From Guru to God – The Experience of Ultimate Truth
Taken with author’s permission from the “From Guru to God – The Experience of Ultimate Truth” by Michael Graham.
At around the age of sixteen, 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 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. Where do I sign?
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 set out on a mission to find the truth and to be transformed.
So at age twenty-two, after motorcycling throughout Sri Lanka and India and taking a huge round through Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran and on through Europe to London, I returned to India for the original purpose of my going there. I had come to spend time in the ashram or abode, of Swami Muktananda Paramahansa. He was a guru, later to become 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.
Swami Muktananda Paramahansa
(Michael far right)
Muktananda in regal get up
on a special celebration day, 1969
Melbourne Airport, Nov 1970
Muktananda & Michael arriving
Within a couple of days of my arrival at the ashram I had a private audience with him. 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. Instead of settling down into a quiet state, I’d become positively knotted up. 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. It took all of five seconds. Well, I thought that was wonderful. The guru had touched me and I knew that was supposed to be auspicious. Nothing happened at first, but a week later I wasn’t to be disappointed.
This one afternoon, while meditating all alone, a strange phenomenon began. Suddenly while sitting, my body began to revolve in a circular motion. I thought to myself, How interesting. I’d stop it, and off it would go again. Up till this point whenever my body moved, it was I that moved it. With each minute that passed this movement grew stronger and stronger. I was delighted. I knew that I had received the ‘awakening’ that Muktananda was distinguished for being able to activate—the awakening of kundalini or the divine power within. All the while I was in a cool state of mind, watching with fascination. No hypnosis, suggestion or hysteria was involved.
This was the awakening of the Kundalini Shakti, (Sanskrit language), known as the Serpent Power in the Eastern spiritual tradition and given a supremely positive spin. It was said to be the intelligent aspect of the life force itself, which lay “asleep” or dormant in potential until awakened through the guru’s grace. It was to be surrendered to or given over to, since it was the spontaneous ‘grace-driven’ means to Self-realization—a most attractive concept. In the fullness of time one would be cleansed of all impurities that veiled the recognition of one’s true identity as being identical to the Supreme Reality—Brahman or God.
Some days later a Canadian chap turned up. We decided to go and meditate together. As we sat, he began to recite the famous Twenty-Third Psalm from the Bible: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures: He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His names sake. Even though I walk through the valley of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” I remembered that from the light Christian enculturation during my schoolboy days. My being deeply moved by its beauty, that second, the ‘awakening’ that had begun a few days before, exploded into ten times its power. I was flung to the floor and started crawling my way along, growling like a lion, with the strength of ten men coursing through me. It was not as any ham actor could do; it was devastatingly real. I was agog, watching it happen with amazement. I was not afraid. And I didn’t resist it, since that wouldn’t have been the idea. The poor Canadian chap, as he told me later, had never seen anything like it. He commented that the nearest thing he’d seen to it was an LSD drug freak-out; but this was something else! He was scared out of his wits and was trying to settle down the situation by repeating the mantra, Guru Om, Guru Om, over and over out loud.
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, vigorously executed yoga-like postures, utterances like the sound of different birds so real sounding, speaking in an unknown language, weeping bitterly in one second then laughing loudly in the next with nothing to weep or laugh about, cross-legged hopping across the ground like a frog, juddering of the body, classical hand gestures (mudras), the seeing of inner lights, journeys out of the body and innumerable other experiences. It wasn’t as though I was tuning in to some impulse to move in a certain way and going with it, as in psychodrama. It just grabbed me in a powerful non-volitional or spontaneous manner and moved me about. And there were moments of ‘dynamic’ stillness. The predominantly physical manifestations were called kriyas in the Sanskrit language. They were said to have a purifying effect, but as to why some of the more bizarre manifestations took the form that they did only theories could be given.
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, singing chants in the ancient Sanskrit language to the guru’s glory, and devotional service. Its purpose was spiritual purification leading to the experience of one’s own divinity, called Self-realization or Enlightenment.
