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Eckankar (meaning Co-worker with God), called "the Path of Spiritual Freedom", is a new religious movement founded by Paul Twitchell in 1965. It is a non-profit religious group with members in over one hundred countries. The spiritual home is the Temple of Eck in Chanhassen, Minnesota.
Eckankar is not affiliated with any other religious group. Followers believe its purpose is to help individuals find their way back to God through direct personal spiritual experiences. The movement teaches simple spiritual exercises, such as singing "Hu", called "a love song to God", to experience the Light and Sound of God and recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Harold Klemp is the present spiritual leader, known as the Mahanta or the Living ECK Master.
According to the Eckankar glossary, the term Eckankar means Co-Worker with God. ECK is another word for the Holy Spirit, also known as the Audible Life Current, Life Force, or Light and Sound of God.:55 The term is also thought to be an alternative spelling of the Sikh Ik Onkar.
The Eckankar website notes, "Many Eckankar terms trace their historical roots to the Far East; however, they have their own meaning and application in Eckankar."
Although Paul Twitchell founded Eckankar in 1965, Eckists believe that the basis for the Eckankar teachings dates back beyond the beginning of human existence.:59  Eckankar's headquarters were originally in Las Vegas, Nevada. Under the leadership of Darwin Gross, the organization was moved to Menlo Park, California in 1975. In 1986, Harold Klemp moved the base of operations to Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The leader of Eckankar is known as 'the Living ECK Master'. Some leaders, Twitchell and Klemp, for example, also hold the title "Mahanta" which refers to the inner aspect of the teacher. The leader functions as both an inner and outer guide for each member's individual spiritual progress. Twitchell (spiritual name: Peddar Zaskq) was the movement's spiritual leader until his death in late 1971. Gross (spiritual name: Dap Ren) succeeded him until October 22, 1981, when Klemp (spiritual name: Wah Z, pronounced Wah Zee) became the spiritual leader.
One of the basic tenets is that Soul (the true self) may be experienced separate from the physical body and in full consciousness travel freely in other planes of reality. Eckankar emphasizes personal spiritual experiences as the most natural way back to God. These are attained via Soul Travel shifting the awareness from the body to the inner planes of existence.:187
Certain mantras or chants are used to facilitate spiritual growth. One important spiritual exercise of Eckankar is the singing or chanting of Hu, and is viewed in Eckankar as a "love song to God". It is pronounced like the English word "hue" (or "hyoo") in a long, drawn-out breath and is sung for about half an hour. ECKists sing it alone or in groups.:59 ECKists believe that singing Hu draws one closer in state of consciousness to the Divine Being and that it can expand awareness, help one experience divine love, heal broken hearts, offer solace in times of grief, and bring peace and calm. ECKists believe this practice allows the student to step back from the overwhelming input of the physical senses and emotions and regain Soul's spiritually higher viewpoint.:59
Dreams are regarded as important teaching tools, and members often keep dream journals to facilitate study. According to followers of Eckankar, dream travel often serves as the gateway to Soul Travel or the shifting of one's consciousness to ever-higher states of being.
Eckankar teaches that "spiritual liberation" in one's lifetime is available to all and that it is possible to achieve Self-Realization (the realization of oneself as Soul) and God-Realization (the realization of oneself as a spark of God) in one's lifetime. The membership card for Eckankar states: "The aim and purpose of Eckankar has always been to take Soul by Its own path back to Its divine source."
The Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, which means "Way of the Eternal", is the holy scripture of Eckankar. It comprises two books that tell of spiritual meaning and purpose as written by the Mahanta.:59 There are also a series of Satsang writings, that are available with yearly membership in Eckankar. There are Satsang classes available to study discourses with others, as well as individually.:177
Some of the key beliefs taught in the Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad include Soul Travel, karma, reincarnation, love, Light and Sound, and many other spiritual topics. ECKists believe Sugmad is the endless source from which all forms were created, and that the ECK, the Sound Current, flows out of Sugmad and into lower dimensions.:59, 187, 194
Eckankar emphasizes personal spiritual experiences as the most natural way back to God. These are attained via the Spiritual Exercises of ECK. Eckankar offers a Spiritual Exercise of the Week on its website.
