Monday, July 7, 2014

Satya: A New Thought Church

Yesterday, I went to the Satya Center here in Ogden. I was invited by an old friend to check it out. He told me he wanted to see what an outsider would think of the group and to do an honest assessment of it.

Satya is part of the New Thought movement and calls itself the Science of the Mind.

Basic beliefs of the Satya Center are:

  • They believe in God and it seems they believe in pantheism (belief that God is the Universe) or panenthism (belief that God is the Universe and also existent outside the Universe).
  • Belief that all people are incarnations of the Divine.
  • Belief in an immortal soul.
  • Heaven is inside us.
  • God is a universal consciousness and this consciousness is the ground of all being.
  • Our thoughts can directly impact this universal consciousness and cause it to respond to us for healing and to change conditions of life.
  • The ultimate goal in life is detachment from all discord.
  • The Law of the Universe is love.
So, what was the Satya Center like?


The Satya Center is located in downtown Ogden, coincidentally right across the street from the Christian Science Church. The building is a beautiful old piece of architecture. Much of Ogden has some very beautiful old buildings that testify to its glory days now long gone.

Inside the building are a number of rooms including a lounge with coffee and tea available. We hit it up for some coffee. I took a picture of some signs over the fireplace I thought were fun.

The sanctuary was a small room in what looked like the guest house of the building. It was decorated with some water color paintings, candles, icons from various religious traditions, and track lighting and subtle lamp light.

There was also a very pleasant smell to the room that I couldn't identify, but rather loved. Overall, the atmosphere of the room was very peaceful and brought about a very happy feeling.

Overall, they did atmosphere very well.

The People:

The people at the service were all very kind and all spoke very positively about pretty much everything. I got a few hugs, one from a lovely woman who also attends the Unitarian Universalist Church in Ogden. The people were young and old, seemed to be from various backgrounds.

I enjoyed the people, they seemed like very genuine, nice people and were probably among the friendliest I've encountered so far.

The Service:

The service started with some guided meditation that was pretty basic, but very peaceful. It started with us taking deep breaths, then becoming aware of our surroundings, and then envisioning a ball of light in front of our chests. We imagined the ball of light extending down into the earth, then up into the sky, then all around us until it encompassed everyone in the room, the city, the wilderness, and then the universe, before bringing our awareness back into ourselves. It was good at calming me down and centering my thoughts at the time. I've actually done meditation like this before as well as more complicated meditations. I miss doing this and forgot how much I missed it. I might be incorporating a regular meditation practice into my daily routine again.

There was a slight break afterward, then we were summoned back to the service by the sounding of the singing bowl pictured above.

They then had a song that was played on an acoustic guitar and consisted of two lines repeated continuously as a mantra. At first it was beautiful, then it got very repetitive and I just wanted it to end.

They then performed a ceremony unique to their tradition called the Flames of Faith Ceremony. In this ceremony, they had a small table set up with 9 tea light candles and a larger candle.

They lit a candle in honor of many of the world faiths:

  1. For the Tao.
  2. For shamanic traditions.
  3. For Hinduism.
  4. For Judaism.
  5. For Buddhism.
  6. For Christianity.
  7. For Islam.
  8. For Baha'i
  9. For the New Thought Movement.
Then they lit the large candle in honor of Satya, a Sanskrit word which means, "unchangable" and is a concept of the constancy of the universal principles and the name this tradition has given itself.

I thought it was a cute little ceremony, and I'm for interfaith and ecumenical dialogue, but these are conflicting philosophies and it needs to be recognized that they are and that there are positive things that can be learned from each, and really negative things that can be as well.

After that, there were a few announcements, a meditative thought (which ties into the message I will discuss later), and some positive affirmations. The announcements included them saying that they were taking prayer requests so that they could do prayer treatment over them. I'm not 100% sure what this means; however, they said that their licensed practitioners would be working on these requests. I've never heard of anyone being a licensed practitioner of prayer, and I'm not at all sure what the certification process would look like for that.

There was then another song that was sang like a mantra. Again, this was really pretty, but went on a little too long for my tastes.

After that there was the message given. As usual, this will be discussed in "The Message" section. Prior to the message being given, the minister said that there was a sound healer who wasn't able to make it as he was off at the Rainbow Gathering (an annual gathering of hippies that is going on in Heber City, Utah this year) but he would be providing sacred sound healing when he returned.

Now, these sorts of New Age healing techniques have been heavily studied by the scientific community and it's been proven time and time again that, outside of the Placebo Effect (which is remarkably strong), none of these techniques actually provide healing. In the best case scenario, when done in tandem with scientifically demonstrable Western medicine, it has a soothing effect on the patient and may increase the Placebo Effect. In the worst case scenario, people turn to it for healing exclusively and become even more ill, cause irreparable harm, or even death. You cannot treat cancer or HIV with prayer and meditation. The pH of your water isn't going to affect your health whatsoever unless it's so acidic or so alkaline that it is toxic. Your diabetes will not be controlled by sound waves harmonizing with your energy field. Taking vitamins or using herbal remedies will not cure your schizophrenia.

