Today Satsang usually means a gathering where either music and singing, or the recitation of epics and stories, or discussions of spiritual subjects take place. A discourse by a learned person is also referred to as Satsang. When four or more persons sit together and sing the praises of the Lord, with or without the aid of an instrument, even this is known as Satsang.
But in the eyes of the Saints, Satsang connotes a much deeper meaning and has a much higher and purer aim. The gathering of worldly-minded people is not termed Satsang. Sat means Truth, and Sang means company. One who has the ideal of Truth established in his heart is the image of the Lord.
The Hindu Scriptures affirm that one who has the knowledge of Brahm is himself also Brahm. Similarly, one who has inculcated ‘Truth’ within himself is himself the Truth.
There is no difference between the Truth and the True Lord – Sat Purush. Satguru is the light of the Truth.
Different persons exert different kinds of influences. The virtuous create an atmosphere of virtue, while the wicked create an atmosphere of evil.
The mind is a wonderful thing. It takes on the colour of the company it keeps. It imbibes the attributes of what it dwells upon. If it keeps the company of worldly people, it also becomes worldly. On the other hand, if it leaves among spiritual people it acquires spiritual tendencies. Therefore, if one is keen to gather spiritual knowledge, he must keep the company of those who are spiritually advanced and must keep his mind fixed on them.
Where a Satguru live, the entire environment is spiritualised by his body, mind, intellect and the mode of his life. His very presence greatly influences the people around him. When a Satguru speaks or makes a movement of the hands or confers a gracious look, a special current of attention emanates from him and creates a powerful influence on the minds of the audience.
This is subject to the condition that those in the audience are not entirely devoid of living devotion or, like pieces of flint, are not incapable of understanding or accepting it.
Such a current of attention helps the soul to ascend, and the person listening to such spiritual discourses greatly expands his esoteric knowledge.
We are like children who are ignorant of Spirituality, and the Satguru is a Teacher par excellence of the subject.
Oh Ram! We are all children before God. Praise be to our Master who, through his teachings, has made us aware of Him.
Adi Granth, Moh. 4
The audience that partakes of the fragrance of the Spirituality of Saints becomes saturated with its sweet perfume. The greatness of Satsang is unique indeed.
All Scriptures and holy books sing its praise.
In the Mahabharat the advantages of Satsang are described as follows:
Just as fragrant flowers spread their perfume to all things that are nearby, be they earth, water or clothes, even so the company of the virtuous makes people noble. The company of the wicked creates an atmosphere of evil, while that of the Saints enlightens the soul with Truth and religion. It therefore behoves people to seek the company of the Saints in order to imbibe the blissful atmosphere that they radiate.
We should so mould our lives that all our actions, namely, seeing, hearing, talking, eating, drinking, reading, writing, working and meeting with people, should ensure our progress. The company of evil people produces in us rajasik and tamasik tendencies, while the company of good and spiritual people engenders in us the satvik tendencies that lead to spiritual awakening.
The following advantages accrue from Satsang:
- By listen to God’s Name and His attributes, one gains happiness and longs for union with Him.
- By thinking of the Lord and reciting His Name, one begins to lose worldly attachments, gives up desires and sense pleasures, and earnestly longs for meeting the Lord.
- Our mind is rid of lust and anger, and we become fearless.
- Our mind is filled with the Love of the Lord and His creation. In the company of the Saints, none remains alien to us, none is our enemy. We become one with the universe.
- By constant devotion and practice we become worthy of union with the Lord, and begin to perceive His presence everywhere – both within and without.
- An ocean of happiness, bliss and love wells up in our hearts.
- By crossing the three gunas – qualities – and Turiya Pad, we attain Sahaj and thus reach the highest spiritual abode.
- In the end, we merge into the Lord. Through Satsang a person becomes free from the influence of the Negative Power and the evil designs of his mind. Yama – the angel of death – does not come near him and he is emancipated.
