MSIA: Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness
Name: The Church of the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA)
Founder: John-Roger, born Roger Delano Hinkins. Hinkins changed his name after waking from a nine-day coma caused by surgery for a kidney stone in December 1963 (Introvigne: 4). He visited two trance-channelers soon after his near-death experience and encountered a higher consciousness named John within himself. After this encounter, Hinkins began calling himself John-Roger (Introvigne: 4). Today, many followers of the MSIA affectionately refer to John-Roger as J-R.
Date of Birth: September 24, 1934
Birth Place: Rains, Utah. Born into a Mormon family, Hinkins was raised in a city borne out of a mining camp. Today, in the aftermath of the crisis of Southern Utah mining, Rains has become a ghost city (Introvigne: 4).
Year Founded: 1971
Sacred or Revered Texts: Soul Awareness Discourses, authored by John-Roger
The Discourses are a series of 144 monthly lessons, to be completed in a twelve-year study. By reading, reflecting upon, and absorbing these monthly lessons, students of the MSIA are connected more deeply to the Mystical Traveler Consciousness, a consciousness that is discussed in more detail in the “Beliefs” section. The main purposes of the Discourses are to provide introductory metaphysical information about the beliefs of the MSIA, and to “provide basic guidelines on how to walk the spiritual path in the midst of everyday life” (Lewis 1998b: 90). The teachings also present ‘detached engagement’, a paradoxical ideal that holds that “the message of MSIA is that God is in Heaven, that there are greater realms, that you don’t have to die to experience them, and that you can know the divine reality while you live on this earth” (Ibid). Followers are encouraged to give up their attachments and pain so that they can maintain consciousness in the Soul realms and be free to enjoy themselves in the world of everyday life.
Size of Group: Since the MSIA has no formal membership, it is difficult to determine the exact size of the religious movement. In 1996, however, J. Gordon Melton estimated that there are about 4800 followers of the MSIA. This number is derived from the number of people who subscribe to John-Roger’s Soul Awareness Discourses. Of the 4800 supporters, about 3000 people live in the United States, and 1800 people live in foreign countries (Melton, 1996: 893).
After changing his name to John-Roger, Hinkins continued his metaphysical quest for the truth. He had left the Mormon Church in the 1950’s and experimented with a number of different spiritual groups. In the early 1960’s, Hinkins enrolled in the correspondence courses of the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC) and also occasionally attended the Agasha Temple of Wisdom. Both groups claim remote Egyptian connections but also insist that they are connected to Christianity. In 1967, Hinkins became involved in Eckankar, a religious group heavily influenced by the Radhasoami tradition and founded by Paul Twitchell. John-Roger began sharing his spiritual experiences, or “Light Studies,” with others, and in 1968 broke away from Eckankar and began teaching seminars in Santa Barbara, California (Introvigne: 6).
MSIA developed out of a series of six seminars held at the home of one of J-R’s followers, Muriel Engle, in Santa Barbara in 1968 (Lewis 1998b: 22). Attendance at these seminars was small; about 13 to 30 people attended each meeting (Ibid). In 1969, John-Roger began taping his seminars, which were growing in popularity, and he also started offering “Discourses,” typewritten versions of his talks (Introvigne: 6). As circulation grew, John-Roger left his high school teaching position and devoted himself full-time to the seminars. He began teaching outside of Santa Barbara, and his teachings were spread outside of California via supporters sending his taped seminars to their family and friends (Lewis 1998b: 38). Today, half of MSIA followers live in the United States, and about forty percent of them live in California (Ibid). Those who live outside of California and overseas typically start “holding home [MSIA] seminars in their country of residence” (Ibid).
In 1974, “many early MSIA participants felt that MSIA should establish a spiritual household” (Ibid: 37). The MSIA purchased a house in Los Angeles and named it Prana (now known as the Peace Theological Seminary and College of Philosophy, or PTS); over one hundred people lived communally in the Prana complex and many others lived in an adjoining apartment complex (Ibid). MSIA followers began studying astral projection, a topic that received considerable attention from the metaphysical subculture in the 1970s. However, J-R “was careful to emphasize that MSIA’s goal was soul transcendence, NOT astral travel” (Ibid: 31). As MSIA has matured over time, communal interest in Prana has waned, and J-R’s stress on lower plane experiences and astral projection has also diminished (Ibid).
