“I Am God”

IAmGod_Belief

If God is universal energy, permeating the cosmos and all human beings, then everything is God. I believed. Human beings are a “spark” of Divinity, a soul. Religions, and particularly “spiritual but not religious” people, dearly hold these beliefs. Why? An intimate connection between the God Source and all human beings is considered natural and self-evident. But specific explanations are rare1. Instead, we find just a collection of suggestions that convey general beliefs without bothering with specifics, such as:

  1. Divinity can be found “within”, in the soul;
  2. Human beings contain a divine essence, a Higher Self, a divine spark or ray;
  3. We have an intimate Cosmic connection, we are a droplet or wave of the Cosmic Sea;
  4. We are Channels of the universe, potentially perfect expressions of God;
  5. Human beings connect (or disconnect) with Source through sacred rituals, prayer, and meditation.

Catholic teachers promise us faith, prayers, and sacramental rituals will save our souls– so we swallow communion wafers and confess sins to priests. Eastern Spiritual Masters say we are gods, and that the Spirit dwells within2. (Though most of us appear to be sleeping gods in need of awakening through special initiations and meditations). Modern spiritual seekers crave initiation into mindfulness and meditation practices. Is it natural or self-evident that we have a connection with universal energy, Self, or God? Specific explanations are rare indeed.

If everything is universal energy and we are already connected with that energy or God, why are we separate? Why do we need meditation or sacred initiations to reconnect with our Self? Or, to disconnect from our self? More importantly, why are human beings fallen, sinful, or in need of salvation? Specific answers are rare. Instead, we find only a collection of suggestions that convey general beliefs.

Questions for readers: Any thoughts on “I am God” beliefs? Any key points I failed to mention?

Notes

  1. pg 204 New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought, Hanegraaff, Wouter J., State University of New York Press, 1998. Print.
  2. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” Bible, 1 Corinthians 3:16, King James Version

Creator of Skeptic Meditations
14 comments
  1. Hi. as to why we are supposed to be one with God but somehow find ourselves separate and needing to reconnect, a possible explanation is that we have free will and have chosen this life separate from God. But as for ultimate explanations like “why all this at all and how did it begin?” there aren’t really any explanations. Even the Vedas say nothing or that they don’t know.

    As a student of Yogananda you would have heard his explanation: the cosmic dream.

    Scott, you promised to write more on your monk days at SRF and reasons why you and other monks left. Don’t wait too long to tell your tale!

  2. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi taught that enlightenment (at least of the “first kind”) is the natural state of truly healthy humans, and that stressful experiences accumulated during early life tended to retard maturation to the point that most physically adult humans end up being still functionally immature. In a very few cases, a combination of good genetics and low-stress upbringing spontaneously have allowed a few to mature to full adulthood. Such people are very rare however and have become more rare as societies became more complicated and stressful.

    Transcendental Meditation, according to him, is simply a strategy to set up conditions that take advantage of the natural tendency of the mind to wander towards whatever is most rewarding, so that attention will tend to wander in the direction of greater restfulness. This allows the nervous system to repair the damage done by stressful experiences, and repeated practice would eventually give rise to a situation where the normal functioning of the brain–enlightenment–would start to emerge.

    The long-term result of practice would be a “merely normal” individual: one who always has a pure, unassailable sense-of-self present, no matter the circumstances, no matter if the person is awake, dreaming or in deep sleep.

    Even after this permanent sense-of-self emerges, maturation along this stress-related axis can continue. Maharishi called this state _turiyatita_ or “Cosmic Consciousness”(CC) -self-awareness had become all-pervasive in a person. He also called it “glorified ignorance” since the separation of self and the rest of reality was at its most pronounced.

    According to Maharishi, there are two other physical axes of maturation that are related to enlightenment: emotional and intellectual, which can also mature simultaneously along with growth along the stress-related axis but that until a permanent sense-of-self emerges due to sufficient reduction in stress, maturation along the other two axes would remain unnoticed due to noise in the system.

    Once pure sense-of-self becomes stabilized, with continued maturation along emotional axis, one starts to appreciate more and more subtle aspects of perceived reality (sensory and internal), until one appreciates the “most subtle” and goes beyond even that. MMY called this “God Consciousness” (GC) but also remarked that it was actually “glorified Cosmic Consciousness” as the perception of self being separate from the rest of reality continued.

    Once the nervous system is sufficiently stable AND once one has “attained” God consciousness, one starts to appreciate that all objects of attention–internal and external–are merely fluctuations of that permanent sense-of-self: one appreciates that all the universe, internal and external, is literally one’s self.