A person who keeps the company of Saints gains his object and is sustained at the time of his death. The company of evil persons leads to ruin.
Therefore, we must abjure such company.
Oh Kabir, keep the company of Saints to obtain succour at the time of death. Shun the company of the wicked, which causes dismay at the end.
One who enjoys the Satsangs of spiritually-advanced souls goes beyond the domain of matter and mind. Whoever attends Satsang forgets himself. Just as a melon takes on the color of its neighbour, so does the Satsang – a fountainhead of Spirituality – bestow its benign drops on all who join it, and they become the embodiment of Love. Where Love abides, there appears a strange and unworldly love-intoxication. Whoever partakes of it burns away his cares and the dross of his mind, and begins to shine in his pristine glory. Satsang is a unique boon which the Master distributes free to both the learned and the ignorant. His overpowering grandeur, His refulgence and magnetic force attract each person according to his merit, with the result that they become oblivious of the world and its objects and completely lose track of time and the manner of its passage.
Lord Krishna has described Satsang in the following words:
Oh Udho! Neither Yoga nor knowledge nor study of the Scriptures; neither austerities nor renunciation nor service to other; nor charity, nor worship, nor recitals nor pilgrimages, nor even suppression of the mind and senses can ever reach me with the ease that Satsang or the company of Saints does, freeing one of worldly influence.
Satsang is so unique that even god is enamoured of it and it is incumbent on one therefore to try to find a Saint and either attend his Satsang or keep His company. For this alone can be the means of his salvation. If one obtains the company of a Saint and develops faith in Him, the fulfilment of his life’s mission is ensured. So long as one does not find a perfect Master one should prepare oneself by leading a chaste life, studying religious books and keeping the company of those who are spiritually inclined.
But if by the Grace of God one is able to find a Saint who has attained God-Realization, one should imbibe his teachings and mould his life accordingly. This is real Satsang. Sat – Eternel Truth – is another name for God. It abides in the Saints and their gatherings. In communities where persons who profess a particular faith live together, there are institutions for imparting their faith. As it is true that education can be had only in schools and colleges, that medicines can be procured only in hospitals, that heat is associated with ovens, and that moisture is inseparable from water, so also God resides where His devotees live.
Christ also said:
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
St. Matthew 18:20
There rise the waves of love and devotion. There bliss and Grace confer peace upon all. The world is a furnace ablaze, where all creatures suffer torture. Their pitiable condition is deserving of mercy. The Satsang of Saints is a priceless blessing, and is the heaven of the agonized. Those who depend on it with all their being cross the ocean of the world and realize Naam.
If the waters of rivers and rivulets, on joining the Ganges, lose their own identity; if the knife of the butcher turns into gold on touching the philosopher’s stone; if a margosa tree growing near a sandalwood tree imbibes its fragrance; if it is true that whatever is kept in a salt mine becomes salt; then there need be no doubt that whoever goes to Satsang is dyed in its colour. You may be good or bad. There is nothing to worry about. You should gain the company of a Saint and listen to His Satsang. The fresh air of His invigorating Spirituality will bestow upon you the same spiritual health and freshness, and in a short time you will become good yourself. Then the qualities of virtue will manifest themselves within you. Listening to the Satsang with your mind and heart, and relishing it, you will easily gain control over your sense, and your soul will become steady in the company of Saints and Sadhus.
Maulana Rumi says:
The desires of the mind will never die without the perfecting hands of the Master.
Tulsi Sahib the Saint of Hathras says:
The soul can be steadied only in the company of a Saint. When this happens, the mind becomes motionless. There is no other method for controlling the mind.
By drinking the drops of nectar that flow from Satsang, you will become an innocent child of Spirituality.
Bhai Gur Das says:
Satsang dyes both the good and the bad. They imbibe its colour, just as an evil-smelling fluid poured into the fast-flowing Ganges becomes Ganges water and takes its form. In the same way, a person inhaling the perfume of Satsang becomes stable of mind.
