Satsang means good/noble company, or being in the presence of sages and saints. It is said that satsang is the surest way for spiritual ascension.
The following puranic story, which many of us must have read, where the celestial sage Narada goes looking to find out why one should be in satsang, illustrates the importance of satsang.
According to the legend, Narada goes to Vishnu with his query, who directs him to a worm wallowing in the mud on Earth, to get his reply. When Narada asks the worm about the need for satsang, it tells him to go the new-born parrot in the nearby tree for the answer, before falling dead. A worried Narada makes his way to the tree and the little bird, without replying him, asks him to go to the cattle shed in the village where a cow is about to calve — promptly falling dead after uttering the words. A visibly shaken Narada then goes to the cowshed where a calf had just been born. Even it didn’t answer Narada’s question, instead directing him to the palace where a royal baby was due to be born. Immediately after, the calf too fell dead.
Thoroughly alarmed, Narada rushes back to Vaikuntha and narrates the whole story to Vishnu, who smiles and tells him to proceed to the palace. ‘Till now all the creatures who spoke to me died immediately after they did. I don’t want to have the added paapam of killing a human child and that too a royal baby, by asking my question,’ says a shaken Narada. But Vishnu smiles and reassures him that he would get the reply to his question this time around for sure, and sends him on his way.
At the palace, Narada is welcomes by the King who asks him to bless the child. With great trepidation Narada lifts the baby and whispers the vital question, expecting the child to fall dead too. Instead, the baby smiles and says it was he who had been the worm, the parrot and the calf in his earlier births. ‘From a lowly worm I became a bird and then a cow-calf and now I have got the highest form of life – that of a human and that too in a royal family. All because I beheld a saintly soul like you. When merely looking at a saintly person can help me get elevated in my karmic journey, you can gauge the power of the company of sages and saints.’
Unfortunately we are now living in Kaliyuga and not Satyuga, when devas came to earth and interacted with humans, and when rishis and munis had divine powers and birds and animals talked.
But even in Kaliyug, we have had many acharyas, sages and saints who not only acted as spiritual guides but also shared their vast knowledge of the shastras, with the common people. One of the greatest acharyas of our times was Jagadguru Sri Chandrashekharendra Saraswati, the Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram, who has been a spiritual guide to several generations of Hindus, decades after he attained samadhi. Known variously as the Sage of Kanchi, Maha Periyava and Paramacharya, he was not only a great scholar, well-versed in the Vedas, shastras and agamas, but also knowledgeable about current affairs, statecraft and much more – highly sought after by many world leaders for spiritual guidance. We are fortunate to also have had sages and saints like Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Ramana Maharshi and Sri Aurobindo among others, even as recently as the last couple of centuries..
And of course, today we have many popular modern-day gurus and cult leaders with their own national and global following, who fill in this void to a small extent.
Coming back to find satsang, one simple and easily accessible form of satsang is listening to religious and spiritual discourses and kathas offered by kathavachaks and pravachankars. It is enlightening, and intellectually and spiritually stimulating. The experienced pravachankars introduce us to little known upakathas (sub-tales) from the puranas with strong messages in them, making it easier to retain the essence of the discourse.
It is believed that the upansayskars are supposed to be sitting on Vyas peeth, the seat so named in honour of Maharishi Vyasa – while they give their discourses. Vyas peeth being a very exalted seat, places a great responsibility on the pravachankars to not only be true to the original source of their discourse, but also to uphold the dignity of the exalted seat by avoiding crass comments and stories. In the southern states we have musical story-telling called katha-kaalakshepam, which are hugely popular.
These puranic storytellers hold katha sessions where lakhs of people converge to get the benefit of satsang. Of the several puranas, the Bhagavad saptah (Seven-day duration) is perhaps the most sought after by everyone. Specially trained in their gurukuls to expound on various puranas, Upanishads and Vedas, they even get training in classical and folk music to embellish their discourses, Teerthas like Haridwar, Rishikesh, Varanasi, and many more places across the country witness these mega-sessions on special occasions and during the summer. The devout travel long distances to be part of these, planning months in advance for the trip. The various Kumbh melas held periodically offer a great platform for these pravachans and kathas.
For those who are unable to attend discourses in person, there are both live and recorded versions on YouTube and other streaming platforms. It is encouraging to see an increasing number of people, a significant number of them from the younger generation, who are watching and listening to these programmes.
