JEB: What is Satsang?
OM: Satsang happens, when the highest and ultimate realization is being transmitted.
JEB: How does that happen?
OM: There are no rules. There are masters through whom Satsang is shared in absolute silence as for example through the "guru of gurus" Ramana Maharshi. But there are also masters who share Satsang through the instrument of language and masters who share Satsang through songs. Satsang is that which transmits out of the impersonal state, in which the master dwells.
JEB: The transmitter and that which is being transmitted are not the person who talks, sings or is still, but the SELF.
OM: The student who perceives himself as a person will also perceive the master as a person. In the master himself there is nobody who identifies himself as a person. He is impersonal. He is the Self.You can say: Satsang is the direct voice of the SELF which is set free out of pure love, out of pure intelligence, unfiltered through the thinking mind, unfiltered through a thinking "I", uncensored, unmanipulated - and transmits to those seekers who long for liberation.
JEB: Satsang originates from the philosophical surroundings of Hinduism.
OM: Yes. Sat is "BEING" and sangha is "the group". Hence the meaning is "Being together in BEING-". Being in BEING. Yet I would not call Satsang Hinduistic. It first appeared in India, but now it has left its origins and come to the United States and to Europe. Since the beginning of the development of modern spiritualism in the West, called "New Age", it is the first "real" sign that seekers are undergoing a true transformation..
JEB: My feeling is, before that the whole New Age movement basically was only a preparation for what is released through Satsang. I would like to add however, that it was an important preparation, without which what happens now, perhaps would not have been possible.
JEB: How has it happened that you are able to give Satsang? Who were your masters. Your teachers?
OM: Well, the first time, that the master appeared unexpectedly and inescapably, was in the occurrence of an almost fatal car-accident, which made me leave the normal state characterized by the duality of the perceiver and the perceived. And for the first time I gained a state of pure timeless eternal consciousness that did not disappear, when "I" became conscious again. That was my first glimpse into eternal pure BEING. It is a mystery in itself, that directly from the hospital I was led to my master in a living form, Gangaji, who at that time held her first Satsangs - among the first Satsangs altogether - in Europe, in Austria, where she travelled with her husband who led trainings for therapists there. I did not know anything about her, I did not know anything about Satsang, I did not know anything about Indian tradition. I was not an unexperienced seeker however, because I had been on the search for a long time. But I am sure, if I had read a book about Ramana Maharshi before the accident, I would not have understood anything. Exactly as Gangaji herself described it. Fifteen years ago she read a book about Ramana Maharshi and did not understand anything, absolutely nothing.
JEB: Sri Ramana Maharshi, the great Indian sage, who spent all his life close to the mountain Arunachala in South India, is the true founder of modern Satsang.
OM: So a few weeks after this awakening from the state of clinical death I sat in Satsang with Gangaji. And from the very first moment there was not the slightest touch of unfamiliarity neither with the form of Satsang nor with her or with what she said. Her words pointed to nothing other than the reality of the absolute. She talked about the dream world that we take for reality. She talked about absolute BEING, about the eternal existence. My ego was shattered.
JEB: Could you say something about who Gangaji is?
OM: At first Gangaji was simply an attractive average American woman called Toni who had come to relative wealth and lived in a relatively happy marriage. She had a carreer as an accupuncturist with her own clients. I would say she was a typical New Age seeker. An American woman who had been part of all kinds of New Age excesses. And who had come to a point where it became clear to her that she would not get any further going on as she had, that she needed a Master who could transmit the ultimate realisation to her. This Master was found by her husband, Eli Jaxon-Bear, who had become known as the great teacher of the Enneagram, the teaching of the nine human character fixations. Eli traveled to India, found Poonjaji there, a disciple of Ramana Maharshi and surrendered to him. His letters to Gangaji were so exstatic that she accompanied him when he went to see Poonjaji the next time. There - you could say - the break through into Love happened to her.
JEB: This has a similarity with your own search, because you went to see Poonjaji too.
OM: At first I did not feel at all inclined to do so, because my relationship with Gangaji was very intimate. We had a very active correspondence. She was - I could say - the only person to whom I still could really relate. Everything else appeared to me like an empty dream world - without any substance, without any "real"value for the one thing that was important to me. Only one year after the accident in a Satsang with Gangaji what I call the final dissolution of the reality of the I-thought happened. Directly out of this realisation the impulse arose to travel to India immediately. I then spent three weeks with Poonjaji - in September/October 1991. When I came back, everything had changed totally.
