Written by Madhusudanadas
‘Will I fit in with this group of people?’ I asked myself this question before I ‘accidentally’ stumbled upon my spiritual path. Quite a common question to ask when you meet or interact with a new group of people in an unfamiliar environment. I did not want to let go of some of my tendencies at that time like clubbing and partying till late hours of the night, but at the same time, there was also something special about the Bhakti Marga sangha that I was attracted to. Nonetheless, I could not put my finger on what exactly it was.
What is a Sangha?
‘Sangha means gathering, where everyone comes together, but they don’t come to gossip or chit-chat. They come together to share something deeper that they have inside of them.’ – Paramahamsa Vishwananda.
A sangha is essentially a group of spiritual people, coming together to share their specific faith. While that may seem very simple, the sangha is much more powerful and impactful than we can ever imagine. Then again, so is the quality of the company we seek.
The influence of association is extremely powerful. Your thinking, your habits, and the way you do what you do are all impacted and shaped in many ways by who you associate with. It is important to surround and associate yourself with people who inspire you to grow and transform spiritually regardless of your path.
What happens in a sangha?
‘With their minds focused on Me and their lives centred upon Me, they inspire one another. By always speaking of My glory, they derive bliss and contentment.’ –
Bhagavad Gita, 10.9
We can come together as a sangha in many different ways. These include puja, OM Chanting circles, group Atma Kriya Yoga practices, kirtans, selfless service in the temple, study circles of scriptures and books, satsangs, and also learning from each other through our own experiences. For the last many months, we even have had the option to come together online, something unheard of a few years ago. Doing things together creates a very special atmosphere and vibration that is quite different from when practising your spiritual practice on your own. A lot of joy and happiness arises from this kind of togetherness. You become much stronger and more supportive towards each other. Like Paramahamsa Vishwananda says, ‘When you are doing your sadhana alone, it’s good, but when you are in sangha you see and perceive the Divine and the people together; you see the devotee and God together. When you are alone, you perceive God alone, but when you are among devotees, you perceive God and the devotee together.’
Conflict in the Sangha Supports the Spiritual Path
“If you are aware of how much karma is being worked out in a sangha, it is amazing!” – Paramahamsa Vishwananda
We often assume that in a sangha of spiritual people everything is always hunky-dory. It is, however, not uncommon to experience situations of diverging opinions and several ways of doing the same task within a diverse gathering of people from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and upbringing. From time to time this may result in conflict from differences in opinions.
When the situation becomes difficult to handle, some people take a break from the sangha, running away or avoiding the situation instead of looking at what they have to learn from an uncomfortable experience to transform and grow from it. Is the situation teaching you to be more patient? To be more tolerant? To be open to different ways of doing things? To rise above the tug of war? To not need to be right all the time? To be able to improve on communication? To learn to respect one another? To learn to love each other regardless of the differences?
When you are rattled out of your comfort zone, you can be inspired to be challenged to be your very best. You can grow and transform your mind when you take such experiences in your stride and view them as opportunities for spiritual growth. A lot of karma can also be worked out in a sangha.
There is also so much strength in unity summed up by the popular saying of the sticks in a bundle are stronger than an individual stick. A group of people collectively supporting each other are all individually more likely to succeed on their personal journey than a person would on their own.
‘Here Bhagavan was saying that the bhakta, the loving and faithful devotee of God spreads the Glory of the Lord: they talk, they indulge in it, they discuss it, bringing virtue, glory, truth and the Leela and the mysteries of God to others. A bhakta will feel great joy in utilizing their personal experiences, discussion, conviction, and skill to spread the Love of God….Here Bhagavan was saying to bhaktas: Spread what you receive! Spread the love that you feel. And don’t fear spreading it.’ – Paramahamsa Vishwananda, Commentary, Bhagavad Gita 10.9
Some years later, it dawned to me that the special thing about the Bhakti Marga sangha that I could not initially put my finger on was the exuberant presence of God and guru in the sangha and His love. Even conflict can be said to just be a form of Their Love and grace. I saw that Their Love and grace is not limited only to Bhakti Marga devotees but also accessible to everyone in the sangha and even beyond. You only need to be open and available to receive it regardless of your path.
The Bhakti Marga sangha was where I first felt the Love of God and guru (without even realizing what it was) before experiencing the Love of the guru in person. Those were the days when darshan was in person – we had no online darshan options available. The sangha has given me the place to soak in and practically learn the precious teachings of Paramahamsa Vishwananda. The sangha is where I have cultivated friendships with people of different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. Friends who accept me as I am, and are closer to me than family. The sangha is where I often find many answers to the challenges that life throws at me.
Without a doubt, being part of the Bhakti Marga sangha is a noteworthy influence on this journey to develop a loving relationship with God and guru.
Meet the spiritual teacher who brings everyone together in sangha and experience the love they experience. Attend a darshan and meet your global sangha.