Again Bhai Gur Das says:
A disciple becomes a Saint in the company of Saints, just as water thrown into the Ganges loses its identity and becomes the same as the water of the Ganges. A river flows into the ocean and becomes the fathomless ocean itself. Similarly, the ocean-like company of a Saint makes His disciples become like Him. Just as the sweet fragrance of flowers gives serenity and peace to the mind, similarly the sight or Darshan of a Saint brings peace and calmness. Just as the Anahad Shabd is the bestower of all gifts, similarly the company of the virtuous transforms even a man of utter ignorance into one of high spiritual consciousness.
A Dhak tree – Buteakrondosa – growing in the vicinity of a sandalwood tree takes on the fragrance of sandalwood. The effect of association is indeed great. The tree that grows near a sandalwood tree is indeed fortunate. In all the four castes and the four religious orders, no matter how greatly person has fallen, he will give up his bad habits and tendencies and imbibe the hue of Satsang. By repairing to Satsang the lowly gain high status. Just as iron becomes gold on coming in contact with the philosophers’s stone, so does a person gain in value and honour by coming in contact with a Saint.
The ever-merciful Lord abides within. Through following the precepts of the Master, we are released from the cycle of birth and rebirth. Such is the greatness of Satsang that, like the philosopher’s stone, it transforms the iron-like sinner into a gold-like being of virtue. The lowly is raised on high. One who is worthless becomes precious. Go to Satsang and lovingly contemplate upon the Master and the Lord.
Your thoughts, words and deeds will automatically become pure. You will find that through Satsang the spiritual wealth that can be obtained as a result of following the various kinds of yoga will come your way without any difficulty or effort on your part.
Those who attend Satsang, automatically listen, ponder over, and visualize the form of the Satguru who is giving the discourse. They do not need to read any outside books, because Satsang deals with them in a practical way. It is not the books alone that are medium for attaining knowledge. Knowledge can be gained by listening to Satsang.
Look at a blind man. By listening alone he has become learned. By intently listening we can imbibe now knowledge. When a particular subject is discussed in Satsang all the listeners think of the same subject simultaneously, with the result that the entire environment is saturated with the thought-currents. The entire audience benefits thereby, and the subject leaves an indelible impression on the minds of those present.
Together with the thought-currents, the waves of spirituality that emanate from the Master during His discourse help to make the subject matter clear, so that everyone can comprehend it thoroughly. In this way the dirt of evil thoughts gets washed away, the gloom of ignorance vanishes, and in its place emerges the light of knowledge.
If a person is able to attend the Satsang of a Master with attention, steadfastness and faith, the filth of his mind is easily washed away and he becomes capable of increasing faith and understanding.
So long as the mirror of one’s mind is not cleansed, the words of the Master do not have their full effect. As the purity of mind increases, the words of the Satguru begin to have a more penetrating effect within. By listening to His words, one becomes absorbed in them, so much so that he even beholds glimpses of the Master’s radiance within. It appears as if there were two bodies, but only one breath. The vision of the same light enlivening both comes into view. A melon takes colour from another melon. Likewise, one who attends Satsang begins to assume the form of the Master. When this is accomplished, no lack of anything remains. Whatever wealth of goodness one has gathered, it is entirely the fruit of the company of the virtuous. Satsang is a very powerful means, and through it one rapidly gains emancipation.
Sat also means life. The company of a living person is Satsang. The Scriptures point out that wherever there is a Master there is Satsang. Satsang is dependent upon a Master, and it can be had only through Him.
By remaining in the company of a spiritually awakened soul one is virtually reborn. The animal life in him comes to an end, and he begins to realize his spiritual kinship with God. He becomes karmaless – actionless –, and the dross of evil wears away. A person who boards the ship of Naam easily crosses the ocean of phenomena.
Even as iron floats when it is in association with wood, so also, by keeping the company of Saints, one is automatically filled with the remembrance of the Lord and develops an intense yearning to realize Him.
