Yesterday I found this very interesting website, explaining details about the Tipitakadhara examination in Burma:
Among a list of the curriculum for memorizing the Tipitaka by heart, it says:
An argument may arise that nowadays, with the Buddha’s words already inscribed on palm-leaf, folding book, stone slab, ink print, books and even in CDs, the bearing by heart of his words is unnecessary. The physical inscription and the mental impression at heart are not the same. The former is useful only in presence of the user for it might vanish anytime. There is no benefit whatsoever when the physical inscriptions cannot be obtained at will.
However, impressions retained at heart of the Buddha’s words benefit one whenever they are recollected, being helpful at any time. Such a person is able to walk straight on the path of Dhamma, while being helpful to his surroundings. Output equals the input concerning the learning process to bring up Tipitakadhara.
When learning by heart the Pâli Texts, one personally “meets” with their possessor the Buddha, bringing into oneself the infinite Attributes of him. In oneself the adoration for and conviction in the Buddha grow overwhelmingly, leading to the missionary inclination by way of prolonging the Buddhist spirit and teaching the Path. Insight grows in one while learning the Pali Texts in conjunction with the elaborative Commentaries and Sub-commentaries. Brimful with the adoration for and appreciation of the Buddha’s attributes, wisdom and perfections, one is never bound to deviate from his teachings. With the consciousness at heart about the benefit to oneself and fellow beings the victorious earner of “Tipitakadhara, Tipitakakovida” will always be beautifying the world, carrying the Banner of Victory in Dhamma.
Now, this is a very very tough examination. The attempt is done to memorize the Tipitaka by heart. As you can imagine, there are not many who are able to succeed:
In the long (59 years) story of Tipitakadhara Examination the candidates enlisted numbered 7103, the actual participants 5474, partially passed 1662, but only 11 have been awarded the Tipitakadhara Tipiíakakovida title. Among those outstanding theras 4 have passed away. The departed might now have attained the supreme bliss, the Deathless, or being reborn in the celestial abodes, they might be discoursing on Buddha Dhamma there. The remaining 3 Tipitakadharas probably will pass the written, interpretative examinations in near future and obtain the Tipiíakakovida, thus ending their long and arduous journey of sitting for these examinations. Again, some of the remaining candidates are indeed bearers of one main division of Pitakas… One-Pitaka-passed candidates now number up to 114, two-Pitaka-passed 13 and 2½-Piíaka-passed 5.
These numbers are still amazing.
Just last week I had an interesting discussion with a young monk from Sri Lanka who explained the drawback in recording Dhamma talks. He said his teacher explained that they had seen people being less attentive and concentrated when Dhamma talks where recorded – it seemed to be almost an excuse to postpone the training. From there we went to books, thinking that a book is something like that, postponing you from memorizing the instructions of the Buddha. “Maybe that is why”, reflected the young monk, “the Buddha had his monks memorize his teachings – so that they would practice them more immediate and directly”.