Eckankar: the Key to Secret Worlds
Today I'm reviewing Eckankar: the Key to Secret Worlds by Paul Twitchell. The copyright on my copy is 1969. This book has been reprinted dozens of times with different covers, but my copy looks like the above.
I grew up in Minneapolis, which is where the "religion" of Eckankar was started by the late Paul Twitchell in 1965. Today you can find followers in about 40 countries and about 3000 members. What does Eckankar mean? According to Twitchell the word "Eckankar" means "Co-worker with God" (pg. 46) and the religion is supposedly very ancient, although no record of it exists prior to Twitchell himself.
Some time around 1980, after my first few out-of-body experiences, I was attending the University of Minnesota and hungry for answers. One day I was walking on Fourth street near the University campus toward a used bookstore when I spotted a small shop that had books and posters for Eckankar, the "ancient science of soul travel." "What's this?" I thought, "A religion based on out-of-body travel? Just what I'm looking for!" Naturally, I had to go in.
Once inside, I met some very nice people who told me their "soul travel" was superior to normal astral projection or out-of-body travel in what you can do. Their founder, Paul Twitchell, wrote several books and they encouraged me to buy some. They even gave me a free book called Your Right to Know by Darwin Gross, their "Living Eck Master" at the time. It seems Twitchell had died in 1971 and had passed the torch on to Gross. Since I was a broke college student, I decided to only buy this one book by Twitchell until I knew more.
I read Your Right to Know right away and was shocked to discover all the hallmarks of a cult. Gross's book was filled with the lunatic ravings of a cult leader: new terminology to isolate members from the rest of the world, encouraging members to forsake their family and friends who just can't understand, surrendering your will to the Living Eck Master. Gross claimed that as "Living Eck Master" he was the "Sole representative of God on Earth." What's worse, he contradicted himself several times in the book.
Run away. Run far, far away.
So I never read this Paul Twitchell book Eckankar until just recently in 2022.
Many years later I discovered Darwin Gross had been kicked out of Eckankar for scandals and abuses. But that's not all. There was another Living Eck Master, Jerry Glaskin, who was similarly kicked out of Eckankar for scandals and abuses. And their current Eck Master, Harold Klemp? I don't know much about him. I've seen shows in which he sounds reasonable, but I'm still too wary. At least Klemp has been around for many many years without scandals.
And what about the author of this book, Paul Twitchell? In a personal conversation, author William Buhlman told me Twitchell was the "real deal." He really could travel out-of-body and visit higher planes of existence. But does that make him any less of a cult reader? You decide...
This book is a curious mixture of reasonable, unreasonable, and yes, absurd teachings.
Twitchell claims to have traveled around the world and studied many spiritual traditions, but eventually found a guru in India who taught him the "ancient" "secret knowledge" and techniques of Eckankar. "Hmm," I thought, "Sounds like a Helena Blavatsky (the founder of Theosophy) wanna-be." Twitchell also claimed to have taken personal instruction from non-physical Eck masters with weird (some would say ridiculous) names like Rebazar Tarzs and Fubbi Quanz. And Eckankar, he says, may be used to dissolve karma, escape reincarnation, and travel the higher planes of existence.
Like Darwin Gross, Paul Twitchell does display some traits of a cult leader. For example, he says things like:
"Just as the moth in its desire to be near the flame is willing to destroy itself, so must we in becoming the new self be willing to destroy the old self." (pg. 14)
"The mind and heart of anyone who wishes to travel to the inner worlds will go through the threshold, or door, of the inner self, and undergo the necessary purification with the help of the ECK Master. We must put aside everything and have complete trust in him. We must bring to a halt the shaking of the mind by terror. All attachment must drop from our minds and leave only one thing for us, the love for the inner teaching, a love for the light and sound of the cosmic worlds." (pg. 40)
"You must understand then that the spiritual guide is actually the ECK master, and yet he is not the ECK master. He is the highest and the lowest and no man can resist him, should the guide reach out to take charge of the neophyte if the latter ask for such assistance. This is because he has the attitude of a father's loving care toward his child. Every soul that reaches perfection can testify to this." (pg. 42-43)
Twitchell seems to preach "Charity" or Biblical Agape (impersonal love) rather than love for other people. For example, "Rebazar Tarz" supposedly said this:
"Since the human element in man doesn't have the capacity, then he must give his impersonal good will to all, but love only those whom you must!" (pg. 21)
Other times he sounds quite reasonable and gives reasonable out-of-body advice. For example:
"When preparing to leave the body for a spiritual journey, you must deliberately focus your attention on the feeling of the journey fulfilled until such a feeling fills the soul and crowds out all other ideas in the consciousness. With this deliberate concentration the soul will slowly leave the physical body and explore other spheres before returning to its temple of flesh. Therefore, the power of attention is the measure of your success in getting out of the body the first few times you attempt soul travel." (pg. 14)
Well, I can't argue with that. Focus of attention is probably the most important thing. But then he makes claims like this one, which describes seeing your body from an out-of-body perspective:
"Having fixed ourselves in a certain position in the room, we can stand there looking down and examining the strange lump of clay on the bed. It neither breathes, nor moves, from lack of reflexes. The color of the face is usually gray, the eyes wide, staring lifelessly, and the radiation of the aura gradually fades." (pg. 212)
That's nonsense. When out-of-body, your body continues to breathe normally. Your body is in sleep paralysis, your eyes are usually closed, and the aura remains the same. When I look at my body on the bed, I normally don't see my body at all; I just see its energy field.