JEB: From the very beginning your language has struck me, as "different". A non- realized person cannot talk that way. For that reason I feel, that language is the test. As Satsang is breaking into our Western world and into our German world as well, we read about somebody giving Satsang every couple of weeks. And each time I ask myself: Is that really authentic true Satsang?
OM: I once read a letter to the editor in an esoteric magazine dealing with the increasing occurrence of Satsang. In this letter somebody wrote something like: "Any half-baked meditator who is able to reach a state of relative silence of mind, who is ready to once in a while smile at seekers mildly and is able to put himself on the stage, can give Satsang today."
JEB: What nonsense!
OM: I know about the ignorance and the childishness of this letter. Yet it contains a true core.Especially here in the West, where all natural respect towards authority has been lost, the door is open for a Satsang that is not really Satsang. Where there is light, there is shadow. The moment there is no longer this close traditional teacher/student relationship, there is no regulation, no control, no feedback any more and there is no longer any instance to stop the megalomania of the ego that wants to put itself on the stage and take the place of Satsang. Yes, there are some teachers who give Satsang, but never have lived a moment of total surrender to a living Master. Who maybe went to see this teacher and that teacher, Ramesh called it "guru-hopping", and naturally have been to workshops for years, have done therapy, have read books. But the reality of the "I-thought" has not been extinguished in them, because the power of the thinking mind has not yet been broken - or been broken only on the surface. Those are the "free-riders".
JEB: Geshe Rabten, the creator of the Mahamudra, one of the great enlightened Masters of Tibet, once said that he who teaches as if he was enlightened but in reality is not, burdens his karma as much as a murderer. On the other hand, as you just said, Gangaji grew up in the New Age, imbibed all its truths and half truths, and even this led her to the recognition that "there must be more". Therefore I think - and this is my personal experience too that even the teachers who teach only half the truth, are helpful. Anyone who goes to see them will sooner or later feel that "this does not lead me any further, these are words without strength, without the ultimate truth, the essential does not happen" - and will leave. It is the "path of errors" as a spiritual path, which every seeker including myself has taken. It is the same when you are hiking: If you don't go astray once in a while, it is not really hiking but just covering a distance. What happens in the vicinity of the Satsang-wave cannot be a real danger to true Satsang.
OM: Any lie, any semi-truth, any ignorance sooner or later has to look into the eye of Truth. Because the suffering that is created by lies eventually becomes visible. Eli Jaxon-Bear once said: "Every teacher will be recognized by the fruits of his work."
JEB: That is a variation of the Christ's words: "They shall be known by their fruits." To go on: You use the words: SELF and BEING, which almost have the same meaning. In what are they different?
OM: They are not different at all. You can also use the word SELF for soul. I use the German word Seele (soul) as an equivalent for the hinduistic word Atman and the word BEING for the hinduistic word Brahman. The Upanishads say: Atman and Brahman are one. There is this image of the drop that is not different from the ocean.
JEB: One of Poonjaji's favourite images is: "I am the ocean."
OM: What difference is there really between the water in a drop and the water in the ocean.? And so also the concept of a soul dwelling in the human body evaporates. That too is a construction of belief created by unenlightened teachers of religion. What if there was not even a soul existing individually, but if everything exclusively arose from the impersonal ocean of being? That would be the end of any identity as an individual. Yet it is exactly this identity that is responsible for the existance of all suffering. For what is it that makes you an individual?
JEB: My suffering. (OM laughs) You said that Satsang originated in the philosophical surroundings of Hinduism, but only in the surroundings. My feeling is that Satsang has hardly anything to do with religion. It can be taught and received in the surroundings of any religion from Christianity toShamanism or no religion at all. Is that correct?
OM: Satsang is the essence from where every religion has emerged. Religion has been created by generations of unenlightened disciples dwelling in the mind, in thought and not in BEING and therefore could understand BEING only conceptually. This withdrawal from oneness has created the urge for religio, which means for a return and for re-bonding. In Advaita the teaching of "Non-duality", which is the foundation of Satsang, there is no need for any return because you have never left oneness and non-separation.