In 1971, the Church of the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness was officially established. Supporters of the movement began publishing a newsletter entitled On the Light Side, later named The Movement Newspaper and today known as The New Day Herald. Students of MSIA in the 1990s receive a series of monthly Discourses, lessons meant to develop in participants a “‘soul awareness’, [in which they] ultimately escape the cycle of death and rebirth and reach the higher realms of being” (Introvigne: 7). Members are also encouraged to attend live MSIA seminars taught by either J-R or John Morton; there are also tapes available both on audiocassette and over the Internet as part of the MSIA home page.
The MSIA movement has been influenced by four major traditions. These are:
Like the New Age movement, the MSIA stresses personal transformation and the belief that the self is divine (Saliba: 4). Rather than promising that the world is on the verge of a new age of universal harmony and peace, however, the MSIA focuses on the idea that “single individuals may enter into a personal ‘new age’ of higher consciousness and happiness through various techniques of personal transformation” (Introvigne: 1). This shift to the individual is a characteristic of the Next Age movement, an offshoot of the New Age movement that more accurately describes some of the beliefs of MSIA.
This tradition was born during the Indian Middle Ages out of Sikhism, an Eastern religion that believed in “devotion to one deity who was represented by a guru and focuses on Surat Shabd Yoga, the yoga of the Sound Current, as an avenue for communicating with the divine. The process of meditation, under the guidance of a spiritual teacher, leads a person to open one’s inner eye and inner ear so that one can see the light of God and hear the sacred sound” (Saliba: 6). John-Roger especially draws from the Sant Mat group Radhasoami Satsang Beas, which believes in a spiritual role called the Mystical Traveler Consciousness, or MTC. Although the MTC differs somewhat in definition from the Sant Mat guru, the MTC acts as the teacher for the MSIA’s Surat Shabd Yoga-inspired spiritual exercises.
John-Roger and the MSIA give Jesus Christ an important status within their set of beliefs, focusing more on the “Christ Consciousness” or “Cosmic Christ” more so than on the historical Jesus (Saliba: 5). The MSIA views Jesus as a human being who entered into the Christ Consciousness, a consciousness available to all human beings, and Jesus became a Mystical Traveler like that of the Sant Mat tradition, “‘because, wherever he went, the Christ Light went with him'” (quoted in Saliba: 5, from The Tao of Spirit). Besides believing in Christ, the MSIA also draws from Christian meditation techniques. Whereas Eastern meditation teaches followers to sit quietly and empty out the consciousness of thought and feeling, the MSIA’s meditation practices are “‘spiritual exercises’, which suggest the activity of exercises combined with the spiritual focus and thrust” (Saliba: 5). (Please note: this hyperlink will lead you to the MSIA home page where you can find more information about spiritual exercises by using their search engine within the page.)
Buddhism and Taoism
Like these two Eastern traditions, the MSIA believes that the soul is trapped in a material world of suffering, doomed to an existence within a terrible cycle of death and rebirth and karmic responsibilities. However, the MSIA “‘focuses less on the negative aspects of life in the physical realm and more on the positive aspects of the individual’s release into the soul realm’…. The soul realm is considered man’s true home to which all men seek to return” (Melton, 1996: 152). Further, “the life of Buddha, like the life of Christ, is an example of one person who reached higher consciousness” (Saliba: 6). Followers of the MSIA strive to reach this level of higher consciousness as well. James Lewis describes the difference between Buddha’s pessimistic view of the physical world and the MSIA’s more affirmative attitude as such:
…life in this body is affirmed as an opportunity for soul growth, in the sense that the soul, which is seen as perfect but inexperienced, is here to learn and gain experience. In fact, according to J-R the physical level is the only one from which a soul can spring all the way to the soul realm, so that being here is a great blessing and opportunity. Where early Buddhism’s central metaphors suggest the reduction, extraction, dissolution, and eventual elimination of self, MSIA’s core images suggest that the spiritual life is a process of exploration, expansion, learning, and healing (Lewis, 1998c: 79).
