Eckankar, The Religion of Light and Sound
Founder: Paul Twitchell.
Date of Birth: Twitchell’s date of birth has been recorded as 1908, 1910, 1912, 1920 and 1922. Died: 1971.
Birth Place: Paducah , Kentucky .
Year Founded: 1965.
Sacred or Revered Texts: The Shariyat-Ki-Sugmand is the major sacred text but many other books written by Paul Twitchell, Harold Klemp, as well as other Eckankar leaders are recomended to followers of Eckankar. Twitchell’s books include Eckankar: The Key to Secret Worlds and An Introduction to Eckankar . Some of Klemp’s books are The Art of Spiritual Dreaming .
Size of Group: According to the official Eckankar homepage, there are approximately 50,000 members in over one hundred countries.
Eckankar emerged during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s during a time in which the youth counter-culture promoted ideals of ancient eastern wisdom. Eckankar has strong ancient roots and the founder, Paul Twitchell, merely helped introduce these teachings to the modern world. Scholars claim that Eckankar repackages ancient beliefs and practices of the Radhasoami tradition with new “Eck” vocabulary. This interesting mixture of ancient wisdom and new terminology invites comparison of Eckankar to Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophy .
As a result of variant accounts from friends, family and admirers as well as from what seems to be Twitchell’s deliberate attempt to obscure the details of his personal life, details of Paul Twitchell’s life prove to be a mystery to Eckankar followers and scholars alike. Even the present leader of Eckankar, Harold Klemp, acknowledges Twitchell’s attempt to mislead those who studied his life in saying, “Paul loved his privacy. Early in his youth he was involved in a variety of activities but he made it a point to obscure any facts associated with his life. In so doing he left a trail so clouded that it’s going to take our historians years to piece it together.” Much of the confusion revolves around specifics of the time, place, and nature of Twitchell’s birth as well as specifics concerning his early life.
In 1942, Twitchell enlisted in the navy and married Camille Ballowe. During his time in the navy, Twitchell began his prolific career as a journalist, writing for numerous periodicals under various pen names. It was at this time that Twitchell began exploring different religious groups. In 1950 he and his wife joined the Self-Revelation Church of Absolute Monism in Washington, D.C. (a subgroup of the Self-Realization Fellowship ). This group was led by Swami Premananda also referred to as Sudar Singh in Twitchell’s later writings. Following his departure from the Self-Revelation compound in 1955, Paul Twitchell and his wife separated. He then joined up with Kirpal Singh, the founder of the Ruhani Satsang, a branch of the Radhasoami tradition.
While maintaining his discipleship of Kirpal Singh, Twitchell also became influenced by L. Ron Hubbard, joined Scientology movement and achieved the status of “clear.” Subsequently, Twitchell severed ties with Kirpal Singh’s Ruhani Satsang order as a result of a dispute over Twitchell’s manuscripts for his book The Tiger’s Fang.
Shortly after breaking ties with Kirpal Singh, Twitchell began giving seminars in San Diego, California on the art of bilocation or what he would later call Soul Travel. Through his writings in a variety of periodicals, and his letters to people such as his second wife, Gail Atkinson, Twitchell introduced Eckankar to the world and declared himself to be the 971 st Eckmaster. He claimed to have received teachings from the Vairagi ECK masters including a mysterious Tibetan monk named Rebazar Tarz. Eckankar was officially founded on October 22, 1965 in San Diego, California as a non-profit religious organization.
In 1971 Paul Twitchell died and was succeeded by Darwin Gross, the 972 nd Eckmaster. Before his death, Twitchell had authored over sixty books and recruited many people into the following of Eckankar.
Although Gross was selected by the board of Eckankar as well as Twitchell’s widow, he brought controversy to Eckankar because many followers felt he was an unworthy successor to the former Eckmaster. Ultimately, Gross lost all of the powers and responsibilities associated with the title of Living Eckmaster and was succeeded by Harold Klemp, the 973rd and present living Eckmaster. Gross and Eckankar became involved with a number of lawsuits disputing Gross’s use of copyrighted Eckankar terminology.
Harold Klemp has brought many changes to Eckankar by emphasizing Western ideology rather than the eastern Radhasoami tradition. This change has allowed for a bridge between Eckist and American culture. He has called for followers of Eckankar to perform community service in order to become good co-workers with God.
According to Eckists or chelas, Eckankar means co-worker with God or Sugmand who is neither male nor female.15 It is believed that Sugmand connects to the soul or Tuza of each individual through light or sound, hence the alternative name of Eckankar, the Religion of Light and Sound. This connection is known as the Eck or Eck current. “Over the centuries it has been given many names. The Holy Spirit, Holy Ghost, Logos, the Word, Divine Spirit, the Bani, and the Vadan are a few of these names. Eckists are also known to refer to Eck as the Audible Life Stream.