In Satsang the Master, through His spiritual currents, bestows the gift of new life on the devotees, with the result that like moths they sacrifice themselves on the Fountainhead of Light and become one with it. For then, their life does not remain their own. It becomes that of the Master. Thus they attain the state of completely merging in the Master.
When I was, He was not. When He is, I am not. The lane of Love is so narrow that it can hold one but not both.
There is no Satsang worthy of the name without a Master, because the Satguru – True Master – is the bestower of Shabd, and without Shabd nobody can cross the ocean of life. While eulogizing Satsang, the Scriptures hold that, that alone is Satsang where Naam alone is exalted and discussed. Such a Satsang can be obtained only from a Master. By devoting oneself wholly to the Master with mind and body, and completely surrendering to the will of the Master, one can easily realize Naam and merge in it.
By touching the philosopher’s stone iron turns into gold. It gains in value, but it does not become a philosopher’s stone. How can one adequately exalt Satsang? Whoever abides by Satsang becomes a Saint. Joining Naam, one merges in it and gains life everlasting. Then is one forever freed from the treadmill of life and death.
There is no Satsang without true Saints and Sages, but it is hard to recognize them. The only touchstone we have is our limited intellect, and it is dyed in the dye of the world and is filled with the poison of sense pleasures. This touchstone is incapable of assaying the transcendental Lord who is free of all worldly blemishes. Although Saints are innocent of all evil, still we cannot comprehend their eminence, bereft as our intellect is of Love and faith. We often attribute things to them that have no basis whatever in reality.
Saints display no signboards by which they may be known. In the world we have many persons who are not Saints, but who go about ostentatiously with an air of saintliness about them. On the other hand, a real Saint leads an ordinary life and does not reveal Himself to others. We can recognize Saints only when through their Grace they reveal themselves.
How can a blind man ever recognize anyone by means of his eyes? Our inner vision is shut. So long as it does not open, we cannot perceive the glory of the Saints. Lack of faith and perseverance stand in our way. Short of faith, we test them with our imperfect touchstone and fail to recognize True Saints.
There is many a Saint who keeps concealed so carefully that it is very difficult for anyone to detect them. As a consequence, only a few people go to them. At the same time, the world is full of deceit and wickedness. For this reason, the seekers of Truth are enjoined to make their search with care so that they will not regard each and everyone as a Saint. The lives of Saints exercise a powerful influence. They possess a magnetic force. Their mind, body and spirit radiate waves of noble and virtuous thoughts – Satvik currents. They have complete control over their mind and senses. In their company our own mind and senses become stable and no longer wander, with the result that we begin to be dyed in the Lord’s Grace.
Where we perceive this to be taking place, it is there that a real Saint resides. Keep his company. In contrast to this, however noble a bearing a person may have, if in his company evil thoughts continue to exist or increase, or a longing for the remembrance and the love of the Lord does not emerge, it is best to shun his company.
In the Bhagavad, Kapi Rishi, – God Incarnate – describes a genuine Saint thus:
Whom poverty does not dismay, nor pleasures make happy; who are models of calmness and mercy, who are the selfless friends of all and regard none as their enemy; whose minds are marked with singleness of purpose; who accepting the Truth about God offer Me loving devotion, renounce the fruits of all their actions for My sake and turn away from their worldly relations; who having complete faith in Me sing My praises, and have their minds fixed on Me. Such people are free from all worldly ties and do not run after sense pleasures. It is they who are worthy of My association.
He says further:
Who is merciful, who is the enemy of none; who is steadfast and true; who is pure of mind and regards all alike; who tries to do good to others; whose mind is rid of desires and cravings; who has control over his senses; who is tender-hearted and of noble and pure character; who is humble and devoid of desires; whose habits are under control; who has a serene and firm mind; who has surrendered himself to Me; who is constantly dwelling upon My transcendental attributes, who has no weaknesses; who is sober and contented, who has conquered hunger and thirst, sorrow and deception, life and death, and the other ills of life, etc.; who does not wish to be venerated by anybody but himself; who respects everybody; who fulfils his obligations and responsibilities; who is a friend of all; who is full of kindness and knowledge; such a person is verily a Saint.
