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Eckankar or ECKANKAR is a new religious movement founded in the United States in 1965. It focuses on spiritual exercises claimed to enable practitioners to experience what its followers call "the Light and Sound of God." The personal experience of this spiritual Light and Sound is a primary goal of the teaching. It claims to provide a personal, unique and individual spiritual inner path to understanding of self as soul, and development of higher awareness "consciousness" and God.
According to the Eckankar glossary, the term Eckankar means "Co-Worker with God". "Eckankar" derives from Ekankār or Ik Oankār (Sanskrit Eka Omkāra), a name for God given by Guru Nānak and the very first word of the Mūl Mantra (recited everyday by Sikhs), the Japjī Sahib, and the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh holy scriptures). Since 1985 followers of Eckankar have described it as "The Religion of the Light and Sound of God". Prior to 1985, Eckankar was known as "The Ancient Science of Soul Travel," "The Science of Total Awareness," and "A Way of Life".
ECK is another word for the Holy Spirit, also known as the Audible Life Current, Life Force, or Light and Sound of God.
Eckankar's headquarters are in Chanhassen, Minnesota (southwest of Minneapolis). The Eckankar Temple, an outdoor chapel, an administrative building, and the ECK Spiritual Campus are located at this site.
The leader of Eckankar is known as the Mahanta, the Living ECK Master. According to Eckankar doctrine, the Living ECK Master is respected, but not worshiped, by followers of Eckankar and is seen as a spiritual guide for their own spiritual progress. Paul Twitchell founded Eckankar in 1965 as the Mahanta, the Living ECK Master and led it until his death in 1971. Darwin Gross (spiritual name: Dap Ren) then became the Mahanta serving until 1981. On October 23, 1981, Harold Klemp became the Mahanta and is the current spiritual leader of Eckankar. Klemp expelled Gross from Eckankar in 1983. Some groups, in particular AKATHA  acknowledge Paul Twitchell, but claim that Darwin Gross and Harold Klemp where figureheads but not true Masters.
One of the basic tenets is that Soul (the true self) can leave the body in full consciousness and travel freely in other planes of reality. 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.
Certain mantras or chants are used to facilitate spiritual growth. One important spiritual exercise of Eckankar is the singing or chanting of HU. The HU has been used in the Sufi and other mystical traditions, and is viewed in Eckankar as a "love song to God". In American English, it is pronounced like the word "hue" in a long, drawn-out breath, and is sung for about 20 minutes. ECKists sing it alone or in groups. 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.
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 emphasis has shifted away from out-of-body experiences to expansion of awareness through experiencing God's love in everyday matters. The final spiritual goal of all ECKists is to become conscious "Co-workers" with God.
The Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, which means "Way of the Eternal", is the holy scripture of Eckankar. The Shariyat, as ECKists call it, is a set of two books that tell of spiritual meaning and purpose as written by the Mahanta, the current head of Eckankar. 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.
The Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad is a set of two books and may now be considered scripture of Eckankar, however 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.
ECKist corporate claims to exclusive rights to Sanskrit and Hindi religio-cultual terms, such as ek, Ekankar, mahanta, Satsang, vairagi, among others, are not taken seriously in the academe and scholarly milieus.
Sri Harold Klemp is currently the Mahanta, the Living ECK Master. His spiritual name is Wah Z. Eckankar always has a living master. Harold Klemp has authored numerous books, articles and discourses about the teachings of ECK. Audio and video recordings are available of his talks. He grew up on a Wisconsin farm, attended divinity school, and was a member of the Rosicrucian Order. In the 1960s he began studying the teachings of ECK. After years of rigorous spiritual training he became the Mahanta, the Living ECK Master in 1981. "He has the ability to act as both the Inner and Outer Master for students of Eckankar." Many students of Eckankar report uplifting and life changing encounters with the inner Master, Wah Z, through dreams, spiritual exercises, soul travel experiences, and other means. "His teachings lift people and help them understand their own experiences in the Light and Sound of God.". His teachings have helped people around the world find greater spiritual freedom and love.[who?] "As the Living ECK Master, Harold Klemp is responsible for the continued evolution of the Eckankar teachings."
Although Twitchell founded Eckankar in 1965, ECKists claim that the basis for the Eckankar teachings dates back to the beginning of human life.
According to Doug Marman, Twitchell sourced many modern and ancient religious teachings in his creation of the Eckankar teaching, but possible sources appear to be Sufism (Jalaluddin Rumi) and a little-known teaching in India called "The Parent Faith"[clarification needed].
Eckankar's headquarters was 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 Minnesota, where it remains today.
Eckankar was founded as a business; however, the Panel of Administrators urged Twitchell to conform to usual standards, and the teaching was later registered as a non-profit religious organization and U.S. federal trademark. Eighteen years later, in 1983, Harold Klemp changed it to a recognized religious institution. Currently, Eckankar is accepted as a religion by the U.S. Army.
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.