The purpose of listening to spiritual discourses and kathas is to educate oneself about the fount of Indic wisdom and expand the consciousness for spiritual growth. But the million-dollar question is, ‘Do the minds and hearts open after hours of satsang? Unless they impact our thinking process and attitude, and consequently affect our actions and behaviour for the better, such satsangs/discourses/pravachans remain mere “timepass” (time-fillers).
Still, being part of satsangs is definitely a more desirable activity than watching inane TV serials or some raucous debates on one or the other channel. People are creatures of habit. So is someone is addicted to something, say watching TV, all they need to do is to change the content and watch away. A crime thriller does nothing good for person’s, except maybe turn him towards crime, but satsangs and spiritual talks have a similar effect, only for the better. Even if the change does not happen immediately, being part of satsangs with the constant drumming of higher things into the most reluctant listeners’ ears can bring about a change for the better in a person’s character and personality.
As they say in Tamil, even stone gets eroded by the constant movement of tiny ants. If even stones can be worked on by constant motion, why not our minds and souls get influenced by satsang?
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It is said that ‘ bin bhaga satsang na mile’ means you are blessed if you can attend a Satsang. I loved this post as this journey makes our lives complete
Lovely post, Zephyr!
Story of Narada illustrates your point perfectlt!
You know you have done something right when old friends comment on your post 🙂 Nice to see you after a long time, Manju. Thank you so much.
> Unless they impact our thinking process and attitude, and consequently affect our actions and behaviour for the better, such satsangs/discourses/pravachans remain mere “timepass” (time-fillers).
You attend a discourse by a Revered Teacher. One of the main points discussed is how everything is ephemeral and your time on the planet is limited, so do not attach yourself to material items and focus more on the spiritual. You agree, and decide that you too will do the same from now on. Until you exit the hall, and find that your footwear is stolen. What goes through your mind? A hundred curses and pox be on the thief’s family. A few select phrases bitching about the time wasted trying to get alternate footwear until you can go to the nearest shop and buy new shoes. Where did the whole “your time on the planet is limited, so do not attach yourself to material items and focus more on the spiritual” idea go?
Associating with the Good – the literal translation of the word ‘Satsang’ – works only if you put in the effort to bring the discussion into real life. Until then, it is just talk, and like all spoken words, is nothing but hot air.
This advice goes for both sides of the discussion: the Teachers giving the Discourses, and the Students listening to them. Until the Teaching is immediately executable and useful, it will not aid beyond thinking good thoughts for the few minutes of the Discourse itself, and will add little value to everyone participating in it.
Hi Harshal, nice to see you here after ages! You have made a very pertinent point about the teacher and the disciple — and how the latter should be able to imbibe the teaching for it to be effective in real life. I agree with this, for too much abstract philosophy crammed into a mind not yet ready to grasp it, is just useless gyan. Which is why we start from the basics — sagunopasana and then proceed gradually to abstract philosophy and nirgunopasana. I, for one prefer the practical gyan of our puranas, which I find much easier to follow and adapt to my life.
One reason why the modern day gurus are popular is because they try to reduce Vedic and Upaishadic wisdom in easily understood language for people to understand. It might sound impressive to boast that one had attended the lectures on sundry upanishads, but ask the person to enunciate it, and he or she is unable to do it coherently. Talking of satsang, I can instantly think only of BK Shivani. Though I don’t follow Raja Yoga or am a member, I find her exposition of spiritual matters so down-to-earth — true satsang for me!
Very much enjoyed this post and acknowledge the need to be in satsanga. I think it is but prarabhda to be close to saintly but i also feel curiosity and purity leads one to satsanga and has the strength to change the destiny.
Thank you Narayan, I am glad you enjoyed the post. Indeed all our actions are the result of prarabdha, but our present karma and purity, as you have rightly put it, also lead us to satsang and spiritual elevation.
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An excellent post on Satsang and describing what it can do to transform a person over a period of time depending on his/ hers stock of karma, good and bad. One thing is certain that for ordinary persons there is no other way than virtuous company to inspire them towards the spiritual path.
There is nothing left out to add in this admirable, comprehensive and compelling post.
I believe where possible personal participation in satsangs,instead of leaning on digital devices, would bring quicker outcomes.
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Thank you so much for reading and appreciating the post. It has been long in the writing! You are right in that it is more beneficial and desirable to participate in person in satsangs, but when it is not possible, the second best option of online ones should be taken instead of shunning them totally. Something is better than nothing and some of the online satsangs — like BK Shivani, for instance — is very good. She is a personal favourite.