Michael Graham's Story
A Personal Student of Swami Muktananda (Siddha Yoga)
Michael Graham was once the disciple of an Indian Swami and a teacher of New Age techniques until an unexpected encounter turned this life around. Many of the young Western spiritual seekers who flocked to Indian religions during the idealistic 1960’s and 1970’s became familiar with a mild-mannered Australian named Michael Graham.
Michael, who had embarked on an intense and far-reaching spiritual journey from the time of his graduation from elite Geelong Grammar School in the mid 1960’s, came to find himself at the heart of the great migration to the West of Indian religious teaching and practices.
Michael was one of the first Western disciples of Swami Muktananda Paramahansa, who was to become a leading figure in America and elsewhere with his teachings of Siddha (perfect being) Yoga. Michael helped manage his ashram (spiritual center) in India. He also became deeply involved in Muktananda’s American activities and energetically promoted his teachings in Australia and elsewhere.
Michael’s story is a remarkable one. He was born and raised in Melbourne. His father was a doctor and psychoanalyst. He spent three years studying and practicing yoga while still in his late teens, then took his motorcycle by ship to Colombo, and rode around Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and India. After a trip to England he returned to India in early 1969 and spent six months in Muktananda’s ashram. It was during this period of intense spiritual discipline that he experienced a dramatic spiritual “awakening.” “The theory is that everyone has a divine spark, unkindled, within them,” says Michael. “It can be awakened by the touch of a guru such as Muktananda or by entering into a personal relationship with him.”
In an interview with Rowan Forster on Melbourne’s Triple 7 radio in April 1999 he recounted the experience: “I was just sitting there, meditating, and all of a sudden my body started to sway. And then each day it began to sway more and more vigorously, even violently. And I’d stop it saying, ‘What’s this? What an extraordinary phenomenon. Hitherto, I’d always moved my body, but never before had it happened spontaneously. And then all of a sudden I’d be overcome with fits of laughter that were not attendant to anything funny; they just came forth. Then there’d be sounds, utterances of birds and animals that came from my mouth…and visions – journeys of the body. Great floods of blue light throughout my system, followed by torrents of peace.”
It was a tantalizing experience for the young Australian. “I was totally seduced by this awakening. It was so engaging and seductive. It was real. And it had a huge promise attached to it. It promised an encounter with the Divine.”
In the words of former Los Angeles Times journalist Russell Chandler, in his book Understanding the New Age, “Perhaps more than any other guru except Maharishi Mahesh Yogi of Transcendental Meditation fame, Muktananda made yoga meditation accessible and fun to Westerners – particularly the Hollywood set.”
But despite the exhilarating phenomena of Indian religious practice, Michael found that it was not bringing forth the life changes he desired. “It was always the same old me. There was no change of heart and mind. I was a young man, a modern man, with a philosophical bent. I had no affinity for the actual teaching. It was all the amazing experiences that kept me there. So I looked for something to supplement it, in the New Age Movement. I became involved in various New Age mind dynamic techniques.” For a time he was active in corporate consulting, designing and delivering personal and organizational development programs. He then discovered the US-developed Avatar Program, an inventive way of creating preferred reality through the management of one’s beliefs. He became one of the most successful teachers of this program, delivering it in Australia, the U.S., New Zealand and Switzerland.
“Avatar teaches that your beliefs determine your life experiences. The point was that you could re-engineer your life by changing your beliefs. So you choose your desired outcome, then re-engineer your beliefs to create that reality. I explored it all assiduously, and drew as much from it as possible. But people’s deep-rooted beliefs are not amenable to change through strategic means. I found ultimately that the program’s impact was minimal.”
From around 1993 he started developing his own training courses. But increasingly, he felt frustration. His work was not developing to expectations. More significantly, he felt his spiritual life somehow in stagnation. He resolved to intensify his spiritual practices, starting each day with two-and-a-half hours of spiritual disciplines. Then he decided to embark on a series of 10-day meditations, in isolation, and it was during one of these that he had an encounter with an unexpected visitor.
“At the time it happened I was in isolation,” he recalls. “But I wasn’t meditating; I was in a completely plain state of mind. All at once an image of Christ formed up in my chest cavity. Along with the image came a recognition of who he was. What followed was beyond conception. But using mere words—there was an openness to me from Christ of cosmic proportions, and an invitation and welcome, as if to say, ‘Give me your life and breath and I will take care of you.’ It was a very personal invitation.”
Despite the marvel and intensity of the encounter, Michael was entrenched in his existing spiritual ways and simply did not know how to respond. He carried that memory of meeting Jesus with him for twelve months, when he happened to be in Berkeley, California. And there, in 1997, he had what for him was another profound experience. “I was overcome by the conviction that all the past spiritual investments of my life added up to a big fat zero. It was a powerful feeling. I was reduced to nothing.”
At the time he was driving 45 minutes each day, and as he drove he listened to evangelical Christian radio, which was building his understanding of the first principles of the Christian faith. “I started to get very excited by the promises of Christianity,” he remembers.
A prominent young Indian swami was visiting California at the time, and he was looking for people to be trained as gurus. Michael was not in the least interested, but when three friends urged him to attend, he took that as a sign that he should be there. He went, and was not impressed by what he heard. But one thing he noted deeply. The instructor reminded him that to achieve anything it was necessary to have faith. At that moment Michael knew that he had faith in the person and promise of Jesus Christ.
But there was for him one more step in becoming a Christian. “I knew about the importance of decision. I’d created a course on it. I knew that becoming a Christian would be the biggest decision of my life. I wanted to make a marker of it – an event. It so happened that Billy Graham was coming to San Francisco. So I went up in front of 22,000 people and made that decision. And since that day, I’ve never been the same. I knew absolutely what it was to be renewed.”
He now tells those who converse with him, “Fulfillment is found in Christ. In Him are contained all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The point is that the salvation He offers doesn’t come through signs and wonders, though they may be appended to it, but from a turning to him in the acknowledgement of his pre-eminence and lordship, and as the medium through which total release can be known…Jesus doesn’t simply show us the way, or the truth. He is the way, the truth. He’s not another guru, or preceptor, or avatar, or holy man, or prophet. He’s God stepped down in human flesh to die, consuming within Himself the consequences of our decision to turn away from God, thus breaking the momentum of our eternal entrapment. In this way we are reconciled to God and enjoy free and open access to Him. The Christian revelation is the end of the game.”