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Eckankar is a religious movement founded by Paul Twitchell in 1965. The personal experience of the "Light and Sound of God" is one of the aims of the many spiritual exercises that are delineated in the numerous books available to the general public as well as in the discourses accessible to members only. Eckankar followers believe it provides an individual spiritual path to an understanding of self as eternal Soul and the development of higher states of consciousness. Followers of Eckankar commonly refer to themselves as "Eckists".
Eckankar's international headquarters are in Chanhassen, Minnesota, southwest of Minneapolis. The Temple of ECK, an outdoor chapel, an administrative building, and the ECK Spiritual Campus are located at this site. Between the 1970s and 1980s, Eckankar had an estimated yearly paid membership of 40,000 - 100,000 and 500,000 to 3 million followers worldwide. In 2013 Eckankar's website says "There are tens of thousands of ECKists around the world".
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
Eckankar is described as "Religion of the Light and Sound of God". Eckankar has also been described as "The Ancient Science of Soul Travel,", "The Path of Total Awareness," and "A Way of Life". The header on the main Eckankar website says "Eckankar, Experience the Light and Sound of God" and the footer reads, "Religion of the Light and Sound of God".
Linguistically, "Eckankar" derives from Ekankār or Ik Oankār (Punjabi Eka Omkāra), a name for God given by Guru Nānak and the very first word of the Mūl Mantra (recited everyday by Sikhs), the Japjī Sahib, and the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh holy scriptures). The word ek or ik is the number one in Hindī, Urdu, and Pañjabī (from the Sanskrit eka). "Ekankar", when written in the Gurmukhī alphabet, is one of the two symbols of the Sikh faith (the other being the khanda) and can be found written or drawn on Sikh items and motor vehicles and in all Sikh edifices and Gurdwāra (temple). As 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 Temple of ECK was dedicated in 1990 in Chanhassen, Minnesota
The leader of Eckankar is known as 'the Mahanta, the Living ECK Master'. He functions as both an inner and outer guide for each member's individual spiritual progress. Paul Twitchell (spiritual name: Peddar Zaskq) served as the movement's spiritual leader until his death in late 1971. Darwin Gross (spiritual name: Dap Ren) then took over the reins until October 22, 1981, when Harold Klemp (spiritual name: Wah Z, pronounced Wah Zee) became the spiritual leader of Eckankar. Spiritual powers and spiritual titles of Mahanta and Living ECK Master are given to the new Living ECK Master.
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. The HU has been used in the Sufi and other mystical traditions, 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. The Shariyat, as ECKists call it, is a set of two books that tell of spiritual meaning and purpose as written by the Mahanta, the current head of Eckankar.:59
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
The Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad is a set of two books and may now be considered scripture of Eckankar, however 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
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.
Eckankar hosts Community HU Chants, HU Songs and Worship Services in most major cities and many local areas around the world. The Community HU Song is presented as a service to the local area and is open to people of all faiths. It consists of a 20 minute singing or chanting of the HU followed by a five minute contemplation. An ECK Worship 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
Eckankar's 50,000-square-foot (4,600 m2) main "Temple of ECK" was dedicated in Chanhassen, Minnesota on October 22, 1990. As of late 2007, the largest capacity Eckankar Temple was in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria, with a total capacity of 10,000.
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. Estimates on the number of Eckists worldwide range from 50,000 to 500,000 people.
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 In Eckankar's original form, the Consecration, Rite of Passage, and Memorial services did not exist, but were added later by Klemp.
ECKists celebrate a spiritual new year on October 22. There is no organizational celebration of personal anniversaries, such as birthdays of the leaders.
Harold Klemp is currently the Mahanta, the Living ECK Master. His spiritual name is Wah Z. Eckankar always has a living master. Klemp 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 "As the Living ECK Master, Harold Klemp is responsible for the continued evolution of the Eckankar teachings." 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" during his time. This was done in opposition to the purpose of the ECK Masters, as lined out in the Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, bible of Eckankar.
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 offers this list of Masters:
Several groups claimed to carry on the original teachings of Paul Twitchell and Eckankar. Darwin Gross (now deceased) used the name Ancient Teaching of the Masters (ATOM), after being precluded from using the Eck terminology, Paul Marché claims to carry on for his Master, Darwin Gross, using the name Dhunami, after being precluded from using the ATOM terminology. Other claimants include John-Roger's Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness, which appears to have split from the main body of Eckankar, though Gross and Marché claimed to be preserving the originality of the teachings.
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 All these groups along with Eckankar were founded in the United States in the twentieth century.
David C. Lane, a philosophy professor, discusses the phenomenon of those American teachers. Lane suggests these might be seen more traditionally as an organic continuum or an historical school of "American Shabd" teachings, rather than a "splintering" of any movement. Lane conducted research in the late 1990s concerning purported distortions, plagiarism and concealment involving author Paul Twitchell during the first three decades of Eckankar's existence.
Internet communities of current members, ex-members and critics, such as the Usenet newsgroup alt.religion.eckankar, include discussion dating back more than ten years.
After Twitchell's death in 1971, Lane published a book that claimed some of Twitchell's Eckankar books contained passages from other authors' books without proper citation. In The Making of a Spiritual Movement: The Untold Story of Paul Twitchell & Eckankar, Lane claims Twitchell's The Far Country plagiarized the books With a Great Master in India and The Path of the Masters by Julian Johnson of the Radha Soami Satsang Beas).
Eckankar states that Twitchell's role was that of "master compiler", saying;
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, has written ". . .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.
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