A common misconception is that writing is more reliable than the oral tradition. It is not true. The oral tradition survived for several centuries, but when there were some texts memorized by only one or two monks, it was decided to commit the texts to writing before they disappeared. If writing was more reliable than the oral tradition, you can be sure that the elders at the First Buddhist Council would have had the texts inscribed. They did not because they knew that the oral tradition was far superior.
The oral tradition does not work like "Chinese Whispers." When students memorise a Pāli text from a teacher they have to recite it in front of the entire class. If the class consists of a hundred students that is like having 99 proof-readers checking a text simultaneously. As soon as the reciter makes the slightest error, if the teacher misses it, you can be sure that at least some of the pupils will be eager to point out the mistake.
When the CSCD Tipitaka was computerised, two copies of the texts were typed independently then compared electronically for differences. Still, it might be possible that both typists made the same error. If there were a hundred typists, the likelihood of an error slipping through becomes negligible.
All of us know how easy is it is to misremember something that we read some time ago, or to misread something that we are reading right now. However, if you spend several months committing a text to memory so that you can repeat it verbatim, and recite it regularly for years, even after twenty or thirty years you can recall it quite easily, or at least learn it again in a short time.
• • • • (Upasampadā: 24th June, 1979)