    This is called “Unity Consciousness” (UC). Of course, as with the other axes, one can physically mature along the Unity axis well before the perception changes in the way described above. For some people, growth from non-enlightened to CC to GC to UC appears to be completely sequential while with others, the “tipping point” for all appears to happen simultaneously so that there’s no such thing as CC or GC, merely UC somehow appearing out-of-the-blue. Of course maturity along these three axes might evolve in any number of ways though without stabilization in a “lower” state of enlightenment, perception of the “higher” state won’t occur.

    These three “higher” states seem to mirror the progression of changes that occur during TM during the first year or so of practice:

    first, alpha EEG coherence in the pre-frontal cortex–generally accepted as the most important aspect of sense-of-self–starts to become higher during TM. At the same time, the EEG power in frequencies associated with processing of data start to become lower.

    As the practice matures, this alpha EEG coherence starts manifest between the front and back of the brain.

    As practice matures even more, coherence in higher EEG frequencies starts to become higher, first in the frontal lobes, and then between the frontal lobes and the back of the brain, where processing of sensory data takes place.

    Over time, in a very real sense, the coherent alpha EEG becomes a fundamental frequency for vast parts of the cortex and higher frequencies are actually harmonics of the alpha frequency (this last phenomenon is often observed in non-meditators, but due to the low-coherence of frontal alpha EEG in most people, there’s no accompanying perception of a permanent sense of self associated with this).

    As TM practice continues, the progression of coherence throughout the brain starts to manifest outside of meditation, pretty much in the same order it appeared during meditation, which suggests that CC, GC, and UC can be explained, at least somewhat, merely as how closely the processing of the brain during normal activity mirrors the processing of the brain during TM.

    Incidentally, mindfulness and concentrative practices, whatever else they may do, actually LOWER coherence in the alpha frequencies in the frontal lobes, and as you might expect, sense-of-self is thought to be less obvious in people who engage in such practices.

    This recent study on the EEG of certain Buddhist practices illustrates it as well as anything:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4106862/
    Arousal vs. Relaxation: A Comparison of the Neurophysiological and Cognitive Correlates of Vajrayana and Theravada Meditative Practices

    EEG Power
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4106862/figure/pone-0102990-g005/

    EEG coherence
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4106862/figure/pone-0102990-g006/

    According to mainstream research, mind-wandering is pretty much essential for “sense-of-self”.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3112331/
    Towards a Neuroscience of Mind-Wandering

    Buddhist- and Buddhist-leaning researchers into mindfulness practices celebrate the repression of the brain’s ability to spontaneously wander as a good thing. TMers deplore the loss of the ability to appreciate that self is all that there is.

  3. Not so keen on the person as God (or vice versa), but I find the naturalistic philosopher John Burroughs helpful with these things. He uses terms like “The Eternal” and “Creative Energy” and “The Infinite” but all within a scientific, non-supernatural context. I teach a course on Burroughs and Muir who shared some of these radical and pantheistic-style notions. I think they were providing at least some of the raw materials needed to bridge the way out of supernatural faith to what I call a “natural spirituality” (using the term in a Carl Saganesque manner understanding “spirit” in the original “breath” sense). Anyway, this goes WAY beyond anything offered by new age muddle-headed marketing! It is scientifically and reasonably based, with an explorers attitude allowing for the awe and wonder of the universe post-gods. Good question, Scott.

  4. @David R: If the Vedas say nothing, where does the “I am God” belief come from? Perhaps interpretations? Just like the Bible, Nostradamus, or Harry Potter– human minds fill in the blanks?

    Explanations, like “Cosmic dream” (Maya), or “I am God” are generalizations. No specific explanations can be found. Yet these ideas are at the core of Yogananda’s teachings and of many other spiritual teacher’s.

    Free will arguments (for or against) don’t apply here. Free-will is another generalization, nobody agrees on what it even means and if humans have free will and to what degree.

    Very helpful for me to get your feedback that you want to see more of my SRF monk stories. Is it around reasons why I left? Or, what specifically interests you that I could focus on? I’ll post more soon.

  5. @saijanai: Thanks for sharing your insights about Transcendental Meditation (TM) that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi taught.

    I see some similarities with other Modern Yoga Teachings, like Kriya Yoga of Paramahansa Yogananda—


    Maharishi/TM

    Cosmic Consciousness (CC)
    God Consciousness (GC)
    Unity Consciousness (UC)

    Yogananda/Kriya Yoga

    Superconsciousness
    Christ Consciousness
    Cosmic Consciousness

    Buddhist Versus Hindu meditations
    Buddhist practices seem to emphasize annihilation of self, as the goal
    Whereas Hindu-based practices emphasize expansion of self, to include the entire cosmos, universe, etc.

