Certainly this quote from the Sundar Khand sounds like a lofty claim, but is it?
The word “sat” means truth and “sangh” means in the company of or union, so satsangh means to be in association with truth, or to be in the company of beings of truth, such as as sadhus and saints. In my experience, satsangh certainly is as great as the Sundar Khand claims it to be!
Satsangh varies in form and level of intensity. Sometimes it is used in reference to a spiritual talk, a gathering of devotees to sing kirtan, or even to perform some other activity focused on God. No doubt, these are all forms of satsangh, but these are referring to temporal events.
The “ideal of satsangh” goes beyond just a gathering that we have once in a while, or even on a regular basis.
True satsangh, in its ideal form, is a continual inspired relationship between souls who are headed toward the same goal.
The satsangh may be with fellow disciples who keep each other focused and inspired toward the goal, or it may be the Guru and disciple. While these are both examples of external satsanghs, there is also an internal satsangh, which is the relationship we have with our own self (minds). Here, the objective is to keep our attention focused on truth rather than worldly matters.
In continual satsangh, we work together mutually to maintain the most conducive environment and circumstances for doing sadhana and keeping our minds focused on divinity. When this relationship is with the Guru, it actually empowers the disciple to become like the example that we respect most and to live life as they do.
If the satsangh is with fellow disciples, we help each other to constantly stay inspired toward remembering and achieving that same goal.
Whoever is involved, when everyone is working together, focused on the same goal and ideal, then the true essence of satsangh is experienced.
During this journey in the Himalayas, I have had the privilege of sharing the most wonderful satsangh with Swamiji. Our rhythm of worship became the whole of our lives with nothing else in between. Our whole association together became focused on supporting and maintaining this rhythm of worship. This is real satsangh.
Our daily routine consists of a very early morning wake-up call from sleep, followed by preparing ourselves for daily sadhana and chanting together.
Then we automatically divide-up the various duties, such as chopping vegetables, cooking, cleaning , etc., and implement them.
We help each other to get our daily chores completed efficiently, and often this happens without any conversation about it — spontaneously we work together because we know what needs to get done in order for us to live this kind of life.
Through our time in India, we have built our asana to be anywhere from 8 to 10 hours a day. This chanting, combined with our daily duties, does not leave much time in the day for other activities, but with whatever time we do have left, we read the scriptures, talk about their meanings, and deepen our understanding of the sadhana.
The bhavana (spiritual feeling) that manifests from our worship stays with us throughout the day and creates a continuous satsangh — a continuous association with truth. The wisdom of the scriptures spontaneously flows into the activities of our daily life with little to no effort, making it possible to live in accordance with the scriptures.
When life becomes immersed in Vaidika Shabda (words of wisdom), then inspiration and meditation are with us all day long.
To stay in a continuous satsangh, every aspect of our life must be maintained with the utmost of purity. While staying associated with people who are rooted in worship and wisdom goes a long way, satsangh involves more than just divine communion in our relationships and interactions with others. It also includes divine communion with our own internal selves — meaning, our mind and thoughts.
As information is the food that either nourishes or provokes our thoughts, we should invite only pure, unworldly information into our minds.
Here in the Himalayas, with just two sadhus, it is easy to control the information that enters into our minds.
We can easily tune out the normal talk of the latest news, movies, and sensational world events.
We can easily remain free of idle chit-chat and gossip.
The secret to making satsangh a continuous reality is creating the divine environment. The effort it takes to pull together this type of satsangh is well worth it, as it can manifest a divine way of life for everyone involved.
Should others join the satsangh who aren’t completely immersed in the same discipline and schedule, then the satsangh becomes less powerful.
Unless everyone in our sphere of interaction is really focused on the same discipline, with the same understanding and goals, it is difficult to maintain that unbroken satsangh.
The conversations then erode to Bhautika Shabda (talk of the world) and our thoughts follow the same course, moving out to the world. The blissful bhavana generated from the sadhana drifts away, making it difficult to maintain through the day.
Ultimately, the external satsangh supports the internal satsangh. We become inspired and encouraged by the association with external satsangh, which in turn fosters divine thoughts, ideas, and the inner purity required to maintain an internal satsangh.
When our own internal satsangh becomes firmly established, we then are able to offer our support to someone else. We become their “external satsangh”.
Even if our external satsangh is supportive, sometimes various mundane thoughts and ideas creep into our minds. When this is the case, we can reflect and ask ourselves,
“Where am I inviting this in from?”
“Do I read the news first thing in the morning before remembering God?”
“Do I view everything going on in social media before remembering God?”
Somehow, we must be doing something to disrupt our own satsangh. If this be the case, there is nothing to fear! There are a set of tools, or practices, that will free us from our thoughts.
The set of practices are called Siddantachara. The word “siddant” means principle and “achara” means code of conduct, or behaviors. So siddantachara are the behaviors recommended in the scriptures that we should perform to quiet the mind and re-establish our internal satsangh when we get off track. These practices are also called Nitya (eternal) Karma:
Shankaracharya advises in the Sadhana Panchakam,
“Whenever possible seek out the company of the true and knowledgeable people, and serve the sandals of their lotus feet, and ask from them even one letter of the knowledge of Brahman and listen to the great words of wisdom from the Vedas.”
The satsangh between disciples and Guru is a mutual endeavor. The disciples offer whatever service they can to take away the material responsibilities of the Guru. The Guru in return has more energy, mind, and time to share the knowledge and sadhana with them.
This verse points out that the disciple needs to ask the Guru for the knowledge and show that they are eager to receive it. That is a part of the satsangh too.
It isn’t a one way street where we are just waiting and hoping that the Guru will give us the wisdom. It is our responsibility to seek it and ask for it.
When this happens, the respected and empowered Guru will certainly do everything in his or her power to empower us towards our highest success as well. Both Guru and Disciple will both be blessed by the beauty and divinity of that satsangh.
Now it is time for us to apply this knowledge in our own lives. What can we do to ensure the people we associate with our supporting our spiritual progress? What are we going to change in our daily lives to foster purity in thought, word, and deed? Where can we set the example for maintaining a conducive environment? There are so many aspects of our lives that can be leveraged for the benefit of all.
I have heard Shree Maa say, “It is easy to perform sadhana in India, but the real tapasya is maintaining satsangha in everything we do, whereever we reside.”
What a great aspiration!