The Power of Satsanga

June 21, 2024

My primary spiritual training occurred in the tradition of Advaita Vedanta, in the lineage of Ramana Maharshi. In that lineage, at least in its western forms, the main vehicle for the transmission of wisdom is in gatherings called satsangs.

Satsang can be defined as sitting in the truth, but more commonly it is understood to mean sitting in the presence of an enlightened master, or one who sits in the truth. I have been to a number of satsangs offered by different teachers, they involve a great deal of silence, but can also include teachings. The end result is that a powerful field of awakened consciousness is generated between everyone who gathers, and i that field everyone’s attention is lifted into higher awareness.

I have never been comfortable with using the word satsang for my teaching events because I don’t see myself as an enlightened teacher (nor am I sure that such a perfected state is possible). I have certainly acquired powerful awakening experiences on my journey that I share in teachings, but I am still on the journey, maybe further along than some, but continuing to grow and learn none the less.

Recently I discovered that the word satsang can also be written as satsanga. Ahhh, I thought, that makes more sense. “Sat” means truth, “sanga” means community. So a satsanga is a truth community. On my upcoming retreats I want to inspire us to come together as a truth community and invoke the power of our satsanga together.

The magic happens when we individually turn our attention toward our own highest realization of truth, together, which generates a powerful intersubjective field of awakened awareness. That field will lift us up, giving each of us access to higher levels of awareness. As we rest in higher awareness together we will generate even more awakening. Our inner access to awakened awareness adds power to the field of consciousness between us, and the increased power of that field gives each of us greater access to awakened awareness. This is how we create an engine of awakening together.

Mirror Neurons and Wisdom Samskaras
If you want one possible explanation for the magic, you can think about how the mirror neurons work. We are able to learn through imitation because mirror neurons fire when we witness the actions of another, in the same way that they need to fire when we perform the action on our own.

I believe there’s a spiritual equivalent of this at work in a satsanga. As we turn our attention inward toward the higher truth of awakened awareness we learn to hold that expanded state together, and we mutually reinforce the awakened state between us. This is why I consider satsanga to be a form of collective awakening.

The yoga tradition as described in Patanjali’s sutras offers another explanation for the mechanism at work in a satsanga. That tradition recognizes both negative and positive samskaras. Samskaras are the psychic impressions that are created in us with each and every experience we have. These impressions shape all of our future experiences.

Negative or ignorance samskaras tend to reinforce the sense of limitation and separation of the small self. When we have experiences of awakened awareness they leave positive or wisdom samskaras that reinforce the unity and wholeness of the higher self. It is not only our own awakened experience that creates wisdom samskaras, the awakened experiences of those around us also leave impressions on us. In addition, if someone is able to effectively share what they have experienced from higher consciousness, that creates wisdom samskaras in those that are able to hear and understand them.

Whether we think of it in terms of mirror neurons or wisdom samskaras, gathering in a satsanga allows us to commune in awakened wisdom and share our deepest realizations of truth.

Interpersonal vs Intersubject Spiritual Work
The work of a satsanga is a type of collective awakening, which means awakening together as one. It is important to understand that the collective work of satsanga is mainly intersubjective rather than interpersonal.

We exist in both an interpersonal and an intersubjective space. The interpersonal space is relational. If you walk into a room of good friends you are in one kind of interpersonal space. If you walk into a room of intimidating strangers, you are in a very different interpersonal space. An interpersonal space is defined by the quality of the relationships it contains. Mutual trust, shared history, and sympathetic interests, are just a few of the qualities that define the interpersonal space and working in that space means improving the quality of the relationships within it.

An intersubjective space is more subtle. It implies a shared subject, or a shared sense of self. The intersubjective space is not defined by the quality of relationships; it is defined by shared ideas about what it means to be human and what is possible for us. You can share the same intersubjective space with your enemies as well as your friends, because you all recognize each other to be human, and that means you are capable of certain things and not others.

Spiritual awakening and enlightenment involve a radical shift in the sense of self and a dramatic expansion of what we recognize is possible. When we work in a satsanga we each move into our deepest sense of self and discover unity and oneness, and that expands what we think is possible. In that space we realize that we don't know what’s possible for human beings, and therefore, in a sense, anything is possible.

When we rest in this higher sense of self together we reinforce the idea that this expanded self is who we really are. We don’t even need to talk about it, we simply rest in the experience of it together and this higher self becomes the shared sense of self that defines our intersubjective field. Each individual becomes increasingly identified with the higher self, which supports others to see themselves the same way. Eventually it is obvious to all of us that We are That!

In a retreat we need to extend some benefit of the doubt to each other when it comes to our interpersonal space because we don’t have enough time to get to know each other well enough and work on the quality of our relationships. What we can do is spend time resting in our most awakened sense of self and allow an expanded field of possibility to envelop us.

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