Paramhansa Yogananda that next to daily meditation, one of the most important things for a spiritual aspirant is “satsang.” “Satsang” means “fellowship with truth,” but in practice it really means “fellowship with other truth seekers.”

The principles behind satsang are very important. Whenever two or more people are together they exchange electromagnetic vibrations with each other. The stronger magnetism, be it positive or negative, usually prevails. Yogananda says “environments is stronger than will power,” until you evolve to the point where, like the saints, your will power is strong enough to overcome any environment.

A hard lesson to learn

I first read Yogananda’s statement when I was a very proud eighteen years old, and I said, “Environment is not stronger than my will power.” I was convinced that seeking God was something we did on our own, and the last thing I wanted was for my fate to get all entangled with the messiness of others’ lives. I thought, “Well, I’m going to wait and see.”

Even as a community we had to learn this lesson. In the early days of Ananda Village, we fancied ourselves a community of hermits. We had agreed to live together, but reluctantly. It was an unwritten rule that no dwelling could be within sight or hearing of any other.

But we were building Ananda wrong, so Divine Mother gave us another chance at it—a forest fire in 1976 that destroyed all but one home. The second time we built differently—with clusters of houses, some with shared facilities, so we could really be a community.

The great saints are so strong in their magnetism that they can change the people around them by their mere presence. Most of the rest of us, who aspire to become saints, need to be very careful of the type of people we spend time with, for the people in our lives are the most important aspect of our environment.

I remember a man at Ananda Village who got into a mood of some kind and decided that he didn’t want to be around people any more. So for some weeks he avoided all spiritual gatherings. Then, more or less accidentally, he ended up with a group at Swami Kriyananda’s home where a program was going on.

Afterwards he said to me: “I thought I was doing just fine all by myself. I could decide for myself what it feels like to be in tune and then say, ‘since this is how I feel, I must be in tune.’ But now that I’ve been back in touch with real spiritual energy, I can see how far away I was getting.”

A veil over our heads

When we get out of the consciousness Spirit, we tend to forget what that consciousness feels like. We have to do our individual practices; there’s no way we can advance spiritually without putting forth our own private effort. As Paramhansa Yogananda put it, “Each devotee must learn to individually make love to God.”

But without satsang, we end up keeping the company of the ego and we don’t even know the difference. Once the ego gets hold of us, it puts a veil over our heads. And the longer we stay in ego consciousness, the more likely it is that we’ll leave the spiritual path altogether.

Experiencing our oneness in God

Christ gave us two commandments: “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Yogananda said that these two commandments are really one and the same. On the spiritual path, our goal is to love other people not just because of harmony of interests or personality but from experiencing our oneness in God.

One of the most helpful things you can do to experience that oneness is to meditate with other devotees. For one thing, you can generate much more energy than you can alone. And meditating together teaches you how to love in a very different way, accustomed as we are to thinking of our relationships so much in outward terms. When you meditate together you touch the place where you are one, and that soul contact makes you closer than you ever imagined people could be.

This is the kind of love that Christ spoke of, one that makes the love of God and the love of our neighbors one commandment. It’s a spontaneous love that comes not from personality but from an experience of our unity in God.

It’s easier to perceive the Divine in each other in meditation when we consciously bring the Divine into our outward contacts with each other. This happens through uplifting get-togethers with other devotees, spiritual retreats, inspiring conversations, and avoiding negativity of any kind. In other words, it happens through satsang.

Learn to tune your “note”

I know for an absolute certainty that I would never get anywhere on the path if it weren’t for my friends. It’s true that the transforming power of God comes through Yogananda, but the ability to understand and accept what God is asking of me comes from my friends. Being with them, having constantly to check in with them face to face, the love and understanding we give each other—all of these create a sort of conscious check on my attunement.

When I first moved to Ananda Village I picked out a handful of people as my “tuning fork,” if you will. Whenever I had any idea or feeling or mood, I’d sort of “vibrate” around them. We’d talk, and I’d say “This is what I think” and they would either say “It’s like this” or “it’s like that.” But that even wasn’t so much it. I would just feel the attunement.

And every time that I’d feel a little dissonant with the people I knew were trying to be in tune, instead of saying, “Well, they’re wrong,” I would say “No.  If I can’t be in harmony with the Spirit within these people who are my family—fellow seekers who are my satsang—then I’ve got to keep tuning my note until I am.”

We need to remember that though God may live in us, we have to learn how to live in God. We do this through the loving friendship, the caring, the mutual concern, and the responsibility that we really have for one another. With this we can all grow spiritually.

Asha Praver, a founding member of Ananda, and her husband, David, serve as spiritual directors of Ananda Palo Alto.