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The Eckankar "EK" symbol
|Type||Dharma influenced New religious movement|
|Scripture||Main: Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad |
Minor: Autobiography of a Modern Prophet etc.
|Spiritual Leader||Sri Harold Klemp, the Mahanta, the Living ECK Master|
|Headquarters||Temple of ECK, Chanhassen, Minnesota|
San Diego, California
|Centres||367+ (Late 1990s)|
Eckankar 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.
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'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.
Harold Klemp attended a Lutheran preministerial high school and college. He later pursued private study into different paths such as the Rosicrucians and Edgar Cayce. The extent of the influence of these teachings on Klemp is difficult to determine.
Some scholars believe that Eckankar draws in part from the Sikh and Hindu religions, and the Sant Mat movement. Others find significant differences between Sant Mat teachings and Eckankar.
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"[further explanation needed]. 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
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 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.
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.
In February 2018, Iranian agencies reported the execution of Karim Zargar, an Eckankar member, for "corruption on earth" and forced rape. Zargar was a lawyer, actor, and former IRIB broadcast executive who was hanged at Rajai Shahr Prison. Marjan Davari, Mr. Zargar's former spouse, was also imprisoned and sentenced to death for being a member of Eckankar. Ms. Davari's family has stated in the media and online that she is merely a researcher and a translator and is not a follower of Eckankar.
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. Study of ECK books and written discourses, alone or in groups, is also encouraged. 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 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, some of whom are historical figures.
In Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America, David C. Lane writes:
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.
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...
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.