Short-term Memory Problems Affecting Meditation & Dharma Practice - Buddhism Explained (Q&A Part One)
I have a problem with my ability to meditate, in 2015 something happened to me and my short-term memory has been affected ever since, so now I have a really hard time memorising the texts. So, I decided to just keep the texts with me (in-hand) and read them, but it feels so artificial. I had the exact same problem during a recent retreat and I don’t know how to handle it. Should I just make an extra effort until I memorize it all, allowing myself to just "be peaceful" and read, or should I skip the recitation part entirely?
- N. V.
So nice to see you again.
I can understand how it can be frustrating or feel limiting to have your short-term memory affect your ability to meditate or memorise the buddhadharma. I have good news: it doesn't have to be! May I offer an alternative to "artificially reading" the texts or skipping the recitation part entirely?
The purpose of the Dharma is neither memorisation nor recitation; at least not in its true sense. However, we can use
memorisation and recitation as tools to help us recognise, reduce, and replace old habitual ways of thinking, speaking, and acting that we've come to recognise as root-causes of self harm or harm to others.
The challenge that many people have is that they continue use texts and recitations as just that: texts and recitations. They either forget to, or never learned to use them as tools to help them make real progress. That's like seeing the pilot's chair in an airplane and using it just as a seat to sit down on, missing the point that that's where we sit to take us to other, more rewarding destinations.
It may be of benefit to spend more time working on developing your analytical meditation practice. In this way, you can meditate with your selected texts and think upon them with focus, awareness, and clarity.
This is done by reading the text and considering its contents and reflecting on whether or not it stand up to your logical analysis of it. This is formal practice and done on the cushion. Does the text stand to the test of reason? Does it makes sense to your experience of life? Doing so will help you to better understand and incorporate the dharma texts into how you perceive the world around you and thereby how you interact with it. Doing so will fold the teaching within the selected text into an inseparable part of who you are, so that the lessons they contain will come as a natural by-product of the time you spent deeply thinking about the topics, instead of being unnaturally forced through rote (and often routine) memorisation or recitation.
The Key Point is this: insight and progress come from the thinking and practicing, rather than from the memorising and reciting. Unless you are a Buddhist scholar or a monk, the texts of the dharma are not nearly as important as is practising with the texts to transform your mind.
Just some of my thoughts on the matter, you are welcome to email me any time. May this have been of benefit to you, or someone else.
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The Sagacious Buddhist Blog
Michael Turner is a pre-monastic Buddhist Ariya-puggala and a deeply accomplished enlightenment trainer and dharma life coach. He emphasises and teaches the practical application of Buddhism in our everyday lives to make real progress toward enlightenment and is particularly adept at explaining them in ways that can be easily understood and practiced by Western Buddhists. He has been meditating and cultivating the techniques to generate indestructible resilience and inner-strength for more than 25 years and has helped countless numbers of people enhance their practice to make clear progress along the Path.