An ECK Light and Sound service generally includes a HU Song and contemplation, a talk or panel discussion from members of the Eckankar Clergy, and often includes creative arts and group discussion. Eckankar hosts a Worldwide Seminar in October and a Springtime Seminar every year. Eckankar also hosts annual seminars in countries around the world. ECK seminars include speakers, creative arts, workshops, discussion groups and other activities.
Primary to the teaching is the belief that one may experience the perspective of soul beyond the limits of the body. Also, the concepts of karma and reincarnation help to explain situations in life as the playing out of past causes.:186–187
The beliefs that individuals are responsible for their own destiny and that their decisions determine their future are important concepts to Eckankar. Eckankar students meet in open public services and classes to discuss personal experiences, topics, books and discourses.:59
The Eckankar "EK" symbol appears on the list of Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Sources estimate that there were around 50,000 followers in the 1990s.
Ceremonies and rites
There are few personal requirements to be an ECKist; however, certain spiritual practices are recommended. Chief among these is daily practice of the "Spiritual Exercises of ECK" for 15–20 minutes.:189 The most basic ECK spiritual exercise is singing the word Hu. A wide variety of spiritual exercises are offered, and members are encouraged to create their own. There are no dietary requirements, taboos, or enforced ascetic practices. Eckankar does not require potential members to leave their current faith to join.
There are a number of ceremonies an ECKist can experience as part of the teaching, including a Consecration ceremony for initiating the young and infants, a Rite of Passage into adulthood (around age 13), a Wedding ceremony, and a Memorial service.:186
ECKists celebrate a spiritual new year on October 22. There is no organizational celebration of personal anniversaries, such as birthdays of the leaders.
Klemp is the current Mahanta and thus is responsible for the development of the movement. He has authored books, articles and discourses about the teachings of ECK. Audio and video recordings are available of his talks. He grew up on a Wisconsin farm and attended divinity school. In the 1960s he began studying the teachings of ECK. After years of spiritual training he became the Mahanta, the Living ECK Master, in 1981. "He has the ability to act as both the Inner and Outer Master for students of Eckankar.":xii Eckankar claims that "many students of Eckankar report uplifting and life changing encounters with the inner Master, Wah Z, through dreams, spiritual exercises, soul travel experiences, and other means". Klemp claims that "his teachings lift people and help them understand their own experiences in the Light and Sound of God".:xii Klemp transformed the path from an individual spiritual teaching "Ancient Science of Soul Travel" to a religion, "Religion of the Light and Sound of God". In April 2007 Klemp announced that Eckankar would now be referred to as the "Path of Spiritual Freedom" to more appropriately reflect the essence of the Eckankar teachings, and monthly worship services would now be referred to as "Eckankar Light and Sound Services".
ECKists believe contact with Divine Spirit, which they call the ECK, can be made via the spiritual exercises of ECK and the guidance of the living ECK Master. It is held that the ECK Masters are here to serve all life irrespective of religious belief. The main Eckankar website includes a list of Masters. Writing in Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America, David Christopher Lane observes:
This lineage, known as the Vairagi masters in Eckankar, allegedly traces its genealogy back through some 970 Living Eck Masters to Rama, an avatar of Vishnu in Hinduism. In other versions, the teachings go even further back to Gakko, a spiritual essence that traveled from the city of Retz on the planet Venus to Earth six million years ago...In addition, Sudar Singh and Rebazar Tarzs are not genuine historical personages but literary inventions developed by Twitchell to conceal his past associations.
