|Links: Pages on Eckankar, Other Religions
|Reincarnation until escape
|Area of Origin
|By Paul Twitchell
|Numbers in the UK (Census results)
|Numbers Around the World
|1987 (only covering West Germany)3.
|Phone survey, size=113k.4.
3 000 000
|Eckankar estimated 3mil adherents in 1982. Highest estimate by independent research is 500k5.
Eckankar is a religion constructed purely out of positive, white-light, happy-sounding words but with very little sense. It derived largely from a Westernisation of the Punjabi Sant Mat tradition. It is a religion that tries its utmost best not to upset anyone at all. You don't even have to leave your current religion, they say, it'll help you understand it better! It was founded in the height of the hippy New Age and it accepts pretty much every New Age idea going. One estimate is that in the later 1990s there were 367 ECK centres worldwide. 164 of them in the USA and "estimates placed total membership at 50,000"6.
“Becoming attuned to the sounds, visual characteristics, and vibrational rates of the God Worlds via Soul Travel makes it possible for the seeker to achieve Self-Realization and even God-Realization in this lifetime. ... God, or the Sugmad, is the source of all the planes. From out of the Sugmad flows the ECK. ... Sugmad exists at the heart of the spiritual worlds, in the Ocean of Love and Mercy. [...] The key teacher and mentor in Eckankar is the Living ECK Master.”
"Eckankar: Ancient Wisdom for Today" (1995)7
Eckankar cannot say that isn't true. If a belief was popular in the vibrant 1960s countercultural scenes, then it was accepted by Eckankar. This includes belief in a cycle of reincarnations depending on your Karmic balance, Soul Travel, astral projection, planes of existence (physical, astral, causal, mental, etheric, and more) that are defined by various higher "vibrations", dream interpretations, dream prophecy, crystal power8, astral conversations (even with your pets), near-death and out of body experiences, a "Law of Love", guardian angels9 and past-life memory10 regression through the Spiritual Exercises of ECK.
Here is a partial list of all the prophets and texts that Eckankar literature says are valid and true teachers: Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Confucius, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Socrates, Copernicus, Martin Luther, Shakespeare, Emerson, Einstein... the Old and New Testaments, the Apocrypha, the Torah, the Kaballah, the Qur'an, the Tao Te Ching, the Book of Changes (I Ching), the Bhagavad Gita, the Book of Mormon, "the daily news, and even nursery rhymes"11.
Why are so many contradictory teachers accepted? Because "there's a common golden thread running through all religious and spiritual teachings. It's called the ECK. It is also known as the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and the Audible Life Stream"1. They are searching for the ECK by following the golden thread.
Gold: I haven't mentioned: gold is the favoured colour of ECK. Aside from the golden thread there is a Golden Temple on each plane of existence and there are Golden-tongued whisperings. To interact with the Light and Sound of God we have to have a Golden Heart and if you have one it makes it easy to Soul Travel.
I was a little surprised to learn that there are no dietary rules, no ascetic practices and no dress codes12, as I expected them to recommend vegetarianism or veganism.
"Eckankar has ancient roots" they say in Eckankar: Ancient Wisdom for Today13, and this ancient wisdom was revealed to us by Paul Twitchell in 1965. He was taught by a group of "Vairagi ECK Masters", and they trained him to be the 971st Living ECK Master. One of his teachers in the Wisdom Temple on one of the other planes was Shamus-i-Tabriz, who was the Living ECK Master over 400 years ago. But, 400 years ago, who were his students and pupils? What did the other 970 Living ECK Masters do whilst alive? You'd think a few of them would mention their ancient religion to others, etch some Golden Temples on to papyrus paper or be found chanting Hu by heresy-hunters. No: all 970 of the previous ECK Masters survived without causing even a bracketed remark to be scribbled in the annals of history. This "ancient" Wisdom was revealed for the first time by Paul Twitchell in the 1960s during a time when many millions of other disillusioned Americans were coming to believe many of the same things. It is almost as if these 970 predecessors didn't really exist and Paul Twitchell learned his beliefs from the culture that surrounded him.