In the Mahabharat, Bhisham describes to Yudishtra the characteristics of those in whose company one loses the fear of life and death, and gains salvation.
They are vegetarians. They love or hate no one. The virtuous life is dear to them. Their senses are under control. They regard joy and sorrow alike. They are truthful and benevolent. They accept no charity from others, while they are themselves charitably disposed. They serve their guests. They afford comfort to everybody. They help everybody. They are courageous. They follow the path of Truth. They are the friend of all, and in time of need are prepared to sacrifice everything. They remain steadfast on the path of Truth. Their conduct and bearing are in accordance with the tenets of their religion. They talk ill of no Saint nor Seer. They are a menace to none, nor are they frightening. They live a noble life with determination, and bear a feeling of non-violence (absence of hatred) towards all. They are free from lust, anger, attachment and ego. They do their duty and follow religion for its own sake, and not for securing fame and wealth. They are naturally inclined towards religion.
Just as they have their daily bath, eat their daily food and satisfy other physical needs, so also is religion part and parcel of their daily life. They have, no fear sorrow or ire. They are truthful and honest. They do not rejoice over gains, nor do they grieve over losses. They are of Satogun temperament and maintain their equanimity under all conditions. The pairs of opposites such as gain and loss, joy and sorrow, love and hatred, life and death, fail to perturb their mind. They are firm and strong in their resolve. They attain a high stage and tread the path of Truth with great resolution.
The Gita also gives the criterion for recognizing the Saints, describing them as those who have crossed the three gunas – three qualities –, and describing the attributes of those who have become one with the One Lord.
Jar Bharat – King of India, Bharat – says:
It is not possible to gain the esoteric knowledge and the Love of the Lord through good deeds, charities, reading scriptures, or worship of water, fire or sun. It can only be had by sitting at the Lotus Feet of a Saint and manifesting His radiance within.
Lord Krishna says in Bhagavad:
Oh Udho! Just as a person near the fire is free from cold, fear and darkness; so a person in the company of a Saint is free from the evil effects of his sins – the fear of life and death, and the darkness of ignorance. Just as a boat saves a drowning person, so do Saints – the embodiment of peace – rescue drowning humanity from the fearsome phenomena of the world. Just as food sustains a man, so am I the support of suffering humanity. Just as the wealth of Dharma (religious life) comes to our aid in the world beyond, so does the company of Saints save frightened souls from this vast ocean of the world.
Rishi Kapil says:
This everybody knows, that association is the cause of eternal bondage which is difficult to break; but if association is made with the Saints, it throws open the gate of salvation.
Satsang is of two kinds:
- Outer Satsang by Saints, by means of which the mind is cleansed, the recipient becomes worthy of a spiritual life and takes to the practice of Naam.
- Inner Satsang, by means of which the soul unites with the Lord and merges in Him.
The Bhagavad says:
Association with those who have become one with the Lord is far more elevating than the celestial pleasures of the heavens or even the happiness of Salvation. The kingdom of this world and the pleasures of this life are as nothing compared to their exalted company. But association with such Saints comes only with the infinite Grace of the Lord.
Tulsi Sahib the Saint of Hathras says:
The company of Saints and the Name of God are both rare. They alone can get them who have the Grace of the Lord.
The Sikh Scriptures also point out:
The company of Saints is true devotion to the Lord. This is he highest form of worship. But it is the privilege only of those on whom descends the Grace of the Lord. Saints who value the Love of the Lord even above Salvation are not altogether absent from this world. But they are rare.
Kabir also says:
Just as in a forest one does not find herds of lions, nor flocks of swans, nor bags of diamonds, so one does not come across a group of Saints.
