Five Wrong Ways of Remembering

The Five Wrong Ways of Remembering is a list of five common mistakes a student can make when listening to the dharma.



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Remembering correctly is useful in our daily life. Most of us probably know that if we forget our shopping list at the grocery store, we’ll probably not remember all the items we intended to buy. Memory comes in pretty handy!

We gain more benefit by remembering the Dharma teachings correctly. We may feel overwhelmed by everything we are supposed to remember, but classic texts assure us that we are not alone in facing these obstacles. These teachings passed down over the centuries help us today in understanding how to prepare our minds.

Buddhist commentaries are full of lists of behavior to adopt or avoid. Often we may skip over such lists, thinking that they are rather boring. Instead, if we take the time to reflect on lists like these, then we can develop self-awareness and avoid our own stumbling blocks. We can begin to use these helpful lists as signposts along the Buddhist path that keep us on course.

In this excerpt from Khenpo Gyaltsen’s A Lamp Illuminating the Path to Liberation, we present two of these classic listsThe first list points out potential errors in remembering. The second list, the fourfold perception, is a metaphor for approaching Dharma study. By adopting this attitude toward our listening, reflection, and meditation, we will find our pathway proceeds with fewer obstacles.

Remembering Correctly

First, Khenpo reminds us about remembering correctly. As we listen to teachings, we can keep these potential mistakes in mind. Then we set our intention to listen to or read the Dharma with laser-like focus. We can take time to realize that remembering is an active pursuit. But we may spend much of our life passively consuming entertainment. These days, we seem to spend so much time watching videos and movies and listening to music and podcasts. We talk or text or video chat to our family and friends non-stop. But how many of us are truly engaged in remembering what we hear? Can we honestly evaluate our memory skills?

The Five Wrong Ways of Remembering

Khenpo Gyaltsen helpfully cites a traditional teaching on five mistakes that are common. We take this excerpt from A Lamp Illuminating the Path to Liberation:

The five wrong ways of remembering are as follows:

  1. To remember the words but forget the meaning;
  2. To remember the meaning but forget the words;
  3. To remember both but with no understanding;
  4. To remember them out of order; and
  5. To remember them incorrectly.

Having abandoned these fourteen faults of the vessel (including the three defects of the vessel and the six stains of the listener), you should then listen with the fourfold perception as taught in The Sutra Arranged Like a Tree.

The fourfold perception is as follows:

  1. To think of yourself as sick;
  2. To think of the dharma as medicine;
  3. To think of the virtuous spiritual friend as a skilled doctor; and
  4. To think of the ardent application of the dharma as the healing process.

With this fourfold perception, you should listen to the dharma.

A Lamp Illuminating the Path to Liberation: An Explanation of Essential Topics for Dharma Students by Khenpo Gyaltsen, pp. 14-15.

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