In Need of Satsang Detox
By Scott Kiloby
One reason I moved into the area of addiction treatment at the Kiloby Center was to get away from the satsang circuit. In and of itself, the circuit doesn’t necessarily create a lot of harm. But I remember getting numerous calls, texts or emails from spiritual seekers who had just attended a weekend or week retreat with a teacher. They would say, “The retreat was wonderful – I truly found peace” or something like that. But by Tuesday or Wednesday of the next week, the emails, texts or calls would change. “I’m suffering again right now, what should I do?” I would say, “Investigate for yourself, using the tools you have learned. Awakening is truly an inside job. Going to satsang and expecting to wake up and be free of suffering once you enter back into your normal life is like going to a drug dealer and expecting that temporary high to last forever.” So many times the person would not investigate for themselves. Instead, they would schedule and attend the next satsang or the next three to come to town. Then the cycle would repeat, with the high or peace of satsang replaced by the usual suffering days or weeks later.
I have to admit that I am biased. I never attended satsang back in my seeking days. Sure, I watched a DVD or two of a spiritual teacher giving satsang. But once I extracted some really valuable tools, I put all of that down and began investigating on my own. This made all the difference. When I’m talking to spiritual seekers who are heavily into the satsang world, they often cite “transmission” as the reason they keep going back. The notion behind transmission is that there is some recognition that is transmitted from teacher to student during satsang. I won’t argue with that. Perhaps transmission does happen for some people. However, continuing to go back over and over and over so easily slips into the realm of addiction, treating the teacher kind of like a drug dealer who is dolling out the good stuff. In many cases, it stops being about transmission. It becomes all about addictive seeking.
I am not waging a war against satsang. It has value. But I think it is important to point out that investigation using skillful means is of utmost important, to finally put to rest the seeking that leads one back again and again to satsang. Most good spiritual teachers would agree, even the ones who are doing satsang regularly.
At the Kiloby Center, we truly make no distinction between addiction to drugs or alcohol and addiction to spiritual seeking or satsang. They carry many of the same elements: wanting to avoid or escape the past or uncomfortable thoughts and feelings showing up in the present, continuing to go back to the “drug” even after recognizing the cycle of “high” followed by withdrawal, believing that there is something (a drug) or someone (a teacher) outside oneself that has the answers to life’s pain, and chasing certain states and experiences rather than letting all states and experiences come and go freely.
If you are a satsang teacher or someone who goes to a lot of satsang and this writing triggers you, there is probably something to examine. This writing comes with no ill will towards anyone. No trigger. My body is completely calm as I write this. This writing has more to do with feeling great compassion as I watch people look outside themselves repeatedly for what cannot be found outside oneself. I would say the same thing to either a drug dealer continuing to doll out drugs to addicted people and to the addicted people who are enslaved to those dealers. And I’m not saying that all teachers are drug dealers and all seekers are like addicts. This is mainly just a metaphor. There are great teachers out there who emphasize self-investigation. And there are seekers who do a lot of self-investigation. But, if you are triggered by this writing, chances are the shoe here does fit. So maybe take a look. Again, investigate for yourself.