When one has an intense desire to meet a Saint, then he does so with the infinite Grace of God. Seeing them by their Darshan, touching them, listening to their words, keeping their company, and remembering them are all means of making spiritual progress. Even if we do not know them, one moment’s attentive Darshan is enough to dispel ignorance and wash away sins, and is highly rewarding. It is superior to the devoted worship of many years.
Maulana Rumi also asserts:
One moment of the company of a Saint is more rewarding than a hundred years of devoted service.
The two kinds of Satsang, outer and inner, may be explained thus:
One – outer Satsang – is an effort to kindle a fire, while the other – inner Satsang – is like sitting near a fire and escaping from the cold while also accomplishing many other tasks. One who associates with a Saint has his soul awakened by the spiritual currents emanating from him.
The second state – inner Satsang – is therefore supremely superior. Although even a glimpse of a Saint is productive of great benefit, it is also essential for the disciples to render physical service, to obey implicitly the Saint’s instructions, and to carry out fully the spiritual discipline taught by Him. If a person renders service to a true devotee, even that has some merit. Such service does not connote keeping company or doing service with the body. Keeping company with the Saints is doubtless beneficial.
Even the Mahabharata lays down:
The very company of a perfect Saint is conducive to spiritual progress, even when the devotee does little else. It is only natural that in the company of the virtuous we acquire virtue, and in the company of sinners we acquire sin, even if we partake of nothing.
The highest service is to mould one’s life according to the directions of the Saints and to follow the Path marked out by them.
Service is of four kinds:
- With body,
- with mind
- with wealth and
- with the soul.
Of these, service with the soul is the best.Those who keep the company of Saints but do not mould their life as enjoined by them, render no service in the real sense of the term. But those who live in their company with their permission and carry out their directions gain much from their company.
Even if one does not see much evidence of the benefit from such company, there is no need to be discouraged, because the impressions of previous lives on our minds are so thick that they take time to wear off. The impressions of past lives become passive in the first instance, and then gradually become altogether obliterated. So long as these impressions do not entirely vanish, a person should continue to render service to the Saints. He should have implicit faith that one day they will altogether disappear.
Ibrahim Adham, the King of Bokhara, had to remain with Kabir Sahib for a number of years. After serving him for some time, he appeared to be very calm, quiet and serene in nature.
One day Kabir’s wife, Loi, requested the Saint to initiate him.
Kabir, who was aware of Ibrahim Adham’s inner progress said,
The receptacle is not yet ready.
On Loi’s insistence the Saint said:
When Ibrahim Adham goes out of the house throw a basket of sweepings over him from the roof.
When this was done, Ibrahim exclaimed:
Oh! How I wish I were in Bokhara. Then I could have taught the guilty person a lesson.
When Kabir was told of this he remarked:
Did I not say that the vessel was unclean?
After a few more years had passed, the Saint one day told his wife,
The vessel is now clean.
Outwardly he is still the same and renders service as quietly as he did before.
On hearing this Kabir said,
The previous time you merely threw house sweepings on him. This time throw a basket full of filth and, concealing yourself, listen to what he says.
When Ibrahim came out of the house the Saint’s wife threw the filth on his head, spoiling all his clothes. Looking up quietly he said,
I am grateful to the person who has thrown this rubbish on my head. May God’s Grace be upon him.
It takes a long time to eradicate the inner impressions. It simply cannot be hurried. One should continue to have the daily company of Saints and their Darshan.
Oh God, I ask not supernatural powers. I only want the Darshan (glimpse) of Saints daily. Every time I fold my hands to pray I make this request, ‘Grant me, Oh Lord, the company of Saints every day.’ That day is really a memorable one when I meet a Saint! I embrace him heartily and burn away all my sins. The day I do not meet a Saint is wasted. Life without love is no better than that of a beast. And there can be no devotion without the Lord.
God hearkens to me but I begin to weep, for the bliss that comes from the company of Saints is nowhere to be found in heaven. Blessed is that moment when I have a glimpse of a Saint. Living with the True Naam, I attain the goal of my life.