Spiritual gatherings or Satsangs have played an essential role in my life.
My family relocated from New York to California when I was just one year old. They came to California to be closer to Baba Hari Dass, a silent monk who had agreed to accompany some devotees to the United States. Babaji inspired the creation of a community of spiritual seekers (Mount Madonna Center), a K-12th school (Mount Madonna School), a non-profit (the Hanuman Foundation), and taught Raja Yoga to those who wanted to learn.
One activity I remember fondly as a kid was going to Satsang with Babaji and other families every Sunday. They would rent out a school or some other venue, and we would all meet and spend the afternoon together. I was a little kid of six years old, so I was most looking forward to playing with my friends and hanging out in the sun. Yet, I recall that I would drop everything when Babaji would arrive and watch Him walk to his seat. I didn’t know it at the time, but the emotional connection I felt with Babaji has a name; surrender. In my mind, I knew that Babaji was close to God, sometimes he was God, and that I experienced a sense of peace and acceptance in his presence. In addition, Babaji had a soft spot for kids, and every chance he would get, he would dump out this massive bag of candy and invite us all up to pick one to enjoy. I knew the adults didn’t come for the candy but went to Satsang for other reasons (Kirtan, Questions and Answers, discussions around scriptures, etc.). While I did enjoy the Q&A aspect, the sense of belonging and camaraderie attracted me the most. Oh, and the prasad. Somehow I knew that fruit was unique, and I always enjoyed seeing the plate of bananas and oranges passed around. When I turned thirteen years old, my family drifted a bit from Babaji, and while those early years made a significant impact on me, the impressions laid dormant for many years.
When I was around 27 years old, I had the chance to see Babaji again at Mount Madonna Center with approximately 100 other devotees. I had decided on this occasion that I would sit towards the back of the gathering so I could have some privacy and not call attention to myself. I had decided that I would gaze at Babaji without shifting my eyes or attention, and I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable, nor have other people think I was strange because I was staring so intently. As I started doing this, I noticed at first that my mind got very quiet, and no thoughts were coming. Then, I felt like I was floating, and in fact, my perception of the room followed this feeling of floating upwards. Instead of sitting behind five rows of people, it felt like I was in the balcony section, looking down on them. It was a peaceful but startling sensation to have my consciousness separated from my body. That experience had only gone on for a few moments when Babaji’s gaze locked onto mine. I panicked and thought to myself, “what am I supposed to do now; is he trying to tell me something?”. As soon as I had those thoughts, the experience ended, and I was back in my body.
Fast forward almost 15 years later, and Babaji was getting quite old and had recently had a stroke, so we all could tell that the end was near for his mortal body. I started to remember Satsang with Babaji and became very sad that he would die soon. I thought no one else like Him existed on this planet and cried in despair one night, resolving myself to the fact that I would never find anyone like him again. The very next day, I found Om Swami on YouTube, as though he came running to me to answer my question; “no, no – there are still some us here,” he seemed to be saying.
I proceeded to read Om Swami’s books, watch his YouTube channel, and read His blog to connect with Him and start purifying myself in the process. Then, to my great excitement, Swamiji announced he would be coming to California to host a meditation retreat. So naturally, I jumped at the opportunity and immediately signed myself up. As Swamiji was giving a discourse on proper mediation at the retreat, I remember looking closely at other devotees in the room. I wanted to see what kind of emotions he invoked in those around Him, and I guess I was testing Him to see if He was who I thought.
As part of the retreat experience, Swamiji had agreed to meet with all of us in groups. I was to be on Day two, group 4. As my time was near, I noticed that the crowd outside the meeting room had all but disappeared. I wondered where everyone else in my group was. I inquired about this and was informed that there was no group 4 on day two. I showed my card, and they were all so surprised because no such group was supposed to exist. Long story short, through grace, I was able to get a personal meeting with Swamiji on my first time meeting Him. I was beyond excited and also very nervous.
When I got into the meeting room with Swamiji, I first said something to make a fool of myself (no, I won’t tell what it was.) Then, I asked Swamiji about my experience at the Satsang with Babaji. He told me to give it time, and that spiritual experiences are meant to be re-creatable. Then, Swamiji asked me to come closer to him. As I came within hands reach, he twisted his fingers into a mudra and then placed his thumb on my forehead. I could feel an electrical current flowing from his thumb into my forehead within a few seconds. I felt like I was a battery being charged up. Then he shifted his fingers and placed three of them on the forehead. When he did that, the sensations magnified, and now I felt like I was a Tesla being supercharged. My whole body began to tremble uncontrollably. This was not the trembling that comes from a heightened emotional state. No, I was experiencing the transfer of spiritual energy, and it was so powerful that my body was hardly able to receive it. I remember rolling my eyes downward and looking at my body as it shook. I was totally in my right mind and tried to stop it but found it impossible. Just as it was about to get too intense and blow a fuse in my brain, Swamiji removed his fingers and smiled enigmatically.
Satsang has played an essential role in my life.