By Swami Sivananda

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The Meaning of Satsanga

The word ‘Satsanga’ is the combination of the two words ‘Sat’ and ‘Sanga.’ ‘Sat’ means existence absolute, which is Brahman. ‘Sat’ is the essential nature of Brahman which is permanent in things that change, which is the only reality that upholds the world of appearance.

The same ‘Sat,’ with the accidental attributes of omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence is called Isvara or Paramatman. In brief, ‘Sat’ refers to Isvara as well as Brahman, both ultimately being the one and the same reality.

‘Sanga’ literally means company or union. To be always in the company of the Lord, or to be established in Brahman, is the literal meaning of the word ‘Satsanga.’ But, as long as ignorance or Avidya remains, the direct realization of Brahman is impossible. When ignorance is destroyed by wisdom, the real nature reveals itself. This is the highest Satsanga.

The next possibility is to please God so much by our unflinching devotion that He has to sport with us assuming a gentle form according to our desire, even as He did in the case of the Gopis. But the means to the realization of this blessed end is also called Satsanga or the company of the wise. The means being essentially not different from the end, is also named after the end. Because the company of the wise leads to the realization of Brahman (with attributes or without attributes), it is also termed as Satsanga. In this sense, Satsanga means the company of the Satpurushas. Satpurushas are those who have realised truth as well as those who are aspirants after truth. Those people who have renounced egoism, greed, lust, etc., are Satpurushas. Those people who have attained equal vision, balanced mind, unflinching devotion to the Lord, are Satpurushas. Those people who are endowed with peace, bliss, contentment, simplicity, fearlessness, humility, powerful voice, a face beaming with the glow of saintliness, etc., are Satpurushas.

Grace of God Alone Makes Satsanga Possible.

It is very, very difficult to come into contact with a Satpurusha or a saint. It is more so to recognize a saint. A man of worldly Samskaras wants to weigh the saintliness of a sage by his own conceptional balance, and finding him lacking in weight, discards him as a false saint and thereby he does not get the instantaneous benefit arising out of the contact of the sage. But, even then, the company of the saint exerts an inexorable influence on the person concerned, which he realizes sooner or later. Bhagavan Narada says in his Bhakti Sutras: “The company of the great is very difficult, inaccessible, but infallible.”

Companionship of the great ones is difficult of attainment. It is hardly possible to assign how and when men may be taken into the society of the great. But, once obtained, association with the great ones is infallible in its operation. Love of God is obtained principally and undoubtedly by the grace of the great ones, or in other words, from the touch of divine compassion. Companionship of the great ones is gained by the grace of God alone, because there is no distinction between Him and His men.

There is no difference between God and a realized Bhagavata. Both are identical. A sage is God Himself. The Upanishad declares: “He who knows Brahman becomes Brahman.” The glow of a sage is infinite and eternal as that of Brahman.

Light on the Relationship Between God and His Devotee.

Lord Krishna declares in the Gita: “The same am I to all beings: to Me there is none hateful or dear; but those who worship Me with devotion are in Me and I am also in them.” Though the rays of the sun fall equally on one and all, it is the faces of the diamonds that dazzle more than anything else. Though a man may possess hundreds of rooms in his house, he delights only in his drawing room which is well decorated. Even so, though God is equally for one and all, He manifests more vividly in the heart of a sage, which is made transparent by purity, which is decorated by the rare jewels of compassion, mercy, self-control, equal vision and wisdom.

The relationship between God and His devotee has been described in three ways. Firstly, both are non-different, because a saint has no separate existence apart from the Lord. The will of the Lord is the will of the sage. The reflection of the sun has merged in the real sun. The salt-doll has become one with the ocean. The dew-drop has slipped into the shining sea. The Jiva has merged in the Lord. When the egoism has vanished, there is no difference between the Lord and the sage.

From another standpoint, the Lord is considered to be greater than a saint, because a saint is but the way. One is not satisfied with the Darshan of a sage; he asks, “O Maharaj! Please show me the way to God-realisation. How am I to conduct myself for the attainment of the highest Purushartha or liberation?” This proves that the Lord is greater than the saint. But this is a relative standpoint. A person still in bondage may come into contact with a sage, but it is very difficult for him to realize the consciousness of the sage which is non-different from the Lord. As long as he does not realize this, a sage appears to be merely a way to a certain goal. But, in reality, he is the way as well as the goal.