This particular path was called Siddha Yoga; the word Siddha meaning ‘perfected being’, and yoga meaning, ‘yoked to God’ or the Supreme Reality. So this was the union with God that was to take place through the grace of the perfected Master.
It sounded like an appealing truth. It was promising. It had an engine that moved things.
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 ninety minutes of meditation. If you were fortunate enough to receive the ‘awakening”, you’d surrender to its workings 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. That was the understanding in those days. However, instructions changed over the years. Then we took a cup of chai; sweet spicy Indian tea. This was followed by ninety minutes of chanting the most famous Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. Then we were off into the beautiful gardens or marble courtyard to do a couple of hours work, a form of devotional service to the Guru, followed by thirty minutes of chanting the mantra, Om Namah shivaya (meaning: I bow to Shiva—one of their names for the supreme God), before lunch. I called it ‘Hindu army chow’—simple and delicious. Then there was a one-hour voluntary chant, followed by another two hours of work, then a time called dharshan, when the guru would come out into a beautiful marble court yard to be gazed upon or greeted, and then forty-five minutes of meditation before dinner. Finally, a sixty-minute chant was sung before we collapsed into bed at nine at night. Phew! Not a routine for the faint hearted. This went seven days a week, three-hundred and sixty-five days a year. It was like something you might find in an eleventh century Benedictine monastery.
This path of spirituality became my core spiritual practice for the next sixteen 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 (many more of which are described in the book I wrote, (called ‘From Guru to God’), including ‘Nirvana’ (a complete but temporary annihilation of identity and sense of ‘self’ and the ‘Hindu’ state of enlightenment called ‘Turiya’) my deepest hopes for inner fulfillment remained unmet. The dynamism and apparent intelligence of the ‘awakening’ particularly, described above, 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 I had been looking for.
So, in the seventies, eighties and nineties I did a number of the leading edge personal development programs of the day: Landmark Education (once called EST, then Forum), a sort of no nonsense pragmatic spiritual boot camp; and Silva Mind Control, a get-down-into-low-brain-wave-process, heal people, throw open some doors of psychic perception, and reprogram yourself for success, type of program. Then there was The Hoffman Quadrinity Process, an expensive turbo-expunging of impeding parent-induced past psychological impressions. And then I studied and practiced A Course in Miracles (a book) a very well developed argument for spiritual transcendence, which I buried into for a year with great discipline. I was intrigued by the observation; that though I understood and believed the Course’s content, I would continue to think, feel, act and perform as though I’d never heard of it. My friends on this Course had the same experience. I was starting to discover that the merely mental or cognitive approach to transformation is impotent to do anything much.
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 and 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. I wasn’t a dilettante. I usually drilled down close to the bottom of these things, enough to see whether I was dealing with iron pyrites (fool’s gold) or something more substantial. My basic Siddha Yoga practice kept on as the mainstay.
In 1982 Swami Muktananda died. Shortly afterwards I became one of the ashram managers in India and for one tour following this, I fell into the role as one of the international tour managers of one of his two successors, the young Swami Nityananda. Months after I left this work a ‘coup’ took place. Gurumayi, his sister and co-successor ousted him for behavior unbecoming to a guru. The whole affair unfolded like a palace intrigue—something like Shakespeare could have written about.
At this time 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 asked me Down Under, and 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 market place. It consisted of facilitating the creation of a corporate Vision Statement, establishing Core Values, defining Company Objectives and delivering a range of personal and organizational development strategies, including Customer Service Orientation, Communication Skills, Negotiation Skills, Possibility Thinking, Goal Setting, Belief Engineering and so on. We believe it was the biggest corporate program of its type undertaken in the Southern Hemisphere.
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.
Further, in 1988 and still a dedicated spiritual practitioner, I spotted this program called Avatar®, created by a fellow called Harry Palmer. It was a belief management program, not dissimilar in theory to what we’d taught corporately. But this guy claimed that he had the techniques that could really make the difference. Up till then I had found that core beliefs were not amenable to change. This was a ‘create your preferred reality’ program—beliefs are real forces; they determine the way you think, feel, behave and perform; change your beliefs and thereby change your life!