When Paul Twitchell introduced Eckankar to the modern world in 1965, he separated spiritual truths from the cultural trappings which had surrounded them.
"Eckankar: Ancient Wisdom for Today" (1995)14
The quote on right reveals another New Age feature of Eckankar: It takes various elements from religions and mixes them with popular beliefs of the time and ignores the structure and theological/philosophical frameworks that those beliefs came from. The result is a list of beliefs which make little sense, with an ad-hoc structure thrown around them that reads like a poorly thought out children's fantasy world.
Another seeming contradiction is that while Eckankar claims to be ancient and universal, drawing from beliefs around the world, the only actual Living ECK Masters ever to have been seen have all been American; you'd expect an Indian one (or two, or three) given the closeness of Eckankar to many Indian beliefs. So far, it is exactly as if Eckankar is an American invention rather than an ancient truth.
“The Sant Mat tradition was established by Param Sant Ji Maharaj (1818-78), who taught surat shabd yoga, the yoga of the "Sound Current." He believed that the universe was created by a series of sound waves emanating from the transcendent Divine and that, as the Divine Sound Current descended into the realm of matter, it became imprisoned. Humans, according to his teachings, 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). [...]
Twitchell [the founder of Eckankar] was a student of Kirpal Singh (1896-1974), one of the master teachers of surat shabd yoga. [...] He claimed he was taught directly by two masters who were no longer in their bodies, Rabazar Tarzs and Sudar Singh.”
Gordon Melton in the Encyclopedia Britannica
The influence of the Indian Punjabi Sant Mat tradition on Twitchell is so great that many have considered Eckankar to be a primarily a Westernisation of it, plus elements and structure gained from Scientology (Twitchel, before Eckankar, was declared to be Scientology's first clear) and extra beliefs accepted from the New Age.
Aside from an emphasis on self-development, there Eckankar has various things in common with Scientology aside from its business model. There are plenty of reports of a strong them-and-us attitude towards members and ex-members, with enough warnings of spiritual punishments for leavers to firmly place Eckankar into the "cult" category.
David Christopher Lane document large quantities of text that Paul Twitchell copied, word-for-word, sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-at-a-time, from Theosophical books such as Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine (1888). I first discovered this research when I read the following quote from Eckankar's principal text, the Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, as quoted by Harold Klemp:
“The sixth root race is the yellow race, coming on the heels of the gradually fading Aryan race. It is the Mongoloid race of the East, which has its life center in the world of the North, where many do not penetrate. The ECK Master who will come into this world of semidarkness and light will be Regnard. This race is yet to fulfill its destiny on the Earth planet. It will meet destruction by fire, earthquakes, and tidal waves.”
"Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad" by Paul Twitchell, Book One10
|The First Five Root Races from Theosophy
|Etheric and invisible, reproduced by dividing.
|Golden yellow, lived on a fictional Northern continent.
|Black, covering India to Australia.
|Many subraces are Human racial groups. Atlantis sunk.
|Will produce the most advanced race to date, the sixth root race, which will emerge in California under the guidance of the Masters of the Ancient Wisdom.
Theosophy's explanation of the Seven Root Races (each with 7 subraces) includes giants, races that were completely invisible, golden yellow races, some races laying eggs, and most of these races became different human races (blacks, Australians, etc). This mythological and occult history is so zany that it is unforgettable, hence, I instantly recognized the genre of writing quoted from the Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad. This led me to discover Lane's work, including side-by-side comparisons of Theosophical works and Paul Twitchell's writings. Now aside from the plagiarism, it is also clear that Eckankar accepts Theosophy's idea of ancient Races and Subraces - ideas which have been thoroughly and convincingly disproved by a vast range of sciences. Twitchell notes at the end of the quote on the 6th Root Race that "the future offers exciting, but hard times"10.