    I wrote a post about these contrary Buddhist Versus Hindu goals Blank Minds and Tramp Souls http://skepticmeditations.com/2014/09/14/blank-minds-and-tramp-souls/

    Modern Buddhists and Hindus have very different viewpoints about the goal of liberation or enlightenment. Can Buddhists and Hindus both be right? Or, do you think it’s more likely both got it wrong?

    I like the idea that mind-wandering is essential. But that seems like another contradiction between spiritual teachings and practices.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and comments.

  6. @Chris H: I’ll keep my eye out for those pantheistic-style authors you mention and their rational version of “I am God” belief.

    Perhaps we’ll see those authors featured on your great blog?

    Poetry, myth, and metaphors are powerful. It’s when we humans confuse poems for truths that our beliefs get too “cosmic”.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  7. Not every Buddhist thinks that “annihilation of self” is the right way to interpret what the Buddha taught.

    Some adherents of Zen think that the fascination of mindfulness-as-practice is counter-enlightenment.

    The problem with all these practices is that they are dependent on the teacher.

    Samatha is sometimes described very much the same way TM is, in terms of effortlessness, but if you look a little closer, it is further described in terms of trainign of attention. Likewise, paying attention to breathing can be descxribed very much as TM is, but nearly ever study on samatha or mindfulness of breathing shows exactly the opposite EEG than TM.

    Notice I said “nearly every” -a few (very few) studies report EEG similar to TM’s. Maharishi always warned that the teaching of TM (his term dhyan which became called “cha’an” in China and “zen” in Japan) was very subtle and that it was almost certain that over time, it would be misinterpreted as being a form of concentration.

    And in fact, that is how most schools of meditation describe meditation, even as they insist that it really is effortless.

    Maharishi’s claim was that all schools of concentration start out as TM and then get distorted.

    And I can’t comment on what Yogananda taught. Maharishi spent 13 years at Jyotirmath as the secretary of the Shankaracharya (the Shankaracharya is the “Head of the Swami Order, if you weren’t aware), and if you bother to track down what people were saying about his presentations in the 40s and 50’s, when he was authorized to speak on behalf of his guru, you’ll find that people were saying that he was simply a conduit for what his teacher taught. As far as I know, Maharishi never changed his message, only updated the terminology to first appeal to Westerners, and later, to accommodate physiological findings about TM. He always insisted that he was merely presenting his teacher’s teaching to the world. According to the official story, Maharishi died in his sleep, having murmured one last bit about his teacher.

    This is almost the last public appearance of Maharishi, perhaps 6-12 months before he died:

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CM1Ld2BlJ4&w=320]

  8. @saijanai: Exactly. You say “The problem with all these practices is that they are dependent on the teacher”. Not only various schools (eg. Buddhist, Hindu, Zen) but each teacher and practitioner within the same schools have their own “interpretations”. Most of their core beliefs, such as “I Am God”, are based on generalizations, no specifics to verify. So naturally, each interprets based on personal experience or opinion. Not bad, wrong, or stupid. Just is. Human condition and nature of the brain as we now understand.

    Shankaracharya: SRF (Yogananda’s monastic organization) also had ties with Shankaracharya. One of my monk teachers, Brother Premamoy, lived with and hosted Sri Shankaracharya during the 1950s-60s while the Shankaracharya was visiting the West and stayed with SRF. I’ve read some of Shankaracharya’s books and he came up with simple, elegant methods of teaching mathematics (which I personally studied).

    The video of Maharishi reminds me of some of the special “puja” ceremonies I attended with Self-Realization Fellowship, and Catholic Churches rituals. I’ve never been fond of ceremony, but endured when I had to attend.

  9. [Nested replies aren’t permitted apparently so this is a response to your response to me]

    RE: schools of meditation…
    Maharishi Mahesh Yogi set up to duplicate himself via the TM teacher training course. TM teachers spend 5 months learning to imitate Maharishi on all levels, including words, hand-gestures, body-language and tone-of-voice. Maharishi spent nearly 50 years tweaking that TM teacher training course, very consciously trying to “create copies of myself” quote him. The idea was to create as standardized and reliable a meditation teaching profession as was humanly possible. In a very real sense, TM teachers have trained directly with Maharishi (originally in person and later, via videotape) for the entire 5 months. Maharishi wanted to keep TM from being distorted by transmission error over multiple generations for as long as possible. His stated goal was to keep the teaching of TM consistent for as long as modern electronic civilization survived to be able to replay his video-taped teacher training course.

