Satsang and Psychotherapy

From Teachings of Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Volume II

Swami Satyananda discusses the psycho­logical and spiritual significance of the guru-disciple relationship, the practice of satsang and the yogic lifestyle. Recorded in a satsang at Satyanandashram Barcelona, Spain, in September 1980.

The psychotherapist and the guru both have important roles to play. Where the work of the psychotherapist finishes, the work of the guru begins. So instead of comparing the two, let us connect them.

The guru is not a psychotherapist, that is not his primary motive. A psychotherapist is a person who helps you through a particular crisis in your life, but in the relationship with the guru, psychotherapy is spontaneous and ongoing. The guru’s relationship with the disciple, his own personal life experience and his knowledge of the nature of the mind are such that he is then able to give him a spiritual direction in life.

That is why, right from the beginning, certain rules and regulations have been fixed. Not everybody can become a guru. In order to become a guru you must first have had a perfect discipleship. How can you become a lecturer or a professor in a university unless you have been a student? If you have only read some of the yoga sutras and yoga books and attended a few seminars here and there, you should not think that you are a qualified guru.

If a psychotherapist treats someone’s mind, and then leave him at that point, he will continue to have problems. Of course, at a certain level, sickness of the mind has to be treated, but there is no end to it. In my opinion, it has to be transcended rather than treated. The mind is a composition of the three gunas, which keep on assaulting it all the time. Therefore, a disciple should develop new tools of knowledge and experience with which to deal with the problems of the mind.

In the company of truth

Similarly, we cannot really equate satsang with group therapy, even though we often try to explain satsang in these terms. The Sanskrit root sat means reality, divinity and purity; it represents the self or God. Satsang does not mean being in the company of many people; that is known as sangha, which means company or association. Satsang is being in the company of truth.

There are various types of satsang. You can close your eyes and practise satsang all alone. When you are reading a spiritual book which deals with the topics of reality, that is also a form of satsang. Satsang happens when you are with a group and listening to the glory of divine being or the ways of purity and self-evolution. Hearing about the lives of those people who have suffered or lived for the divine experience is also satsang.

In satsang you may practise kirtan or meditation, but these are not satsang, they are only ways of conducting satsang. In satsang the most important thing is the constant movement of ideas related to the ultimate reality, divinity or highest being.

There are certain groups which I have come across in recent years in which people join together to do some practices and to help each other. There is a very simple, scientific explanation for this. If you put a grandfather clock with many other small clocks, you will find that initially, the movement of their pendulums does not coincide, but after some time all the clocks will be following the grandfather clock. This experiment has been repeated many times. Similarly, when you play a violin, all the other violins in the room begin to resonate. If you listen carefully, you will find that the vibrations from the first violin are being transmitted through the inactive violins. The same thing also happens in a group when people get together to help each other.

Beyond therapy

In India, there is not much need for these group sessions because the social situation is still very well organized. If a group of people live together in a joint family or in an ashram situation, they begin to understand the nature of human psychology. They have an opportunity to see where they stand with one another. They are able to assess their own minds, their limitations and their faults, which is a great change from the modern culture.

In the West, particularly in the twentieth century, group therapy has become an important phenomenon. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the situation was different. There was a more compact and well-knit family and community life. But in the last one hundred and fifty years, the social structure has deteriorated bit by bit, and henceforth the need for group therapy has arisen.

However, we must remember that mind is not the ultimate reality; there is something beyond the mind. We only talk in terms of the mind because the mind seems to be a barrier for many people. Actually, whatever we do in spiritual life is not done for the sake of the mind, but for the discovery of the universal spirit. Therefore, the path of psychotherapy can only be followed up to a certain extent; then there comes a point where it must be left behind. Psychoanalysis can definitely be of great use at a certain stage of development, but eventually it becomes a barrier and then you have to transcend it.