JEB: This is exactly the meaning of the important notion of ADVAITA: "a" means "not" and "dwai" means "two", hence "non-duality", which even has an additional nuance of wisdom compared to "oneness". Yet my personal feeling is that religion is helpful. That New Age is helpful too. All of that has helped to bring us to the point where we are now. The same way as it helped Gangaji.
OM: Yes, it helped me too. Advaita as well as Zen say that all that counts is your own totally authentic and re-conceivable experience. There is no worth in understanding Advaita conceptually as religious scientists would do and affirm that all is one if your experience is different. In this case the state of duality, which indeed is the experience of 99,9999% of humanity, has to be explored. And this exploration of the experience of duality happens in therapy, it also happens in religion through prayers, rituals and various methods aiming at simply reconducting this state of suffering from separation back into oneness.
JEB: It also happens in all of this gigantic offer that has come towards us in the last years. That is why I feel so strongly that all of this has been a preparation for Satsang.
OM: There are lots of Sannyasins who went from Osho to Poonjaji, crowds of them, and later on said: "I would never have been ready to hear this, if I had not been prepared all these years by Osho."
JEB: That is exactly what has happened to me.
OM: But naturally there are as many who afterwards landed in the conceptual teaching of a priest or a whole school or a religion and take concepts for truth and will need many lives to let go of this landing and to sink deeper. But as you have said already: It is not dangerous. Ultimately everything only serves to bring about recognition. For recognition to happen the human mind has to go through darkness. It has to go through blindness, it has to go through all kinds of trances. And naturally these trances are also transmitted by false Satsang teachers.
JEB: That is what the great, tremendously difficult and fear inspiring sentence: "Never land anywhere" aims at. Finally only one landing counts: the landing in BEING. - How do you teach Satsang?
OM: Gangaji once said: "Use me". That means: The presence of my SELF is available for your questions. I transmit myself through total presence in stillness and through words spoken from stillness that I do not know, censure or judge, because there is nobody in charge any more, nobody who controls this. I read the same in your new book, in the chapter about language, which I really liked. You have pointed out, that language is much wiser than the mind and that thinking rather narrows and misinterprets than widens it. This is exactly what happens in Satsang: that language comes from where there is no concept, no idea, no preconception, no thought any more. And through this something happens which is not graspable by the mind, that the word coming out of stillness reaches the stillness within yourself. Even the spoken word can become this stillness. Because the spoken word in Satsang comes from the same stillness as silence. (...)
JEB: We have talked about the dark side of Satsang, the misuse. May be we should also talk about the dark side of Esoterics and the dark side of New Age?
OM: People who are interested in rare phenomena that are inexplicable to the thinking mind need not necessarily be spiritual seekers. As Ramana expressed it once: "They are interested in all possible kinds of things: in extraordinary appearances. They are interested in miracles and secrets. They are interested in what is hidden. They deny that which is apparent, that which is more obvious than all I can see with my eyes. The mere and simple truth of "Who I AM". Poonjaji once told that while he was hiking in the Himalayas he met a man who had achieved extraordinary supernatural powers - which are called siddhis in Hindi. He could for instance cover long distances by only one jump. A normal person can jump perhaps one to two meters, but he jumped as far as ten meters and walked that way. When this man admitted that the ultimate realization was denied to him, Poonjaji told him, that the first thing he would have to give up were just these siddhis. For that was exactly what he was attached to. The same applies for the power that is given to the mind in Esoterics. The magical attachment to the megalomaniac illusions of the thinking mind becomes so strong that the suffering involved is no longer recognized. For the ego has the idea, it could become so powerful that nobody - not even God - could be able to get the better of it.
JEB: Because it is Lucifer.
OM: Exactly. Lucifer is interested in getting as much power as to become invulnerable. And just this is cemented by the offer and the temptation of obtaining supernatural powers. It's got nothing, nothing at all to do with spiritualty. Even though at first every spiritual seeker is naturally an esoteric because he searches for the hidden. Just like me. I also went through these layers.
JEB: Yes, all of us.