    RE: Shankaracharya… ALL swamis have “ties” with one of the Shankaracharyas as they are the official heirs of Shankara, who founded the Swami Order a 1200 or so years ago. Traditionally, there are 4 official Shankaracharyas, corresponding to the 4 principle disciples of Shankara: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shankaracharya
    Maharishi’s guru was Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, who was chosen to revive the northern math (seat) at after it had been vacant for 165 years: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahmananda_Saraswati

    re: video… That video is of Maharishi performing the official TM puja that honors Swami Brahmananda Saraswati (the “gurudev” mentioned in the Beatles song “Across the Universe”). The entire TM organization is dedicated to Maharishi’s teacher. Since Maharishi was neither Brahmin nor swami, he was not allowed to become a guru under the rules of his order, so he dedicated the organization to his teacher, and required that all TM teachers pledge to perform a puja of thanksgiving to his teacher whenever they taught TM. While “maharishi” eventually became a brand-name, he made certain that everyone remembered who was responsible for what he taught by commissioning a picture of his guru that would remind everyone of just who he was and who his teacher was: http://www.tmbulletin.net/images/holytradition01.jpg

    Though Maharishi was clearly fading in that video, he obviously thought it important that people see him do the puja to his guru one last time, to remind people that after he died, there would still only be one guru for the TM organization and that he wasn’t that guru.

  10. @ saijanai: Interesting background about the Maharishi and his teacher training. I know Yogananda said, “When I am gone the SRF Lessons will be the guru”. Seems the teachers (and followers) who’s methods survive after their death have a solid way to transmit and preserve their teachings. Hence, what was once fluid spiritual lessons transforms towards rigid dogma.

    I’ve heard of Saraswati branch of Swamis. I was ordained a monk of the Giri “mountain” branch of the Swami order of Shankaracharya. The Giri Sannyas (monastic) branch is what Yogananda’s guru, Sri Yukteswar, was ordained into as ancient monastic order of Swamis. That’s the transmission from guru to disciple. As the master is ordained, same branch of discipline for the disciple.

    Have you attended the TM guru “puja” ceremonies? How would you describe your personal experiences with guru worship in TM?

  11. Yes I wanted to hear why you left and all the other monks in the so called “exodus” of monastics, both your personal reasons and perhaps shed some light on why a whole lot of others left too. Thanks.

  12. [same issue as before: allowed nesting is only 2 deep]

    RE: dogma

    That’s certainly a danger, but Maharishi’s point was always that enlightened people are beyond dogma, so, aside from the rigid structure he devised for teaching TM, there is very little “sacred” within the TM organization.

    RE: guru worship

    The TM teacher pledges to perform the TM puja whenever he or she teaches TM. Once each year, the TM organization celebrates Guru Purnima and honors Maharishi’s teacher formally at that point. They also use it as a time to announce achievements of the TM organization for the past year and plans for the upcoming year, as a way of honoring Maharishi.

    Other than being present when my TM teacher performed the TM puja just before turning away from the puja table and teaching me TM, I would say that I’ve never participated in anything remotely resembling guru worship and no TM teacher ever describes the TM puja that way. Certainly, a Roman Catholic priest like Father Gabriel Mejia, who also happens to teach TM to the 4,500 orphans in the 60 orphanages he runs, doesn’t look on the TM puja as guru worship. It is a ritual of thanksgiving honoring Maharishi’s teacher, and purportedly centers the TM teacher before teaching, and purportedly helps the student more easily learn TM.

    Pujas mean exactly what the person performing the puja says it means. Guru worship isn’t the purpose of the TM pujah, even if raw translations suggest that it is.

    Here’s a fun discussion of puja and why westerners (and Hindus) are so easily confused about it:

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4b3hfoUUNQ&w=320]

  13. @ saijanai:

    Puja – I watched your video explanation about Hindu tradition of puja (rituals). Interesting to get a Hindu’s take on the Westerners view of puja rituals. The description on YouTube says, “In the case of puja, there are no limits of interpretation: every interpretation is acceptable“.

    My post, “I Am God”, pointed out the interpretations are based on generalizations about god, soul, and the universe. At some point, if anything and everything goes, then nothing matters. Why not worship a rock? Or, make sex the puja (which tantric yogis do).

    The good news for spiritual seekers is “interpretation” is everything (regardless how churches or gurus try to tell followers what to believe). The followers come up with their own interpretations. Unavoidable really. Human brains and cultural backgrounds are all different.

    My post, pointed to beliefs that the universe and everything in it are God, “I Am God”, soul are vague generalizations. These beliefs make people “feel” good temporarily because of their interpretations. We all do this. It’s human.

    Thanks for your comments. I appreciate hearing your perspectives on my posts.

  14. @David R: Have you had a chance to listen to my podcast interview on “A Matter of Doubt”? During this interview I shared my opinions of the “Exodus”- why 1/3 – 1/2 of the monastics, and I, fled the Order during a 3-4 year period.

    I’ll explain more in future posts and podcasts. Stay tuned. Thanks for your comments.

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