What is Eckankar?
What is Eckankar? Is Eckankar a religion? What are the beliefs of Eckankar? And who are Paul Twitchell and Harold Klemp? These are common questions people aske about the Eckankar religion.
Eckankar is a new religious movement based on a 19th-century Indian tradition called Sant Mat, which centers around surat shabd yoga, "yoga of the sound current." Eckankar focuses on spritual exercises enabling practitioners to experience "the Light and Sound of God."
Eckankar Fast Facts
1965 in Las Vegas, USA
John Paul Twitchell
Estimated at 50,000
Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad ("Way of the Eternal")
Divine Spirit called "ECK"; salvation through God-realization; reincarnation
Spiritual Exercises including mantras, meditation, and dreams
Eckankar was founded in Las Vegas in 1965, when Paul Twitchell (c.1908-71), who had previously been among the first Scientology 'clears,' declared himself to be the 971st Eck Master.
Paul Twitchell studied under Kirpal Singh (1896–1974), one of the master teachers of Sant Mat surat shabd yoga (see below). Twitchell believed that Sound Current yoga had existed since antiquity and that his knowledge and teaching authority stemmed not from Kirpal Singh (who visited the United States in 1955 and 1964) but from an ancient lineage of ECK masters of which he was the 971st. He also claimed he was taught directly by two masters who were no longer in their bodies, Rabazar Tarzs and Sudar Singh.
Dropping the Indian cultural elements from what he had learned, Paul Twitchell founded Eckankar, which offered students a means of "soul transcendence" through techniques that placed them in contact with the Divine Light and Sound. Eckankar is different from Sant Mat in a number of ways, including an increased number of spiritual exercises and inclusion of more temporal concerns like healing, harmony, and problem solving. Twitchell also rejected the Sant Mat ideal of ultimate oneness with the Divine, suggesting that the goal of life is to become a "coworker" with God.
Paul Twitchell died in 1971 and was succeeded by Darwin Gross as leader of the movement. In 1981, Gross passed his authority to Harold Klemp, who remains the spiritual leader of Eckankar today.
In the early 1980s, religious studies scholar David Christopher Lane charged that Paul Twitchell had falsified much of his account of the origin of ECK. Klemp later acknowledged some truth in Lane's accusations but asserted that the essential truth of ECK was unaffected. Shortly thereafter, he oversaw the movement of Eckankar from San Francisco to suburban Minneapolis, Minnesota, where a headquarters and temple complex were constructed.
By the late 1990s there were 367 ECK centres worldwide, of which 164 were in the United States. The Eckankar articles in the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Encyclopedia of American Religions (both by J. Gordon Melton) estimated total membership at 50,000 in the late 1990s.
The Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, "Way of the Eternal," written by Paul Twitchell, is the sacred text of Eckankar. Other important Eckankar texts are books by the current leader, Harold Klemp.
Eckankar teaching is considered an advanced form of surat sabd yoga (yoga of the "Sound Current"), which concentrates on physical and spiritual techniques that enable the soul to travel beyond the physical limitations of the body to the higher spiritual realms of the 'Sugmad' - the formless, all-embracing, impersonal and infinite equivalent of God in theistic religions.
Eckankar teaches that the universe was created by a series of sound waves emanating from the Divine, in the course of which the Divine Sound Current became imprisoned in the realm of matter. Humans are sparks of God trapped in a cycle of reincarnation who nonetheless can return to God by listening to the Divine Sound and repeating the Divine Names (mantras).
The leader of Eckankar, Harold Klemp, is regarded as a Living ECK Master, who has "made the journey into the heart of God but has returned to help us on our way home." He has written several published books, but members (see below) are promised more direct instruction from him. (Eckankar.org)
'Chelas' (students or members) practice spiritual exercises in their own homes and at their own pace. "Eckankar teaches over one hundred different exercises, all designed to give you a greater understanding of yourself and of God." (Eckankar.org) The "Spiritual Exercises of ECK" include meditation, prayer, concentration, mental exercises, mantras, past-life discovery, and conscious dreaming. A central mantra is "HU," said to be an ancient word for God.
These techniques are said to enable Eckankar practitioners to experience "Soul Travel," a spiritual journey into other states of consciousness and other spiritual worlds, as well as solve problems, attain spiritual growth, and have a more meaningful life.
The basics of the spiritual exercises published online and in books available in bookstores. But one can also become an ECK member, which includes stages of initiation, each of which provides "a true awakening" and access to higher states of consciousness. According to the official website:
"Most ECKists receive their First Initiation during the first year of membership, and it often comes in a dream. After two years of ECK membership, you may request your Second Initiation." (Eckankar.org)
Membership also allows members to "link up with" the living ECK master, Harold Klemp.
References & Sources
- Eckankar.org - Official Eckankar Website.
- "Eckankar." John R. Hinnels, ed., The Penguin Dictionary of Religions, 2nd ed. (Penguin Books, 1997).
- John Gordon Melton, "ECKANKAR." Encyclopędia Britannica, 2005).
Official and Primary Sources
- ECKANKAR (ECK) - Encyclopedia Britannica
- Eckankar - Internet Encyclopedia of Religion
- Eckankar - Wikipedia
- The Unauthorized Eckankar Page
- Eckankar Survivors Anonymous - Yahoo Groups
- Eckankar - Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM)
- Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, Book I John Paul Twitchell
- Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, Book II John Paul Twitchell
- The Language of Soul: Keys to Living a More Meaningful Life Harold Klemp
- The Cosmic Sea of Worlds: The Eckankar Lexicon Harold Klemp
- Past Lives, Dreams, and Soul Travel Harold Klemp
- Animals are Soul too! Harold Klemp