New England Needs More Satsangs and Sanghas -- Spiritual Gatherings -- Instructions For Holding Satsang (Meetings) --
Exploring the World Religions Column
By James Bean
Copyright June/July 2011 -- All Rights Reserved
There are so few satsang meetings of any kind in New England, whole regions with little happening, where there has never been much for meditation groups connected with any Eastern spiritual path. There is room for new satsang activity, expansion, and development.
Used in Hinduism and related paths from India, "Satsang" or "Satsangha" is a combination of words from Sanskrit. "Sat" refers to the "Eternal Truth", and Truth is another name for God. "Sang" means "association". Thus, a sat-sang can be defined as a meeting, association or spiritual gathering in the name of exploring and experiencing the Eternal Truth or God. "Sangha" is an equivalent term from Buddhism -- also used in Jainism -- for spiritual "association", "company," or "assembly" with a common vision, goal or purpose.
Satsang is the name given to meetings associated with a certain spiritual master, his or her lineage of gurus, and the spiritual disciple or yoga practiced by the group connected with this master or teacher. In India, there are tens of thousands of satsangs conducted on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Satsang is a word used, to some degree, in a similar way to "church" or "temple", but not necessarily in an institutional sense. A genuine satsang is not defined by buildings or temples made of wood, stone, plumbing, and parking lots. Rather, a satsang is a gathering of souls -- that's what gives it the potential of being a real genuine expression of God, Sat or Eternal Truth. That saying of Jesus often quoted from the New Testament would be a fairly good basic description of a satsang: "Where two or three are gathered in my Name, I am in their midst."
Most spiritual paths with roots in Indian spirituality or mysticism call their spiritual gatherings "satsangs". A satsang usually is conducted in the name of a certain spiritual teacher, and is supposed to be one hundred percent focused upon the teachings and meditation practice of that particular school of spirituality or yoga discipline. In other words, there is an etiquette that comes with traditional satsangs organized in India. There is a reverential, warm and loving atmosphere permeated with peace and tranquility. Someone gives a talk that is always based upon the spiritual teachings of the group. It would not normally be considered proper to share materials from living teachers of some other path or tradition, or for there to be way-off-topic discussions about crop circles, emotional freedom techniques (EFTs), flying saucers (UFOs), politics, and conspiracy theories of one sort or another, or some other subject not directly related to the intended focus of the satsang. The idea behind satsang is to create an oasis of peace, a sacred space where the Truth (as one defines or experiences it) becomes celebrated, and is always to be the sole focus of one's attention. Satsang serves as a space for Truth in one's life, a weekly, monthly, or daily reminder about the important things, a Call to spiritual Remembrance in a world of distractions and forgetfulness.
The format of a satsang can include several elements:
1) silent group meditation practice;
2) chanting or the singing of bhakti/devotional hymns (kirtans, banis, bhajans,);
3) the recitation of certain key prayers as well as passages that define the central principals of the group;
4) a spiritual discourse, or readings from scriptures and the writings of spiritual masters; and,
5) perhaps a community meal.
The Langar or Shared Meal
According to Wikipedia: "Langar is the practice, common to a number of Asian religions, of a community meal." So also in the history of the West, there has been the tradition of the "Agape feast" or communal meal. For instance, in the Nag Hammadi books found in Egypt, in one of the Gnostic scriptures known as, "The Prayer of Thanksgiving", there is a wonderful example of a shared vegetarian meal as the concluding event of a Hermetic gathering.
For an example of a recited text or "creed", see, "The Seven Principals" -- those are recited at each satsang by some in India: http://on.fb.me/ekrYJk
The Spiritual Discourses Given At Satsang Gatherings
Spiritual instruction is always the central part of any traditional satsang. This can take several forms. One could share a talk of a spiritual master transmitted via satellite, or via the web, perhaps by Skype (internet chat), or Phone, DVD, CD, MP3, old VHS tape, cassette, or e-book -- whatever your technology might happen to be. Someone is likely to do readings from various books authored by spiritual masters. The standard here is: the words spoken must be coming from the highest level. They are intended to be the spiritual instruction of enlightened masters.....and only that. One must avoid much for opinion, home-grown "wisdom", sharing from the level of ego, in other words, even if this means reading from a book for forty minutes instead of attempting to "be a great orator" -- so be it. The satsang usually does not include an open floor, "open mic" type discussion as part of the format, as that would simply represent a built-in repetition or parroting back of old information (following the dictates of the mind) instead of learning something new. Satsang is about course-correction, change, growth, expansion of horizons, exploration. The goal should always be to communicate the purest teachings from the most advanced and enlightened beings available, unfiltered, in a receptive atmosphere of learning.
