“Bait & Switch” in Spiritual Groups


QUESTION: I have been told “Sanga mein hi shakti hain” (“There is no śakti without Sanga”), to make the point that I have to become a member of a bhakti organization before my bhakti-yoga would really take off and advance. But in the Bhāgavatam neither Narada, Dhruva, Prahalad, Bhisma, Kunti, Pandavas nor many other such bhaktas were in any organisation. So what exactly is the role of belonging to an organisation? 

My Reply

This is a “bait and switch” salesman’s tactic. Bait and switch happens when I say “diamonds are wonderful, so buy these” and then sell you a few rings made from cubic zirconia. Saṅga mein hi śakti hain is a reasonably true saying, but that doesn’t mean that you need to join ISKCON, or a Self-Realization Fellowship, or any other group.

Sanga is so important, so join this group.” The bait and switch is that you are led to believe that the group is equivalent to sanga (just as you are led to believe that the shiny stones I show you are equivalent to diamonds).

Many people in the west complain about how casually the word “love” is thrown around. The word saṅga suffers a very similar fate. Saṅga is an extremely intimate word. Saṁ-gatisaṅga = union. The word is used for sex and embracing, and for deep conversation and friendship. It is about extremely intimate contact between people, not about joining huge groups or attending huge festivals. If at those festivals and in those groups some real intimate contact happens, great, then that is saṅga. But the festival and organization itself is not saṅgaits just a festival, an organization.

What we need to uplift our life is intimate contact with an uplifting person. We don’t need cursory or social contact with 108 semi-uplifting people. We need deep, intimate contact with an extremely uplifting, uplifted, evolved person. That is saṅga, and without that, we cannot really expect to have much śakti in our efforts.

 Here is another article I’ve written on this theme.

Vic DiCara