- (est. 1965)Eckankar or ECK, the “Religion of the Light and Sound of God,” was founded in 1965 by former journalist Paul Twitchell (c. 1909–70). During the 1950s Twitchell became a student of numerous esoteric and spiritual movements. He studied L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology for a time before find-ing a place in Swami Premananda’s Self Realiza-tion Church of Absolute Monism. Later, Twitchell was initiated into Ruhani Satsang (fellowship of true seekers) in the RADHASOAMI movement, and received formal training from its founder, Sant Mat Master Kirpal Singh. Eventually he departed from Radhasoami after a disagreement and established his own teaching. He moved to San Francisco and began lecturing, writing, and practicing a form of surat shabda yoga, which involves contact with inner light and sound.In 1956 Twitchell revealed that he had experi-enced “God-realization” after being trained by the Order of the Vairagi Masters, spiritual teachers. According to Twitchell, these beings have secretly imparted the teachings of ECK to individuals throughout history. Twitchell believed that he was entrusted by these masters to disseminate ECK teachings to the modern world. In 1965 he proclaimed himself as the Living ECK Master and the 971st Mahanta. He founded Eckankar later that year and established its headquarters in Las Vegas, Nevada.Twitchell spent the next few years working with his wife, Gail, to build a following for the movement. He also wrote several books on the teachings of Eckankar. In 1969 Twitchell published Eckankar: The Key to Secret Worlds. During the same period Brad Steiger wrote a biography on Twitchell entitled In My Soul I Am Free. Both books increased the popularity and notoriety of the movement.Eckankar is an eclectic religious movement. The Light and Sound of God has been described as the science of soul travel, in which the soul departs from the body in an ascent to invisible worlds. ECK beliefs and practices resemble the teachings of Radhasoami as well as the Western occult teachings of Rosicrucians. The other fun-damental teachings of ECK appear to be similar to the teachings of KIRPAL SINGH (1894–1974), teacher in the SANT MAT tradition.It was revealed after his death that Twitchell may have plagiarized teachings from Julian P. John-son, a disciple of the Radhasomai Satsang. Eckan-kar maintains in response that ECK teachings have permeated various teachings throughout history, and that Twitchell has made them more accessible for the modern world. Twitchell also used different terminology than Sant Mat. Eckankar teaches that God is the source of all being flowing, from the transcendent downward to the material world. The Light and Sound of God (ECK) is the energy cur-rent from which life flows and can be understood as the Holy Spirit in Christian terms. The numer-ous practices offered by ECK masters aim to guide individuals to the realization of God and their place as coworkers with God. A primary means of attaining realization is through the chanting of HU, an ECK name for God.After Twitchell’s death in 1971, Gail Twitchell announced Darwin Gross as successor and the 972nd Living ECK Master. The choice of Gross was controversial. He was a recent inductee of the movement and his eventual marriage to Gail Twitchell fueled suspicion. Despite the loss of sev-eral devotees (known as chelas), ECK continued to grow. Headquarters were moved to Menlo Park, California.Gross relinquished his position as the Living ECK Master in 1981 and named Harold Klemp as the 973rd Mahanta. Gross’s status of ECK master was revoked in 1984, and he is no longer affiliated with Eckankar. Lengthy litigation over the use of the name Eckankar ensued between Gross and the organization, and Eckankar eventually prevailed.Harold Klemp was born in 1942 in Wisconsin and raised on a small family farm. He had a reli-gious upbringing at a Milwaukee boarding school and later attended college, where he studied reli-gion. After enlisting in the U.S. Air Force he was assigned to a military installation in Japan. It was here that he first encountered Eckankar. Under Klemp’s direction, Eckankar headquarters were moved to its present location in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 1990, he established the Temple of ECK, the spiritual center of the movement. Klemp has authored over 40 books and routinely attends Eckankar conferences and seminars. Since his induction as Living ECK Master, Klemp has redirected the emphasis of ECK teachings toward divine love and service to others in daily life.Eckankar maintains 164 centers in the United States and over 360 worldwide. The organization includes a publishing company called Illuminated Way Press, located in Crystal, Minnesota. Publica-tions include books by Twitchell, Klemp, and other ECKists. An annual ECKANKAR Journal is also published. Eckankar has the status of a nonprofit religious organization and church with members in 130 countries. Its mission as an educational orga-nization is to promote the knowledge of soul and God realization. The organization offers courses in dream interpretation, soul travel, and life service.Further reading: Darwin Gross, Your Right to Know (Menlo Park, Calif.: Illuminated Way Press, 1979); Harold Klemp, The Art of Spiritual Dreaming (Minne-apolis, Minn.: Eckankar, 1999); ———, Autobiography of a Modern Prophet (Minneapolis, Minn.: Eckankar, 2000); Paul Twitchell, Dialogues with the Master (Las Vegas, Nev.: Illuminated Way Press, 1970); ———, ECKANKAR: The Key to Secret Worlds (San Diego, Calif.: Illuminated Way Press, 1969).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.