ECKANKAR - The Ancient Science of Soul Travel
Eckankar, otherwise known as the "Ancient Science of Soul Travel", was founded in 1964 by Paul Twitchell (Enroth 59). Although Eckankar claims to be the "oldest religious teaching in all the world", one can easily see by looking at Twitchell's life that this claim is not true (Gross 2).
Before commenting on the beliefs of Eckankar, it is important to know the detailed history of this relatively new cult which stems mainly from the life of Paul Twitchell. Then one also should know and may wonder if Eckankar is a religion or a cult. According to Joan Johnson, it is a cult: "Unlike traditional religions, the primary goals of most cults seem only to be growth and wealth" (7). This definitely seems to be true of Eckankar. Also, the members tend not to be interested in charity work, which is another characteristic of a cult (7). To begin with, the history of Eckankar (which is basically the history of Paul Twitchell) will be discussed; an author in Enroth's book also states this fact: "The story of Eckankar is really the story of Paul Twitchell..." (Enroth 60).
Normally in an account of a person's life, it would begin with that person's date of birth. But as Christopher Lane points out, there are five contrasting accounts of Paul's birth date (11). Out of the five, his birth date must be one of the following three: 1908, 1908, and 1910 (13). It could not be 1912 because this date is inconsistent with other facts relating to his earlier life, such as when he began college (12). Also, the alleged 1922 birth date is presumably incorrect because of the unreliable sources it came from (11). Two of these include Gail Atkinson (Paul Twitchell's second wife) and Brad Steiger (the author of Twitchell's biography) (Lane 11). The "proof" of Twitchell's birth in 1922 was found on his first marriage certificate, which is believed to have been written to convince his young wife (Gail) that he was not so many years older than herself (12). Actually, there is very little information known about the personal life of Paul Twitchell; only information that is in his biography by Brad Steiger, which is not an accurate account because it contains mostly Twitchell's own words (8). Twitchell had begun inventing his own past, as one can conclude from the fact that Steiger's biography only rarely agrees with official information from the government or Twitchell's family (Enroth 60).
In the early 1940's, Paul Twitchell had joined the Navy, and in 1942 had also married Camille Ballowe (Lane 16). In 1945, the Twitchell's had moved to Washington, D.C. with Mr. Twitchell's journalism job, and were attending many churches and religious services (17). Around 1950, Paul and Camille Twitchell joined the "Self Revelation Church of Absolute Monism" (18). In 1955, Swami Premanda requested Twitchell to leave the Church. That same year, Paul and Camille were separated; their marriage ended in divorce five years later (19). This was the time when Paul Twitchell came into contact with the teacher who would influence his spiritual life the most: Kirpal Singh. Years later Twitchell creates his own movement based mainly on the teachings of this man and also of Ruhani Satsung (19). But that does not happen before he takes interest in another Spiritual movement at the same time: Scientology.
In the late 1950's, Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, was teaching about out-of-the-body experiences, which Twitchell recalls in many of his Eckankar writings (Johnson 36, Lane 22). Twitchell was not interested in Scientology for long, especially since Kirpal Singh was taking tours of the United States. In 1963, Paul Twitchell asked his bride-to-be, Gail Atkinson, to attend one of the "satsangs" (Lane 22). After attending several of these meetings, Paul Twitchell presented Miss Atkinson to the "Ruhani Satsang master" to receive her "initiation into the path of surat shabd yoga" (22). Shortly after this initiation, Paul Twitchell broke off all ties between himself and Kirpal Singh and his group (23). This is where Twitchell's own movement comes into view. Derived from Ruhani Satsung, Scientology, and several other religious and occult groups, Eckankar was begun by Paul Twitchell in 1965 (Lane 25). One can now see that Eckankar is not the "oldest religious teaching" since it is made up from many different religions (Enroth 63). Also, Twitchell himself contradicts that the cult is an ancient teaching: "Eckankar, which I formed out of my own personal experience, is the term I use for the philosophy I have developed for the Cliff Hanger" (qtd in Lane 26). According to Twitchell, Eckankar did not officially begin until October 22, 1965; this is when the "Rod of Power" was passed by Rebazar Tarz to Paul Twitchell, appointing him the "971st Living Eck Master", or the "Mahanta" (Enroth 62).
After Twitchell's out-of-town lecturing began, he began to attract many followers, which in turn brought with them a large sum of money (Lane 28). Along with his lectures, Twitchell began to write several books on Eckankar, including two well-marketed ones: <An Introduction to Eckankar and Eckankar: The Key to Secret Worlds. As a result of Paul Twitchell's correspondence courses, his enthusiasm, and the decade in which Eckankar began, there was rapid growth in the Eckankar movement (29).
The late 60's was not a happy time among Americans, and they were especially tired of the "orthodox" religions. Eckankar was different from the current popular Eastern mythologies in one important way; it remained a "Western-based movement" while integrating the popular karma, shabd yoga, and reincarnation from the Eastern mythologies.
In 1965 when Twitchell appointed himself the "Living Eck Master", he had said he would serve a five-year "mission" and after that he would appoint a new master. When those five years were over in 1970, Twitchell did not want to give up his position and authority; so he claimed that the second trainee had failed his test to become a Hanata, therefore he was given a five-year extension by the "Sugmad", or "Highest Lord" (Lane 30). Next he claimed that the new Mahanta-in-training was only a child and would not be revealed for another fifteen years; however, instead of keeping his title as the Living Eck Master for the next fifteen years, he "translated" (Eck word used for death) that same year (Enroth 63).