Central to the beliefs of the MSIA is the Mystical Traveler Consciousness. The MTC is “simultaneously aware of God as the formless Ground of Being and individualized souls and all of the evolving forms and environments of creation…the MTC mediated between God and the souls and creation as an aspect of God that furthers cosmic evolution” (Lewis 1998b: 63). The Mystical Traveler, as a living human being, acts as an anchor through which the energy of the MTC can flow into the physical realm of our world. The Mystical Traveler can exist simultaneously on all levels of consciousness, in total awareness of everything, and possesses the ability to teach this awareness to others, thus freeing them from the necessity of reincarnation (Melton, 1986: 150). The Mystical Traveler can also assist and release others from karmic responsibilities, leading each individual to a spiritual freedom.
John-Roger claims that in 1963, he had a meeting on an inner spiritual plane with Sawan Singh, the late Radhasoami Satsang Beas master who died in 1948. John-Roger holds that Sawan Singh was a previous receptor of the Mystical Traveler Consciousness, and that during their encounter; Sawan Singh passed to John-Roger the physical anchor point of the Mystical Traveler Consciousness (Melton, 1986: 151). In 1988, John-Roger passed the mantle of the Mystical Traveler Consciousness to John Morton, John-Roger’s spiritual successor.
Besides the primary ability to free others from the cycle of reincarnation and suffering in the material world — ‘Soul Transcendence,’ the Mystical Traveler also performs holistic healing on others. Three techniques in particular were taught and developed at the Baraka Holistic Center for Therapy and Research, an MSIA organization set up in 1976 that has since dissolved. “Aura balancing” clears the auric or magnetic field around oneself. “Inner phasings” reach into the subconscious to find and remove dysfunctional patterns learned early in life. Finally, “polarity balancing” releases blocks in the physical body, easing stress (Melton, 1986: 152). (Please note: these hyperlinks will take you to the MSIA home page, where you can find more information about aura balancing, inner phasings, and polarity balancing by doing a search within their search engine).
Like the Sant Mat tradition, the MSIA views the cosmos as composed of many different levels or planes, just as the human consciousness is split into many levels. At the beginning of existence, the cosmos “emerged from God along a vibratory stream until creation reached the physical plane” (Lewis, 1998a: 351). The Mystical Traveler Consciousness can link up individuals to this stream of creative energy which will carry the individual’s consciousness back to God. This link-up is performed during the initiation of an individual into the group, but each individual must maintain the link through special meditative techniques and spiritual exercises, particularly on the mantra “Hu,” a Sanskrit word that refers to God (Lewis, 1998a: 351).
Besides mental chants, these spiritual exercises (S.E.s) also involve an “attunement to the inner sound, which is the manifestation in consciousness of the Sound Current” (Lewis, 1998b: 74). There are various types of S.E.s, including meditations for gaining greater health, achieving mental clarity, increasing energy, expanding consciousness, and experiencing greater awareness of both your Soul and the Light. In Inner Worlds of Meditation, John-Roger describes spiritual exercise as “an active technique of directing the mind and emotions…it’s a process of self-awareness, self-knowledge, and ultimately, self-realization” (2 and 13). MSIA meditation uses techniques such as controlled breathing, chanting sacred tones, and focusing on flame, water, and colors during spiritual exercises.
Students of the MSIA read a twelve-year series of monthly Soul Awareness Discourses, and then continue with Soul Awareness Tapes. The MSIA teaches Soul Transcendence, offering self-awareness and soul-awareness as well as a sense of being one with the Divine. The MSIA also encourages their followers to do their spiritual exercises of meditation for at least two hours a day (Melton, 1996: 893). After two years of study, an individual is eligible to apply for formal initiation into the MSIA and for the opportunity to become ordained ministers of the church. There are five levels of initiation that students can reach by dedicated study and spiritual exercises. These five levels correspond to different levels of consciousness within and outside of each person:
physical level: relating to the everyday life (there is no need to be initiated into this base level, as simply being born is initiation into this realm)
astral level: relating to the imagination
causal level: relating to the emotions
mental level: relating to the mind
etheric level: relating to the unconscious, in the sense that it is the gateway to the higher levels
soul level: relating to who one essentially is
(Lewis, 1998b: 70-4)
As a person rises through the levels, each step is increasingly refined. The physical realm is the farthest away from God, a world filled with delusion and distortion. The astral realm, the level where most dreams occur, coincides with the human mind and contains both beauty and negativity. The causal level is the “cause and effect” realm of the emotions; it is where people work out emotional turmoil (Ibid). The mental level is the realm of the universal mind, and John-Roger teaches that most of the world’s geniuses have tapped into this realm. The etheric level is a transitional realm between the mental and soul worlds, and a student may only pass through it when he senses that he is ready. Finally, the soul level represents the immediate goal of mankind. There are levels above the soul realm, but according to John-Roger, the soul realm is “your home” (Ibid). As students mentally chant tones during their S.E.s that are keyed to each of the levels, they build a ‘bridge’ to the higher realms through which “Spirit can convey its wisdom to you” (Ibid).