OM: It starts with an initial presentiment that that which you see, hear, feel and think is not reality. Something is false. So you become an esoteric, you search in the hidden. And the hidden at first is the inner world....
JEB: As Rainer Maria Rilke, who has been for me one of the masters of the Western world, has put it: "Nowhere, Beloved, there will be world but inside."
OM: To turn to this inner world is not only legitimate but absolutely necessary for any seeker. But just there, in this inner world, the attachments and delusions happen, that have got nothing to do with a spiritual search.
JEB: But with our human mind roaming about everywhere. You exhort us again and again to still the mind - this insatiable mind, which you once compared to a stray dog. This mind that keeps us from realization because it knows exactly that in the ultimate truest recognition it will drown. How can one still the mind?
OM: Well, it is a hindrance, but it also leads us "there". A gross misunderstanding that arises for many seekers is that the mind has to be destroyed. Who understands this? Many people believe they have to destroy this mind and declare it their enemy.
JEB: Then nothing works any more.
OM: Because if you explore it more deeply, you find out, that the one who wants to destroy the mind, is nothing else but the mind too. But the mind never can destroy itself. I assume that every human being that has left his natural state only wants one thing: to return home.
JEB: That is the great longing.
OM: Therefore it is necessary to trace back the delusion of the false wishes - the wishes for knowledge, power, recognition, love, pleasure and so on - to their common original "root wish": to the longing that cannot be held down, the longing for liberation. I do this by untiringly asking the question: "What is it that you really want?"
JEB: And then all wishes melt down to one wish, the one wish for THAT which the mind cannot put into words.
OM: This true longing inevitably leads back into the natural state. When only the one wish that is pure longing is left, then this wish itself, as Poonjaji puts it, is free. For in the essence of this wish the longing that does not long for anything anymore is fulfilled in itself. It is necessary to get out of the delusion, out of the exuberance of wishes that have brought about more and more alienation. To wish for material possessions does not bring about happiness. At first I want more, then I want something better and then I want something different. This is the circle in which the mind runs incessantly. You are led by the nose like a dancing bear with a nose ring. And it does so for many lives through layers of wishes and their seeming fulfillment. It shows you around in its world of wishes. The whole manifested world is a pure mental world of wishes. You could say it is a stage created so that the play of your wishes can be performed. All players are actors of your wishful thoughts. The only obstacle is not to recognize that these wishes are false and do not lead back to one-ness. That is all.
JEB: Masters have said that the longing is really the most important. This is so enormously consoling for me because I constantly live in this dilemma. On the one hand I am a writer and need my mind and on the other hand I want to still my mind.
OM: At this point it is important to make a distinction that Ramesh Balsekar, a disciple of Nisargadatta Maharaj (one of the greatest Advaita-teachers of India) has introduced. He makes a difference between the "working mind" and the "thinking mind". Again and again I hear seekers utter sentences like these: You propose to stop thinking, but how should I then organize my life? Just last week, during my last Satsang, somebody told me: I would run into the street and be run over by a car. How can you guarantee that if I stop thinking,this organism is still able to survive? How shall I live then? Consequently there is no trust and no understanding as to the fact that this organism can live and function perfectly without a thinking "me". The truth is that this "me" only believes to control the organism. In reality, however, it does not. It only believes so. It is not the "working mind" that creates our suffering. When the working mind of your body, when the mind puts down on paper the qualities that come through you, in your case the qualities of a writer, there is no suffering in that. Suffering starts in the moment in which another instance, let us call it the "thinking mind" starts to search for meaning and importance, to doubt and to judge and to just stray around. It is an instance that does not create suffering in the moment of working, but right before and right afterwards; never in the presence itself. Always in the chronological order of time - before or afterwards. Either it puts its ideas before what is going to happen or afterwards, reflecting on what has happened.
JEB: That was Krishnamurtis great subject: The mind can never be HERE and NOW and therefore never in BEING.- You talk again and again about suffering and the liberation from suffering. I first read about freedom from suffering in Buddha's writings. For modern people Buddha's teachings often are difficult to understand. Therefore the "thinking mind" has defamed it as a teaching of negation.