Only a month after Twitchell's death, Darwin Gross was proclaimed the new Living Eck Master by Twitchell's widow, Gail Atkinson Twitchell. This was even more astonishing to many Eckists becausxe of the fact that Gross had only been in Eckankar a relatively short time, since 1969 (Lane 32). No one mentioned again the child that was supposedly in training for the "Mahanta" position.
Eckankar grew rapidly during Gross' leadership, but after only ten years of leadership as the Mahanta, Gross decided (with the help of his advisory council) to step down from leadership (Enroth 63). Therefore, on October 22, 1981, Harold Klemp became the new Living Eck Master. Darwin Gross, however, still lectured as an Eck Master, also (Enroth 63).
With an historical overview of Eckankar now understood, one needs to know about the beliefs that maintain Eckankar and its members. The purpose of life, according to Paul Twitchell: "...is to lift Soul upward into the highest world, the universe of all universes..." (Twitchell 5). Since the verb "life" is used in this context, it seems to mean that one raises his soul into the "highest world" by his own effort. "Soul" is defined by Twitchell as "...the individualized self, the true awareness of the spiritual being" (5). Also, Eckankar does not believe this Soul enters the body of an unborn child; thus, they agree with abortion. "The whole point is that Soul, which is that individual spark of God, does not enter the body while it is in the womb of the female, but only after the child has been brought into the outer world, and sometimes later than that" (Gross 37). The "Word of God" in Eckankar is also known as Shabda, Basni. It is the Eckist's security, and should one have this Word of God flowing from the temple within himself, then she should be protected from bad experiences (Gross 20).
One can get a grasp on what the Eckist believes by Gross' own definition of Eckankar: "...the Ancient Science of Soul Travel, is the movement of the inner consciousness which travels through the lower states until it ascends into the etheric states" (26). Eck, on the other hand, "...grows out of the experience of Soul Travel. The subject gains the state of religious awareness at his own volition via the spiritual exercises of Eckankar (26).
The members of Eckankar believe their movement is the only way to God. As Darwin Gross contends: "Eck is the shortest way to God...Whenever a man pursues creeds, priests and organizations, he will find a religion of some sort, but never the way to enter the kingdom of God as stated by the great Eck Masters" (Gross 27). Thomas Flamma also states in his book that the: "prime purpose of making known the existence of Eckankar is to allow individuals the opportunity to experience this direct path to God ..." (232). Again, he is supporting that Eckankar is the quickest and only way to God. Another strong belief held by all Eckists is their respect of the Living Eck Master. They uphold him so high that they seem to put him equal with God. Twitchell says this of the Living Eck Master:
The Living Eck Master is the only man, or should I say being, who is capable of manifesting both individualism and universalism in their full expressions. He is law unto himself, does what he pleases, has what he wants, comes and goes absolutely at his own will, and asks no favors of any man. (67).
If this is the description of just another normal human who has the title "Living Eck Master", he is quite an extraordinary man! Phil Morimitsu also tells of his encounter with "Wah Z", which is the spiritual name for the current Living Eck Master, Harold Klemp. Wah Z was giving advice to Morimitsu when saying "...for even in your loneliest times, he loves you more than you will ever know" (52). The Living Eck Master had better be very special to each Eckist, because Gross suggests that "self surrender" by everyone to the Living Eck Master's "radiant form" is the key to spiritual success (47).
Today Eckankar is believed to be one of America's largest spiritual movements (Lane 8). It was originally centered in Las Vegas, Nevada, but ater Paul Twitchell's death and the coming of Darwin Gross, it was moved to Menlo Park, California. Its main headquarters is currently in Minneapolis, Minnesota (Lane 6). The actual number of people who belong to Eckankar with paid memberships is between 40 and 60 thousand. However, there are supposedly around 3 million followers throughout the world, according to Eckankar's own census (Lane 6).
The Bible has many strong oppositions to the cults, but one in particular stands out against Eckankar with its simple but assertive message. John 14:6 says that "No man comes to the Father, but by me". This is in direct contrast to the Eckist's claims that only through Eckankar one can find the "direct path to God" (Morimitsu 232). Also contrary to the Bible is Eckankar's view of God. According to Twitchell, "we do not, and cannot, know God" (qtd. in Enroth 67). But the God of the Bible is a personal God: He loves the people He has created and wants to be with them. He communicates with them and one way He does this is through the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16). Another even more important way He has communicated to us is by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to the earth. Hearing this great truth should be enough to keep anyone from joining the controlling Eckankar, and lead them toward the One true God.
WORKS CITED - Andres, Rachel, and James R. Lane. Cults and Consequences.Los Angeles: Commission on Cults and Missionaries, 1988. Enroth, Ronald, et al. A Guide to Cults and New Religions. Downers Grove, IL:InterVarsity Press, 1983. Flamma, Thomas. Metaphysics A Bridge to Eckankar. Menlo Park, CA:IWP Publishing 1981. Gross, Darwin. Your Right to Know. Menlo Park, CA:Illuminated Way Press, 1979. Johnson, Joan. The Cult Movement. New York: Franklin Watts, 1984. Lane, Christopher. The Making of a Spiritual Movement. Del Mar, CA:Del Mar Press, 1991. Morimitsu, Phil. In the Company of Eck Masters. Crystal, MN:Illuminated Way Publishing. Twitchell, Paul. Eckankar: The Key to Secret Worlds Minneapolis, MN:Eckankar, 1987.
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