Sat (truth) + Sang (together)
There may be no older term for a spiritual gathering than satsang, or satsanga, a Sanskrit word derived from:
Sat – truth, being, reality, purity, and;
Sang – association, together, community, fellowship.
It is sometimes understood to mean a sacred gathering or spiritual congregation. At its core, however, it is simply being in the company of truth.
Satsang Deep Dive
“Have virtuous people for friends. Have for friends the best of people.”– Dhammapada Ch. 6 v. 78.
Embedded in the concept of satsang is the idea that something powerful happens when we come together as seekers.
The word has its origin in ancient Hindu tradition. Eons ago, scriptures like the Upanishads were passed along orally. People gathered in groups, often around a learned spiritual teacher or sage, and discussed matters in person. In fact, the Sanskrit word upanishad may be translated as “to sit near / beside.” These early knowledge sessions may have been the first satsang.
Some suggest that many saints, sages, prophets, and philosophers held satsang of a sort. Guru Nanak, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed – they all held gatherings and shared divine wisdom that undoubtedly left attendees feeling like they were in the company of truth.
“O believers! Be conscious of God and keep yourself in the company of the truthful”– Q’uran 9:119
In the yoga community, satsang often involves getting together to study, discuss, and reflect on scriptures such as the Yoga Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, and others.
It may include kirtan, meditation, chanting, and other activities. Sometimes it is structured and led by a teacher or guru; other times it is more informal, like a book club. Any gathering of like minded spiritual aspirants may be called satsang.Some even consider the regular gatherings held by various religions to be a type of satsang. This includes Mass in christianity, Jumu’ah (Friday congregational prayers) in Islam, Uposatha (observance day) in Buddhism, Shabbat in Judaism, and others.
For some, satsang is simply their “spiritual family,” their “tribe,” whether or not real-life meetings take place. Our ability to meet and discuss online and in virtual reality has changed what it means to truly be together.
Satsang In Your Life
“The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.”– Proverbs 12:26
You’ve probably heard it said many times that humans are social animals. Community is important. Social relationships may predict longevity, etc.
Certainly, getting together helps us stay motivated and inspired, share best practices, and give mutual support.
But yoga and other spiritual traditions also seem to urge us to renounce the sense-world. Just look at the fifth limb of yoga, pratyahara, “withdrawal of the senses.”
How can we simultaneously withdraw from the sense-world and delve into a vibrant social-spiritual community?
In the words of Adi Shankara:
(Good company gives rise to non-attachment.
From non-attachment comes freedom from delusion.
With Freedom from delusion, there is the immutable reality.
Experiencing that reality, one attains liberation in life.) – Bhaja Govindam v. 9
This paradox best encapsulates the magic of satsang.
Looking at pratyahara more closely, we see that it may more accurately be summarized as “control of what we take in from the outside.”
Ask yourself, therefore, what is the quality of stimuli am I taking in?
Ideally, you can handle whatever stimuli the world throws at you and remain equanimous. In the real world, however, things get messy. And we’re all in a different place on the spiritual path.
So, what can you allow yourself to be exposed to?
The company you keep matters. Whether it’s the people or things with which you surround yourself, it’s best if it points you in the direction of your highest self.
Think of satsang as protection. Instead of going out – or staying in – and getting assailed by random stimuli, you make a choice, and take in stimuli that supports your spiritual goal. You choose something sattvik.
Maybe that means going to a study group or a meditation class. It could be simply going to a yoga class to watch the harmony of movement and share a “namaste.”
So long as what you consider satsang doesn’t incur more attachment – at which point it isn’t satsang at all – take it with you on your yoga journey.
To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.