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Muktanananada and Michael Graham
Melbourne Airport, Nov 1970
Muktananda & Michael arriving

 

 

 

Muktanananada
Swami Muktananda Paramahansa
(Michael far right)

 

 
Muktanananada
Muktananda in regal get up
on a special celebration day, 1969
 

Michael Graham - Guru to God

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(Page 2)
REFLECTIONS ON SALVATION versus ENLIGHTENMENT—A Hypothesis.
By Michael Graham

Then I had a second experience with a main part in common with the experience above. This occurred some 10 years later while sitting close to my Indian Guru, Swami Muktananda, under whom I practiced for 13 years. In his proximity, over one week, I disappeared in this absolute sense about five times but without the attendant bliss. It happened most distinctly but within a second—a moment of cosmic relief in the annihilation of a self. As soon as a self returned to recognize its absence, the experience could no longer exist.

The third experience occurred around 1987 in Elmira, upstate New York. One day while doing a spiritual exercise, suddenly the width of my visual perception began to increase. I got up and walked out into a foyer and stood there for about 30 minutes watching two men chatting. One of the men was sitting on the ground with his back against the wall, the other was standing. They were talking in earnest. As I looked at them, the whole scene appeared as an illusion. They were no more real than puppets in a puppet show. It was a fascinating perception; a full-blown experience, yet with no change in the appearance of objects. It wasn’t merely a thought or philosophical overlay; it was a direct perception. Life and what I was witnessing seemed an illusion—ordinary perception giving a false impression of reality. It wasn’t as though common perception was worthy of derision, rather it was a muted joke. Every trace of the weight and sting of life had vanished. Even as I watched I knew I was enjoying the classic Vedantic realization that all life is an illusion—a dream—a mere seeming. It’s called the Turiya state in the Hindu scriptures. It is what one branch of the spiritual Indian tradition promulgated as a key truth and a mark of Enlightenment. Here I was in the middle of it experientially. Seeing from this perspective, nothing really mattered as I had assumed it did. This perception shut down after about 30 minutes.

Despite having these marvelous experiences, I was intrigued by them having zero impact on my life at all. None. All that remained was a memory of an experiential access to “highest realities.” Okay, I was grateful for that. It was a bit on the thrilling side, but it did not add one jot to the quality, texture or function of my conventional life or spiritual activities, which was also true with the following.

All of this proved to be a serious eye-opener. It was years later, that on this point I had a clue to the basis of the whole Far Eastern tradition of spirituality and how it contrasted to the Christian one. In a purposive sense, Buddhism and Hinduism were about escape and transcendence, leaving an unreal world—life-negative; Christianity rather, was about engagement and fulfillment through Christ—life-positive.

On further reflection: to Buddhist doctrine, life is suffering; to the Hindus, an illusion or at best a play of consciousness. Squarely faced, both these viewpoints do not affirm the value of the created world as plainly experienced by all people. It seemed to me that both viewpoints are a dodge and a highly sophisticated one at that. A whole metaphysical, philosophical system is built around this dodge, including a way of life, sets of values, and for those in earnest, a system of spiritual disciplines and techniques.

Reflections upon my perceptions above and those of others, understandably lead to conclusions, but ones that I believe are flawed. The experiencer assumes that such experiences, because of their loveliness or superiority, is true reality, or at least a truer reality, and therefore something to be pursued. Yes, in my case a filter was pulled off and a new dimension of reality opened up. Yes, it was immensely encouraging to me at the time, “Wow, this is what they are talking about.” But much later I concluded that historically, teachers and practitioners like Gautama Buddha, Shankaracharya and Ramanuja (renowned Vedantic Hindu masters) had such experiences and began to teach saying, “Look what I have found; devote your life to its discovery.” The promulgators of these quests may have experienced such states for one second, a minute or a day or maybe a week. Perhaps in the history of mankind there are those to whom it has fallen for half a lifetime. But ultimately these experiences are unsustainable. They quickly pass. Does not their impermanence bring into question their true value or significance? Is it not possible that these Eastern spiritual objectives are unsustainable pathways of spirituality, and understandable miss-takes on the true purpose of life when contrasted to the teachings of Jesus and His apostles? Perhaps Far Eastern systems of spirituality do not conform to the real reality for which, by design, we were created to enjoy. This is what I was beginning to suspect.

It can be correctly affirmed that these generic mystic states or classical forms of Far Eastern Classical Enlightenment are real and valid states of consciousness, but are states rarely attained. If experienced, they are rarely, if ever, sustainable. Further, reckonings from years of personal experience, among thousands of aspirants I’ve known and books I’ve read, lead me to believe that classical Enlightenments of the types described are very much a brain-chemical or synapse-altering phenomenon inextricably linked to the physical body and a phenomenon that ends with physical death.

Mystic states can precipitate spontaneously or can be induced by rigors of spiritual or mental disciplines, just as athletic rigors can induce muscular enhancement and control leading to amazing athletic prowess. And particularly, classical mystic states can be induced by pranayama or “scientific” manipulation of breath or by drugs like LSD or psilocybin in magic mushrooms. The latter point supports the idea that it all begins and ends with chemical changes in the brain. Further, I know from experience that mystical phenomena arise from stirring the Kundalini energy, as some of them have been in my own case. This spiritual power is spoken about by the Hindus who believe that Kundalini has its roots in the physical body, a force that can induce experiences beyond bodily boundaries as well. My guru, Muktananda, would say, “The entire universe dwells within the body.” (Ok, that’s a big one; we won’t go into it here.) However, I believe that Kundalini too dies with the body. And whatever post-death state a Vedantin, Shaivite, yogi or Buddhist finds him or herself in, is not related in any way to earthly spiritual disciplines, manipulations or psycho-physical phenomena, coming from whatever source. I am suggesting that none of this leads to genuine Salvation or an eternal liberation.

