< Back to Articles

Satsanga: The Company of the Wise

In the prominent tantric text Tripura Rahasya, the great sage Parashurama describes his life-changing encounter with the sage Samvarta: “His company gave me immense relief and a sense of abiding peace, just as a mist refreshes a man overheated by the midday sun.”

Parashurama is describing the effect of association and our innate capacity for empathy. In yoga, making use of this effect is known as satsanga. The word literally means “a union or meeting (sanga) with truth (sat).” Sat also carries the connotation of “being, existence, reality, and higher truth or wisdom.” So satsanga is usually translated as the “company of the wise.” Through satsanga we bask in the presence of those established in truth and wisdom, and experience that potential in ourselves.

The company of the wise yields the most desirable fruit.

After his chance satsanga with the sage Samvarta, Parashurama set out on the path to enlightenment. He made his way to a sage named Dattatreya, who taught him the secrets of sadhana, spiritual practice. “Listen, Parashurama,” says Dattatreya in the Tripura Rahasya, “satsanga, the company of the wise, is the way to attain the absolute good. It dispels the darkness of ignorance. The company of the wise yields the most desirable fruit.”

Light the Torch

That most desirable fruit is vichara—right thinking or discrimination—the kind of understanding that gives shape to the highest meaning and purpose in life. “Those who are devoid of discrimination are narrow in their thinking, like frogs in a well,” says Dattatreya. “A frog born in a well lives without knowing the difference between day and night.” Satsanga allows us to see beyond the darkness of our fear, frustrations, hopelessness, and everyday small-minded concerns.

In traditional satsanga, being in the company of the wise means sitting at the feet of a sage or a spiritually accomplished teacher who can unveil our ignorance and misunderstanding, reveal the causes of conflict and suffering, and suggest ways to remove them. This traditional format of discussion and dialogue plays an important role in addressing our deepest concerns. But satsanga can also convey the experience of embodied wisdom in other more indirect ways: merely being in the presence of wisdom and self-mastery can be enough to invoke a new state of awareness—a state of unconditional happiness, infused with fearlessness and contentment.

Lift Yourself Up

The Tripura Rahasya also describes how satsanga acts as the antidote for aparadha vasana—that which pulls us away from our own inherent joy and harms the seat of that joy in every aspect of our being. To some degree, at one time or another, we have all been plagued by a nagging sense of inadequacy, crippled by fear or anger, or knocked down by hopelessness. These are aparadha vasanas—inclinations of mind (vasana) that take away (apa) our intrinsic happiness (radha). Self-condemnation, not trusting yourself, ignoring the voice of your heart, a distorted perception of yourself—all qualify.

The cure for aparadha vasana? Satsanga. In the company of someone established in the inherently joyful inner self, whose happiness is not dependent on achievement or gain, we experience deep inner peace and happiness. This nurtures the creation of a new vasana in us—one that allows for a balanced mind, positive thinking, and discrimination.

Finding Good Company

Of course, the truly wise are not that easy to find. Fortunately, the grace of satsanga can come in many forms: listening to an inspired lecture on the way to work; spending a few minutes every morning with the Bhagavad Gita, or other scripture that speaks to you; joining a spiritually minded book club; visiting a place of worship; or experiencing moments of clarity and grace with a few people gathered with a higher intention. This could even include the pleasure of sharing Saturday morning bagels after class with fellow yoga students. Conversations such as these can reflect an unspoken understanding that we share something we may not have in common with our friends, our colleagues at work, or in many cases, our own families.

Through satsanga we have a taste of  an ever-flowing stream of spiritual wisdom.

This silent acknowledgment and quiet nurturing of the tiny tender flame in the cave of the heart is a precious gift—at least as important as practice itself. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them,” Jesus promised (Matthew 18:20). “Gathered in my name” calls on the presence of wisdom itself and implies an intention to share an inner state of spiritual awareness—a state that is to be invoked, cultivated, and remembered.

Satsanga draws us into the arena of spiritual training, where we can establish a relationship with the embodied stream of knowledge, or a teacher or teachers, who can guide us to deepen our spiritual practice. Through satsanga we have a taste of an ever-flowing stream of spiritual wisdom. That eternal stream of grace sustains and encourages us, until finally, with the awakening of our own inner self, we become the silent sage who quietly radiates inner joy, wisdom, and inspiration.

Source: Adapted from Yoga International

About the Teacher

Sandra Anderson

For over 25 years Sandra Anderson has shared her extensive experience in yoga practice and theory with students from all over the world. A senior faculty member and resident at the Himalayan Institute, her teaching reflects access to the living oral tradition, and the embodied experience of 30 years of dedicated practice. With a background in the natural sciences and studies in classical Sanskrit, along with frequent pilgrimages to India, Sandy has a rare capacity to eloquently convey the richness of spiritual life in our contemporary world. She is the coauthor of the award-winning book, Yoga Mastering the Basics, and was a contributing editor and columnist for Yoga International magazine. She is now a frequent contributor to YogaInternational.com, offering instructional videos, workshops, and articles. Sandy leads trainings and retreats both nationally and internationally, and at the headquarters of the Himalayan Institute.

See Teacher's Content, Programs, and Courses