What is Satsang? Why Do We Need It?
Sri Adi Shankara in his song, Bhaja Govindam, explains the greatness of satsang (association with sadhus or the Guru) in the lines –
“satsangatvE nissangatvam, nissangatvE nirmOhatvam |
nirmOhatvE nishchalatatvam, nishchalatatvE jIvanmuktihi ||”
(Through the association of the Guru (and sadhus) comes non-attachment, that leads to freedom from ignorance, which leads to the realization of the Absolute Truth, and jivanmukti or Self-realization.)
In Tamil, a song by Sage Agastya goes like this –
“sAdhukkal sangattaiyE manamE tanjam aDaindhiDuvAi,
sAdhukkal sangam allAl manadhil shAnti varAdhu arivAi”
(O mind, look only for association with sadhus; know that without this, you will not find peace!)
There is also a Marathi abhang that has this beautiful line, “sant sang sarva kAla…” (Let me always have the association of sadhus).
Many slokas in Srimad Bhagavatam also explain the greatness of satsang.
A question may arise, “Why do we need satsang?”
No one in this world can live alone. We are here because of our parents. How can we live alone without anyone? When we were infants, our mother took care of feeding us and keeping us clean. It is because of her love, affection and care that we have grown. It is because of our parents that we have got a proper education and we are able to lead a comfortable life now. That being the case, how can one lead a life without the help of others? It is nature’s law that we need each other to survive. We might think that we can survive alone when we are young. But that is not possible. The nature of all living beings is to depend on one another for survival. God has created us to live in harmony with each other. When we look at the birds returning to their nests in the evening, we see that they fly together. Likewise, the ants also move in groups. Even in forests, elephants, monkeys, deer and all other animals always stay in groups. Human beings are also like that.
All that happens in one’s life can be categorized into two – good or bad. If one is not in satsanga, he is definitely in bad sanga (company). Bad company does not mean wrong company. But any company that is not divine, is unnecessary company – so they are all bad sanga. Even a person who gambles is in a group. A person who drinks is also not alone but in the midst of 10 or 20 people. When we go to a temple or a yatra, we are in a group. So being among a group of people is our nature.
Only through Bhagavan’s grace can one get satsang. One might think, “What are we going to get, being in satsang?”
When we are in a satsang, at least for the time that we are there, our mind does not think about other matters. This is the first benefit of a satsang.
When we are not attending satsang, what will we do? We might sit in front of the TV or might check Whatsapp or Facebook on our phones, or we might gossip with someone. When we are in satsang, we do not commit any sins as we stay away from worldly matters.
What will we get from being in satsang? Is satsang a place where we can learn a lot of things? Is the benefit of being in a satsang, the feeling that we can get whatever we want?
The root of the words Sat, sAdhu, sAtvik is goodness/greatness. Doing Hari nAmakIrtanam and kathA shravaNam, celebrating Bhagavan through utsavs and processions, performing kainkaryam (service) to Bhagavan and bhAgavatas are satsangs.
When we do all this for the happiness of Bhagavan, and not for fame or money or any other benefit, it is satsang. If we don’t do all this for Bhagavan’s happiness, then no matter how much we sing and dance, we are no different from a parrot which repeats “Rama” without knowing what it is saying, or a snake that dances to a snake charmer’s music.
Our goal has to be only Bhagavan. Even if we utter the names of Bhagavan incorrectly, but still do it with the intention of making Bhagavan happy, Bhagavan will accept that. This is satsang.
Many Puranas say that Bhagavan Himself comes to satsangs. So, does Bhagavan come to all the satsangs that are happening? Whichever satsang has only Bhagavan as the goal, Bhagavan presents Himself there. Bhagavan came to Sant Namadev’s satsang. Why? He came because Namadev sang bhajans with utmost devotion to Bhagavan.
Wherever people gather together and sing the glories of the Lord happily, that is satsang. Absolutely no worldly matters should be discussed in the satsang.
Where Bhagavan’s kainkaryam is performed without competition and only for Bhagavan’s happiness, that is satsang. Sadhus will prostrate to one another. There will be no ego between people. When we are in such a satsang, we will not be disturbed by other worldly matters.
It is not necessary that a person should be able to sing well or tell the leelas of the Lord very well. Even if two people can chant “Rama, Rama” together, that itself is a satsang.
What changes might we feel, being in such a satsang? We get so many thoughts in our mind. These thoughts materialize into actions through our sense organs. We see with our eyes; we listen to some things with our ears; we taste with our tongue; so, worldly things do have an impact on us. For example, if we have watch a horror movie in a theatre, we feel scared even if we are inside our own house. We know it is just a movie, yet fear persists. So we cannot deny the fact that the things that we see with our eyes create an impact on us. On the other hand, if we see a pooja room with a glowing lamp and an altar decorated with flowers, we feel at peace. If we listen to sad music or music that we don’t like, we feel an impact on our minds. In a satsang, when we do nama japa, the benefit we get is pure bliss. The Divine Name gives us peace.
Even if we are not proficient in Sanskrit, when we listen to slokas from Srimad Bhagavatam or Srimad Ramayanam, we feel peaceful. That’s because these slokas, composed by great sages, have the capability to calm the mind and give peace. The fragrance of a lotus flower or an incense stick’s fragrance from pooja room will calm the mind.
The more satvik qualities grow in us, rajasic and tamasic qualities will be destroyed. Satsang is the only way to destroy rajasic and tamasic qualities within us.
In Ramayana, Indrajit represents rAjasa guNa; Kumbhakarna represents tAmasa guNa; Vibheeshana represents sAtvika guNa. Ravana’s 10 heads represent our 5 sense organs and 5 organs of action. Seetha represents the soul (jIvAtma), Sri Rama is Bhagavan. The celestial wedding of Sri Rama and Seetha Devi represents the state of jIvanmukti. To destroy Ravana (the sense organs and organs of action), Sri Rama combined forces with Vibheeshana (satva guna) and killed Indrajit (rajasa guna) and Kumbhakarna (tamasa guna). Ramayana shows us that only with the help of satvika guna, we can get rid of rajasa and tamasa gunas.
Satvika is nothing but nama, katha shravanam and sadhus’ sanga. We will feel the transformation within us when we are near a person who thinks only about Bhagavan and no other worldly things. When we are near a Mahatma, no exchange of words is necessary. The mere presence of the Mahatma will bring transformation within us. Just like a lotus blooms as soon as the sun rises, the presence of a Mahatma will remove all our karma vasanas.
When we enter a satsang, the process starts. First our sins get destroyed; after that the vasanas that push us towards doing sinful acts will be destroyed. After the vasanas are destroyed, we will develop dispassion towards worldly matters and satvika guna starts to grow. As satva grows more and more, we will be able to reach a state where we will get Bhagavan’s darshan, and moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death) will become easy. Only satsang can grant us all this.
Excerpts from Sri Swamiji’s upanyasam in Chennai n July 2019