intelligence increase (Vyaas's method)

Lyle Burkhead (
Thu, 19 Dec 1996 03:04:03 -0500 (EST)

A few years ago I took some Sanskrit classes. What I will describe here
is a weekend class. The teacher's name is Vyaas Houston. He is
an American in his forties. He looks and talks just like Dick Cavett.

His classes start Friday evening. There are usually about 15 or 20
students, drawn from all walks of life. There are usually some sweet
old ladies and retired gentlemen who are interested in yoga. They
haven't been in a classroom in decades and may be a little nervous
about it. There are some young, hippie-type yoga students, and they are
also a little antsy about being in a classroom. And there are some
doctors, programmers, scientists, and so forth. Some people in this
latter group are very competitive. They have been straight-A students
all their lives, and their egos depend on being able to learn anything
better than anybody. What happens next is going to be even worse
for them than for the others.

Vyaas starts by asking everyone to listen to him chant a line of Sanskrit,
and repeat it. "Ah au aha." Well, that's easy enough. We all go
Ah au aha. Each one repeats this, all the way around the group.
Then he adds another line. (These are case endings, by the way,
but we don't know that yet.) "Ah au aha, am au an." At this point,
since these are nonsense syllables that we have never heard before,
it starts to get a little confusing. He tells us, "You don't have to get it
right. If you don't remember the exact sound, just make something up.
It's okay if you don't get it right." Of course, no one believes this.
We have to get it right. Ah au aha; am au an. So far, so good.
Anybody can remember six syllables long enough to repeat them.

He adds a third line. "Ah au aha; am au an; ena abhyam aih."
We are supposed to repeat this. It's harder than it may appear.
Three lines is a big jump beyond two. The syllables sound alike
and run together. Our short-term memory registers only have
so much capacity.

Vyaas reminds us that we don't have to get it right. Most of us, with
great effort, do get it right, at least to a close approximation. Ah au aha;
am au an; ena abhyam aih. Some people resort to making something up
when their turn comes. We get through this part, somehow, but we are
beginning to feel fear, a fear that threatens our egos, a fear of failure,
humiliation, public exposure... We feel many things; very primitive
things. Our minds are in turmoil. If somebody is going to fail, let it be
the other guy. Don't let it be me.

Then he adds a fourth line. "Ah au aha; am au an; ena abhyam aih;
aya abhyam ebhyaha." We are supposed to repeat all this. It is almost
impossible. Four lines is an enormous step beyond three. It's like
going to a juggling class, and being expected to juggle four balls the
very first time. We try, but it's hopeless. Ah au aha; am au an; ena
abhyam aih... and what's the rest? As the other members of the class
recite, you remember the last line -- but then you forget the first line.
Your turn to recite is coming up... FEAR... PANIC... you can't hold
all that stuff in your mind at once... you are going to fail... everyone is
going to laugh at you... you may lose your job and all your friends and
end up a street person. Miraculously, most of us do manage to repeat
most of the syllables. But our hearts are pounding.

Of course, when someone does fail, no one laughs. No one cares.
It's not the end of the world. Our fear of failure was an illusion, but
nevertheless a real fear at the time. It's amazing how much fear can be
generated by this simple exercise. Hardly anyone can go through this
without being shaken. Even when I took the class for the third time,
I was still afraid of failing. (Not as much as the first time.)

When we finish, Vyaas asks us what has been going through our minds.
We spend the rest of the evening talking about the fact that we did not
listen to the sounds, experience them, and repeat them; instead, we were
thinking about ourselves, our inadequacies, the competitive situation,
how we appeared to the other students... We thought about everything
except the sounds we were supposed to be listening to. We defeated
ourselves. More precisely, he set us up so we would inevitably defeat
ourselves; he is driving at something.

He asks us to enter into an agreement. For the rest of the class,
we agree to "follow the point." In other words, when he is saying
something, we just listen. When he is pointing to something on an
alphabet chart, we just look. If we find ourselves drifting off, we
come back to the point. When we are called on to recite, we just
think about the problem at hand. When someone else recites, we
give them our full attention and support.

We also agree to interrupt and ask questions any time we are lost;
we give ourselves permission to do that, and we also give everyone else
permission to do the same. No doubt you have had the experience of
being in a classroom and being so lost that you didn't even know
what to ask. You are afraid that if you ask a dumb question, you will
embarrass yourself. Of course the guy sitting next to you is just as lost,
but he is afraid to ask a question because he thinks you will think he is
an idiot. Everybody sits there wishing someone would stop the
teacher and ask a question, but no one does, so the teacher keeps
talking and leaves everyone farther and farther behind. Vyaas wants to
avoid this situation at all costs, so we agree in advance to stop him
any time we are not able to follow the point.

He is teaching us the elements of yoga (not hatha yoga).

There is no more Sanskrit Friday night. We spend the entire evening
talking about how we defeated ourselves, and what we can do about it.
The agreements are the key to the whole thing. Everybody has to
understand what we are agreeing to do, and why. We have to get the
agreements nailed down before proceeding.

When the Sanskrit class proper begins Saturday morning, we are in a
different space. Everyone follows the point. Everyone asks questions.
This is like no classroom I have ever been in before. We learn at an
incredible speed. By Saturday night, we have all learned the alphabet,
and we are able to read sutras in Sanskrit, in the devanagari script.
I mean everybody -- not just the A students, but the old ladies too.
Waiting for the slow students doesn't hold the fast students back --
it helps us to go even faster.

After a few hours of this, there are no class divisions,
no smart students and dumb students. We are all there together,
in a way that we have seldom been together with anybody
in our entire lives.

Sunday night, when the class is over, we go back to our separate lives;
back to The World. But we carry with us the knowledge that
life doesn't have to be the way it usually is. Something better is