What is Eckankar and Who is the Eckmaster?
HU is woven into the language of life. It is the Sound of all sounds. It is the wind in the leaves, falling rain, thunder of jets, singing of birds, the awful rumble of a tornado. . . . Its sound is heard in laughter, weeping, the din of city traffic, ocean waves, and the quiet rippling of a mountain stream. And yet, the word HU is not God. It is a word people anywhere can use to address the Originator of Life. —Sri Harold Klemp, Spiritual Leader of Eckankar (aka: The Eckmaster)
H-U. Two letters that seem to sum up the entire spiritual thesis of a group known as Eckankar. What should I do when I’m sad? Sing the HU. What should I do when I’m anxious? Sing the HU. How should I express my joy? Sing the HU. How shall I show my gratitude to the Eckmaster? Sing the HU. Naturally.
To get a brief understanding of how HU is practiced, take a look at the video to the left. But to truly get it, we’re going to need to answer this… What is Eckankar and who is the Eckmaster? Hint: If you’re getting a slightly Scientology-ish feeling, you’re not far off.
According to Eckankar.org, the word Eckankar means “Co-worker with God.” Previously known as “The Ancient Science of Soul Travel”, Eckankar now refers to itself as, “The Religion of the Light and Sound of God”. Believers are encouraged to chant the word HU, which is meant to help them feel closer to the “god force” and to assist in achieving “god realization”. They are called ECKists, and the Spiritual leader, who embodies the living spirit of ECK, is given the title of Mahanta, or Sri, or the living ECK Master.
The ECK Master is selected by God and imbued with a spiritual authority that normal people do not have. But more than that, the spirit of previous ECK Masters apparently dwells within this man. He is beyond mere mortals. He can read minds, influence thoughts, and enter your dreams. The current ECK Master is a man named Harold Klemp. With his mundane name and Waspy appearance, it amazes me how he’s been able to captivate and convert so many rational people to this ECK philosophy. Then I heard him speak. His heavy eyelids and slow voice are almost hypnotic. Let’s let him explain to us what Eckankar is all about.
Contrary to some lines of thought, Eckankar is not a derivative of Christianity. Eck is far more comparable to a New Age school of thought. We are soul, we are consciousness, we are light, etc. Beliefs include concepts like soul travel, reincarnation, ESP, and Spiritual Dreaming. Klemp delivers seminars about how to achieve all of these things.
How did all of this get started? Well, this is where the details get a little sketchy.
The ECK teachings have been here since the earliest times that man inhabited this planet. . . . The Living ECK Master of any era wants only to lead the individual to look within to the source of all knowledge, wisdom, and understanding: the place where one can move toward Self- and God-Realization. –Harold Klemp
According to ECK teachings, Eckenkar is an ancient belief system, but it’s founding as a modern religious movement happened in 1965 by a man named Paul Twitchell. In his early life, Twitchell was acquainted with a group of holy men later revealed to him as ECK Masters. These men gave him spiritual training and guidance, in an effort to ready him for his future role as living ECK Master.
They say that the ECK teachings had been scattered to the four corners of the world, and that they needed to be consolidated into a single school of thought. Based on a theory that all goodness is a combination of Light and Sound (hence the afore mentioned HU, which we’ll discuss in more detail later), Twitchell readily obliged and wrote a series of books that expanded upon this knowledge he was receiving.
This is really all any ECKist is expected to know about the History of Eckankar. There’s is not to speculate as to how the religion came to be. ECKists must simply teach their souls to travel, sing their sacred love song to God, and listen to their Mahanta.
As is usually the case, there is a far more interesting story behind the foundation of Eckankar. One thing the ECKists are correct about; it was founded by Paul Twitchell. Critics claim that he fabricated the entirety of the Eckankar belief system. Indeed, even Twitchell’s wife was quoted as saying he made it all up.
By all interpretations, Paul Twitchell was a smart man. He was fascinated by Eastern religions and New Age spiritual practices. Twitchell became a member of Swami Premananda’s Hindu based church. Perhaps more tellingly, he was also a staff member at L.Ron Hubbard’s Church of Scientology. His knowledge of a variety of Hindu practices, and his up close view of how to build a modern religion such as Scientology, married themselves well as he embarked upon the formation of his own philosophy.
“His own philosophy.” That may be giving him too much credit. Cult buster David Lane wrote extensively about Paul Twitchell and Eckankar. He claims that Eckankar is fully based upon stolen Hindu teachings. At Swami Premananda’s chuch of Absolute Monism, which is system of yoga, Twitchell and his first wife Camille were kicked out, due to “personal misconduct”.