So I jumped on a plane for Los Angeles and found myself in the home of Marilyn Ferguson, author of the million-copy best seller book The Aquarian Conspiracy. She was a participant along with me and nine others. It was an expensive course at two thousand dollars. It included tea and biscuits but no meals or accommodation. It went for four or five days. How interesting; one of the facilitators was Ingo Swann; a man I’d heard had the most accurate strike rate among psychics tested by Stanford University under controlled conditions. He’d been their research subject for sixteen years and later worked twelve years for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) experimenting with Remote Viewing (visual perception beyond the range of bodily senses) procedures. I got to know Ingo well and stayed with him in New York City. He was teaching this course quite independently of his psychic abilities. He’s no longer associated with Avatar.
The course was more powerful than most. I was sufficiently impressed to fly to New York, spend another three thousand dollars for nine days of training so I could deliver the program under license.
I became one of the more successful teachers of Avatar around the world, delivering the program in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland, USA and Canada. Further to this, I delivered my own program, the Decision Principle Training® in France as well. It proposes decision as the first principle of existence.
Palmer’s top Avatar course was called Wizards®. Held over nine days and at seventy-five hundred dollars, it promised the dominion of the gods. It didn’t deliver.
But again, with all these courses, the substance wasn’t to the level required. However throughout all these years I kept meditating.
By now, I had many years of experience, thousands of hours of meditation, charismatic phenomena, study, and the company of spiritual luminaries. So I do believe my walk was characterized by a considerable degree of discipline and application and all this wasn’t too much to cover over twenty eight years span.
By providence, I had arrived at the doorsteps of famous spiritual luminaries before most people in the West had heard of them. To name only a few: Swami Muktananda, my guru, who later became guru to famous singer John Denver; there was Osho, the famous or infamous Indian guru, owner of ninety-three Rolls Royce motor cars, and founder of the ‘Orange People’ who made world news for themselves in Oregon. And Sathya Sai Baba, the guru with the largest following in the world, who does mini miracles, is now confined to a wheel chair, is embroiled in controversy and who claims to be an incarnation of God and the one who sent Jesus Christ to earth two thousand years ago. Yes! Then there were the works and the company of the Christian and Islamic and Buddhist mystics such as the Tibetan Buddhist Chogyam Trungpa, and so on.
Over the years I observed that people had different motives for following a guru or getting involved in such groups. Some sought personal development or victory over personal limitations. I was partially motivated by this. Some sought community; for others it was a life style choice. Some wanted position and power. Others wanted to be loved. Yet others were spiritual hedonists thirsting for the next experiential high. Being looked after was a priority for some. And the search for meaning may have been high among the reasons. In most people, motives were probably mixed, and not thoroughly reflected upon. Very few, I believe, went looking for wheat that it might be divided from the chaff. What was of interest to me, was what actually could make the difference, and more, what was actually true or false amidst all this?
The Buddha repudiated the teachings of the Hindu scriptures. Famous Hindu masters, repudiated the Buddha’s teaching, putting a dent in Buddhism on the Indian subcontinent from which it never recovered. Without going into detail here, contradictions between teachings abounded.
I noticed that many of my friends tended to swallow all they were told, hook, line and sinker, without much reflective assessment. Often superstition had taken over. Truth mattered when it came to balancing a checkbook, but in matters of spirituality, well, anything went.
With all this under my belt; exposure to luminaries, the spiritual experiences, and 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: the Muktananda ‘awakening’ described earlier, (which, by some mystery, I was able to powerfully transmit to others) and more. I put it all together calling it The Reality Training, fully believing that 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 was beginning my day in Melbourne Australia, at four-thirty in the morning doing sixty minutes of meditation, followed by thirty-minutes of contemplation, then forty minutes of chanting the Guru Gita—a Sanskrit language text referring to the guru’s teaching and glorious virtues. I’d end with forty-five minutes of surrendering to the spontaneous workings of the ‘awakening’. From time to time, friends would knock on my door and join me for this early-morning vigil.
