“We obviously cannot confront this tangled world alone…. It takes no great insight to realize that we have no choice but to think together, ponder together, in groups and communities. The question is how to do this. How to come together and think and hear each other in order to touch, or be touched by the intelligence we need.” -Jacob Needleman
Several years ago, for many consecutive years, I taught yoga to an unusual and special group of people. There was a synergy present in the group that was palpable to us, and noticeable to those who would drop in every now and again. Those who were a part of that group often reminisce, noting the stillness that the communion of the group imparted on their individual practices. Others say that never before and never since had they felt so safe to explore their inner landscape. It was a wide a varied group—doctors, attorneys, housewives, hippies, scientists, students, and retirees. The students were as diverse as they could’ve been – generationally, ethnically, and occupationally—but each person was bound together by their common aims toward inner freedom. As a teacher it’s tempting to take credit for the creation of such a space, but in reality each person present contributed their essential energy to the collective and each person, regardless of who they were in the outer world, struck a balance against another person’s extreme.
When I contemplate satsang and what the impact of coming together might mean for ourselves and for the world, I think of groups such as this. What does it mean to engage in satsang? Regularly we gather together in our yoga and contemplative communities with the aim of exploring our supreme truth. The word sat derives from satya, or truth, and sang comes from sangha, meaning community or gathering. Understanding this, it is noted that not every coming together constitutes satsang. Likewise, simply hanging out with like-minded people isn’t satsang either. Yoga, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and most all traditions teach that the highest truth is beyond the truth of the individual, gender, ethnicity, politics and religion. Yet, it is hoped that the truths dictated from the mouths of our ethnic, political, and religious leaders are a reflection of the one objective truth that illuminates all without discrimination. This month we explore:
(1) What is satsang?
(2) Why engage in satsang? What is its value to us, the community, and perhaps even the world?
The postmodern West has long touted the importance of the individual—and rightly so, since the United States was founded on the tenets of free trade and freedom of religion. Unfortunately, without looking more deeply into how we manage our freedom what we see is that we’ve mistaken freedom, which is everyone’s right, to be our freedom. We often gather together in groups, not in search of objective truth, but in search of being right and asserting our personal will over others. With the elections happening in less than a week, we see how subjectivity and self-righteousness has usurped truth in each of the presidential debates. What would it mean during such a debate if candidates were asked to approach each question from their common goals—democracy, tolerance, freedom and justice?
Because most of us live in a democratic society, it can be useful to use democracy as a model for working, living, and communing with others. Democracy puts power in the hands of its citizens, which also bestows upon us a large responsibility not only for ourselves, but for each other. Satsang can be viewed in the same way, since when we come together in search of the ultimate truth, we as individuals cannot evolve as effectively if not supported by the collective. Satsang is the epitome of the gestalt; the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.
Presently, the outer world supports elitism, rampant materialism, and conflict. Therefore, we would be wise to use satsang as a means to create a nucleus of higher mind and heart with the potential to germinate in the greater world. Yet, all too often we see the opposite. Groups come together with the underlying intention of becoming exclusive. Today, most people understand exclusivity as superiority, but at its root the world exclusive can be defined as that which is limited, controlled, and restricted. In the postmodern yoga community petty arguments over styles, teachers, and studios abound. When conflicts like these arise and continue without mediation, instead of nurturing community, we create a separation between us and within us.
To come together in truth means to place the higher ideals of the collective before the importance of one’s own agenda and need to be right. It also means coming together with those who share those aims, regardless of personal affinities. Physicist David Bohm says in his book On Dialogue that the microcosm of the group is a reflection of the macrocosm. Bohm states, “The group is the microcosm of society, so if the group–or anyone– is cured, it is the beginning of a larger cure.” What we engender in satsang and other forms of communityhas the potential to manifest in the outer world or vice versa.
“The group is the microcosm of society, so if the group–or anyone– is cured, it is the beginning of a larger cure.” –David Bohm
Much of the soul searching we do as individuals helps to bridge the gap between people who we would otherwise share little common ground. When we start to remove the stuff of the ego—our personal preferences (“I like him, but I don’t like her,” etc.), and our attachment to our smaller emotions like fear and anger—we can begin to connect with one another on a whole different level. We can be in satsang with people we don’t like, with people from different socio-economic backgrounds, sexual preferences, and political leanings, and still love the part of them that seeks the truth.
We ask ourselves, what is the value of coming together? And what is the value of connecting with others? Can we bridge the gap between our individual spiritual practices in order to understand the true meaning of yoga and of unification?
Please join me this coming Sunday at 5:00 – 6:15 PM at Purple Yoga for our monthly satsang. This month, we take a break from the sutras to explore what it means to come together in truth. All are welcome to bring their questions, experiences, and comments. Attendance is by donation.