And as far as the sage is both the way and the goal, he is even considered greater than the Lord Himself. Saint Tulasidasji says, “I have firm belief that a devotee of Rama is greater than Him.” All the saints declare thus unanimously.

Though the Lord is everywhere, without the grace of a Guru, He is not to be realized. The saint or Guru alone is the way. There is absolutely no other way leading to escape from Samsara.

Saints are the living manifestations of the Lord. Seeing a sage, meditating on him, remembering him, touching his feet, talking with him, etc., bring about a sudden inflow of God’s grace into the individual, by which the latter quickly attains the lofty peak of spiritual knowledge.

 Tulasidasji sings the glory of Satsanga in glowing terms: “O dear one! Should you keep the happiness of heaven and of all the higher worlds in one pan of the balance and the happiness that arises out of Satsanga in the other, the latter will outweigh the former.”

There is no boat other than Satsanga to take you across the ocean of Samsara. Blessed is he who has come into contact with a Satpurusha, a realised sage. More blessed is he who has cultivated unflinching devotion to his feet. And the most blessed is he who has attained communion with the consciousness of the sage.

In case contact with a sage is not possible, one should try to be in contact with sublime books like the Upanishads, the Gita, the Yoga-Vasishtha, the Ramayana, the Bhagavata, etc. He should try to take resort to holy places and there engage himself in discoursing upon, or hearing of, the glory of God. This also is Satsanga for him. Whatever helps one towards the attainment of purity of heart should be considered as Satsanga.

The Power of Satsanga

The glow and power of Satsanga, association with the wise, saints, Yogis, Sannyasins and Mahatmas is indescribable. Even a moment’s company is quite sufficient to overhaul the old vicious Samskaras of the worldly people. The magnetic aura, the spiritual vibration, and the powerful currents of developed adepts produce a tremendous influence on the minds of worldlings. Service of Mahatmas purifies the minds of passionate men very rapidly. Satsanga elevates the mind to magnanimous heights. Just as a single matchstick burns huge bundles of cotton in a few seconds, so also, the company of saints burns all thoughts and Samskaras of passion within a short time. The only potent specific for inducing burning Vairagya and burning desire for liberation is Satsanga and Satsanga alone.

The association with the holy sages is quite enough to instill in a soul wisdom and love. Vidya originates in those whose faults have been washed away by the mighty force of Satsanga which has independent power of destroying all faults and originating Vidya.

Those who hear the life-giving words of good men have their heads that are tainted with evil, purified. They ultimately reach the lotus feet of the Lord. This shows that the words of good men have the power of purifying the soul and carrying it to the feet of the Master.

How Satsanga Gradually Leads to the Vision of God

First comes keeping company of the righteous and good men and serving them. By such company and service, there dawns the knowledge of the essential nature of one’s own self and of the divine or supreme Self. Then comes Vairagya or a total disgust for everything of this world and of the next, with a yearning for the Lord. This is Bhakti. When Bhakti becomes strong, the man becomes the beloved of the Lord, and because of such dearness to Him, he is chosen by Him. Then comes the direct vision of the Lord.

Vivekananda attended the Satsanga of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Jnanadeva had the Satsanga of Nivrittinath. Gorakhnath attended Satsanga of Matsyendranath. The practice of feeling His presence in everything, of seeing God in every face and in every object is, in itself, a grand sublime Satsanga. Hail, hail to Mahatmas who hold Satsanga and to sincere devotees who attend them! Very often, devotion is kindled by association and talk with devotees. As flame is enkindled by flame, so heart catches fire from head. Says Sri Krishna: “The wise adore Me in rapt devotion. “The wise adore Me in rapt devotion. With their minds wholly in Me, with their life absorbed in Me, enlightening each other, ever conversing about Me, they are satisfied and delighted.”

In the East, students are always advised to seek the company of holy men and listen to their conversation, thus fanning into flame a little spark of love and earnestness. Only a strong soul can keep itself glowing in isolation, and the beginner will do well to take the opportunity that comes in his way to strengthen his own aspirations by communion with others who share them.

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