Between this and Sant Mat, it has begun to look like nothing in Eckankar represents ancient wisdom, and that all of it represents a hodge-podge of copied ideas, all of which had their origins in the minds of humans (of whom many did not have a terribly good grasp of reality).
|Living ECK Master
|Founded Eckankar - The Ancient Science of Soul Travel.
|Ousted and continued Twitchell's teachings in the name of ATOM. Official doctrine is that Gross' reign ended in 1981.
|Changed Eckankar's tagline to "Religion of the Light and Sound of God".
“[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.”
Gordon Melton in the Encyclopedia Britannica
By all accounts (including that of Harold Klemp, the present Living ECK Master), Paul Twitchell was a "scoundrel" and a persistent liar. His heavy stream of stories, texts and claims were all intermingled with constant self-promotion. He was a prolific author, but, much of what he wrote was directly copied from others sources (including mistakes and spelling errors).
Before Eckankar, Paul Twitchell was kicked out of the "Self Revelation Church of Absolute Monism" along with his wife, copied much of the teachings of Kirpal Singh and Rhani Satsun, and joined Scientology, which he was later also kicked out of (labelled an Oppressive Person, no less) - (according to WorldCultWatch and ReligionFacts.com).
“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 [God]. 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.”
Cult Awareness & Information Center (AU)
After Paul Twitchell died in 1971, Darwin Gross was announced as the new Living Eck Master15. This happened after a month - however - ECK literature states that "there is always a Living ECK Master"1. However devoted they are to telling the future through the interpretation of dreams, it seems the death of their Eck Master (surely one of the most important events in Eckankar!) was not foreseen and no replacement was arranged, hence, there was indeed a month without a Living Eck Master.
“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 because 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. Therefore, on October 22, 1981, Harold Klemp became the new Living Eck Master. Darwin Gross, however, still lectured as an Eck Master.”
Cult Awareness & Information Centre (AU)
Darwin Gross wound up running an Eckankar denomination (in all but name).
“In 1983, Harold Klemp and the Eckankar board of directors removed Darwin from his position as President in a takeover coup. Darwin was charged with embezzling funds but the accusations were unsubstantiated and later dismissed. [...] After Sri Darwin was ousted from Eckankar in 1983, the majority of ECKists left the teachings. A small percentage remained following Harold Klemp. Now legally precluded from using Eckankar terminology, Sri Darwin carried on Sri Paul Twitchell's original teachings under the name "ATOM: Ancient Teachings of the Masters".
Today, the official Eckankar website does not mention Darwin Gross or acknowledge his place in the development of Eckankar. All books, lessons, tapes and other materials connected to "Sri" Gross have been removed completely from the history of the present day Eckankar movement [...] although Sri Darwin Gross is mentioned in several current ECK books, his own writings and talks are no longer offered through Eckankar, nor is Sri Darwin Gross listed as one of the Eck masters on the official Eckankar web site.”
David Miscavige on WikiScientology.org16
In 1981 Darwin Gross passed the position of Living ECK Master to Harold Klemp15 although disputes broke out and Gross claims that Klemp did not correctly or fully complete the takeover. Court cases in 1984 finally placed Klemp into the position of sole leader. Some researchers heavily criticize Harold Klemp. Take the following with a pinch of salt:
“[The] editing and withdrawing of Sri Paul's writings clearly violated the very teachings that were claiming to be presented by the "new" Eckankar. A fear factor was introduced into the Eckankar teachings under Harold Klemp. Students were threatened with the loss of initiations if they followed Sri Darwin or if they even tried to talk with him.”
The text on Karma18 is revealing of the lack of scientific knowledge - or logic - in the doctrines of Eckankar. It states "The Law of Karma is scientific and logical. It is the spiritual form of the physical Law of Cause and Effect. Every action creates an equal and opposite reaction. [...] The law's purpose is to teach love and to uplift, not to punish."