As far as emotional and, for lack of a better term, spiritual healing is concerned, yes, these techniques can help a person get into a better mindset and help them deal with things. There's a lot to be said for mental exercises and how they affect our brains and mental states. But we also cannot rely on them exclusively to treat mental illness, and we most certainly should never rely on them exclusively for physical healing.

All that being said, the minister was talking about her most recent knee surgery, and my friend's wife has been seeking medical treatment for some conditions, so I am positive they aren't using this healing exclusively and do rely on a mixture of alternative medicine and Western medicine.

After the message, they sang another song. This time, I was very pleasantly surprised to find it was a Bob Dylan song I really love called, "To Make You Feel My Love." I sang along with it and really enjoyed their acoustic rendition. It reminded me of my favorite version of the song by Trisha Yearwood.

They then took up an offering while stating an affirmation. After the affirmation, everyone stood up and held hands with each other and stated another affirmation.

Overall, the service was filled with lots of sounds, lots of music and chanting, lots of calming words and soothing tones. All of these along with interactive liturgy can induce altered states of consciousness. These states of consciousness actually accompany spiritual experiences. If you want something very fascinating and thought provoking to read up on, read about the neuroscience of faith. Simply do an internet search of "brain scans and faith" or "neuroscience of faith" and several pages of interesting articles will come up.

I liked the service for the most part. It was very relaxing.

The Message:

The message was a very interesting message about the limitations we put on ourselves. She began by stating that God isn't some superhero out there, and that God is inside all of us and all around us. She began with a quote from a Buddhist. The minister said two things that kind of grated on my nerves. First she said that Buddhism isn't a religion, it's more of a philosophy, then she said Buddhism is like Taoism.

Let me be very clear, Buddhism is a religion. Period. There is a philosophy to Buddhism, it is highly adaptable and can be expressed with many gods and concepts of the afterlife or practiced by atheists, but it is still a religion. Buddhism deals with how to lead this life so that you can get out of a cycle of reincarnation and achieve the state of Nirvana. This is interpreted many ways by many types of Buddhists, but it deals with traditional religious concepts of morality, cause and effect, cosmology, the afterlife, and spirituality. Some traditions of Buddhism have various hells where people are reincarnated to purge themselves of more wicked transgressions. Some branches have hundreds if not thousands of gods from Bodhisattvas to more traditional concepts of gods of the elements. Some have no supernatural elements to them, but still focus on a spiritual quality of everyday life. Buddhism is most definitely a religion.

And Taoism and Buddhism are not the same. They don't even have similar origins. Taoism comes out of Chinese philosophy and religious tradition and was started by Lao Tsu. Buddhism came out of Hinduism in India and is considered a Dharmic Religion. That being said, some forms of Buddhism have taken from Taoism and incorporated elements from it, but the two systems are not in and of themselves the same system.

But she also admitted right after that that she didn't know much about religion. What she does know about are some of the teachings of these religions and about spirituality.

She honored Buddhism as a great path to the divine and quoted a wonderful line from the Dalai Lama, "Kindness is my religion."

The rest of her message was something I really enjoyed and was actually something I needed to hear. She talked about how our rules and our own mental barriers often get in the way of our potential. She asked us, "Are you living the life you love?" If I'm honest with myself, in most ways I am, but in a few key areas, I'm not. She then said, "Change your thinking, change your life." She also asked us to ask ourselves, "What rules aren't working for you? Do you have the courage to change them?"

All of this she compared to a story of a tiger who lived in a small cage. They sponsored a lot of money to build a large, new habitat for the tiger similar to what her natural habitat would be like. When they put her out in her new habitat, she found a corner in the back, and proceeded to pace back and forth in an area the same size as her previous cage. She had all this space and potential she could have used, but instead, only went with what was comforting and familiar to her.

There is a lot you can take from this lesson, and it actually did make me introspect a bit about some things in my life that are limiting my potential that are completely self induced.

Overall, other than my little pet peeves about Buddhism and Taoism, I really enjoyed this message and felt it had a very practical application to life and is something that I needed to hear, and a lot of people probably should hear as well.

Overall Experience:

This was a mixed bag for me. On one hand, the sort of New Agey faith healing and everything is positive approach to life are two things I cannot get on board with. The world is filled with both darkness and light, love isn't the rule of nature or the universe itself. Nature is amoral, it doesn't care about love or justice. Love is a very strong human emotion. Love is central to our survival as a species. Compassion and love should be central to any religion or philosophy. But there is so much more to the spectrum of human emotion and such darkness to us.

On the other hand, I don't think there is enough positivity in this world. There are people who seek to tear each other down, and many religious traditions (a few reviewed in this blog) seek to tear down and mentally abuse their members. I am very happy to see a group like this. I would rather every church in the world looked like this one than a single church exists that teaches their members they are nothing to God and they need to accept him or burn forever.

I would go back just for the meditation, the extreme kindness of the people, and the positivity they presented in a very dark world.

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