Between an ocean and a river, choose the ocean. Between a river and a tributary, follow the river. "The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." (William Arthur Ward) As Rumi says, "If you seek to know God, sit at the feet of the Saints."
My Ode to the Sant Sat Guru
In Praise of the Sant-soul of love
who has reached the Spiritual Realm above,
and merged in God.
Hail to the Competent Living Master,
the Qualified Teacher,
rare to find in this world,
so few and far between,
the True One,
a genuine mentor of souls,
righteous and worthy Guide,
a Fearless Being,
leader of a spiritual community.
With gratitude to the Competent Living One!
In a Sea of Samsara -- illusion and world of changes,
of falsehood and posing,
there is a bright Light in the darkness.
A silent Music becomes audible.
At the feet of such a Loving, Radiant One,
the soul can not help but find inner Light and
slip into deep samadhi meditation.
In the eyes of a Saint are
love, wisdom, light, compassion, grace,
a reflection of God in this realm of the material plane.
The Master-Power connects the soul with the
Supreme Lord of Love.
There are degrees or levels of satsang: 1) Experiencing God within directly in meditation (Associating with God); 2) A satsang gathering presided over by a living teacher (Associating with a Sat Guru); and, 3) Studying the scriptures and spiritual writings of masters of the past and present (Associating with Knowledge). See my Facebook Note titled, The Three Levels of Satsang (Associating with Eternal Truth) excerpted from the book, "Harmony of All Religions", by Swami Sant Sevi Ji Maharaj: http://on.fb.me/iaHvRp
For an example of a traditional "Satsang Template" of materials one can drawn upon for satsang readings, see the Shabdas, Ramainis, and Sakhis, which are chapters of Kabir's spiritual classic known as the Bijak, used for centuries in the satsangs of the Kabir Panth. Those volumes are in book form, and some of them are online at this website: http://www.Kabir.ca
Also see my blog, which from 2006 to the present, mostly represents excerpts culled from hundreds of rare writings from India in the satsang discourse category: http://SantMatRadhasoami.
Group Meditation Practice
Though meditation is for the most part a solitary practice done alone at home, the weekly or occasional group meditation with other devotees can be very beneficial for one's spiritual growth. There is a wonderful group energy that is an indispensable helping factor on the spiritual journey. When seekers-after-Truth meditate together, one can notice significant improvements, an acceleration in inner progress, more experiences of inner Vision, Lights and inner Sounds. This, in turn, will help deepen one's own regular daily meditation practice at home.
Satsang is intended to always be a positive influence in one's life, a series of opportunities for spirituality to "not only be taught, but caught", as the popular saying goes. There is a great need to belong to a spiritual community, and few can maintain a quality spiritual practice in isolation, without sharing the journey with other kindred souls and spiritual friends on the path.
Satsang should always be a joyous occasion dedicated to celebrating the Eternal Truth, and never become held captive by a "controlling", cultish leadership structure, or governed by an ever-growing heavier and thicker book of burdensome or suffocating "rules and regs." Truth or Bust!
I will leave you with these benevolent and noble thoughts by Huzur Baba Sawan Singh, who taught that satsang is a simple process that should always remain drama and politics-free, and is intended to abide by the motto, "The less organization, the better". Huzur Baba Sawan Singh:
"'Satsang' has more than one meaning: First, it means the meeting of the Master and a disciple. Second, it means the meeting of all Satsangis who may attend, whether the Guru is present in body or not. There is no formality about it, none at all. It is a simple meeting of all disciples who can attend. We avoid formality and anything that may have the appearance of a rigid organization. The less organization, the better. And there must be no idea of leadership. The only leader in Sant Mat is the Guru. Just the Master and His disciples meeting together is the only organization we have."
For more on creating a local satsang meeting, see, "Instructions for Holding Satsang", by Kirpal Singh, posted at the Kirpal Singh Satsang Yahoo Group: http://groups.yahoo.