Some of the basic precepts of the MSIA that form the foundation of their beliefs are:
“Out of God comes all things”
“God loves all of Its creations”
“Not one soul will be lost”
“The kingdom of heaven is within”
“Each person is an heir to that kingdom” (Melton, 1996: 894).
Because of the MSIA’s tolerant religious ideology and relatively low-intensity profile, the movement largely escaped the attention of the anti-cult movement until the late 1980’s. There have been three controversies in particular that have caught the attention of the media.
The first controversy revolved around the allegation that the MSIA has plagiarized Eckankar, the religious group that supposedly plagiarized a number of Radhasoami teachings and texts. David Christopher Lane has been at the forefront of these allegations; he is a member of the Radhasoami Satsang Beas group and an anti-cultist dedicated to exposing certain religious groups, among them the MSIA, that he “regards as unorthodox and unauthorized Western derivations of the legitimate Radhasoami tradition” (Introvigne: 2). The Cult Awareness and Information Centre in Australia has a website exploring the extent of the alleged plagiarism, but according to Introvigne at CESNUR, the accusation that the founder of a new religious movement is a plagiarist is far from new. Indeed, new religious movements often borrow from other traditions and their teachers, manipulating old ideas so that they convey new, significant ideas to their followers. “The authors of the Gospels borrowed both from each other and from the Old Testament…nothing in religion is really entirely new” (Introvigne: 3). Introvigne readily admits that “a credible case can be built for an influence of Eckankar (or of Radhasoami through Eckankar) on certain teachings of John-Roger, particularly sound meditation (Ibid: 7). MSIA’s Discourses, however, are similar in concept and format to AMORC’s monographs. MSIA’s Discourses and AMORC’s monographs also have similar connections with a chain of subsequent initiations. One may speculate that — had David Christopher Lane been a champion of Rosicrucian, rather than Radhasoami orthodoxy — he may have perhaps written a book accusing John-Roger of ‘spiritual plagiarism’ from AMORC” (Ibid: 7-8).
Thus, “literary borrowings and borrowings of terminology (or adoption of a slightly different terminology) have taken place” (Ibid 7). On the other hand, “the idea that, in order to be properly initiated [into a higher realm], a connection is needed with an unbroken chain of masters dating back to very ancient times is as old as the esoteric tradition” (Ibid). Eckankar has its Masters, Freemasonry has its Great Masters, and AMORC has its Imperators. (Ibid).
The second controversy erupted in 1994 when conservative republican Michael Huffington was campaigning for a U.S. Senate seat against democrat Dianne Feinstein in California. Those hostile to Huffington’s campaign released to the media that his wife, Arianna Huffington, a nationally syndicated journalist who was involved with the MSIA, was a member of a “dangerous cult” (Introvigne: 3). The Doonesbury comic strip devoted a week to lampooning Arianna, and Time featured the MSIA in an article entitled, “Should the Huffingtons be Stopped?” Even though Arianna told the Los Angeles Times that the MSIA is not a cult and that John-Roger was merely her friend, not her spiritual guide, rumors continued to plague her husband’s campaign. Whether or not it was because of the media focus on his wife, Michael Huffington’s run for the Senate seat was ultimately unsuccessful ( Sipchen, LA Times).
