people are like spiritual dynamos: they have a very
strong presence which touches the people they come into
contact with, transmitting something of their enlightenment
to them. Even people who arent at all spiritual
usually feel a sense of well-being in their presence,
and so feel attracted to them without knowing why. And
for people who have made some spiritual progress already,
the effect can be extremely powerful.
Contact with an enlightened person may enable them to make the
final jump to permanent enlightenment themselves.
This is one of the reasons why many spiritual traditions
place so much emphasis on the role of a guru. The guru
is so important not just because of the advice and guidance
he can give you, but because he can transmit his spiritual
power to you, giving you a taste of enlightenment and
speeding up your spiritual development. (In Sanskrit,
this is called satsang, literally good company.)
Paul Brunton and Ramana Maharishi
The early 20th century author and spiritual teacher Paul Brunton
became aware of this when he visited the ashram of the
great sage Ramana Maharishi, while travelling around
India in search of spiritual wisdom (as described in
his book A Search in Secret India). Brunton knew that
Ramana was a truly enlightened man the first time he
met him, someone who had completely transcended his
ego and become one with ultimate reality. He felt the
spiritual effect of his satsang straight away. He sensed
that a steady river of quietness seems to be
flowing near me, that a great peace is penetrating the
inner reaches of my being. While sitting near
him, he realised that his mind was becoming more still,
and suddenly all of the intellectual questions hed
had about spiritual matters no longer seemed important.
The only question in his head now was, Does
this man, the Maharishee, emanate the perfume of spiritual
peace as the flower emanates fragrance from its petals?1
At the end of his first visit to the Ashram, Brunton
was sitting quietly while the sage was meditating. He
felt a sense of awe building up inside him, as a powerful
force started to fill the room, emanating from Ramana.
Ramana opened his eyes and gazed at him and he felt
that he was aware of his every thought and feeling.
He felt that a telepathic current was passing between
them, that Ramana was transmitting his deep serenity
to him, and began to feel a sense of euphoria and lightness.
He felt that his own being became one with Ramanas,
and that he had transcended all problems and all desires.
After this, Brunton resumed his travels around India, meeting
magicians and miracle workers and self-proclaimed gurus
who are less enlightened than they claimed to be, and
eventually returned to the Maharashis ashram.
Again he experienced an ineffable tranquillity
when sitting close to him, and again he experienced
revelations which he was sure were nothing
else than a spreading ripple of telepathic radiation
from this mysterious and imperturbable man.2
And finally, after a period of wrestling with his own
thoughts and his intellect, he had an experience of
genuine enlightenment which changed him forever:
I find myself outside the rim of world consciousness.
The planet which has so far harboured me disappears.
I am in the midst of an ocean of blazing light. The
latter, I feel rather than think, is the primeval stuff
out of which worlds are created, the first state of
matter. It stretches away into untellable infinite space,
Andrew Cohen and H.W.L. Poonja
The American spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen had a similar experience
when he first met the Indian teacher who became his
guru, H.W.L. Poonja who was, coincidentally (or
perhaps not!), a direct disciple of Ramana. Cohen had
had profound spiritual experiences before, but had spent
many years feeling frustrated and disillusioned, yearning
for spiritual liberation but being disappointed by a
series of other teachers. Cohen asked Poonja whether
it was important to make an effort in spiritual practice,
and he replied, You dont have to make any
effort to be free. And at that moment Cohen experienced
His words penetrated very deeply, I turned and looked
out into the courtyard outside his room and inside myself
all I saw was a river in that instant I realised
that I had always been Free. I saw clearly that I never
could have been other than Free and that any idea or
concept of bondage had always been and could only ever
be completely illusory.4
After this, Cohen spent three weeks with Poonja and found the
liberation hed been yearning for. After a week
or so, he surrendered to his guru, let go
of his own identity and everything which made up his
life. He felt himself become one with Poonja, and began
to experience waves of bliss and love that
at times were so strong that I felt my body wouldnt
be able to contain it. And from that point
on, although his initial euphoria faded a little, he
had a constant sense of being always in the
present with much contentment and calm. I feel no desire
for other than what IS.5
And now that he had attained moksha (freedom) himself, Cohen
realised that other people were affected by his presence
in the same way that he had been by Poonjas. Friends
who spent time with him found that they experienced
a powerful sense of bliss and freedom too. He became
a spiritual teacher, giving talks and holding retreats,
and found that people were naturally drawn to him, and
that around him they would easily and often
have profound realisations, insights
into their true nature and powerful feelings of love,
joy and bliss.6
My wife and I went to one of Andrews talks several years
ago in Manchester, England, and for days afterwards
Pam my wife felt like a different person.
