with "Having heard it from him, the bhikkhus will remember it."

under this section of the wiki are sutta citations that contain the stock sentence "Having heard it from him, the bhikkhus will remember it.", but the suttas are a little too long where we wouldn't expect all the monks to memorize them word for word, probably just a brief summary. only the official monks who were sutta reciters tasked with preserving the sutta collection would memorize word for word.


In the course of the future there will be monks who won’t listen when discourses that are words of the Tathagata — deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness — are being recited. They won’t lend ear, won’t set their hearts on knowing them, won’t regard these teachings as worth grasping or mastering. But they will listen when discourses that are literary works — the works of poets, elegant in sound, elegant in rhetoric, the work of outsiders, words of disciples — are recited. They will lend ear and set their hearts on knowing them. They will regard these teachings as worth grasping & mastering.

In this way the disappearance of the discourses that are words of the Tathagata — deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness — will come about.

Thus you should train yourselves: ‘We will listen when discourses that are words of the Tathagata — deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness — are being recited. We will lend ear, will set our hearts on knowing them, will regard these teachings as worth grasping & mastering.’ That’s how you should train yourselves.

SN 20.7



Excellent topic! I was wondering the same thing. Maybe we could broaden the topic or create another one about which suttas or passages are worth memorizing (despite not having explicitly been instructed to), like for instance the mettasutta?

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Now at that time the venerable Purāṇa was walking on almstour in the Southern Hills together with a large Order of monks, with at least five hundred monks. Then the venerable Purāṇa, having stayed in the Southern Hills for as long as he found suiting, after the monks who were elders had chanted dhamma and discipline , approached Rājagaha, the Bamboo Grove, the squirrels’ feeding place, and the monks who were elders; having approached, having exchanged friendly greetings with the monks who were elders, he sat down at a respectful distance. The monks who were elders spoke thus to the venerable Purāṇa as he was sitting down at a respectful distance:

“Reverend Purāṇa, dhamma and discipline have been chanted by monks who are elders. Submit yourself to this chanting.”

“Your reverences, well chanted by the elders are dhamma and discipline, but in that way that I heard it in the Lord’s presence, that I received it in his presence, in that same way will I bear it in mind.”

i took a look at the link, it doesn’t seem to specify which suttas and which parts of the vinaya. the bhikkhu patimokkha with it’s 227 rules probably takes an average of about 45min to chant. the full vinaya is basically commentary with the 227 rules embedded in that, not a practical thing for all the monks to memorize.

thanks for the quote though, it can still fit in the wiki, we probably can put something from AN 9 or AN 8 that has 8 uposatha sila for laypeople. as for the suttas that appear in the vinaya, i know the first 3 suttas (dhamma-cakkap-pavattana, anatta-lakkhana, aaditta pariyaaya), and the 16 steps of anapansati all appear in there. but the full list of suttas? I don’t know. does that reference exist somewhere?

there aren’t too many suttas that directly deal with emptiness. and cula-sunnata in MN is the only one i can think of that gives a clear and full explanation of sunnata.

if we treat “related to sunnata” in a more broad sense, that could include half of the sutta pitaka :slight_smile:

agreed. i think the standard brahma vihara formula woudl have been required in the core suttas to memorize, though i don’t have any reference to point to. i just know it’s the most frequently recurring passage on the topic of BV, similar to how 4 jhanas are listed so frequently.

(STED 4bv) Brahma vihāra (Concise version)

  1. Mettā
    mettā-sahagatena cetasā
    (with) good-will-endowed mind,
    ekaṃ disaṃ pharitvā
    (in) one direction pervade,
    abide [like this].
    tathā dutiyaṃ,
    likewise (the) second [quarter],
    tathā tatiyaṃ,
    likewise (the) third [quarter],
    tathā catutthaṃ;
    likewise (the) fourth [quarter],
    iti uddham-adho
    Thus above,-below,
    tiriyaṃ sabbadhi
    across, everywhere,
    (to) all-(as to)-oneself,
    sabbāvantaṃ lokaṃ
    (to the) entire world
    mettā-sahagatena cetasā
    (with) good-will-endowed mind,
    vipulena mahaggatena
    vast, exalted,
    appamāṇena a-verena
    measureless, without-hostility,
    abyāpajjena pharitvā
    without ill will, pervade.
    abide [like this].
    (remaining 3 b.v. same formula as metta with one word substitution)
  2. Karuṇā
    Karuṇā-sahagatena cetasā
    (with) compassion-endowed mind,
  3. Muditā
    muditā-sahagatena cetasā
    (with) altruistic-joy-endowed mind,
  4. Upekkhā
    upekkhā-sahagatena cetasā
    (with) equanimity-endowed mind,

SN 35.85, MN 122, MN 43/SN 41.7, MN 151, and SN 22.95 mention emptiness. Based on the definition found within, I think any sutta about anatta also qualifies. SN 35.101 is very good. :seedling:

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Search through the Suttas for the phrase “bear it in mind” for examples of how monastics would approach the Buddha and simply pay attention, remembering the lesson. Consider AN 5.26:

Again, neither the Teacher nor a fellow monk in the position of a teacher teaches the Dhamma to a bhikkhu, nor does he himself teach the Dhamma to others in detail as he has heard it and learned it, but he recites the Dhamma in detail as he has heard it and learned it.

No Suttas or anything are mentioned here; just “the Dhamma as heard & learned & borne in mind” and saying it aloud, as though giving a lesson to oneself.

With this in mind, I think my quote demonstrates that a codified recitation was not in place before the Buddha passed away; large groups of monks such as Purāṇa’s bore the Dhamma in mind such as they had learned it, and I think it was only after the Buddha’s passing that concerns about textual unity became worrisome.

So, other than perhaps the Patimokkha, I don’t think anything was specifically set aside by the Buddha (the Agama/Nikaya setup didn’t even exist yet). Folks were just supposed to pay attention.

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