As though this weren’t enough, I decided to go into isolation. Since my late teens, I had thought of this as an interesting experiment and had never had the chance to do it. Now was the time. At the back of my home was a tiny apartment. I asked an accommodating friend to fashion wooden panels to cover the windows and a trap door through which food could be passed. I was sealed up in this way, and spent ten days in there. Great; I came out on a Monday and it was as though, through new eyes, that the world sparkled. By Tuesday the old familiar perception had returned.
Seeing some potential here, I repeated the experiment some time later. On the second day a remarkable event took place.
I was just settling myself onto a couch. I was in a completely ordinary state of mind—no meditation; nothing like that, and suddenly this happened: The image of Jesus Christ formed up within my chest cavity. With this image came the conviction of who it 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 and a welcome, as if to say, “Give me your life and breath and I’ll take care of you.” Well, I was staggered, amazed, delighted all at once. The feature of this love was that it was communicated to me to an ultimate degree. It was utterly real and personal, but I didn’t know how to respond. I was so committed and familiar with the Eastern oriented understanding and practice that I kept doing precisely that. This encounter, however, I could never forget.
A year passed and I’d gone to Berkeley, California, to conduct introductory programs for The Reality Training I’d created. Here a second significant event took place. What happened was this: 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. It was a though a twenty-eight year investment had tipped over. It felt as though I’d been trying to draw water from an empty well. Wow! I was sobered. “Well,” I thought, “I’ll just run plum ordinary now, become a regular meat-and-potatoes guy, and live out my span and do what I can. Simple.”
However, at the time I was doing a twenty-five 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 teaching and 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 put about one hundred and fifty hours of Christ-centric biblical information through me.
With still no contact with followers of Christ I was now being educated to the first principles of Christianity. I noted the claims Christ made for Himself; his claim to Diety, His purpose for coming, what He accomplished by His resurrection from the dead, following His death on the cross, where He took upon Himself all our sins that have eternally separated us from God. It was His promises that drew me in first, however. Then there were the letters of Paul and Jesus’ other disciples. All of this really got my attention. Thus, remembering my personal encounter with Him, having been reduced to nothing, and therefore having nothing to lose, I resolved to acknowledge Jesus Christ as 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® Training around the world. I could have made the decision in my living room, but I wanted to make a marker of this one.
I still wasn’t fully with Christ. Then I saw a billboard promoting Billy Graham coming to town. I’d heard of him—the twentieth Century’s most famous evangelist. I thought he was dead. “What a perfect opportunity to make a decision in front of thousands of witnesses,” I thought to myself.
This was September 1997. So with considerable anticipation I awaited the day of his arrival. At the appointed hour I was one the first ones at the stadium and mounted the stands. He talked. When he invited people down to make that decision for Christ, down I went and was so close to the podium that 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.
It was from that moment, 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 that was back of feelings and experiences. With it, came new meaning and purpose and above all there came a substantive change of heart and mind, which had eluded me throughout all those years of experience, meditation practice and charismatic phenomena. And this had come as a pure gift of the Grace of Christ independent of all my efforts, disciplines or practice.
What do I mean by a change of heart and mind? Well, my temperament or disposition started to soften and change, among other characteristics. I noticed it; my son noticed it. That was good enough for me. The seeker had died. I’d come to rest. Perhaps I could have used terms like that in the past, but no, this was new coin. And the old Michael Graham would have said, “Yes, I know what you mean,” and I would have had to reply, politely of course, “No, you don’t.” You see, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
So, here I was having found my sufficiency in Christ—no supplementation required. “In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” as the Bible states.
