Satsang is a Hindu and Sikh term that means, literally, “association with truth.” It has lots of connotations, but in its most basic sense satsang is a meeting. I’ve been going to the satsang of our local Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) group for about thirty years.
As the RSSB website says, “satsang” also means a group that seeks truth. So the satsang that is a group can have a satsang meeting where truth is discussed. A few weeks ago I stopped going to the meetings. I came to the conclusion that the boundaries of truth are a lot larger than the narrow confines of a RSSB satsang.
In these meetings someone talks for about 45 minutes. It’s a sermon of sorts. Quotations from the RSSB books are read and commented upon, much as a Christian minister would take a passage from the Bible and expound upon it.
Thus, a satsang is almost entirely conceptual, not experiential. I’ve given hundreds of satsangs over the years, so I know whereof I speak. The person giving a satsang is supposed to keep his or her personal experience out of the talk. The goal is to stick to the RSSB tenets and not let your individual ideas about spirituality dilute the supposedly pure teachings.
I never was able to do this. I always figured that the “sat” in satsang included the truth of the speaker’s own direct experience, as well as the RSSB conceptual truths—which are better termed hypotheses.
The guru is God. Soul and spirit are as drop and ocean. Via meditation it is possible to rise to higher levels of consciousness. These concepts, like any other religious dogma, are hypothetical possibilities until they are directly experienced as truth.
I’m weary of concepts. I’ve read plenty of books. I’ve heard plenty of talks. I don’t need any more thoughts running through my head. I’ve already got enough to last me a lifetime. So today I decided to go to satsang. But not the 45 minute conceptual talk type. Rather, the satsang that I have come to enjoy much more, the coffee house satsang after satsang.
I met up with a few satsang attendees at the Coffee House Café in downtown Salem. Over caffeine and roasted potatoes Steve, Hans, and I conversed about the mysteries of the cosmos for a highly enjoyable two and a half hours. Time flies when you’re talking about the truth.
Yes, we had a satsang. Everything we said was “sat,” truth. Except, it wasn’t truth from a book. Someone else’s truth. Conceptual truth. It was the truth of our own experience, as lived by us.
Sure, we often referred to authors, gurus, and spiritual teachers. But we didn’t slavishly mouth their words. We talked about how our lives are going, what our experience of meditation is like, our goals, fears, anxieties, hopes, dreams, and intentions.
In short, we had a churchless church service. It was inspirational for me, considerably more inspiring than any satsang I’ve listened to or given over the past thirty-five years. Why? Because it was real. The three of us didn’t mouth the RSSB party line, or any other religious dogma. By and large we spoke from the heart, not from the head.
After I was fired as a speaker by the RSSB powers that be for expressing my opinions on this here Church of the Churchless, it struck me how funny it was: I wasn’t allowed to give satsang any more because I had spoken too much “sat,” truth, on this weblog.
Not the conceptual truth of the RSSB teachings. But the experiential truth of how I have been living those teachings. Which truth is more valid? The concept or the experience? Each of us has to come to grips with our own answer.
All I can say is that for me the real satsang today was in the coffee house, not the RSSB meeting room.