The Three Levels of Satsang (Associating with Eternal Truth)
The word satsang is comprised of two words sat and sang. What is sat?
Sat is that which can never be destroyed. It is the essential element which is indestructible and beyond the limitations of time. And it is Truth. Sang means association or contact. Thus association or coming in contact with Sat or Truth is satsang.
In the Bhagavad Gita Lord Krishna says:
“Whatever is Truth always exists and is never non-existent. That which is non-Truth has no existence whatsoever.”
* The First Kind of Satsang (Association with God)
What is this element which is indestructible, has always been constant and will forever remain as such? That element is the Supreme Being of the universe. Association with this Being, in reality, is association with Truth (satsang). But, what is it that
would associate with this Supreme Being? Is it the body or the senses? The answer is that it is neither of these two. It is only apart from the body and senses that we will be able to associate with the Supreme Being. This is because it is only our soul that is an inseparable part of the Divine. It is only we (our soul) that is capable of merging with the Divine. Our individual soul is truth, and also, the Supreme is Truth. True satsang is the unity of the soul with the Supreme Truth. This is the highest kind of sat-sang. However, this highest kind of satsang, unity with the Divine, does not occur all of a sudden. This category of satsang requires many lifetimes of good actions and spiritual imprints (samskaras).
* The Second Kind of Sat-sang (Association with the Saints)
Sant Tulsidas says:
“The association of the saints brings association with the Divine, and alliance with people who are engrossed in the world leads the way back to this world again and again.”
To attain Ultimate Liberation it is essential to have association with the saints. Saints, having realized the true form of God, become that True Form. The accomplished great beings who have attained unity with the Divine, and who have experienced the Supreme Being even while living in this body, have become the Supreme Being [They become one with their true Divine Form]. Association with these saints is this second category of satsang. However, finding such a saint is not an easy task. A true saint is rare and difficult to find.
Sant Tulsidas says:
“Without accumulation of many good deeds one will be unable to gain the association of a great saint.”
When our good karmas permit, we are able to come to experience the association of these sentient beings. A more important point is that even if we have a direct encounter with such a saint, we often do not have the wisdom to be able to recognize a genuine sage.
A great Sant, Tulsidas, says:
“If someone says ‘I have recognized a saint,’ then I put my hands on my ears in astonishment. [It is not an easy task.]”
If ordinary people could recognize saints, then why, since antiquity, have so many great saints, sages, and prophets been tortured, maimed and killed? Many saints have had to face horrible atrocities. This simply would not have happened if we were able to recognize the genuine great saints.
* The Third Kind of Satsang (Association with the Writings of Sages and Saints)
In daily life we need the guidance of a great sage or saint. Even though we might encounter many so called mahatmas or sadhus, the task of finding and identifying an accomplished guide is difficult. So, in consideration of this, how would satsang (association with a true saint) be possible? The answer is that we can study the teachings of the great saints of the past, because in their teaching we will find the elaboration of the Truth. This then is the third category of sat-sang. Generally, when we speak of satsang, it is this third category that is meant. This kind of satsang includes the study of scriptures and the words and writings of the saints and prophets of the past.
As we continue diligently in this third type of satsang we accumulate the meritorious karmas which will lead to the meeting with a true saint. Then we will be able to do the second category of satsang. As we continue in association with a great saint, and with the saint’s blessings, we will gradually begin to meditate and undertake the prescribed spiritual disciplines. By diligently practicing these disciplines, we will one day, experience the first category of sat-sang — the association with the Supreme. When we have thus accomplished the highest category of satsang, our life’s purpose will be fulfilled.
— Sant Sevi Ji Maharaj (The Harmony of All Religions)