Eckankar is a unique religious and spiritual path, sometimes called the Religion of the Light and Sound of God. Its name can be translated ” co-worker with God”. Eckankar members are called ECKists or ECK chelas. (“Chelas” means “student”).
Eck teachings have ancient roots. Unfortunately much knowledge was lost to history until Paul Twitchell (Paulji) rediscovered it. He founded Eckankar in 1965 and established it as a non-profit religious organization in 1970. Details of Twitchell’s life are obscure: his date of birth has been listed variously as 1908, 1912 and 1922. Eckankar followers believe that he studied under two Eck Masters: Sudar Singh in Paris and India, and a elderly monk Rebazar Tarzs in Tibet. They believe that he received the title of the 971st Eck Master from Tarzs in 1965, thus becoming the latest in a series of Masters which began before recorded history. Some of the past Masters are known historical figures; most have been solitary practitioners or have taught small groups. Paul Twitchell apparently gained additional knowledge from Kirpal Singh, an Eastern Guru, founder of the Ruhani Satsang movement.
After Paul Twitchell’s death in 1971, Darwin Gross, the 972nd Eck Master became the Mahanta of Eckankar. (A Mahanta is the spiritual leader of Eckankar, a “living manifestation of God”). Subsequently, Sri Harold Klemp (1942-) became the 973rd Eck Master in 1981; he now heads the movement as its Mahanta.
Eckankar currently has over 50,000 members, who live in over 100 countries. They maintain facilities in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and North America. The main spiritual center is the Temple of ECK, located in Chanhassen, MN near Minneapolis-St. Paul. A public reading room, chapel, fellowship hall, classrooms and administration offices are located on the same site. They publish a periodical, the Eckankar Journal.
Sugmad is a sacred name of God. God is perceived as neither male nor female.
An ECK Current connects every person with the Heart of Sugmad. It flows from the Creator to the lower levels of existence and then returns to God. It is often called the Holy Spirit. ECK manifests itself in two forms:
an “Inner Sound”, the “Voice of God calling us home”. The Sound may be present as a sound of nature or as music.
an “Inner Light which is a beacon to light our way”. During spiritual exercises, the light sometimes materializes as “brightness or colors on your inner visual screen”.
Eckankar believes in the duality of the soul and body. The soul is the inner, most sacred part of an individual. It is eternal, without beginning or end. It lives only in the present. One’s soul can exist and travel separately from the body and even from the mind.
A person is capable of exploring other planes of existence, through Soul Travel. Unlike “Astral Projection” which is taught by other spiritual traditions, Soul Travel is not limited to the Astral Plane; it allows you to go further and explore any of the God worlds.
Among the 11 worlds there are 5 lower (psychic or material) and 6 upper (spiritual) planes. Each has a regular name; a classical name; an associated sound and light; a Temple of Golden Wisdom and a guardian. The lower planes are
Physical plane: the coarsest material level
Astral plane: the “source of human emotion, psychic phenomena, ghosts and UFO’s”.
Causal plane: where memories of previous lives are stored
Mental plane: which contains the source of ethics, moral teachings and philosophy
Etheric plane: this is the boundary with the higher worlds. It is the source of the “subconscious and primitive thoughts”.
Before entering the spiritual levels, the chela (student) discards their mind and continues in their Tuza (soul).
Eckankar has a concept of Karma which is somewhat similar to that found in Hinduism. Through attachment to the five passions (anger, greed, lust, undue attachment to the physical world and vanity) one’s bad karma accumulates. This requires a person to be reincarnated at death, in order have an opportunity to work off the debt of karma in their next life. The goal of Eckists is to pay off all of this accumulated debt and achieve Self-Realization in their present life. Once this state is reached, at death one need not return and spend another lifetime on earth. One is freed from the endless cycles of reincarnation.
Eckankar is regarded by its followers as the best (but not the only) path to God-realization. Christianity is recognized as an alternative path that can aid a follower to achieve a degree of enlightenment. Christians, and others, may join Eckankar without renouncing their existing religion.