He later immersed himself in the teachings of and studied under the Hindu guru, Kirpal Singh. It is also somewhere around this time in the late 50’s and early 60’s that he became involved in Scientology.
After marrying his second wife, Gail Atchinson, Twitchell claims to have had a vision. In 1964, he says he was visited by a 500-year-old Tibetan monk, by the name of Rebezar Tarsz, who handed him a “rod of power”, and proclaimed Twitchell to be the 971st Living Eck Master, the Mahanta. He was told that the Mahanta has a direct link to God, and would lead others to bring them closer to God, through him.
Twitchell embarked upon the writing of a variety of pamphlets, articles, and books about this new Eck religion. From this point, a variety of allegations are lobbed at Paul Twitchell. Among these are that he was a charlatan, a plagiarizer, a thief, and a phony. The following video lays out these accusations in detail.
Now that we know about the questionable history of Eckankar, let’s take a look at the sect as it exists today.
The current Mahanta, Eckmaster Sri Harold Klemp, was born in Wisconsin. Just like his predecessor Paul Twitchell, he had a fairly mundane entrance into the world, which is contrary to what Eckist teachings say about living Eckmasters. According to the information found in Book One of the The Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, which means “Way of the Eternal” (Eckist holy book):
“The Mahanta is Always born near or on a large body of water. His Birth is Always Mysterious, and men of ordinary birth Do Not Know his Origin. NOR does any man know who his sires might be, their true names, or their true origin.”
Well, we know that Twitchell was born in Kentucky, and Klemp in Wisconsin. We know about Klemp’s parents because he wrote about them, and to my knowledge neither were born near a large body of water. Darn it!
I was first made aware of Eckankar via Harold Klemp. I was visiting a website and noticed a Google ad that was linked to a video by Klemp. In the video, his soothing, dreamy, hypnotic and creepy voice and blank stare enchanted me. Not because I was buying what he was selling, but because a voice in my head said, “Oooooh Culty!” I had to dig deeper.
This is how I learned about the Eck path. I also learned that the headquarters of Eckankar is in Chanhassen, Minnesota… not too far from where I’m located. I may have to pay them a visit.
Eckists say that they do not worship the Mahanta, they simply revere him as a prophet. This seems to blur the line of “worship”, because we do know that Eckists believe that they need the Eckmaster to help enlighten them. They allow the Eckmaster to enter their dreams. They look to his teachings for spiritual guidance. Harold Klemp’s spiritual name is said to be “Wah Z”, and through this spiritual presence, many followers say that he has entered their subconscious via soul travel. As living Eckmaster, he is solely responsible for the evolution of his flock and of the religion itself. So, maybe they do kinda worship him. Maybe a little?
One of the central practices of the Eckankar religion is chanting the HU, as mentioned above. The HU is not something unique to Eckankar. It is an ancient practice that is designated as a way to get in touch with the “god force”. Eck teaching says that HU is the most ancient name for God. It is sung in a drawn out “Hyuuuuuuuuuuu” sort of manner, and is meant to be sung for around 20 minutes at a time, either with a group or alone. Some chant HU until they pass out.
Sri Harold explains how to chant the HU:
Technically, it costs nothing to join Eckankar. However, a “donation” of $160 dollars is encouraged yearly per household. Also, it is expected that at some point, most Eckists will travel to the Chanhassen Eck headquarters, known as the “Temple of ECK”. There are books, pamphlets, workshops, audio recordings and videos that most Eckists will want to purchase in order to work their way up the spiritual ladder.
As with all sects that border on cult, Eckists claim that they can leave anytime, and that there is no penalty for quitting the Eck practice. But in Twitchell’s writings, there are dire warnings against leaving Eckankar.
Twitchell in the Spiritual Notebook, pg. 196: “Within the Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad is found the quotation ‘He who leaves the path of ECK, or refuses to follow it, shall dwell in the astral hells until the Master takes mercy upon him and brings him upon the path again.'”
Twitchell in Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad #2, pg. 166: “Woe be unto him if he does (resign), for it is known among those who have reached these lofty heights and witnessed the consequences of the few who have. Those few have found that spiritual decay sets in immediately, affecting the health, material life and spiritual life, and brings death more swiftly.”
Further citations can be found here: Fear & Threats: Cult Techniques
There are many reasons to be wary of Eckankar. I’ve not even begun to scratch the surface. For further research, I’ve compiled to following list of resources, both in favor of and critical of the path of Eck.
Book: The Making of a Spiritual Movement: The Untold Story of Paul Twitchell and Eckankar by David Christopher Lane