The Benefits of Extensive Time in Holy Company

The Benefits of Extensive Time in Holy Company

My trips coincided with the SRV dharma visits to the West Coast for retreats over Memorial Day and at the American River and also included attendance of regular classes and seminars.  The respective trips lasted 17 days and a full month of living in the teachings virtually 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  While I had been a regular attendee of weekend classes and retreats prior to moving to Wyoming, which was of great benefit, living in the presence of the guru and advanced practitioners for a greater length of time swiftly transformed my character and has given a clearer outlook far beyond what I ever could have anticipated.  In this article I will discuss the rationale behind why Holy Company is an absolute necessity in spiritual life and also share my experiences from the two lengthy trips already mentioned.

New students of authentic spirituality will undoubtedly be instructed by their teacher to frequent Holy Company as often as possible.  In a discourse on the Vivekachudamani, Babaji compared time in Holy Company for householders to a whale that dives deep into the ocean, coming up for air after a period of time.  The ocean represents the world, and the air is the dharma teachings offered by a qualified guru.  Until aspirants can breathe on their own, meaning that  they have acquired the ability to remain free of the effects of ignorance until full Realization dawns, they must come up for air.  With the increasing culture of self-learning through books and online videos, one might be tempted to think they can reach the Goal on their own without the need of a preceptor and Holy Company.  Novice and intermediate seekers who approach the teacher with respect and sincerity will soon realize that learning to abide in the Self is more difficult and subtle than acquiring lower knowledge (aparavidya).  After a few days in Holy Company they feel centered in Reality and expect that keeping up a spiritual practice is easy.  Everything seems to be “just fine.”  Then, despite all their follow up efforts, the “green scum,” as Sri Ramakrishna often describes, soon returns to cover the lake of the mind in the form of  brooding, restlessness, and slothfulness.  In other words, after a break from the world, the ignorant outlook returns and the experience of such a sacred and genuine spiritual environment appears like a mere fading memory.  This experience is none other than the insinuation of Maya upon the jiva (the embodied soul).

The psychological dynamics of this process are quite simple, overall.  The direct experience of the preceptor radiates outward through the dharma teachings transmitted through his/her lips.  This temporarily neutralizes the effect of negative karma, mental impressions (samskaras), and the covering/distorting powers of maya (avidya shakti) upon the aspirant, allowing them to experience balance (sattva).  Once outside the atmosphere, the student, with a mind not yet learned in concentration, enters the field of action engaging in desire-based actions and tastes bitter and sweet fruits, forgetting the clear state experienced while living in the teachings.  As Swami Vivekananda states, “Everything we do, mental or physical, is Karma, and it leaves its mark on us.”  An example from my own experience consisted of constantly seeking approval and validation through external means, especially from colleagues and supervisors, despite being free of such desires while with my sangha and teacher.  Can there be any clearer example of taking the non-Self to be the Self?

 Being in the pure environment of Holy Company for an extended period of time allowed for some wonderful refinement of perspective.  Perhaps the most important thing I learned was to serve God first.  I’ll never forget after morning meditation early in the first visit, Babaji had asked me to bring up some chairs from the shrine room at the Portland Ashram for class later that day.  I told myself I would do it after eating breakfast, since there was plenty of time.  As I was just about to start cooking, Babaji came up the stairs with a load of chairs.  Being surprised, I told him my plan as he walked by.  He kindly responded, while carrying the chairs through the kitchen, “We serve God first and ourselves second.”  As I contemplated the meaning of this, I came to realize the little ways the untrained ego was compromising through subtle acts of selfishness or complacency.  Keeping this simple message in mind, I learned to be on the lookout for others and serve wherever possible, performing whatever work needed to be done devoid of aversion, attachment, and desire, to the greatest extent possible.

Day-to-day living in Holy Company outside of the formal retreat or class environment offered up many other moments for learning, strengthening of mind, and dispensing of wisdom from the teacher.  Another profound moment occurred during an impromptu class given by Babaji with Abhinaya, Blayne (now named Samata), and myself, about renunciation and the need to have one-pointed dedication along the path of Self-realization.  The class seemed endless and even though I needed a personal break, I could not get up and leave as so much enthusiasm for Truth poured from the guru’s mouth.  It was as if there was a momentary death of ignorance in my mind, being in that atmosphere.  For myself, this constituted a proof-of-principle for many things, including the spiritual path’s authenticity, the preceptor’s qualification to transmit, and the benefits of the cooperative environment steeped in the natural practice of the Four Yogas in close proximity to the teacher.

In closing I would like to say that being in this environment for an extended period of time gave cause for inspection of my current way of living.  It led me to the realization that there is such a thing as conscious and integrated living associated with the spiritual journey.  Because of this time, I decided to move to Portland and stay at the Ashram to focus on knowing the Atman, rather than remaining steeped in so many relative affairs.  The neutralization of karmas and attachments accelerated during my stays with Holy Company, and this seems to have forever transformed my thinking process.  New students, young aspirants, and veterans alike would do well to take a period of consecutive weeks living with Holy Company.  This way they can make a truly informed decision about their mode of living and what is going to be for their Highest Good.