The third controversy emerged close to the time of the Huffington issue, but it extends back almost two decades. Peter McWilliams joined MSIA in 1977-78, and in the 1980s, Williams and John-Roger wrote a series of self-help books that were explicitly secular (Introvigne: 8). The books “show the willingness of John-Roger to somewhat claim the heritage of positive thinking and the self-help tradition” (Ibid: 7-8). Among the books, Life 101 and You Can’t Afford the Luxury of Negative Thought made the best-seller list. In 1993 and 1994, however, McWilliams left MSIA and joined David Lane in writing a bitter expose of the MSIA entitled Life 102: What to do when your Guru Sues You. A royalty litigation ensued between McWilliams and the MSIA, and Life 102 was consequently pulled from circulation (Introvigne: 3). Lane posted the text on the Internet, but in August and September 1998, a court ruling forced him to remove it because of an infringement of copyright. McWilliams, in the meantime, has completely rejected the MSIA; in a 1994 article run by People magazine, he says that “J-R is a master of manipulation” (Rosen, People).
A Look to the Future of MSIA
MSIA will have reached thirty years of existence at the turn of the new millennium in 2001. From the 1970s to the present day in the 1990s, MSIA membership has remained at roughly five thousand followers. These relatively small numbers allow MSIA to foster a community that centers on the teacher and his immediate disciples (Lewis 1998b: 221). Introvigne calls MSIA a “precursor of the Next Age and a movement likely to attract, as it expands internationally, the attention of those dissatisfied with the more utopian facets of the New Age” (Introvigne: 9). In Seeking the Light, Lewis portrays the future of MSIA in a favorable light. He asserts that in terms of leadership, MSIA has experienced a smooth transition from the Mystical Traveler Consciousness being passed from John-Roger to John Morton (Lewis 1998b: 221). In terms of organizational structure, MSIA as a corporate church structure “functions independently from both J-R and John Morton, indicating that the process sociologists refer to as the ‘routinization of charisma’ (the passing of charismatic authority from the founder to the organization) is already well underway” (Ibid). When asked by Lewis what he expects for MSIA in the future, John Morton replied that he must “defer the answer to the Spirit”…Lewis sums up the interview with this thought:
MSIA just does what it does and, if the Spirit wants it to grow larger, then fine. If the Spirit wants it to remain the same size, fine. And even if the Spirit wants the organization to shrink, then that would be okay too (Ibid 225 & 231).
Although Lewis asserts that the routinization of charisma has already occurred within MSIA, the movement has yet to face what is perhaps the most challenging and distressing milestone of any religion: the death of a leader. It is often difficult to replace a beloved founder or to continue without the unifying force of a revered teacher; many groups divide into different factions after their leader has passed. John-Roger has long passed the mantle of the Mystical Traveler Consciousness on to John Morton, and Morton has also assumed some spiritual leadership of MSIA, but J-R is still very much involved with all aspects of the MSIA. Once J-R’s physical presence is gone permanently, MSIA will have to reevaluate its stance and determine as a group how the movement will proceed into the future.
Melton, J. Gordon. 1996. Encyclopedia of American Religions: Fifth Edition. Gale: Detroit. 893-4.
Melton, J. Gordon. 1986. Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America. Garland: New York. 150-3.
Lewis, James R. 1998a. The Encyclopedia of Cults, Sects, & New Religions. Prometheus: New York. 350-2.
Lewis, James R. 1998b. Seeking the Light: Revealing the Truth about the MSIA & its Founder, John-Roger. Mandeville Press: Los Angeles.
Lewis, James R. 1998c. Cults in America. ABC-CLIO: Santa Barbara.
Saliba, John A. 1998. “The Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness and Other Religions.” This thirteen-page paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion held in Montreal in November 1998.
John-Roger. 1997. Inner Worlds of Meditation. Mandeville Press: Los Angeles. New Day Herald 1999. Volume 11, Issue 4: Early Spring.
Rosen, Marjorie and John Hannah. 1994. “Breach of Faith: Sued by his Guru, John-Roger, An Author Fights Back.” People magazine. The Time Inc. Magazine Company: October 31. 69.
Sipchen, Bob. 1994. “Tracking the Mystical Traveler.” Los Angeles Times. The Times Mirror Company: Part A; Page 1; Column 1; Metro Desk (Nov, 1).
Zonta, Micela. 1997. “The Church of the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness: A Demographic Profile,” Syzygy. 6/1 (Winter/Spring): 7-32.
