Satsang: Spiritual Community – Guru Nanak’s Conversation With the Yogis

By James Bean

Below is based on: Peace Lagoon – Sacred Songs of the Sikhs, the Collected Hymns of Guru Nanak, Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjun Dev, and Guru Gobind Singh, translated by Sardarni Premka Kaur, published by the Sikh 3HO, a very nice anthology of the Sikh scriptures of India in clear contemporary English.

Opening Verse of the Book of Sidh Gosht: “The Siddha Yogis formed an assembly, and sitting in their yogic postures spoke to Guru Nanak: ’Make your obeisance to this gathering.’”

Answered Guru Nanak: “I bow only to Him who is true, infinite and beautiful beyond compare. My body and mind I surrender to Him and my head I place before Him. It is in keeping the company of the saints that one reaches the Truth, and by the Truth itself one is blessed. No goal is reached by wandering aimlessly. Purity is only achieved through the practice of the True Name [Sat Naam]. Without the True Name, liberation comes to none.”

The yogis asked Guru Nanak: “Who are you? What is your name? What is your sect? What is your goal? We pray that you give us your true answers, for we are a sacrifice to the truthful ones. Where is your seat? Where do you live? From where have you come? Where are you going? The non-attached Siddhas wait to hear your reply. 0 tell us, what is your path?”

Answered the Master: “The Lord is in every heart, and within Him is my seat and my home. I walk in the will of the Sat Guru [True Qualified Master-Teacher], and this is my only caste. I have come from God and I shall go wherever His will guides me. Nanak is my name, and I live to obey His command. My way is to sit in contemplation of the Imperishable Lord, and the attainment of such an all-encompassing Vision is my life’s goal. By the Guru’s grace I have come to know and recognize myself, and have merged with the truest of the true.”

My Commentary: Sidh Gosht is my favorite book of Guru Nanak. It’s question-and-answer format serves as a kind of catechism for souls learning about the path of mysticism. What a spiritual feast! It sheds light on the teachings of Guru Nanak, one of the greatest Masters in all of human history, born during the year 1469 in the village of Talwandi Rai Bhoi, around forty five miles from Lahore (now part of Pakistan).

The yogis were asking Guru Nanak some serious questions about life, living, and the path to enlightenment. Indeed, each soul rousing from the slumber of the ages may wonder: Where did I come from? Who am I? Why am I here? What is my path? Where is my spiritual community? What “tribe” or “caste” do I belong to? What IS my goal in life? Where am I going? What spiritual practice should I adopt? The earlier in life we ponder these big questions, the better. And blessed are those who have a Guru Nanak-like sage to call upon.

An Emphasis of: “God, God, God, Guru, God”, and Not: “Guru, Guru, Guru, God, Guru”

These particular yogis said to Nanak: “Make your obeisance to this gathering”, but Nanak’s reply seemed to beg to differ: “I bow only to Him who is true, infinite and beautiful beyond compare. My body and mind I surrender to Him and my head I place before Him.” For Guru Nanak, the genuine spiritual teacher does not seek to eclipse or undermine our direct relationship with God. Rather, Nanak presents the role of a genuine living Master as being that of someone who serves as a catalyst, that guides us into our own personal experience of God within. The hymns of Guru Nanak do include devotion for Masters – spiritual teachers play a vital role, but God is the goal, the primary focus of attention. To quantify this bhakti or devotion mathematically in the teachings of Guru Nanak and other lovers of the Beloved: a ratio of around ninety percent God-bhakti to ten percent Guru-bhakti. God is the destination, the Object of Contemplation. Thus, it is wise for spiritual seekers to be aware of such sacred texts as Sidh Gosht when evaluating contemporary spiritual organisations and teachers that claim to represent a continuation of the path of the masters and great saints of the past. Caveat emptor.

Satsang, An Association with Lovers of Eternal Truth

Guru Nanak said: “It is in keeping the company of the saints that one reaches the Truth, and by the Truth itself one is blessed. No goal is reached by wandering aimlessly.” In the Gurmuki language, “sant” is a word with several meanings. It can refer to an advanced soul who has gone far in his or her spiritual practice. Spiritual movements over time may produce many such sants or saints, many mystic-souls or disciples who have made progress in their journey back to the Beloved. The term “sant” can also refer to those who have been chosen to be Sant Sat Gurus, the qualified teachers and guides, the leaders of whole spiritual communities. There is another usage of the word “sant”: a general term for devotees, disciples, satsangis, or initiates, one’s fellow-travelers and companions along the path, in other words a spiritual community or congregation of students who are, affiliated with and studying the teachings of, a certain Master, and meet together in his or her name. In this passage from Sidh Gosht, the word “saints” or “sants” can refer to all of the above, in the varied circumstances of satsang attendance one may encounter over the years.

Satsang is a word used in India for spiritual gatherings. According to the teachings of Guru Nanak however, a satsang is not just a meeting, but a fellowship of those that seek to associate with the Eternal Truth or God. Satsang is a very special time when all the distractions and illusions of “maya’s place” are to be put aside. It is an auspicious occasion when the Secrets, Mysteries, the Hidden Gnosis or Esoteric Teachings are freely shared out in the open. Satsang is a place of learning, of serious spiritual discourses being given by competent teachers. One may sing hymns known as banis, kirtans, or bhajans during satsangs. Group meditation is also part of the format of satsang. It is considered to be a great blessing for souls to meditate together, and an even greater blessing to meditate with those who are more advanced on the way. The New Testament passage: “Where two or three are gathered in My Name, I Am in their midst”, is a wonderful description of the group-energy that can be present when people come together to sing, meditate, and focus on the Eternal Truths of the spiritual journey as revealed by the great Masters of the past and the living present. In a similar passage from the Gospel of Saint Thomas found in Egypt, Yeshua said, “Whoever drinks what flows from My mouth will come to be as I Am and I also will come to be as they are, so that which is Hidden can become manifest.” (Logion 108, Lynn Bauman translation, White Cloud Press)

Fortunate also are those who have a soul-mate that they share the journey with, who they can also converse with about the things they care about most in life.

In the book of Sidh Gosht, Guru Nanak taught that: “No goal is reached by wandering aimlessly.” We human beings are social creatures. As the saying goes, “Spirituality is not only taught, but caught.” Even with a solitary practice such as meditation, done alone at home, we sometimes need the inspiration of others to stay motivated. Mystic paths or schools of spirituality which advocate meditation, also practice some degree of spiritual community, providing opportunities for social interaction, meaningful instruction, and they encourage one to remain committed to following certain ethical values and specific methods of spiritual practice.

“Joining the satsang, my intellect is enlightened.” (Guru Ram Das)

“Joining the satsang, I meditate on the Lord’s Name.” (Guru Arjun Dev in the Sikh scriptures)

“Chanting, meditating on You in the satsang, You are revealed.” (Guru Arjan Dev)

“There, sitting in the satsang the Glorious Praises of the Lord are sung [kirtans, hymns].” (Guru Arjan Dev)

“In the satsang, the Society of the Saints, the State of Supreme Awareness is attained. The Merciful Lord carries us across the ocean of life”. (Guru Ram Das)

“They realize the essence of Reality, and know the state of their inner being. This is the true glorious greatness of those who join the satsang.” (Guru Nanak Dev)

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