There was a feeling of freedom inside her, a sense that
in her words nothing mattered,
that I didnt have any problems. I didnt
want anything because I was happy as I was. My life
was quite stressful at that point but suddenly none
of the stress could affect me. And shes
sure that this wasnt so much because of what Andrew
actually said but the effect of simply being there,
in his presence.
I was a little jealous because I didnt have any of those
feelings at that time I was taking a more intellectual
approach to spiritual matters, and was so busy trying
to understand what Andrew was saying conceptually that
I must have been shut off from the feeling dimension.
A couple of years before then, Id started to visit a spiritual
teacher called Russell Williams, and also took a largely
conceptual approach to his teachings. Russell
who I still go to see now is 85 years old, and
has been the president of the Manchester Buddhist Society
for over 50 years, even though hes not specifically
a Buddhist. He doesnt chant or meditate or read
Buddhist scriptures, and doesnt adhere to or promote
any particular set of teachings. Hes a humble
self-realised man, who talks about the most profound
spiritual truths and the most intense spiritual states
as if theyre the most simple and natural things.
In my first years of going along to Russells twice weekly
meetings, I used to wonder why most people didnt
seem to be paying attention to him. He was saying some
of the most profound things Id ever heard and
people didnt seem to be listening they
were just staring into space, or sitting with their
eyes closed. They rarely asked questions, seeming content
to let Russell be silent, when as far as I was concerned
he was full of wisdom which I wanted to absorb.
But about three years ago I began to realise why this was. Perhaps
Id changed, become less interested in the conceptual
side of spirituality, or perhaps Id finally completed
a long process of getting attuned to the atmosphere
at the meetings, but when I went there I started to
experience very strange, pleasurable states of consciousness.
Even when Id been taking a conceptual approach,
Id often experienced feelings of peacefulness
and well-being, which sometimes lasted for a couple
of days afterwards. But this was something stronger.
The first time it happened, I was staring at Russell while he
was speaking to me, and began to feel very relaxed and
calm, as if the flow of my life-energies was becoming
smoother and lighter. And then, all of a sudden, everything
became unfamiliar the light became brighter,
the colours began to merge and the distinctions between
people and objects began to fade away. My main feeling,
however, was of a powerful sense of strangeness
the scene was completely alien, as if I was suddenly
on a different planet. Even though it was accompanied
with a sense of exhilaration, I was a little scared
and pulled away from it.
Over the following months I had the same experience several times
again, and I learned to relax and trust it. I let the
sense of strangeness overcome me, as the light in the
room became brighter and all objects began to shimmer
and merge into one another. The light seemed to be flowing
out and immersing everything in its brightness. The
room was filled with this beautiful shimmering haze
of golden light, and I was filled with a deep serenity,
a glow of intense well-being filling my whole body.
I could feel it flowing through my legs and my feet,
as if Id taken a sedative of some kind. And even
when I didnt have this particular experience at
the meetings, I usually had a very powerful feeling
of calmness and serenity inside. I was often aware that
my breathing had slowed down dramatically, and when
I left I found myself doing everything very slowly,
with a natural mindfulness. My mind was still and quiet,
and outside everything looked beautiful and alive.
After a few months I was talking to one of the members of the
group, and said to him, Ive been having
really very strange experiences here over the past few
months. I tried to describe them, and he laughed
and said, So now you know why weve all
been coming here for so long! Now youre really
a member of the society.
I still have these experiences now, and Im certain that
theyre the result of satsang, of being in the
presence of an enlightened person. The experience of
the scene becoming unfamiliar and the light becoming
brighter usually only happens when Russell is talking
directly to me. In these moments I can almost feel spiritual
power radiating from him and flowing into me, feel my
own life-energy being affected by his.
The Sources of Satsang
The big question is: why do enlightened people have this strange
ability to generate spiritual experiences in others,
this power to transmit their enlightenment
to the people around them?
Spiritual experiences induced by satsang strongly suggest that
the esoteric concept of an aura has a basis
in fact. They suggest that our being or life-energy
isnt just confined to our own mind or body
it radiates out from us, creating an atmosphere (or
aura) which can affect the people we come into contact
with. The auras of most people dont appear to
be particularly strong, or at least dont have
particularly strong negative or positive qualities,
so that we dont usually feel anything palpable
from them. But weve all met certain people who
we instinctively recoil from. We might not even exchange
any words with them but they still fill us with a sense
of unease or even fear or dread. These are people who
have a strong bad aura around them, perhaps
because their life-energy is heavily poisoned with negative
emotions and egotism. But with enlightened people, of
course, the exact opposite happens. Their life-energy
is so intensified and stilled, and has such powerful
positive qualities, that they transmit waves
of calm and bliss to everyone around them.
But spiritual experiences are more than just feelings
they are also experiences of vision, insight and revelation.
