Eckankar, which draws upon the Radhasoami tradition, was founded in 1965 by Paul Twitchell. He pronounced himself the 971 st Eck Master, the most recent in an ancient lineage of Eck Masters, the Vairagi Order who reside in the Temples of Golden Wisdom, from whom Twitchell claimed to have received his knowledge. Twitchell was succeeded by Darwin Gross in 1971 and then ten years later by the current ECK Master, Harold Klemp (the 973 rd ECK Master). Although Eckankar does not publish membership figures, it is estimated that there are approximately 50,000 Eckists. Eckankar is a non-exclusive religion and accepts people of every background and faith, without stipulation concerning their participation in other religious traditions.
Eckankar is understood to mean “Co-worker with Sugmand (God).” Eckists believe that their ultimate goal of becoming co-workers with Sugmand is achieved first through self-realization and ultimately through God-realization. Both self- and God-realization can be achieved through Tuza (soul) travel, during which the Tuza separates from the body and is free to explore the various inner and outer planes of existence. Eckists believe that, with proper instruction, individuals can learn to allow the Tuza to leave the body and enter higher and more divine planes of existence, which allows the Tuza to reach a more enlightened state of being. At any time, the soul can reenter the body. The sacred text in Eckankar, the Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, is written by the current Eckankar leader (the Mahanta) and teaches fundamental principles of Eckankar, such as karma, reincarnation, light, soul travel and sound.
Eckists believe that a connection, “the Eck,” between Sugmand and each individual Tuza is achieved through light or sound. One of the most important ways of achieving spiritual growth in Eckankar is through the singing of the “HU,” one of God’s ancient names. Singing HU for a period of 5-20 minutes strengthens Tuza’s spiritual eye. This ritual practice has the unique capacity to lift Eckists into a higher state of awareness. Another important source of spiritual knowledge and growth is dreaming. Dreams serve as another avenue the Tuza can use to travel outside of the main plane of existence, the body. Dreams are understood as windows into worlds beyond the ordinary and offer spiritual guidance to Eckists. Members also gather for satsangs (spiritual meetings) in which Eckankar books and discourses are discussed.
At the Richmond center, members worship, study and train in the art that is Eckankar. Opened in the early 1990’s, the center, located in an office building, can accommodate about 20 members comfortably. The center is maintained and funded through donations and the proceeds from sales of movement books. For the most part the center in unoccupied, but when members gather, it serves as a venue where new members can meet and get acclimated to the movement. To be considered an Eckist one must apply for and be granted membership. There are no attendance or ritual participation requirements; however, the amount of time members put into Eckankar practicedetermines their spiritual growth. The center holds frequent meetings, referred to as Satsangs, in which members meditate and sing HU. Members believe that Satsangs are a gateway to eternal truth and being in the company of other Eckists makes the process more meaningful. The center also sponsors seminars where Eckists lecture and has book readings and film showings about Eckankar, such as “Divinity” and “What do Dreams Mean?” The center has even brought in the living ECK Master, Harold Klemp, speak about some of his books and discuss Eckankar principles.
Richmond ECK Center
581 A Southlake Boulevard
Richmond, VA 32236
Profile prepared by Josh Jolly