Former ECKist Ford Johnson formed[when?] a spiritual organization[clarification needed] based on the idea that one does not need a master or spiritual guru to achieve spiritual enlightenment. Other former ECKists and their groups, like Michael Owens's "The Way of Truth: Path to God Realization"; Michael Turner's "Yahoo group"; Gary Olsen's "MasterPath"; former Eckankar initiate Jerry "Sur Toma" Mulvin's The Divine Science of Light and Sound; and Evan Pritchard (author, From the Temple Within) could be seen as individuals and organizations that maintain Eckankar-like cosmogonies.:59 As with Eckankar, all these groups were founded in the United States in the twentieth century.
David C. Lane, a philosophy professor and former follower of Sant Mat, has discussed the phenomenon of these American teachers. Lane suggests these might be seen more traditionally as an organic continuum, or a historical school of "American Shabd" teachings, rather than a "splintering" of any movement.
In a 2006 article published in the 5 volume Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America, David C. Lane, former follower of Sant Mat, stated that some of Twitchell's Eckankar books contained passages from other authors' books without proper citation. In particular, Lane claims Twitchell's 1966 book The Far Country plagiarizes over 400 paragraphs from the books With a Great Master in India and The Path of the Masters by Julian Johnson without any acknowledgement. Three other books of Twitchell's, including The Tiger's Fang, Letters to Gail, and Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, contain "almost verbatim" extracts from Johnson's 1939 book The Path of the Masters according to Lane. Lane writes that:
Perhaps Twitchell’s most revealing plagiarism, and one that cuts at the very root of Eckankar’s claim for originality, occurs in The Far Country. Not only does Twitchell appropriate Johnson’s words in The Path of the Masters, but he also plagiarizes Johnson’s quotation of Swami Vivekananda—forgetting in the process that two different people are speaking.
In explaining Twitchell's plagiarism from Julian Johnson, Lane makes note of two points: Twitchell had written all his books in the 1960s and 1970s in the US, whereas Johnson had written all his books in the 1930s in India; and Twitchell wrote in at least two publications that he considered a book edited by Johnson—Sar Bachan—to be his "Bible".
Klemp has responded to the plagiarism allegations by stating that Twitchell's role was that of "master compiler"; according to Klemp:
The high teachings of ECK had been scattered to the four corners of the world. The different masters each had parts and pieces of it, but they attached little requirements, or strings, to it: You must be a vegetarian, or you have to meditate so many hours a day if you want to really be a true follower on the path to God. And this was wrong for our day and age. It was geared for another culture.
Paul gathered up the whole teaching and took the best. Though it may be a strange thing to say, in this sense I see him as a master compiler. He gathered the golden teachings that were scattered around the world and made them readily available to us. So now we don't have to feel that we must spend ten or fifteen years in an ashram in India, sitting around in the dust with the flies, or locked in a walled-up little cell to keep our attention from the outside world, in order to live the spiritual life.
In 2007, Doug Marman, an Eckankar High Initiate, published The Whole Truth, a biography of Paul Twitchell that disputes claims Lane made in The Making of a Spiritual Movement. Marman also examines the rarity of respectful dialog in an age of criticism. In relation to this book, Twitchell's widow, Gail Anderson Twitchell, wrote: ". . .finally, someone got the whole thing right . . . Paul's work [is put] in the proper perspective." Twitchell biographer and paranormal researcher Brad Steiger has also written and commended this work as the most authoritative and thoroughly researched to date on Paul Twitchell. Lane has published commentary on Marman's book, reaffirming his view that Twitchell tried to cover up his past associations and plagiarized several authors. According to Lane, Marman is "a respected apologist for early Eckankar history".[note 1]
- Marman's book The Whole Truth was published in January 2007. David Christopher Lane, in the Notes section of his article published in 2006 in Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America, states that he is responding to Marman's book which was available online at the time Lane wrote his piece.
- "HU: A Love Song to God", Eckankar website, last modified 16 Jan. 2016. Retrieved 30 Jan. 2016.
