Though we have half days on Saturdays, instead of lecturing Gen la has given us what normally would be lecture time study time in the temple. Usually at that time I would either review previous chapters or practice memorization. The practice of memorization, though at times it can seem mindless is very taxing to the mind which is not used to the process. I have come to call it in my downloading session. The most important thing about the whole process is regularity and checking the text for correctness. Every morning and night I recite from the beginning up until whatever topic we are currently studying, all the defining characteristics and their divisions that need to be known from memory having the text near by in case I have forgotten something. Of course at the beginning reciting them did not take long because we had only studied a few chapters, but now that we have studied 10 chapters it takes about 30 minutes to recite the whole thing and of course there is new stuff to memorize quite regularly also.
I have noticed that some things are easier to memorize than others. Many times, built into a particular text are mnemonic devices to aid the process, like having certain phrases that repeat themselves after a certain set of stanzas or after a certain set of categories throughout the text similar to a chorus or a hook in a song . My classmates are machines when it comes to memorizing since they have been doing it since childhood. Our chant leader had down in his memory the entire Lama Choepa liturgy within a couple of days. It was performed this pass Thursday since 49 days had passed since the disaster in Ladakh. This liturgy is about 2 hours long and it includes various chants with different rhythms and melodies and in a certain order which must be followed. And still he had to do the memorizations for class. If I did not recite my memorizations every day I will forget them in an instant. There have been many times when I have been glad that I have kept up with the practice, because sometimes I don’t feel like doing them, it takes a while to do them and my brain really feels it, just like a hard workout. In this world one hears stories about Geshes who have memorized all of their many root texts of study, 16 to 20 years worth. We are talking thousands upon thousands of pages. Some could be tall-tales for sure it if wasn’t for the fact that in most places or monastic communities where debate is studied memorization examinations are a must and mind you that these exams are done in front of everyone. Most novice monks go through with it before they are allowed to advice to the classes on philosophy.
I witnessed some of my friends pass their examination by being the chant leader for the Vajrakilaya tantric liturgy at the Sakya Centre in Dehra Dun, which is ten hours a day for ten days. Here the chant leader has a drum part to go along with it. As I was there watching my friends knock these long phrases with complicated tongue twisting mantras for hours on end non-stop without a book in sight, I was thoroughly impress and now I have more of an appreciation of what it takes to do that. Although at IBD there are no memorization exams, without memorizing at least the main defining characteristics and their division one can not possibly debate. The first thing that we learned was how to debate a outline starting with the simple ones (colors and their defining characteristics, division, etc.) and as the chapters got more involved, more complicated ones were learnt, struggling to seek out their meanings by comparing phenomenon using tetralemmas, trilemmas, etc.
Gen la’s book, which he wrote to serve as a guide to studying the “Tutor’s Collected Topic” (yongsdzin bsdus grwa) has each chapter divided in two sections, the first being the section that has to be downloaded (blo ‘dzin gyi rim pa) and the second being the section that explains difficult points (dogs gcod kyi rim pa). Some chapters might have a page or two to be downloaded; our current chapter on the Advance Presentation of Cause and Effect (rgyu ‘bras che ba’i rnam gzhag) has near five pages though the pages sizes are not very large. When we begin our study of “Types of reasoning” (rtags rigs) we will have 20 normal sized pages to download. For the guys it is nothing but I think that I am not in the only foreigner in my class that feels a bit apprehensive about it, since we all come from cultures where memorization has not been the main part of our education. But also I think about all the stuff that I have downloaded since class has started and it adds up though I am not sure if it comes to 20 pages. Since I have heard that the more one does it the better one gets at it I have been sticking strictly to the practice. I just doubt that my mind has the capacity to hold all that stuff and as the more I memorize the more I am surprise that it fits up there in my dome some how.
My classmates all use various ways of memorizing. All will pick a certain melody and used that as an aid; since at the beginning we might not necessarily understand exactly what is being memorize the aural aid serves to help it stay in mind. I have not found a melody to use for memorizing as of yet, I don’t have a Tibetan accent so if I copy what my classmates use it doesn’t sound right so I need to find one that works for my voice. I have tried rapping it but it sounds über ridiculous. Some do it cross-legged rocking back and front or side to side on their bums, while others pace around. I prefer the pacing method because sitting cross-legged for long hours on end has been quite a challenge for me since coming to India, so I seek any moment when I don’t have to do it. With the pacing it feels quite nice, like a slow strolling but with a book in your hands and plus it gets the blood flowing after all that sitting. What I have been doing is that since most of the defining characteristics are crazy ass tongue twisters and they can be quite long, I break them up in to bite size chunks, repeating the crap out of them until I can say them effortlessly without looking at the text. Once I have gotten that then I will string them back together and repeat and repeat until I can spit it out without looking at the text. As I progress, for every line memorized I will return to the beginning of the chapter and recite it from memory up until the line that I have last memorized. As you can imagine, this is quite time consuming and I have not figured out another way to do it. I hope that with time I will be able to do it quicker.
During our studying period this Saturday morning some of my classmates and I were pacing in memorization on the veranda that surrounds the temple. As I was pacing towards the front to the temple I noticed that Sarah had a very special surprise visitor. Ama Jetsun Pema, HHDL’s sister, was just standing in front of the main administrative building. It took me as a wee shock. Ama Jetsun Pema, besides being the Big D’s sister was the main driving force behind the TCV (Tibetan Children Village) for many years, where a multitude of Tibetan orphans have been housed, reared, educated and cared for. Many call her Ama (Mother) since she has been a mother to plenty of children who have left theirs back in Tibet. She is shown a lot of respect and is highly regarded. So I was surprised to see her just standing there chillin’ at Sarah.