Way-back-when during Buddha’s time, all of his teachings were passed down and spread orally. There was no written documents until hundreds of years after Buddha’s extinction. Just like we wouldn’t remember a bunch of texts and sermons just by listening to them, neither did the ancients. We can, however, learn a bunch of lyrics and songs. So that’s what was done to memorize and remember the Sutras until they were finally in written form.
But even in writing, sutras were still chanted in an almost song-verse the way they are chanted to this day. If you go to a temple service, they’ll most likely be “singing” the texts. Chanting is a form of meditation. When a text is chanted it has a much more influential appeal and sense to you versus just reading it. Unless you have photographic memory, almost everything we read we’ll forget – so when we chant something, we have a better chance of remembering it. And when chanted often, it’s memorized and we have a much better understanding behind the meaning.
If you read sutras, or are reading one now like the Lotus, Diamond, or Heart Sutra (among the hundreds of others available), instead of just reading it for the sake of reading it, chant it. Chant the whole text over and over. The more you go over it, the better you’ll understand it and realize its purpose.
The first time I read the Lotus Sutra, I just read it. I didn’t remember too many stories from it or much of the details. The second time I read it, I chanted. Because I was chanting, I was much more focused and concentrated on what I was reading and I was better able to remember what I was reading. Of course chanting is a little slower and takes a little bit more time, but it’s definitely worth it in terms of remembering, understanding, and realizing.
How do you chant? The same way you would chant a mantra. Of course, it sounds much prettier when mantras and sutras are chanted in Chinese, Sanskrit, or Tibetan, etc. because each character is a syllable, so it sounds nice. In English, we have many syllables in a character (word), so it sounds “choppy” when chanted in English (because you’re chanting each syllable, like in this video). Regardless, it’s not about the words, characters, or syllables, it’s about your understanding and realizing the meaning behind the words and realizing your Self.
Smile and be well!