Satsang: It Is in Giving That We Receive

By Scott

Stories From Meditators

Scott is a passage meditator living on the Big Island of Hawaii. For about a year and a half, Scott had been thinking about ways to develop an in-person satsang on the island. After attending a weeklong retreat in Tomales, he was ready to take his next step towards this goal.

Starting the satsang became a leap of faith for me. I felt both the need and the capacity to make it happen. Living in this remote location with only about 160,000 people divided between two sides of the island, I wasn’t sure that there would be much interest, let alone commitment, to form an on-going satsang. I didn’t even have a meeting location arranged long-term so I just embraced the leap, which was a good lesson in detachment from results. I kept thinking of Easwaran’s stories of his early days in the Bay Area when he and Christine were giving talks to three or four people in a coffee shop, and of Gandhi’s admonition that “Full effort is full victory.”

The initial group of 11 souls was drawn almost entirely from the email list of a monthly open meditation group that met at the center that agreed to host the satsang. I started off by holding a four-week introductory course. Most participants had sampled a range of spiritual practices. Some had devoted themselves to other traditions, but were looking for something more or at least a supportive environment to sustain their discipline. How was I going to keep this from becoming a course in comparative spiritual practices? I held firm to the knowledge that Easwaran’s eight-point program is a sure and comprehensive guide for full spiritual development, and that anyone who felt this practice was right for them would sense the depth of what Easwaran was offering. The rest I could not control.

The facility where the Kona Satsang meets.

It was fascinating to watch as these seekers grasped passage meditation. Their questions were thoughtful and recognizable: “What am I supposed to experience during meditation?” “How can I make my mind empty if I am repeating a passage?”  

Fortunately, the introductory course videos enabled Easwaran to present the essentials of passage meditation and the eight points in a way that only he can. The videos were obviously impressive to most and absolutely captivating for some. I was astonished when at week two we had lost only three of the original participants and two of those returning had meditated for 30 minutes every day and another announced he was meditating twice a day every day (albeit for 20 minutes). More questions. More wrinkled brows. More tales of how it was similar to or different from this practice or that practice. And then use of the mantram. “What? You use it during the day?”  “Standing in line at the grocery?” “Do I chant my mantram?” “Hmm, that’s interesting.”

As the group whittled to seven and then five, it was thrilling to see and hear how a few weeks of practice of the eight points had opened a door for each of these participants. Longtime meditators from different traditions sensed the depth to the passage meditation practice and were intrigued at the connection between training the mind in meditation and awareness of their actions and attitudes during the day. The least vocal of the group admitted that while she was still making sense of it all, she was “falling in love” with Easwaran.

Over the last two weeks attendance became consistent and the questions became more practical. One was making changes to her schedule to facilitate meditation; another was fascinated by experiments with use of the mantram during the day. Still others continued to work with passage meditation while at the same time recognizing its effectiveness and absorbing the idea that, as Easwaran says, “we become what we meditate on.”

Kona Satsang, with Scott on the far right.

In the last class of the course after a video and before meditation, I read the “Basic Satsang Guidelines”, explaining how a BMCM Satsang is designed for regular passage meditators. To my surprise and delight, the group had no need of a soft sell. One simply asked the group, “So how many want to continue?” Another asked, “Can we meet earlier? I have to get up early for work.” And a third, knowing the tenuous nature of the use of the facility looked directly at the manager and asked bluntly, “so how much do you charge?” While the satsang is free, we did need to consider the fee for the facility. The group lingered after meditation, visiting and discussing how new members could be added. It seemed we had become a satsang.

The part of the experience that has been surprisingly rewarding personally has been the increased focus it has given me for my own practice: spending time on the weekend reviewing the material for the next class; making sure I was getting enough rest so my meditation was productive; re-reading The Making of a Teacher so I could accurately relate Easwaran’s story; listening to the Essence of the Upanishads audiobook as Easwaran walks us unflinchingly through the human experience and lays out the path to living life at its fullest. In recommending passages for others to memorize, I am resolved to learn a new passage myself. I cannot help but be reminded of the words of St Francis that it is in giving that we receive.

It is early yet, and I am sure challenges lie ahead, but I feel confident we have a good beginning.