From Guru to God
by Michael Graham
Spiritual things began for me with the “Three Bears” version of Christianity at a private boarding school operated by a mainline Christian denomination. With about 450 other students, for ten years, I had to attend 15 minutes of chapel five days a week, one and a half hours of chapel on Sundays, accompanied by big organ music, stained-glass windows, Kings James English, and a 20-minute mini-sermon. I don’t think, after a decade, that a single boy understood who Jesus claimed to be and why He came. At the time, it all seemed a bit boring.
But around the age of 16, my brain woke up, and I started to reflect on life. All my friends seemed to know what they wanted to do when they left high school–go back on the farm, become a doctor, go into their dad’s business or whatever–but I didn’t have a clue what my interests were or what career I wanted to follow.
Stuck with this limitation, I began to read. My father was a doctor, a psychoanalyst, and something of a philosopher. Two books on the Eastern spiritual tradition, from the shelves of his big library, grabbed my attention; one on an Indian philosophy (Vedanta) and yoga, and the other on Buddhism. They promised a life free of suffering, personal transformation and an experience of the highest truth–Enlightenment. That was enough for me.
After studying yoga and trying to learn how to meditate in Melbourne, Australia, for three years, I set off for India, the home of the mysteries of the East, the guru, and every other marvelous thing. I embarked on a mission, at age 22, to find the truth and to be transformed.
I landed in the ashram of Swami Muktananda Paramahansa. He was a guru who later became famous in the West. He’d come to me on strong recommendation as one whose mere touch or presence could transform a person’s life. As it turned out, I was his first Australian devotee.
Within a couple of days of my arrival at the ashram I had a private audience with Swami Muktananda. He was charismatic indeed, but only knew a few words of English. Through a translator, I told him that I had come to have my meditation fixed. All attempts to meditate successfully in Australia had failed. He simply said, “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.”
A week passed, and I was meditating all alone in the meditation room, on a real tiger’s skin. All of a sudden I was startled. Muktananda was standing over me. He stroked both cheeks, passed his palm over my forehead, turned on his heels and left. Nothing happened, though I knew the guru’s touch was supposed to be auspicious.
Then one afternoon, while meditating all alone, a strange phenomenon began. Suddenly while sitting, my body began to revolve in a circular motion. With each minute that passed this movement grew stronger and stronger. I was delighted. I knew that I had received the “awakening” Muktananda was distinguished for being able to activate–the awakening of the kundalini or divine power within—known as the Serpent Power in the Eastern spiritual tradition. All the while I was in a cool state of mind, watching with fascination. There was no hypnosis, suggestion, or hysteria involved.
From that day on, whenever I gave over to the “awakening,” there was continuous spontaneous activity. There were powerful breathing rhythms (pranayama), movement into classic dance formations, utterances like the sound of different birds, speaking in an unknown language, weeping bitterly in one second then laughing loudly in the next, intense shaking of the body, classical hand gestures (mudras), the seeing of inner lights, journeys out of the body and innumerable other experiences. At the time I felt these were a genuine expression of the internal “divine life.”
The Ashram Routine
All this was set into a typical Eastern framework of thinking. Muktananda would say, “God dwells within you as you”–the inner self or Brahman or God were identical. Spiritual practice consisted of faith in the guru as the self-realized master. It required surrender to his person and to his instructions. Its purpose was spiritual purification leading to the experience of one’s own divinity, called selfrealization, or enlightenment.
It sounded like an appealing truth. So I stayed on in the ashram for five and a half months, participating in the rigorous daily routine. We’d arise at four in the morning for 90 minutes of meditation. If you were fortunate enough to receive the “awakening,” you’d surrender to its working as a dispassionate witness. If it had yet to stir in you, you’d sit in formal meditation repeating the Guru’s mantra, Soham, meaning, “He I am,”or “I am God,” in the hope that it would happen soon.
This path of spirituality became my core spiritual practice for the next 16 years. I returned to India many times. I spent a total of four years in the country. But despite all the amazing spiritual experiences, signs, and wonders, my deepest hopes for inner fulfillment remained unmet. The dynamism and apparent intelligence of the “awakening” particularly drew me in and kept me hopeful for future transformation. At the same time, I had been casting around for supplementary means to add to this Eastern practice that might have opened a crack to the light for which I was looking.
So, in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, I did a number of the leading-edge personal development programs of the day. I saw a gain here and there from a number of these courses. Whenever I was exposed to a new perspective, information, data or technique, there would be a slight shift, just enough to lead to an increase of interest. Then there would be a plateau, a falling off, then a “What’s next?” Within days there was always a leak-back to the old familiar self. This stuff wasn’t delivering on its promise.
In 1982 I was in New York and got a call from an Australian friend who’d just landed a huge Corporate Cultural Change contract with Australia’s second-largest company, Telecom Australia. He invited me Down Under. Together with a team of five others, we put together a broad range of personal and organizational development strategies designed to set Telecom up for success in an emerging, competitive, telecommunications marketplace.
By now, I’d had a broad and deep experience of the Eastern “Old Age” movement out of India, the pragmatic world of corporate consulting and the “New Age” personal development trainings. With the exposure to luminaries, powerful spiritual experiences, and the understanding I’d developed, I still believed that breaking through the Gates of Heaven in a sustainable way was possible. I took what I had been given in personal revelation and the best of what I had been exposed to, and put it all together, calling it The Reality Training. I fully believed this amalgam of practices would build the momentum for breakthrough. My life had really become a serious experiment, with encounters and spiritual experiences spurring me on. Perhaps I was like a bloodhound following a scent.
