To retain one’s spiritual light and to make sure that the veil doesn’t come and cover it again, one has to be in the company of the proper people. That is what is called satsang. When I say, “the company of people,” I don’t mean that one is always with them in person. You cannot always have personal company; but, whenever you have it, take the benefit of it. At other times, keep company with the spiritual teachings; remember them every day. Spend as much time as possible in remembering the teachings. Books are your company, people are your company, the memories of your great moments are your company. And the people who are seekers along the same path, the fellow seekers, they help remind you of your goals. That’s why there are ashrams, satsangs, Bible and other spiritual study groups, and so on.
Lord Buddha said that you shouldn’t try to walk as one individual. If you do that, there’s always the possibility that you will slip. It is better to walk with others, so that each one can help the other. Buddha stresses the importance of sangha, the group. In the Buddhist teachings, the sangha is very important. After many years, I heard this again through Alan Watts in the Mt. Savior Monastery symposium. It is the Buddhist prayer.
Buddham saranam gachchami
Dharmam saranam gachchami
Sangam saranam gachchami.
May I take refuge in the Buddha
May I take refuge in the Dharma
May I take refuge in the Sangha.
The Dharma is his teachings; the sangha is the association, the society, the institution. The people who follow the same teachings are the Sangha, the spiritual group. So, Buddha, his Teachings, and the group that follows the teachings—all three are important. Mere thinking of Buddha alone is not enough; remembering his teachings alone is not enough. The most important thing is the sangha, the company. That’s why Shankarcharya clearly said:
“When you are in good company,
you are not in bad company.
When you are not in bad company,
you are free from delusion.
When you are free from delusion,
you are steady.
When you are steady,
you are a living, liberated being.”
He talks about the state of a Jivanmukti—one who is liberated while still living in this life. Are you surprised to hear that attaining liberation is not only for after you die? After all, who wants that kind of liberation? We’re all liberated at the time of physical death. We want to feel that liberation now, in our daily lives. With that kind of liberation, you become a Jivanmukti. “Jivan” means while living, and “mukti” is liberation. How could that be achieved? The only thing is this: You don’t need to do anything else; just keep the company of the right people. Live in the proper association (satsanga).
You might ask, “How can satsanga take me to that Jivanmukti state?” It happens automatically. If you are in satsanga—for instance, if you are in a Yogaville Retreat—automatically you are not in the dance club. You can’t be in both places simultaneously. How can you be standing in line on Sunset Boulevard while you are at an ashram in Virginia? No, you are here. So, automatically you are cut off from that. So, when you have satsanga, the asatsanga (the negative company) is not there. When the asatsanga is not there, you won’t have the botherations, you won’t get into difficulties. It happens automatically. If there are not difficulties, what will happen? You will be peaceful, calm, happy; you won’t need to worry about anything. You find the peace. If you can keep yourself steady in that peace, you are liberated. What is liberation? From what do we want to be liberated? From the disturbed mind. If you liberate your mind from the disturbance, you are free, you are always free. When you disturb the freedom, you feel that you are bound. So, the company, satsanga, is so important.
It is by the company we keep that we are made. Isn’t there a proverb, “Tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are?” As Sri Ramakrishna put it, “However careful you are in the kitchen, you still may get a little black soot.” He was not talking about the gas and electric kitchen. In the olden days, when you burned firewood, the kitchen was always completely black, filled with soot. No matter how careful you were, you might get a little black spot. So, however careful a seeker might be, he or she should stay aware. Unknowingly and unconsciously, that seeker might just get a little black spot. The satsanga can help you to realize when you have a little black spot and can help you clean it. Sometimes we think that we are Karma Yogis; we want to go and serve others, save others. Before you save others, save yourself. Before you try to save another person from drowning, learn to swim yourself. Then, without knowing it, if you jump in to save someone, God will save you.
There is no contradiction between Buddhism and Yoga. In fact, the very same Yoga was expounded by Lord Buddha. Because Buddha said it, they call it Buddhism. “Duhkameva Sarvam Vivekinah.” Patanjali and Buddha said the same thing: Everything is misery in this world. That is the first noble truth. What is the difference? Buddha spoke of the four noble truths: the sorrow, the cause of sorrow, the removal of sorrow, and the way of removal. Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras, talked about the very same four: heyam, heyahetu, hanam, hanopayam. Read the Sutras, you will know that. “Heyam” is the duhkam (pain) and “dukahetu” is the cause of the dukam; “hanam,” the remover of the dukam; “hanopayam,” is the way to remove it. And how do you remove pain? By following yama and niyama, the ten ethical teachings of Yoga, the Ten Commandments. What does Buddha say? Follow panchashila or dasashila. “Panchashila” is the five commandments. If you are really strong enough, follow the Ten Commandments (“dasashila” is ten). It is all pointed out, clearly, also in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. I don’t see any difference in Buddhist teaching and the Yoga Sutras.
Immediately, the historical brain will go to analyze who came first, Patanjali or Buddha. They need not have copied each other, because the Truth is the same. Anyone who ponders it will eventually reach the same understanding. Whoever strikes the match will get the light. I need not have copied you to get the light. I can get the same light by striking my own matchbox.
The same question will bring the same answer. It may be in a different language or with a different way of expression; but it will be the answer will be the same. In English, you may say eight plus four is equal to twelve. A person from India will use a different language, but it is still eight plus four is twelve. Could it be otherwise? No. Wherever you go, whatever the language, eight plus four is twelve always; one plus one is two. Buddha sat quietly and calculated within himself, and he found the same answer. Patanjali got the same answer. Lord Jesus Christ got the same answer. Prophet Mohammed got the same answer. The answer is the same, but the working method may vary a little this way or that way. That is where you see the similarity between the Buddha’s noble truths and the Yoga system. Isn’t it nice to know that two or three or more great saintly personalities, people of realization, said the same thing in different ways.
Let us try to realize the same in our lives. So, what is the noble truth preached by Lord Buddha? What is the cause of these miseries? Ignorance. Do we think that by getting all these things, by acquiring all these things, we can be happy? This is the basic mistake. We run after things and forget our own true happiness. How much money can make you happy? What power can make you happy? Millionaires are not happy. The most beautiful person is not happy. The strongest person is not happy. All these things cannot make you happy. You are happiness. Forgetting this and running after these things is the biggest mistake. This is what we call maya or ignorance. So, just leave it. Don’t run after that. Be contented. The contented person is a King of Kings. He is the Emperor. She is the Empress. Every minute, every minute, think, “I am living not for myself, but for others.” Let that be the message and let that be our aim in life.