The major goal of the chela is to achieve Self-Realization and ultimately God- Realization. 17 When God-Realization is achieved, the chela will be a true co-worker with God while maintaining individual identity. This belief is contrasted with the Hindu and Buddhist belief in which the ultimate goal is becoming one with God through a complete dissolution into God and losing all individual identity.
Both Self-Realization and God-Realization can be achieved through bilocation or what is now referred to by Eckist’s as Soul Travel. In his book, Eckankar: The Key to Secret Worlds , Twitchell describes soul travel as “the separation of the spirit from the body.” Soul Travel is distinguished from astral projection which merely involves spiritual exploration of the astral plane. Soul Travel involves the exploration of any one of the God Worlds. 19 There are twelve known planes.
Eckankar is considered to be a living religion that changes constantly. These constant changes require Eckists to rely heavily on their religious leader. This leader is known as the Eckmaster or the Living Mahanta. There is always a living Eckmaster who comes from a long line of other Eckmasters collectively known as the Vairagi Order. Members of the Vairagi Order reside in the Temples of Golden Wisdom which are located on the various planes. The objective of the Mahanta is to guide the souls of chelas back to God. The Mahanta often serves as a dream master appearing as a blue point of light. In this role, the Mahanta is both omnipresent and omniscient. The living Eckmaster is highly revered but not worshipped.
Similar to Buddhists and Hindus, Eckists believe in karma or the idea of past spiritual debt. The goal of each individual is to work off the debt of karma from past lives and become one with God. Once you have achieved Self-Realization through good behavior, you have worked off the debt of past lives but you must continue to live out the rest of this life without accuring more debt. If this is achieved when you leave this life, you will not have to return to this world.
There are more than one hundred different spiritual exercises in Eckankar which may include singing “HU” which is believed to be an ancient name of God. Other exercises consist in focusing on light and sound or what is known as the spiritual form of the Mahanta. Harold Klemp lists many different spiritual exercises regarding dreams in his book, The Art of Spiritual Dreaming. Dreams have become increasingly important in Eckankar practice under Harold Klemp. The serious chela is also expected to go through initiation which currently consists of fourteen stages.
The controversy surrounding Eckankar began in the early 1970’s shortly before Twitchell’s death. Some individuals questioned the source of his teachings and he claimed that others had threatened his life due to their disagreement with his doctrines. “Twitchell claimed that he did not borrow ideas from any human source but experienced his own `God-realization’ in 1956 and was initiated by a group of Spiritual masters called `The Order of Vairagi Masters’ as the Living Eck Master in 1965.” This however did not end the controversy.
The controversy continued following Twitchell’s death in 1971 with the new Living Eckmaster Darwin Gross. After an intense struggle for power within Eckankar between 1981 and 1983, Gross was stripped of all his authority and succeeded by Harold Klemp. Gross began his group, The Ancient Teachings of the Masters (ATOM) and claimed he was not starting a new teaching but was merely continuing to spread the teachings of Paul Twitchell. Eckankar banned his use of any trademarked Eckankar terminology 26 Gross is still considered the 972 nd Eckmaster, but his picture is not posted in the Temple of Eck and he is not mentioned in discussion of previous masters.
Meanwhile, John-Roger Hinkins, a former Eckankar member had begun his efforts to form the Church of the Movement of Spiritual Awareness (MSIA) in 1971. A group that heavily resembled Eckankar in terms of organization beliefs as well as practice.
The controversy reached its peak when David C. Lane, a religious studies professor, accused Paul Twitchell of plagarizing his former teachers and fabricating the entire religious history of Eckankar. He essentially devoted his life to proving that Eckankar and MSIA are nothing more than a mere theft of the Radhasoami tradition. Much of Lane’s efforts can be viewed on his page, The Neural Surfer . Other comparisons between the three religions can be viewed on the page entitled The Genealogical Connection .
Cramer, Tod & Doug Munson. 1998. Eckankar: Ancient Wisdom for Today . Minneapolis, MN: Quality Books Inc.
Klemp, Harold. 1998. A Modern Prophet Answers Your Key Questions About Life . Minneapolis, MN: Eckankar.
Klemp, Harold. 1999. The Art of Spiritual Dreaming . Minneapolis, MN: Eckankar.
Lane, David. 1978. The Making of a Spiritual Movement: The Untold Story of Paul Twitchell & Eckankar . Del Mar, CA: Del Mar Publishing.
Melton, Gordon. 1999. Encyclopedia of American Religions. 6th Edition . Detroit, MI: Gale Research Co.
Melton, Gordon. 1996. Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology . Detroit, MI: Gale Research Inc.
Olson, Roger E. 1995. “Eckankar: From Ancient Science of Soul Travel to New Age Religion,”in Timothy Miller, Editor, America‘s Alternative Religions . Albany, NY: SUNY Press. 363-370.
Twitchell, Paul. 1969. Eckankar: The Key to Secret Worlds . New York: Lancer Books.
Twitchell, Paul. 1973. Letters to Gail. Crystal , MN : Illuminated Way Publishing, Inc.