At this point, I decided to go into isolation. Since my late teens, I thought this would make an interesting experiment and had never had the chance to do it. I spent ten days in isolation, and when I came out it was as though, through new eyes, the world sparkled. But by the following day, the old familiar perception had returned.
The Turning Point
Seeing potential in this experiment, I repeated it at a later time. On the second day, a remarkable event took place. I was in a completely ordinary state of mind–no meditation, no spiritual preparation–when the image of Jesus Christ formed up within my chest cavity. With this image came the conviction of who He was. One second following, there was an experience beyond all words can tell. If I were to step it down into the poverty of language, there was an openness and love coming from Jesus to me of cosmic proportions and an invitation. It was as if He was saying, “Give me your life and breath and I’ll take care of you.” The unique feature of this love was that it was communicated to me to an ultimate degree. It was utterly real and personal. I didn’t know how to respond to this encounter; however, I could never forget it.
A year passed and I’d gone to Berkeley, California, to conduct introductory programs for The Reality Training I’d created. Over a three-day period, as if pressed into me from outside myself, came the conviction that everything I had done, the thousands of hours of meditation, the realizations and spiritual experiences, had all added up to a huge fat zero. A 28-year investment just tipped over. It felt as though I’d been trying to draw water from an empty well.
At the time I was doing a 25-minute drive in the car to Marin County near San Francisco each day. I kept catching these evangelical preachers on the radio teaching the historic faith from the Bible. They were good speakers. It was a bit interesting, and besides, I was interested in the five Great Traditions (unlike the cults) that had stood the test of time–Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. So, here was Christianity being explained better than I’d heard it before, at least the biblically oriented form of it.
At first, I was noticing the similarities between elements of the Eastern and Christian worldviews; then it became the differences that got my attention. Listening to the broadcasts themselves, plus sending away for the tapes advertised on the radio over the next few months, I must have logged about 150 hours of Jesus-centered, biblical teaching.
With still no contact with followers of Jesus, I was being educated to the first principles of Christianity. I noted the claims Jesus made for Himself: His claim to deity, His purpose of coming. I learned to appreciate what He accomplished by His death on the cross (taking upon Himself all the sins that could have eternally separated us from God) and his resurrection from the dead (giving us hope that we, too, will one day receive resurrected bodies at the coming of the Lord). Remembering my personal encounter with Him, and with nothing to lose, I resolved to acknowledge Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Yikes! Those words seemed uncomfortably religious to me at the time. Too bad, I was going ahead anyway.
This was going to be the most important decision I'd ever made. I knew about decision: its power, place, and importance. I’d taught my Decision Principle’s Training around the world. I could have made the decision in my living room, but I want to make a marker of this one.
It was September, 1997. I saw a billboard promoting Billy Graham coming to town. With considerable anticipation, I awaited the day of his challenger Jan arrival. At the appointed hour, I was one of the first ones at the stadium and mounted the stands. He talked. When he invited people down to make that decision to receive Jesus as their Savior, down I went. I was so close to the podium, I could have reached up and almost polished his shoes. When the moment came to decide, I made that decision, surely, definitely, no turning back.
I was never the same again. It happened silently, un-dramatically. I knew what it meant to be born again, that strange phrase. Something new began in me that moment. A peace came over me. With it came new meaning and purpose and, above all, a substantive change of heart and mind. This “change” had eluded me throughout all those years of experience, meditation practice, and yogic phenomena. And this had come as a pure gift of grace, independent of all my efforts, disciplines, or practice.
What do I mean by a change of heart and mind? Among other characteristics, my temperament or disposition started to soften. Inoticed it; my son noticed it. That was good enough for me. The seeker had died. I’d come to rest. I had found my sufficiency in Christ––no supplementation required. In Him are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).
My attitude toward the concept of God significantly changed: renewed and made proper. Paul’s description of Jesus to the Christians in Colosse struck me hard:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist (Colossians 1:15-17).
Ironically, it made sense to know the biblical view, that I was not God or the supreme self, even in essence (Hinduism, Advaita Vedanta); or self “blown out,” as in nirvana (Buddhism), but a creature created by God in His image and likeness, fashioned for eternal relationship with Him. This seemed like a truth free of all vestiges of cosmic narcissism.
The Bible came alive to me with a quality and a texture unlike other written works of an intellectual or spiritual nature. It became to me like sweet milk and meat to the soul. This didn’t mean I had to like everything it said. Nevertheless, I believed it. The adjustment had to be mine. I was no longer on the throne as arbiter of all truth. This was quite a leap, and as I came to observe later, becomes a mark of someone who has enjoye a genuine conversion.
So here I was, reading the Bible with new eyes, spending time in prayer, listening to excellent preaching and enjoying church fellowship. What a change! This was a U-turn that I would have never believed possible. It was a genuine and radical turnaround– a turnaround at the root. Nothing else but the Holy Spirit, not the spirit of the kundalini, nor the spirit of the guru, could have penetrated to the core of my ruin: a ruin that I believe everyone shares.
What was the fruit of the Messiah’s grace? Rest–a rest pertaining to my existence, most assuredly superior to passing minutes of stillness or peace Imay have experienced in meditation. I have come to appreciate that this new life is something Jesus wants for everyone, irrespective of race or religion. It is a unique and eternal boon available to everyone who turns to Him with confidence.