The Power of Satsang
Taste the nectar of satsang, O friend;
Oh, savour the elixir of satsang.
At the outset it tastes sharp and acrid,
But soon, like mango, it is juicy and sweet.
Mira, The Divine Lover
In locations outside India where discourses on Sant Mat are given in both Punjabi and the mother tongue of that country, we all enjoy the opportunity to hear the teachings in our own language. And the recent development of simultaneous translation now available in the Dera and at some other centres means that, as we listen to the Master’s words, language barriers are virtually dissolved. We can all share the same listening experience and benefit from the spiritual truths conveyed. This is a wonderful gift, and is deeply appreciated.
That said, we also know that the foundation of satsang lies in something far deeper than language.
I recall a French lady attending Baba Ji’s satsang programme in Paris during August 1999. She addressed him in French and confessed that, despite intending to learn English in order to understand his discourse, she was very sorry that she had not managed to do so. Lovingly, Baba Ji responded with words to the effect that there was no need to worry because Sant Mat is a language of love.
In Mirabai’s beautiful poem entitled “Satsang”, she urges the disciple to “taste the nectar of satsang”, as keeping the company of saints and listening to their discourse will help quench our spiritual thirst and enlighten us about the Lord. The whole atmosphere of satsang plays its part.
As Mirabai observes, however, the mind may not initially be attracted by satsang, resisting what it hears. Satsang tastes “sharp and acrid” because our minds have been used to enjoying the colourful fair of the world. Yet, after a while, as we begin to understand the spiritual truths explained by our Master, satsang, like a ripe mango, starts to taste “juicy and sweet”.
The Masters often describe this world as a deep and dangerous ocean in which we, struggling souls, are attempting to get from one shore to the other, whilst being tossed about on the rough waves. In Spiritual Perspectives, Hazur Maharaj Ji describes satsang as a great anchor amidst the turmoil of our minds. He says:
If your boat is caught in a storm and you reach the shore, you feel so relieved. We are all in the storm of our mind, and when we go to the satsang of the mystics, we find we can land on the shore. How relieved we feel. Satsang is a great anchor.
So, attending satsang and hearing about the Lord is a great source of comfort for us in this stormy ocean of the world and perhaps somewhere we can find peace. Even more importantly, the company of the Master and attending his satsang brings the disciple into contact with that power that will develop the love and devotion for the Lord that is latent within us. We find an inner strength.
Indeed, Mirabai sings the praises of satsang precisely because it helps turn our direction to the Lord. It has an inherent power to ignite a fire of love in our heart for the Master and to shift our focus from materialism and the physical world towards God and the inner spiritual path. Just as a philosopher’s stone turns ordinary metal into gold; just as the essence of the flower turns oil into perfume, so too does satsang bring out qualities of spirituality and truth.
Satsang is of vital importance, as this is where we come close to the beautiful way of life embodied by the Master and learn the theory behind Sant Mat. However, we must put that theory into practice through our meditation. We should not mistakenly believe that merely sitting in satsang regularly will give us salvation. As Baba Ji repeatedly reminds us, we must act upon what we hear. This is the most crucial part of our adherence to the path. At the time of death, our spiritual wealth will not be measured by how many satsangs we have attended. Rather, it will be measured by how much meditation we have undertaken.
Again, through our very attempts to put theory into practice, we can relate to Mirabai’s observation. The early stages of our meditation can seem “sharp and acrid”. It is at this point that attending satsang becomes even more important, as it strengthens our faith and supports our meditation. During a question-and-answer session, Hazur Maharaj Ji responded to a disciple that satsangs are for the satisfaction of the mind, helping to persuade the mind to go back to its own origin. Similarly, Maharaj Sawan Singh used to compare satsang to the fence around the crop of meditation and to precious water which keeps alive the enthusiasm for bhajan and simran. He advised the sangat always to give time to satsang as far as circumstances allow.
The conclusion is clear: whilst we should give as much time as possible to our meditation because it is key to our spiritual progress, we should try to combine this with attending satsang, as this helps to maintain our love for the path and stimulates the desire for meditation. This desire will eventually lead us to the ultimate satsang, which is the merging of the soul with the Shabd within and reunion with the Lord forever.