Intellectual understanding is useful up to a point, but then it can be a hindrance, a barrier to further progress in spiritual life. Faith, love and devotion to God and Guru are the stepping stones, so too are the practice of yoga and service in the cause of yoga.
Swami Satyananda Saraswati
Topic 5 | Satsang
Satsang is the essence of yogic and spiritual life. The word sat means ‘truth’ and sang means ‘association’. Satsang, therefore, means ‘association with truth’, ‘an encounter with truth’ or ‘association with those who are following the path of truth’. In the highest sense it means direct perception and communion with truth, and even more, living with awareness of truth in every action and incident of life. It means that one’s being is submerged in awareness of truth. But this is a very elevated definition; at a more practical level, satsang means sitting in the company of wise men and women and listening to what they have to say. Satsang also means a place where seekers of truth meet in the presence of their guru.
Satsang will bring about conscious and unconscious changes in your being. It will inspire you and bring about changes in your attitudes. It will open up new horizons and vistas; you will start to see new meaning and potential in life. Slowly it can transform your understanding and perception of your own being. Life will start to show new, undreamt of promise.
How can satsang bring about these changes? This is not easy to answer, but we can say that the energy vibrations of a sage function at a more subtle level. These vibrations can change and charge your mind and energy field. His aura will transform your aura. His psychic battery will charge your psychic battery. A sage is a transformer of energy flows. But you must be receptive. Whether you are aware of these changes or not, they will nevertheless occur.
The mind has a tendency to remain in a rut of false beliefs and conditioning; it is also full of knots. You can never remove these by yourself. You have to receive treatment from another person -a spiritual doctor, a sage, yogi or saint. The sage can say almost anything – perhaps significant or insignificant, either obviously or not obviously directed at you, perhaps seemingly superficial statements of fact, gossip or philosophical ideas, whatever but these words can help to shake and upset the ‘boat’ of mental lethargy and fixity existing in your mind. The mind is changed and sent in new directions. You may or may not be aware of the process, but it will happen.
Satsang is not a new thing. It has existed throughout the world since time immemorial. At the dawn of history, primitive tribes and village communities always had a wise man, shaman, medicine man, call him what you will. They were respected people whose views were sought by others. They gave satsang.
Satsang was practised in ancient Greece. Many of the books by Plato and other great sages are based on speeches given during satsang. The Greek sages were called philosophers, which means ‘lovers of the truth’.
The difference between rhetoric and sophism is clearly described in the Greek classic called The Phaedrus which is based on satsang given by Socrates and written down by Plato. Socrates is one example of a great sage who used to give talks based on knowledge of the truth. He used to give satsang to his many disciples and to many others who cared to listen. Plato was the chronicler of his master’s enlightened satsang.
Christ gave satsang to multitudes of people the length and breadth of Galilee. He transformed the lives of many people, converting them. Many examples are given in the Bible. The greatest recorded satsang of Christ is The Sermon on the Mount (John, verse 5 onwards). Buddha gave satsang for almost fifty years in every place that he went. The Buddhist scriptures are full of the recorded words of Buddha. All religions of the world are based on satsang – words of the wise. Every mystical system is based on satsang and every scripture is nothing but recorded satsang.