- A Glossary of ECK Terms
- Klemp, Harold. A Cosmic Sea of Words, The ECKANKAR Lexicon. Minneapolis: Eckankar, 2009. ISBN 978-1-57043-286-6
- Eckankar: Frequently Asked Questions. eckankar.org
- Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad books 1 and 2
- "'Soul Travelers' Move", San Jose Mercury News, 24 August 1986.
- George D. Chryssides (2001). The A to Z of New Religious Movements. Oxford, UK: Scarecrow Press. p. 298.
Eminating from the Radhosoami Satsang (q.v.) background, which is a synthesis of Hinduism and Sikhism (qq.v.), Eckankar teaches a form of surat sabda yoga...
- Melton, J. Gordon (2003). Encyclopedia of American Religions (Seventh edition). Farmington Hills, Michigan: The Gale Group, Inc. ISBN 0-7876-6384-0. p. 1056.
- Eckankar: Spiritual Exercise of the Week. eckankar.org
- HU. eckankar.org
- Dreams: A Source of Inner Truth. eckankar.org
- Soul Travel. eckankar.org
- Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, Books One and Two, 65
-  Spiritual Exercise of the Week. eckankar.org
- Seminars. eckankar.org
- Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers
- "Eckankar". Religion Facts. Archived from the original on 2015-05-21.
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.
- Harold Bio Info. eckankar.org
- Klemp, Harold. A Modern Prophet Answers Your Key Questions about Life. Minneapolis: Eckankar, 2010. ISBN 1-57043-142-6
- Harold Stories. eckankar.org
- "The Eckankar Journal" 2008 Volume 32, p.3
- Official Eckankar Masters List. eckankar.org
- Lane, David Christopher (2006). Eckankar in Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America (ed Eugene V. Gallagher and W. Michael Ashcraft)Volume 3: Metaphysical, New Age, and Neopagan Movements. Greeenwood Press. p. 115.
- Introduction at vclass.mtsac.edu Archived April 3, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
- Johnson, Julian. Beās: Radha Soami Satsang Beas, 1934, 1982, 1988, 1994. ISBN 81-8256-036-5
- Lane, David Christopher (2006). Eckankar in Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America (ed Eugene V. Gallagher and W. Michael Ashcraft)Volume 3: Metaphysical, New Age, and Neopagan Movements. Greeenwood Press. pp. 124–5.
- Writings. eckankar.org
- Marman, Doug (2007) The Whole Truth: The Spiritual Legacy of Paul Twitchell, Ridgefield, Washington: Spiritual Dialogues Project. ISBN 978-0-9793260-0-4
- Lane, David Christopher (2006). Eckankar in Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America (ed Eugene V. Gallagher and W. Michael Ashcraft)Volume 3: Metaphysical, New Age, and Neopagan Movements. Greeenwood Press. pp. 120–1.
- Johnson, Ford. Confessions of a God Seeker: A Journey to Higher Consciousness, ONE Publishing.
- Johnson, Julian. The Path of the Masters: The Science of Surat Shabd Yoga: The Yoga of the Audible Life Stream, France, 1939; USA, 1957; Beās, East Puñjab: Radha Soami Satsang Beas, 1972, 1985, 1993. ISBN 81-8256-019-5
- Klemp, Harold (1989). The Secret Teachings, Crystal, Minnesota: IWP. Mentions Kirpal Singh. ISBN 0-88155-082-5
- Lane, David Christopher, The Making of a Spiritual Movement: The Untold Story of Paul Twitchell and Eckankar, Del Mar, California: Del Mar Press, 1990. ISBN 0-9611124-0-9
- Marman, Doug (2007) The Whole Truth: The Spiritual Legacy of Paul Twitchell, Ridgefield, Washington: Spiritual Dialogues Project. ISBN 978-0-9793260-0-4
- Twitchell, Paul (1971). The Far Country, Menlo Park: IWP; Minneapolis: Eckankar. ISBN 0-914766-91-0
- Twitchell, Paul (1988). The Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, Books One and Two, Menlo Park: IWP; Minneapolis: Eckankar.
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