Paramhansa Yogananda stressed on many occasions that keeping company with other truth seekers is almost as important in our efforts to find God as meditation. There is even a special word for it—satsang. And for those who share discipleship to the same guru, there is a word that expresses that eternal connection between souls—gurubhai. (Pronounced, “guru-bye”)
Staying connected—always a priority
I give thanks every day for my gurubhais because I know I am not strong enough to fight the spiritual battle alone. I found this path twenty-five years ago and immediately felt a kinship with the disciples I met at Ananda Village and elsewhere. Staying connected with those dear souls has been a priority, although it has never been easy.
I have never lived at an Ananda community, and for many years I was one of just a handful of disciples in the Portland area. To feed my hunger for Yogananda’s teachings, a friend gave me books and audiotapes. I also took advantage of every opportunity to hear visiting ministers and musicians from Ananda Village. In my car, I sang along with the music until I knew every song and chant by heart.
We now have a Portland Ananda church and a beautiful apartment complex community across town from where I live. When I can’t be there I still use every means available to enjoy the presence of fellow disciples—Internet, email, books, magazines, recordings.
Overwhelmed by doubts
Recently, overwhelmed with self-doubt and confusion, I struggled alone until I felt on the edge of despair and finally reached out to a dear friend who is also on this path. As I walked through the door, she offered tissues and a spot on the couch and then listened.
I poured out all my “crazy” thoughts and feelings, which would have sent some of my non-Ananda friends running for the psychiatrist. She calmly accepted what I told her and even shared that she had similar experiences.
When I left my friend’s home I felt comforted, but even more important—I felt stronger. Being in her presence and feeling her attunement with our Guru was like having a spiritual mirror that showed how to get back into the divine flow. She didn’t encourage my self-pity, but offered no criticism. She simply guided my thoughts to a higher level so I could see more clearly.
The soul connection I experience with my fellow devotees has never changed, but my understanding of how important they are to my spiritual survival has grown over the years. In the beginning it was just wonderful to know there were others who felt as I did about Yogananda and living a spiritual life. However, as my experience of spiritual friendship has deepened, my bond with my gurubhais has become inseparable from the bond with my Guru.
I would never be alone
After the birth of my first child I dropped out of sight, as most new mothers do. I didn’t have the time or energy to attend any Ananda functions and I wasn’t very good about staying in touch with my spiritual family. I opened the door one afternoon to find our Ananda minister, Nitai Deranja, smiling and apologizing about intruding. He came in and we had a wonderful chat.
Although he politely inquired about the baby, it was obvious he was not there to admire my bundle of joy. He spent the entire time looking directly into my eyes and asking questions about me. He gently and sweetly concluded his visit by saying that he was pleased to see that my attunement was not suffering and he looked forward to seeing me around more when I was able.
The most important insight came to me after his visit—the realization that if I had allowed the details of life to pull me away from God and Guru, he—and others—would have told me and helped me find my way again. Indescribable relief flooded my heart, as I understood that I would never be alone.
A channel for the Guru’s love
How else do our fellow-disciples help us? On an outward level, satsang with devotees gives us support in our spiritual practices and examples to learn from. In more subtle ways, the presence of gurubhais can lift the energy in the spine and help open our hearts to truth. In these and other ways, our fellow disciples serve as channels for Yogananda’s divine ray into this world.
After my first extended visit to Ananda Village for Spiritual Renewal Week, I felt so full of joy I found it difficult to speak. But as my friend drove me to the Sacramento airport I felt my mind pulling me down. There was a conflict at home I would have to face and it seemed like the energy was being drained out of me with every mile.
After my friend hugged me goodbye and I made my way to the gate, the joy I felt only hours before seemed a distant memory. Through a haze of feelings, I heard my name being called over the speakers and the voice told me to pick up the white courtesy telephone. I found a phone nearby and picked it up, thinking I must have heard the announcement wrong.
My friend’s husband greeted me lovingly—he and his son were meditating after I left and felt a very clear direction from Yogananda to call me immediately. He said that Yogananda wanted me to know that he was near and I shouldn’t fear what lay ahead.
In that instant the joy returned; I felt light enough to fly home without the airplane. My friend had been an open and willing channel for the Guru’s love.
Keeping the flow going
Sharing Yogananda’s presence with others is an essential part of discipleship. I always try, when entering situations or contemplating new projects, to inwardly hold the question, “What is trying to happen? How can I be of service?” This opens the door for the Guru to act through me.
Recently, a new disciple hugged me and thanked me for my help. She warmly said, “I love your energy!” I silently offered the compliment up to God and Guru, because what she experienced through me was the divine flow that all of us can share if we offer ourselves as channels.
If we think only of receiving inspiration from others, we miss the chance to experience the joy of true satsang. True spiritual friendship is an exchange of energy with blessings for the giver as well as for those who receive.
I welcome every opportunity to offer energy and upliftment to others. Among other things, I have led meditations, taught evening classes, sung in the choir, greeted newcomers to Sunday Service, taught Sunday school, and written two books on children that share the teachings of this path.
Understanding and acceptance
When we put God first in out lives, friends and co-workers with different priorities are often bewildered by some of the choices we make. Between gurubhais, however, there is understanding and acceptance.
Gurubhais don’t require lengthy explanations. They understand why you give up a Friday night for a three-hour meditation, spend the day in silence, or read only spiritual books.
They will offer congratulations when you receive Kriya initiation, or smile with appreciation when they see the picture of Yogananda on your dashboard. I have found that even the Energization Exercises are easier and more effective with other disciples nearby.
Every touch nourishes the soul
As we deepen our commitment to God and Guru, the forces that can pull us away from Spirit become stronger and subtler. Satsang with gurubhais gives us the strength of purpose, clarity of mind, and joy to stay focused and centered.
Even when we do not live in a spiritual community, or the contact we have is only through books, recordings, magazines, e-mail, or the Internet—every touch nourishes the soul.
Lorna Knox is a member of the Ananda Church in Portland, Oregon. A writer, teacher, and mother of three children, she is the author of I Came from Joy and Scary News, published by Crystal Clarity.
The Importance of Good Company
by Paramhansa Yogananda
The company you keep is important. If you leave your coat in a room where people are smoking, pretty soon it will smell of smoke. If you leave it outside in the garden, later on, when you bring it indoors, it will carry with it the fragrance of fresh air and flowers.
Such is the case with the mind. Your garment of thoughts absorbs the vibrations of those with whom you mix. If you mingle with pessimists, in time you will become a pessimist. And if you mingle with cheerful, happy people, you yourself will develop a cheerful, happy nature.
Environment is stronger than will power. To mix with worldly people without absorbing at least some of their worldliness requires great spiritual strength.
Beginners on the spiritual path, especially, should be very careful in the company they keep. They should mix with other devotees, and try not to mingle with ego-saturated, worldly people. They should especially avoid people who are negative, even if those people are devotees.
Whether one becomes a saint or a sinner is to a great extent determined by the company he keeps.