An Exploration of Satsang
Growing up in the “spiritual” scene, I never really registered just how different it was. Like, maybe having 20 to 30 people invade my living room every Saturday night to chant the names of Hindu gods wasn’t something that my friends from school could relate to. Kids just don’t notice these things, I guess.
What I did notice during these kirtans was the bliss and beauty of the music and chanting. It was a wondrous atmosphere to absorb as a youngster, made even more wondrous to me by one simple fact: almost none of these people could sing. Maybe one in 10 of them could truly carry a tune. And yet, when they chanted all together, it always sounded beautiful.
This has always been the best way for me to talk about the Sanskrit term satsang (or sangha, if you swing a little more Buddhist). It is many voices coming together to form the One. And what a beautiful song we sing…
Welcome All Seekers of the Truth
That is the literal translation of satsang: a community of seekers after the truth. A more common way to talk about satsang is simply to call it a spiritual community. And this is a good place to start, since that’s the basic set-up. Satsang is about being in a community of like-minded seekers, because those are the people you’re going to make the biggest discoveries with, those are the people who will help you most on your journey. In turn, you end up helping them.
Here’s Ram Dass on the subject, from back in the day: “This is what satsang, or sangha, is. This is the community of beings who are acknowledging that dual intention: you work on yourself as an offering to others, and you work on others as a way of working on yourself. The circle is complete. And everything is part of that circle. You don’t try, and you enjoy the process, because it may be an unending one.”
It’s Not Just About Spirituality, It’s About Family
This has always been the truth for me. Satsang is not just about seeking the truth, not just about making new spiritual discoveries – satsang is about family. And not family in the way that we in the West usual think about the concept. We’re not talking about being related by blood; we’re talking about being related by soul.
I really liked the way our dear friend, Rameshwar Das, put it recently on the Here and Now Podcast with Ram Dass, as they discussed the meaning of satsang: “We go back to what we experienced in India, and keep in mind that it’s very much a family of the heart. This is a family that is united in some deeper way than the ties that most of us experience in the rest of our lives. And for that reason, sometimes it’s a really deep connection.”
Satsang is About Generosity of Spirit
When I was growing up, we would visit the Hanuman Temple in Taos, New Mexico, every year to celebrate Neem Karoli Baba (also known as Maharaj-Ji) leaving his body. Year after year, the same smiling faces would show up to sing chaleesas and eat great Indian food. The generosity of spirit was always on full display, perhaps even overwhelming at times.
So it was no surprise to me when my father, Raghu Markus, said this on the Here and Now Podcast: “That generosity is absolutely so tied and connected with the idea of satsang. I was in a group of Westerners visiting with Siddhi Ma, our Indian mother, who is still alive in India. Someone said, ‘Ma, what’s the best thing we can do to keep close to Maharajji?’ And she said, right away, ‘Satsang. Get together. Share food. Share kirtan, stories. That is the best way to be close to Maharajji.’”
Basically, satsang helps keep the guru close to our hearts at all times. Just like with kirtan and the voices coming together to create a beautiful sound, it feels like the generosity of spirit reaches a fever pitch when satsang gathers together.
The Western Satsang
Or maybe it should be called the Ram Dass satsang. Whatever you want to call it, this ragtag crew was born of the love that springs forth eternally from Neem Karoli Baba. This is the unconditional love that made Richard Alpert into Ram Dass, and transformed so many other individuals who’ve come into contact with it. It is this love that creates the family, the satsang, and binds us all together.
Of course, no one talks about all of this better than Ram Dass himself: “It’s as if Maharajji has been my father or mother forever, and the satsang, the circle of devotees, is a family of the heart that keeps coming and going, having reunions and going away. Over many lifetimes, we all have different guises and costumes and appear on stage in different scenes playing different characters. We’re all parts of the jigsaw puzzle of each other’s karma.”
And this group just keeps getting stronger. You could say this Western satsang was started by Ram Dass on his return from his first trip to India when he invited anyone and everyone to come listen to him talk about Maharajji at his father’s farm. These days, if you go to one of the Ram Dass retreats on Maui, you’re likely to run into quite a few of those original “anyone’s.” The threads the bind us are strong and made from a plaid blanket.
Find Your Satsang
The world can be a big and scary place. But one of the cool things about the Internet is how it kind of makes the world a bit smaller and brings us together in ways we never thought possible. With that in mind, if you’re interested in finding a community of the heart, we want to help. Check out our Ram Dass Fellowship Meetup Finder and see where you can find the closest satsang to you. If you’re still having trouble finding a community, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will try our best to find a place for you to make your spiritual home.