And one of the most important aspects of satsangexperiences,
I believe, is that they show that spiritual illumination
is also communicable. Feelings of bliss can certainly
spread from person to person and so can the vision
of the oneness of the universe, the awareness that the
essential reality of the universe is a limitless ocean
of Spirit, and the experience of transcending the ego
and being reborn as a deeper and higher Self. These
experiences are completely transferable under
the right circumstances, they can be passed from an
enlightened person to others without any loss of intensity.
There are two basic types of spiritual experiences (in the sense
Im using the term). The first are ecstatic experiences
caused by a disruption of the homeostasis of the human
organism. These can occur as a result of fasting, sleep
deprivation, drugs, breathing exercises, pain, dancing,
and so on. All of these activities can put us out
of homeostasis by changing our body temperature,
blood pressure or metabolic rate, causing dehydration
and exhaustion or chemical changes and when this
happens theres a chance that well experience
a higher state of consciousness. (Although this certainly
doesnt always happen, of course. Most of the time
the only effect that depriving yourself of sleep and
food often has is to make you feel miserably tired and
The second type of spiritual experiences are more serene and
calm states which occur when there is an intensification
and stillness of life-energy (or vitality) inside us.
This can happen in any situation when were very
relaxed, when theres peacefulness around us, and
when the mental chatter inside our heads fades away.
In meditation, we make a conscious effort to intensify
and still our life-energy by being inactive, by withdrawing
our attention from the world around us, and by focusing
on a mantra (or a candle flame or on our breathing or
any other object) to slow down and quieten our mental
chatter. As a result, meditation is probably the most
effective way of generating spiritual experiences.
However, they can also happen more spontaneously in natural
surroundings, for example, when theres peacefulness
around you and the beauty of nature has a similar effect
to a mantra in meditation, focusing your attention and
quietening your mental chatter. They often occur when
people are listening to music or contemplating works
of art. Certain sports are also very conducive to spiritual
experiences, such as long-distance running or swimming.
This is also probably part of the reason why spiritual
experiences can occur during or after sex. The sheer
pleasure of sex can have the effect of shifting our
attention away from our ego-minds, which may fall silent
as a result.
Spiritual experiences caused by satsang clearly belong to this
second type. Contact with an enlightened person has
the effect of intensifying and stilling our life-energy.
He or she gives us an extra input of energy the
current or telepathic radiation
which Paul Brunton was aware of. At the same time, the
sheer power of an enlightened persons presence
stuns the ego-mind into silence and brings our chattering
thoughts to a halt. As a result, we attain the same
state of inner stillness and intensified life-energy
which we reach after periods of intense and very focused
However, satsang isnt just a phenomenon which can affect
us as individuals; it also has an important bearing
upon the concept of collective spiritual awakening.
Its now almost a cliché to state the human
race as a whole may be on the threshold of an evolutionary
jump, a collective shift to a higher level of consciousness
which will give rise to a new era of true spirituality
and harmony. Some people find this idea far-fetched
perhaps understandably so when you look at the
state of the world today but satsang experiences
show us a process by which this transformation could
occur. They show us that enlightenment is highly contagious.
After all, its surely not just wholly enlightened individuals
who affect the people around them. Anybody who has become
spiritually developed to a degree will have some power
to affect the people around them. And so its possible
that a kind of positive cycle might take place
as more people become spiritually developed, they will
transmit their insight and well-being to
the people around them, who will in turn transmit their
spirituality to the people around them, and so on. It
may be that once a certain critical threshold has been
reached once a certain number of people have
become enlightened, or once the collective spiritual
power of the human race has built up to a certain degree
a great wave of spiritual illumination will spread
through the world like a forest fire; a process of spiritual
transmission building up power and intensity,
and eventually leading to an Omega point of permanent
This may still sound like wishful thinking but then again,
the experience of satsang itself is miraculous, showing
that our apparent individuality is an illusion, and
that we are parts of an indivisible ocean of consciousness.
Paul Brunton, A Search in Secret India, London: Rider,
1934/1972, p. 141.
2. Ibid., p.280.
3. Ibid., p. 305.
4. Andrew Cohen, Autobiography of an Awakening, Corte
Madera, CA: Moksha Press, p. 30.
5. Ibid., pp.34-5.
6. Ibid., p.35.
Steve Taylor is an author and lecturer who lives in
Manchester, England. He is the author of The Fall:
The Evidence for a Golden Age and the Dawning of a
New Era, which has been described as astonishing
work by Colin Wilson, and fascinating
and important, highly enlightening and readable
by Eckhart Tolle. His new book, Making Time: Why Time
Seems to Pass at Different Speeds and How to Control
It will be published by Icon Books later this year.
Steve can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His
website is http://www.stevenmtaylor.com/
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