According to the U.S. Department of State (International Religious Freedom Report for Côte d'Ivoire 2008), the current Nigerian branch of Eckankar describes its beliefs as "a syncretistic religion founded in 1965 in Nigeria that sees human passion as an obstacle to uniting a person's divine qualities".
Eckankar's 50,000-square-foot (4,600 m2) main "Temple of ECK" was dedicated in Chanhassen, Minnesota on October 22, 1990. As of late 2007, the largest capacity Eckankar Temple was in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria, with a total capacity of 10,000.
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.
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. The most basic ECK spiritual exercise is singing the word "HU", an ancient name for God, for upliftment and spiritual experiences. A wide variety of spiritual exercises are offered, and members are encouraged to create their own. 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:
In Eckankar's original form, the Consecration Ceremony, Rite of Passage, and Memorial Service did not exist. Sri Harold Klemp, the Living ECK Master, added them later.
ECKists celebrate a spiritual new year on October 22. There is no organizational celebration of personal anniversaries, such as birthdays of the leaders.
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 offers this list of Masters: Official Eckankar Masters List
Several groups claimed to carry on the original teachings of Paul Twitchell and Eckankar. Sri Darwin Gross (now deceased) used the name Ancient Teaching of the Masters (ATOM), after being precluded from using the Eck terminology, Sri Paul Marché claims to carry on for his Master, Sri Darwin Gross using the name Dhunami , after being precluded from using the ATOM terminology. Other claimants include AKATHA  -- and Timothy Arnold / Sri Kahtifji (The Mahaji) respectively. John-Roger's Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness appears to have split from the main body of Eckankar, though Gross and Marché claim to be preserving the originality of the teachings. Sri Kahtifji. John-Roger / Roger Delano Hinkins (2nd initiate) denies any connection to Eckankar beyond having once been a student of Paul Twitchell. More recently, former ECKist Ford Johnson formed a spiritual organization based on the idea that one does not need a master or spiritual guru to achieve spiritual enlightenment. Other former ECKists and their groups, like Sri Michael Owens's "The Way of Truth: Path to God Realization"; Sri Michael Turner's "Yahoo group"; Sri Gary Olsen's "MasterPath"; ex-6th initiate Jerry "Sur Toma" Mulvin's THE DIVINE SCIENCE OF LIGHT AND SOUND; and Evan Pritchard (author, From the Temple Within) could be seen as individuals and organizations that maintain Eckankar-like cosmogonies. All these groups along with Eckankar were founded in the United States in the twentieth century.
David C. Lane, a philosophy professor, discusses the phenomenon of those American teachers. Lane suggests these might be seen more traditionally as an organic continuum or an historical school of "American Shabd" teachings, rather than a "splintering" of any movement. Lane is already distinguished in this particular subject for his research from the late 1990s concerning perceptions of distortions, plagiarism and concealment involving author Paul Twitchell during the first three decades of Eckankar's existence.
The current leader of Eckankar has stated that members should feel free to leave Eckankar unbounded by guilt or fear.
After Twitchell's death in 1971, David C. Lane published a book that claimed some of Twitchell's Eckankar books contained passages from other authors' books without proper citation. Lane claims Twitchell's The Far Country contains plagiarism (of With a Great Master in India and The Path of the Masters by Julian Johnson of the Radha Soami Satsang Beas).
Eckankar states that Twitchell's role was that of "master compiler", saying;
Master Compiler 
The high teachings of ECK had been scattered to the four corners of the world. The different masters each had parts and pieces of it, but they attached little requirements, or strings, to it: You must be a vegetarian, or you have to meditate so many hours a day if you want to really be a true follower on the path to God. And this was wrong for our day and age. It was geared for another culture.
Paul gathered up the whole teaching and took the best. Though it may be a strange thing to say, in this sense I see him as a master compiler. He gathered the golden teachings that were scattered around the world and made them readily available to us. So now we don't have to feel that we must spend ten or fifteen years in an ashram in India, sitting around in the dust with the flies, or locked in a walled-up little cell to keep our attention from the outside world, in order to live the spiritual life.
In 2007, Doug Marman, an Eckankar High Initiate, published The Whole Truth, a biography of Paul Twitchell, refuting these claims made by Lane. The information is highly detailed and examines the criticisms point by point through verifiable historical references. Marman also examines the rarity of respectful dialog in an age of criticism. In relation to this book, Twitchell's widow, Gail Twitchell, has written "...finally, someone got the whole thing right ... Paul's work [put in] in the proper perspective."[unreliable source?] Twitchell biographer and paranormal researcher Brad Steiger has also written and commended this work as the most researched and authoritative to date on Paul Twitchell.[unreliable source?]
Lane has published commentary on Marman's book, reaffirming his view that Twitchell tried to cover up his past associations and plagiarized several authors.
Internet communities of disgruntled ex-members and critics, such as the Usenet newsgroup alt.religion.eckankar, include criticisms dating back more than ten years. Eckankar has been labeled a cult by some, including both former members and Christian writers. ECK Masters are given respect but not worshiped by members of Eckankar.
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