Although this sounds nice, it is so inadequately thought through as to be actually painful to ponder. In physics, every action has an opposite reaction; this is true. According to Eckankar, this law applies to spirituality. Therefore every good act, according to the law, creates a bad reaction. So you better not do anything good! And hey, every bad action creates something good. Just like conservation of energy, the Law of Cause and Effect means that on average forces annihilate each other, as both sides of the equation remain the same, as you would expect. It is meaningless to translate this into non-physical "Karma". The result is that no improvements to Karma can be made; no goodness can be done that isn't matched by equal evil, and no progress can be made that isn't matched by setbacks. This grim conclusion is completely ignored by Eckankar's texts because although it strings together happy-sounding words into sentences, it does not actually represent anything realistic, sensible, logical or true.
“The ultimate purpose of dreams is to bring the individual closer to the Light and Sound of God.”
"Eckankar: Ancient Wisdom for Today" (1995)19
Eckankar has a few sensible stances on dreams. On p30-31 of Eckankar: Ancient Wisdom for Today20 they warn that the images and symbols from our dreams are not universal for everyone - "You can find books in your local library telling you that water means this or that horses mean that. The dream teachings of Eckankar do not follow such a simplistic model". Although p1 says (quite correctly) that Eckankar's teachings are simple, their ideas on the subjectivity of dream symbolism is no doubt correct, and in this one area the teachings display an amount of critical thinking. They continue: "In ECK, each person is a unique individual. Therefore, the dream symbols used by each person are also unique. Swimming in a river may well have a different meaning for one person than it would for another. The key for the dreamer, then, is to go within and determine what each of these symbols mean."
Eckankar promotes the over-reading of otherwise insignificant events in dreams and in life, and their take on dream interpretation goes down the same road as Freudian analysis: piling abstract interpretations upon details of the dream in order to make it have important value. Moving into Soul Travel and Astral Plane type territory, it continues:
“There are many levels of dreaming. If the dreamer becomes aware he is in a dream, he may be able to take control of the experience. The dreamer may call upon the Mahanta and request spiritual instruction. Or the dreamer may choose to visit a Temple of Golden Wisdom on one of the other planes. In these cases, the experience can become more Soul Travel than dreaming.”
"Eckankar: Ancient Wisdom for Today" (1995)21
It started off with a little truth. With practice, and by doing things like keeping a dream journal, people can learn to lucid dream whereby they have more conscious control over the contents of a dream. This is the "realisation that you're dreaming" part. Eckankar no doubt encourages this, and, does indeed encourage people to keep a dream diary19. A person's dreams will often feature objects of their interest. If your favourite literature is full of descriptions of experiences with blue lights and mystical goings-on, and you train your recruits to engage in lucid dreaming, the sure result is that you will sometimes lucid-dream along the lines of what you've been reading. However, as Eckankar lore emphasizes over-analysing dreams, this subjective truth will probably be generally ignored.
Although dreams are rather thoroughly understood by neurologists and cognitive psychologists, Eckankar feels dreams ought to be a little zanier:
"While the body sleeps, the consciousness of Soul is awake. The memory of this experience is often called a dream. Dreams are as real and valid as the waking state. They simply occur on a different plane of existence. The reason so many of our dreams are confusing is that our memory becomes distorted. Upon waking, the dream experience is run through the dream censor, a function of our own mind."
"Eckankar: Ancient Wisdom for Today" (1995)22
The teachers of Eck have clearly been skipping biological psychology classes: experiments on the physical body have immediate effects on the contents of our dreams, and, biological chemistry is directly tied up with the intensity and mood of dreams. It simply can't be true that our dream-memories are formed when dreams are ran through a strange "dream censor". They also mention that the Mahanta, the inner form of the Living ECK Master, is the Dream Master23.