And my attitude toward the concept of God significantly changed, was renewed and made proper. And further, referring to Christ, the biblical text from the letter Paul wrote to the Christians in Colosse struck me hard: He is the image of the invisible God, the first born over all creation. For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, things invisible and visible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Ironically, it made sense to know and from the biblical text, that I was not God or the supreme Self, even in essence (Hindu, Advaita Vedanta); or ‘suchness’ devoid of self, self blown out as in ‘Nirvana’ (Buddhism), but a creature created by God in His image and likeness, built through Christ for eternal relationship and union with Him. This seemed like a truth free of all vestiges of cosmic narcissism.
And the Bible as a text 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 that 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. I had submitted myself to Christ and the living Word. This was quite a leap, and as I came to observe later, becomes a mark of someone who has enjoyed a genuine turnaround in Christ or conversion.
So here I was, reading the Bible with new eyes, spending time in prayer, listening to excellent expository or explanatory preaching and enjoying church fellowship. What a change. This was a U-turn that I would have never believed possible.
It was a radical turnaround—a turnaround at the root and a most surprising one at that. Nothing else but the Holy Spirit, not the spirit of the kundalini (earlier described), or the spirit of the guru, could penetrate to the core of my ruin; a ruin that I believe everyone shares. What was the fruit of Christ’s Grace? Rest—a rest pertaining to my existence, most assuredly superior to passing minutes of stillness or peace I may have experienced in meditation.
I came to appreciate, that this new life found through the person of Christ, was what Jesus wanted for everyone, irrespective of race or religion. And it was far more than being limited to a ‘how nice for me,’ or a ‘how nice for you,’ story. It was a unique and eternal boon available to everyone who turns to and genuinely puts personal confidence in Jesus Christ.
So, today I walk on in gratitude. With a thorough basis for comparison I cannot but hold to the preeminence and supremacy of Jesus Christ, His Grace and the super-abundant sense of life He imparted to me, beginning when I emphatically turned to Him that day, in lasting trust.
And yes, His promises and declarations had captivated me: He said, “…apart from me you can do nothing” and that had become very clear to me, and “Come to me all those who are weary and heavily laden and I will give you rest.” And then, “I am the Way, Truth and the Life;” “I am the light of the world”, and “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.” And more, “Whoever drinks the water I shall give him, will become in him a fountain of water springing up to Eternal Life.” He also declared, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” Further, he said, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will eat with him, and he with me.”
His invitation beckoned me. Perhaps it did to you. The general ‘God’ word was big in those days, as it is today, yet Jesus Christ pointed to Himself as having a special saving relationship to the world. It became clear to me, as I had combed these notions thoroughly before, that He wasn’t speaking as the popular ‘New Age’ concept of the ‘Christ Consciousness’ or as the ‘Christ Michael’ or any other contemporary, fashionable or mystic phantom. Rather, he revealed himself to me as the once historic and now ever present eternal figure of Jesus Christ, who is “the same yesterday, today and forever.”
I’ve been around. I’ve seen a lot. Finally I received this marvelous free gift of Grace by turning to him, who, on the cross at Jerusalem, consumed in one cosmic act of sacrifice, every breaking thing—sin and the ‘karmas’ I vaguely believed in, that separated me from God, both here and in Eternity?
This journey was not a light and fluffy one. It warranted my deep reflection. Its significance extended to life, the mystery of death and beyond. So I wrote the book, titled, “From Guru to God—an Experience of the Ultimate Truth” in appreciation of and in gratitude to Jesus Christ and His saving grace, hoping that others may be similarly inspired.
None of what I have described has put me into a Pollyanna world free of normal responsibilities and concerns. But a value has been added to my life through His amazing grace, beyond what I could have ever imagined. For since that day of decision, for which God gets all the credit, the years that have followed, have taken me on a ride beyond the veil into the depths of “The peace that passes all understanding,” and the “Truth that set me free.”
Clearly, it is beyond the scope of this short account to trace out all the reasons for placing my trust in Jesus Christ. But it is the story of how one man did so and thereby found inner peace.
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