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Eckankar is a New Age monotheistic religion which teaches that each human is a "particle of God" with the goal of "spiritual freedom" by following the "light and sound of God". Adherents of the religion are called Eckanists or Eckists.
The name "Eckankar" comes from the Punjabi Ik Oankar (ਇੱਕ ਓਅੰਕਾਰ), the opening words of the Mul Mantar, one of the holy texts of Sikhism. Notwithstanding this borrowing, Eckankar has no historical links with Sikhism.
Practicing Eckankar involves various "spiritual exercises", which it compares to physical exercises for the soul. These include chanting the holy syllable "HU" (presumably inducing a trance), dream journaling and analysis, prayer, meditation, visualization techniques, and so on. The religion includes a belief in what it calls "Soul Travel", and which appears to be the same thing as astral projection.
Eckankar shares much in common with other American new religious movements. Like Mormonism, Eckankar is a purported restoration of an ancient lineage of spiritual teachings. It values direct experience of the Holy Spirit (called "ECK") and is helmed by a Living Prophet. Like Unitarian Universalism, Eckankar deemphasizes dogma in favor of personal experience to the point that Eckists are explicitly allowed to practice other religions. And like Scientology, Eckankar claims to be able to improve unwanted personal defects (like low self-confidence) and it requires financial commitments to access much of its teachings.
Is It A Cult?
As far as new religions go, Eckankar's demands are pretty mild. However, there are several cultish red flags:
- Eckankar's founder claimed to have to have learned its teachings from a Tibetan master who never existed
- The religion continues to promote this myth, though nuanced members describe it as symbolic
- Eckankar hides its founder's past as a Scientology staff member
- Eckankar refuses to acknowledge the existence of its second Eck Master, Darwin Gross, after he was accused of fraud. His contributions to the religion disappeared down the memory hole
- Full participation in Eckankar requires an annual subscription
- While members aren't banned from leaving, Eckankar claims they will lose all their spiritual progress if they depart
While a spiritual seeker could do far worse than join Eckankar, consider whether you want to pay a recurring fee to a group that claims you will lose your spiritual well-being if you leave. In some circles, that's called a "protection racket".
Eckankar was founded by Paul Twitchell, a former yogic student and Scientology staffer, in 1965 in the United States. Apparently, Twitchell plagiarized at least some of his writings on Eckankar. Eckankar’s teachings have been described as a blend of Scientology, theosophy, and Sikhism. Despite these facts, Eckists maintain that their teachings have existed since the beginning of humanity, when they were brought from Venus by some guy named Gakko.[note 1] Apparently, no Eckist knew this until 1965.
After Paul Twitchell died,[note 2] the movement was taken over by Darwin Gross. Darwin Gross's successor, Harold Klemp, excommunicated him and stripped him of all his titles after some issues with money. The headquarters of Eckankar is now in the area of Menlo Park, California. A splinter group, claiming to base itself on Twitchell's teaching and calling itself Vardankar, turned up in 2013.
- Eckankar: The Religion of the Light and Sound of God, The Ancient Science of Soul Travel by Vexen Crabtree - thoroughly researched excellent starter resource on Eckankar with sources & references.
- Seriously, it's in the Shariyat ki Sugmad.
- In accordance with his beliefs, we believe he was reincarnated as a goat.
- Klemp, Harold. A Cosmic Sea of Words, The ECKANKAR Lexicon. Minneapolis: Eckankar, 2009. ISBN 978-1-57043-286-6
- Soul Travel, eckankar.org
- Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America - Volume 5 - Page 113, Eugene V. Gallagher, W. Michael Ashcraft - 2006
- The Amazing Truth About Paul Twitchell and Eckankar