Nevertheless, since we are postulating that all these so called states of “liberation”—Moksa, Satori, Nirvana, Sahaja Samadhi, Nirvakalpa Samadhi, Fana (Sufism) and so on are actual realities, I do believe they are part of God’s creation. But as such they are only sub-realities and part of nature, being on the top of a natural vertical continuum. They are referred to as being beyond nature or “super-natural” (above the natural) only because they are so uncommonly experienced. Being of nature, all these experiences lie within the potential of a human being to experience through multiple means, unlike Salvation, which is above or beyond all forms of nature to apprehend.

(I’m not going to go into the differences between the Hindu and Buddhist goals, characterized by the realization of Self (capital “S”) and the no-self of the Buddhists, Sufis and “secular” mystics and so on, because those points of difference are not salient to the distinction between Salvation and Enlightenment).

 

I believe classical Enlightenment experiences exist within a closed loop, on the outer fringes of the loop never to be liberated beyond the loop’s boundaries.

On the other hand, the potential for Salvation in contrast to Enlightenment, takes us beyond the loop, to another dimension beyond space and time, called heaven (This Christian concept is elaborated on later in the text, in the way it radically distinguishes itself from Buddhist and Hindu concepts of heaven). The Gospel teaching of Salvation and the power of its accomplishment does not lie within bounds of the creature or natural man or woman to accomplish, but originates from without. Salvation rests in the hands of the Creator alone existing beyond nature, space and time, being His prerogative alone to confer. The gate to this reality is the person of Jesus Christ alone. Jesus’ disciple John relates Jesus as saying,
I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. (John 10:9)

By no self-effort can a man bridge the gap between the natural and the place of God Himself. This is the place of Him who is the Creator of all these things. That place of eternity being beyond our notions of space and time is named heaven, by Jesus Christ. Here, perfect relationship in intimate union with God is given as a free gift to those placing full faith or trust in the person of Jesus Christ alone. In the eternity of Christ’s heaven, God and the believer remain separate beings, but perfectly yoked or united with a now perfect believer’s ‘self’ remaining intact, unlike Enlightened mystic states where self is annihilated, or merged with Brahman as Self-realization, where ‘Self’ is designated as being identical with Brahman.

Here I have stressed the importance of understanding the difference between Divine Reality and the natural potentials of mystic states—Nirvana, Nirvakalpa or Sahaja Samadhi, fana and so on, these differences implying the notions of Salvation and Enlightenment not being synonymous.

Judging from my own experience and contrasting biblical statements and those of Far Eastern scriptures, it becomes clear to me that the ultimate condition of Salvation is quite distinct from the ephemeral experiences of being Enlightened, being one with pure consciousness, Paramashiva or Brahman, or experiencing nirvana, moksha or satori. These states are forms of natural phenomena. Being part of nature they all eventually perish along with the body or bodies of natural man and finally along with nature herself. The states die.

I speculate that what the “Enlightened” guru experiences is not God, but the image of God within and even that experience is not sustainable. According to biblical revelation all humans are made in God’s image and likeness. Thus within one’s own nature the image of God is cast. Perhaps that image can be directly apprehended. So? What’s in an image? Only that. It’s not the same as staring directly into the face of the real Person, or being yoked or united to that Real Person.

Further, on the question of being united to God, we become as one with God according to the teachings of Christ, but not identical with Him, an identity that many Far Easterners claim as the ultimate reality, especially Advaitins who declare in their mantras, “ahambrahmasmi” (I am Brahman) or, “soham” (He, I am, i.e. God), though not maintained as true by Dvaitins like Ramanuja and Madhva. We may unite to a marriage partner as one in sexual intimacy, but obviously in the strictest sense of that concept we remain separate.

It is this full merging, Monism or ‘oneness’ of everything that postulates the Self-God Identity as the ultimate truth. I believe it is a flawed idea. At best it’s an understandable error; at worst it’s an ultimate form of cosmic narcissism, or even worse; it may have its roots in the Garden of Eden story, when Eve was tempted with the words, “you can be like God.” She and her man bought it, and look what happened, not only to her, but to all of us by inheritance—the Fall of mankind, all born imperfect.

The radically elastic ethics of the most famous monist Far Eastern god-men of the Twentieth Century, coupled as they are with the claim to “Soham,” (He, I am), I believe, reflects a corruption. All worldviews have consequences. In the case of the Monist worldviews consequences ensue—Mary Poppins movies, the holocaust, good and evil, sin and righteousness, a plastic bucket, a pin and a Ferrari are all One—God manifest. According to this rationale, ultimately, nothing can be impugned because it is all God. And much of the culture of India and their gurus reflect this. (However, delving into this case is beyond the scope of this essay.) I don’t mean to be un-gentlemanly in my speaking, but I speak from considerable experience across the wide spectrum of spiritual possibilities.


All created worlds and states lie beneath the Heaven of which Christ spoke, including all conditions that the oriental spiritualists reach for.

The one who seeks Enlightenment and the one who asks for Salvation are looking to the tops of different peaks. In my opinion, Jesus Christ is the Everest of all hopes and endeavors. One endeavor is predicated on self or Self, or even the “no-self” of the Buddhists; the other predicated on the Creator God alone with His free gift of grace. This grace assures an arrival at the summit of all possibilities—different aspirations, different states, one of natural man, the other of God alone. (And, to my own thinking, this reality cannot accommodate some Shaivite or Dvaitin ideas that one can scramble by self-effort to within 10 feet of the summit but only by grace can one cross the last 10 feet.)

 

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