MSIA Contact Information:
P.O. Box 513935
Los Angeles , CA 90051
Peace Theological Seminary and College of Philosophy (PTS)
The PTS is based in Los Angeles at a house in the Crenshaw District. Purchased in 1974, the house was named “Prana,” a Sanskrit word referring to the subtle energies tapped by certain yogic techniques (Lewis 1998b: 37). Although over a hundred people used to live in the Prana complex in the early days of MSIA, today Prana serves as the MSIA headquarters, as classrooms for the PTS, and as a dorm for visiting students. PTS itself was founded in 1977 to offer classes, workshops, retreats, correspondence courses, a two-year Master of Theology degree in Practical Spirituality, and a Doctor of Spiritual Science (DDS) degree ( New Day Herald).
For more information about PTS, contact:
Peace Theological Seminary and College of Philosophy
3500 West Adams Blvd.
Los Angeles , CA 90018
The University of Santa Monica (USM)
Formally known as Koh-e-Nor University, USM was founded in 1976 by John-Roger, who continues to serve as the University’s Chancellor. The President of USM is Dr. Ron Hulnick, and his wife, Dr. Mary Hulnick, is the Academic Vice-President. USM offers Master degree programs in Spiritual Psychology, Counseling Psychology, and Spiritual Psychology with an emphasis in Consciousness, Health, and Healing. Classes meet on weekends. ( New Day Herald)
For more information about USM, contact:
University of Santa Monica
2107 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica , CA 90043
New Day Herald
The New Day Herald is published bimonthly by MSIA and is sent to all MSIA Soul Awareness Discourse subscribers in the U.S. as part of the cost of their discourse subscription. However, subscriptions are also available for non-discourse subscribers as well.
For more information about New Day Herald, contact:
The New Day Herald
P.O. Box 513935
Los Angeles , CA 90051
The Heartfelt Foundation
The Heartfelt Foundation, founded in 1979, is an all-volunteer non-profit charitable organization. Heartfelt Service projects have included “feeding the hungry and homeless, bringing comfort to the sick and terminally ill, cheering up lonely shut-ins, assisting families-at-risk, and providing parties or special events to orphaned or under-served children” ( New Day Herald). The mission statement of Heartfelt: “We are a service organization, comforting and caring for those in need while providing opportunities to serve to those who care” (Ibid).
For more information about Heartfelt, contact:
The Heartfelt Foundation
2101 Wilshire Boulevard Suite #103
Santa Monica , CA 90403
The Institute for Individual and World Peace (IIWP)
The mission of IIWP, which was founded in 1982 as a non-profit foundation, is to promote the experience of peace through its workshops, seminars, and special events. Some of these programs include the Process Toward Individual Peace Workshop and the Spirit of Service Celebration. Today, IIWP is creating the Windemere Ranch Peace Retreat in the Santa Ynez mountains outside of Santa Barbara. At this ranch, the IIWP hopes to use horse-to-person activities in the study of individual and world peace (Ibid).
For more information about IIWP or Windemere Ranch, contact:
The Institute for Individual and World Peace
3887 State Street, Suite #208
Santa Barbara , CA 93105
or, 2101 Wilshire Blvd. Suite #201
Santa Monica , CA 90403
Mandeville Press is a publishing company that publishes personal growth and inspirational books written by John-Roger. The company also publishes works about MSIA. To visit the Mandeville Press Home Page, click here. The page includes an online catalog of published books. John-Roger has written over thirty books, including The Tao of Spirit, Forgiveness: The Key to the Kingdom, Passage Into Spirit, The Power Within You, The Sound Current, The Journey of a Soul, Blessings of Light, Inner Worlds of Meditation, and Awakening Into Light.
For more information, contact:
P.O. Box 513935
Los Angeles , CA 90051-1935
Acknowledgement: I would like to extend my appreciation to Professor John Saliba, S.J., University of Detroit Mercy, for permission to use his unpublished article in my research on MSIA; to Massimo Introvigne, Director of CESNUR, for allowing me to mirror his site onto this page; and to Mark Lurie of MSIA for his time and willingness to help me understand MSIA and, hence, make this web site as accurate as possible. — S Dickson
Created by Sara Dickson
For Soc 257: New Religious Movements
Spring Term. 1999
Last updated: 07/20/01