Dreams of Prophecy are revealed24 to be those that mystically and correctly predict the future. It gives a two-page example involving a horse losing a tooth. Psychologists who study dreams all have a similar complaint: as events occur, it is very easy to retrospectively concoct a prophecy because dreams are highly malleable in terms of meaning. As a result, declaring predictions based on dreams before the events occur is highly rare - psychologists report that statistically dreams are no more correct than chance guesses. Thankfully, the wise teachers of Eckankar offer a warning on p33: "It is best, however, to restrict your use of prophecy to your own personal life. The opportunity for misunderstanding symbols is great [and] it would probably be embarrassing" when you make wrong predictions concerning other people. The reason is that, of course, the scope for retrospective attribution of prophecy to dreams is great when it concerns personal events because you know so much about yourself that the chances of finding something that fits is very high. But try to make predictions for other people, and the magic suddenly disappears. It is these effects of subjective psychology and pareidolia which cause the failed warnings, not the "misunderstanding" of symbols".
The subtitle of Eckankar is "the ancient science of soul travel", and it is given much prominence in Eckankar texts that our souls are quite capable of wondering around this world and a myriad of other dimensions too: I never bore of reading up on all the stories Eckankar devotees have written on their spiritual adventures whilst soul travelling. Such things have come to be formally studied, and, researchers have not found their basis to be supernatural at all.
Out-of-body experiences (OBEs) describe a feeling that, while unconscious or semi-conscious, a person's spirit floats above their own body and perhaps even explores distance places. It then returns to its owner's body whereupon they awake. There is a particular trend to report this after near-death experiences or during drug use26. In Europe, 5.8% answered a poll to say that they'd had an out-of-body experience (OBE) and a similar rate was found amongst those in the USA27. Those who state they have a magical ability to do this wilfully often call it "astral projection", "soul travelling"28 or "spirit walking", and such claims are common in some New Age communities. But what causes OBEs? There are many neurological and physiological causes of odd experiences in our lives. These range from ordinary tricks of the eye29 through to repeated minor epileptic fits that cause nothing more than visual (or aural) hallucinations combined with emotional cues. Many supernatural experiences can be artificially induced through neural electro-stimulation, proving their mundane basis30. Strange and unusual experiences often give rise to strange and unusual beliefs31,32 especially for those people are not inclined towards finding natural explanations for events.33
Historically OBEs were poorly studied because of their purely psychological nature; but recent technological developments have allowed neurologists to examine our states of mind much more closely, although neurological and physiological causes of OBEs have been suggested for a long time34. Dr Olaf and colleagues in Switzerland have identified the physical places in the brain where such experiences are generated27. We have found that a temporary reduction in blood or oxygen (including excess carbon dioxide in the blood) can induce out-of-body experiences "which may explain the prevalence of these sensations during accidents, emergencies, heart attacks, etc"35. Not only that, but we have been able to artificially create situations in which OBEs occur in wide-awake individuals36. Biological explanations aside, investigators have done things like placed symbols high-up in rooms (on cabinets, etc) where the patient cannot see them. Those experiencing OBEs have never seen those symbols, and sceptics who have comprehensively reviewed such experiments report that the patients only ever see what they already knew was there. In other words, it is the brain tricking the patient into thinking they are having an OBE, when in reality it is only a subjective, internal event. This, combined with our neurological understanding of OBEs is definitive proof that there is nothing supernatural occurring. As physicist Prof Stenger says, there is "no evidence for anything happening outside of the physical processes of the brain"37, a conclusion also reached by neurologist Dr Bruger36.
There are one or two active Eckankar groups in the UK. The most active has a dozen members. There are no owned premises so meetings are held in public libraries, hotels, etc, in booked rooms or simply on public tables as open discussion groups. Most online forums are populated by ex-members and vocal critics.
The UK Charity Commission report on Eckankar (a registered charity), states the following financial information:
|Financial year end (FYE)
|31 Dec 2011
|22 Sep 2012
|31 Dec 2010
|17 Sep 2011
|31 Dec 2009
|13 Nov 2010 (13 days late)
|31 Dec 2008
|20 Sep 2009
|31 Dec 2007
|23 Sep 2008
And the following organisation members:
|Mr Román Pelenski
|Mr Steve Mallett
|Mr Gerry Salway
|Mrs Sonia Kumar
|Mr Robert Aigbogun
The last UK ECK Center meeting (actually held in a hotel near London Bridge), attracted 13 members according to their meetup.com group, including Liz Mallett the organizer, Nush G, Marg Tilbury-Warner, Inerepamo Arimelagha (+1), Fayimora Femi-Balogun, Kwame Nyame, Davidson Davis, Nima Dmitri and "a former member". The MeetUp group does have a comment from Mr Román Pelenski one the UK Trustees of the registered charity, plus a few comments from others.
