In many spiritual traditions, a satsang is advocated as one of the essential requirements for spiritual growth. The word “satsang” is composed of two words – “sat” meaning truth (or goodness) and “sangha” meaning a group of people. Satsang thus translates literally to “The company of the good”. This could be company of other people who are on the path or the company of wise men and realized saints/Gurus. The idea is that when we are in the beautiful company of people who are striving to know the truth or have already realized higher truths, it rubs off on us thanks to our association with them.
While it is true that being in good company is likely to enhance our own growth, only being in the company of the wise is not a sufficient condition for our own growth. While living in one of the ashrams in North India, there was a cow that used to be in constant company of Adi Shankaracharya – a revered philosopher who propounded the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta. Even though the cow had an opportunity to listen to all of Shankara’s spiritual discourses day after day, the poor cow did not derive any benefit from it. The reason – the cow was constantly meditating on the grass that it was eating and not on the beautiful discourses of Shankara! Thus, a man who just sits in the satsang without attempting to grasp the wisdom being taught is not much better than this cow who got lucky to get the company of one of the wisest men that ever lived.
In addition to attending satsangs, we also need a deep thirst for the knowledge in order to be able to grow. We need to have the acumen to grasp the knowledge and make it ours. The teacher is like a matchbox and the student a matchstick. If the matchstick is wet, no amount of striking with the matchbox will produce a fire. On the other hand, if you strike the same matchbox with a matchstick that is potent and dry, it only takes a fraction of a second to produce a fire. Many times we may question the qualifications of a teacher when we are not progressing, however what may be really necessary is more thirst and self-effort on our part. We need to be like the potent matchstick that is instantly lit by the company of the good.
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