OM: The state of non-duality is a state of freedom from suffering. It is not a state of freedom from physical suffering, for the body will always suffer. The body as a product of duality is submitted to joys and pains, and of course to transition, which almost always includes pain. Most people subconsciously equate pain with suffering. This equation points to the fact that they have never really surrendered to pain. For if somebody has surrendered to pain and in that realized the essence of pain, suffering is finished for him; pain can be without suffering. Gangaji said: "Suffering is the relationship of a ‚me' with pain. Whenever there is a ‚me' that has got a relationship with somebody or with something, there is suffering.
JEB: Therefore modern man's addiction to relationships is such an excellent source of suffering, a perfect machine for creating suffering. You say so wonderfully and simply in your book: "The only relationship there is, is the relationship with BEING." I recently read, somebody has changed it into "relationship with God". As the "thinking mind" cannot think BEING, it preconceives God, in other words: it puts God before BEING.
OM: The personal God can be a temporary guide and lead you deeper, for the mind cannot enter into a relationship with the impersonal and the unnamable. It can only dissolve into the impersonal.
JEB: Therefore we need God to get there at all. The idea of God for me personally is immensely important. It has helped me in my life.
OM: Yes, if you are ready not to cement it, but to let it be in you as long as it helps you and give it up the moment it puts itself before the essential. Then there is no obstacle.
JEB: I always say: the more concrete the idea of God is - as concrete for instance as religions try to make it - the more it becomes an obstacle. So we speak of a "Christian", an "Islamic" and a "Jewish God". What an arrogant limitation of the inconceivable vastness of God! God is not only the sum of all of the world's conceptions about God or about gods but an infinite ocean (Meer oder Mehr?) of all names of God and all that is sayable and thinkable.- But, OM, let's leave `suffering' for now and talk about freedom. About this "BEING free" - not as the opposite of being suppressed, exploited, living in bondage, being forced by relationship, family, profession, the opposite of all that enslaves us - talk about freedom not as the opposite of a duality, but freedom as freedom from any opposite.
OM: Freedom is the liberation from the idea of a personal "me". As long as there is the idea of this "me", there is the experience of prison, of smallness, of limitation. As far as the ‚me' may expand, the freedom stays relative, it stays a duality. True freedom can only be the liberation from the illusion, the complete liberation from the illusion that there is a "me" at all. In the natural state there are thoughts too. The "working mind" thinks as much as is necessary so that the work, God's work can manifest. There is no suffering in it. In this freedom, there is no "for" or " against". It is BEING itself without "I"-thought, without "you"-thought, without a mental system that puts everything into the categories of "right" and "wrong", without a system in which there exists war and peace....
JEB: Yes, in which there has to be war and peace as long as there is duality. Because in this system peace cannot exist without its opposite: war, and there cannot be love without its opposite: hate. And there cannot be freedom without bondage. As soon as you think of one of them, one part of you will think of the opposite at the same time.
OM: Until today Realization, the total liberation from the state of human suffering, was available only for a small number of people because there was hardly anybody interested in it. When the personal will recovers its own essence, when it longs to return home and to be one again, then there is nobody who keeps him from fulfilling his wish. Because - as many masters have stressed again and again - it is the birthright of every human being that this wish be fulfilled. It is our true birthright.
JEB: For me that is the beautiful, the joyful in what is happening now. Buddha had the vision:... "until all beings are liberated." That is the greatest vision, the greatest hope that a human being has ever expressed. But for two and a half millenniums it has been just an empty phrase. "Until all human beings, until all beings are liberated." You heard it and forgot it soon afterwards. It was just not conceivable. That seems so wonderful to me: Suddenly the fulfillment of this vision, as far away as it may still be, has come a little closer.
OM: We have reached the moment of the greatest self-alienation possible since the beginning of the history of Humanity. And at this same moment, in this darkness, the possibility of total realization is so close as never before. That is what I sense in Satsang, where again and again people come to meet the SELF, the Teacher and are touched immediately - people who possibly have never been on a spiritual path. Never mind whether a person is on the spiritual search consciously or not, whether his mind knows it or not, his soul anyway only wants the one thing. Therefore I could even say that it does not even matter whether somebody believes to be on the spiritual search or not. (Both of them laugh)
JEB: We started this conversation as an interview that you so kindly granted me. But you changed it into a personal Satsang for me. Thank you for this.
OM: Thank you for this beautiful conversation.