Pseudoscience: The New Age excels in taking scientific terms such as "energy", and massively abusing them and using them in incredible, unlikely and optimistic ways. Eckankar is not as bad as most New Age systems for that; however, it abuses Newton's laws of cause and effect (Ancient Wisdom p37-39 - "the same action/reaction principle applies to the forces of emotion and thought"), name-drops Copernicus seemingly completely pointlessly and emptily, mentions that souls are "units" of awareness, and waffles a little about different planes of existence having higher "vibrations".
Light and Sound of God: The Holy Spirit, they say, appears to us as Light (with a capital L) because it is a "reflection of the atoms of God moving in space" - this of course implies that God itself is not the source of Light (as it reflects it, but doesn't radiate it as you'd normally expect). And exactly what an "atom of God" is, aside from a spacey reflective surface, is left unexplained. Luckily their stance on the Sound of God is somewhat clearer. The Holy Spirit can also appear "as Sound, which is the Audible Life Current that carries Soul back home to God". I told you it'd be clearer.
None of this is related to any known science, yet, they use science-words in order to fool the uneducated into thinking it has something to do with peer-review and observational evidence - hence - it is called pseudo-science.
Anti-Science, Anti-Inquiry: In Ancient Wisdom it goes a little further than merely abusing scientific words and it veers into anti-science territory. "Truth is not gained through observation" they proclaim38, sternly ending a few thousand years of knowledge including, for example, the star gazing that led to the end of ignorance about the position of the Earth. Instead, "it's gained through experience". Perhaps this is why Eckankar seems to be devoid of thought - it's a wish-list of subjective niceties.
According to Paul Twitchell, his own Eckankar teacher Rebazar Tarzs wrote that "When you are full of opinions and speculations, God is withdrawn from thee"39. Although seemingly innocent, this worrying piece of doctrine effectively quells inquiry and questioning. All belief systems need a thorough system of questions-and-answers and debating mechanisms, if they are to reflect on reality rather than ignore it (see my page Why Question Beliefs? Dangers of Placing Ideas Beyond Doubt, and Advantages of Freethought). If you ask important questions you can be dismissed with the kind warning of: "don't forget, when you are full of speculations, God is withdrawn from you!". In other words, don't doubt. This is not safe territory. So this next revelation, although honest, does not fill me with confidence in the methods by which Eck golden wisdom is attained:
"The teachings are actually quite simple and do not require any formal training or academic rigor."
"Eckankar: Ancient Wisdom for Today" (1995)40
Life is complicated and reality is complicated. The only "simple" truths are ones that do not reflect reality very well. I suspect the lack of academic rigor isn't merely an oversight. It is a requirement for those taking part in Eckankar.
Pareidolia is the instinctive way by which our minds notice patterns and regularities where actually there are none. It is responsible for us seeing shapes in clouds and mistaking the occasional coincidence for signs of a grand scheme. In Eckankar, every trifling little occurrence is given great personal significance. "All things are possible. Life is no longer a mundane, random experience"41. Try this: "The Golden-tongued Wisdom is a phenomenon which trains people to look for spiritual guidance in the most mundane of events. For instance, you could be shopping in a store when the clerk suddenly makes a casual remark to you. Though innocent enough in itself, the comment has some specific spiritual meaning to you. It's as if the ECK is speaking to you through the unwitting channel of the store clerk." Eckankar literature abounds with examples of this kind of logic, giving reign for the full range of human thinking errors, such as pareidolia and confirmation bias, to run amok. This full-on embrace of cosmic extrapolations based on petit subjectivist phenomenology means that Eckankar has travelled very far indeed down the smooth and happy road to lunacy.