Chapter 3 is titled "The Perplexing Techniques of Soul Travel" and it's not bad at all. Twitchell claims there are four basic techniques: The emotional, the sound, the secret, and the master technique. Despite that, he proceeds to give more than that, and they seem unrelated to those descriptions:
The first technique is also called the Imaginative technique. It's basically the "Target Technique" taught by countless other authors. You close your eyes and focus on the spiritual eye (third eye), and:
"All of a sudden you will find that this is reality. You are standing in the center of that place that you were thinking about. This is the old law of the astral world which says, and I repeat here, that wherever you place your thought body, the rest of you is bound to follow." (pg. 50)
He also tells you not to be afraid, but in a cultish way:
"No harm will come to the body, for the ECK master is always near to see that nothing happens other than for your own good." (pg. 51)
Concentrate on a bright object like a coin. Then begin to concentrate on going out of body. As you drift off, repeat to yourself the affirmation "I am leaving the body. I am going to (whatever place desired.)" Do this over and over until it becomes reality. William Buhlman also gave that technique in his first book.
Sit on the floor, eyes closed, feet stretched out in front, knees stiff. Take a deep breath, and touch the feet with your fingertips by leaning forward, just as if you were performing a calisthenics drill. At the same time, chant the word SUGMAD (Eckankar's word for God). Perform this over and over.
The fourth technique is: Sit in an easy chair, eyes closed, and chant the word "Gopal," supposedly one of the names of the guardians of the Temples of Golden Wisdom.
Take a comfortable position in a chair or on the floor. Look at a spot between the eyebrows and allow hypnagogic images to flow. Establish a blank screen and the "inner ECK master" will appear in the same shape and form as "myself" (Twitchell.) Only think of the "living ECK master" and traveling with him.
In true cult-like fashion, he writes:
"He is the only vehicle through which one can reach the higher worlds, so take care and practice this technique correctly. An added feature is that you can chant his title, which will give great emphasis to the encounter with him. His title is the Mahanta, which means the sat guru or great guru, the light-giver...This will bring the living ECK master faster into your orbit to escort you into the other worlds." (pg. 59)
Later, Twitchell bolsters this title by saying:
"In other words, he is a true light-giver and an instrument of the Supreme SUGMAD which makes contact with this world of humanity. The head of ECK is called the Mahanta--which means spiritual leader, or Godman." (pg. 71)
How's that for cult-like delusions of grandeur? It gets worse:
"The ECK master is the only man, or should I say being, who is capable of manifesting individualism and universalism in their full expressions. He is a law unto himself, does what he pleases, has what he wants, comes and goes absolutely at his own will, and ask no favors of any man. No man can hinder him in the execution of his will, nor does he ask favors of others. All things are at his command." (pg. 72)
Although not as disturbing as Darwin Gross's claims, Twitchell does have some absurd teachings. For example, I found this to be completely wrong:
"It is generally understood that no man with a defective body or any serious deformity can ever become a real spiritual traveler." (pg. 72)
I call bullsh*t on that one. Here's another strange out-of-place thing I found in this book, which I happen to agree with:
"This is why socialism never works. Man must pay for everything that he gets; all debts, whether or not they are financial, must be paid in full. We cannot get something for nothing." (pg. 140)
Like Theosophy, Twitchell teaches that there are several planes of existence, subplanes, and multiple chakras in the body (although he only names six of them).
He claims there is a holy sound, but instead of the Yogic sound of "Aum" he says:
"Hu" that is "The sound Hu is the beginning and the ending of every sound in all life." (pg. 105)
In additional, Twitchell lays out a great deal of cosmology, starting with:
"There are three levels of independent workers in eternity which cooperate in the running of the worlds. First, the SUGMAD, the All-Supreme Being; second, the silent ones, who are his messengers; and third, the ECK masters who are agents of both the SUGMAD and the silent ones. The three work together." (pg. 111)
This includes a grand hierarchy consisting of a galaxy of lords, rulers, creators, and governors of all the heavenly spheres.
Twitchell also talks about nonphysical beings he calls "spiritual travelers" that are very powerful and assist people in their out-of-body journeys.
He also describes the different planes of existence in great detail. For example, he talks about the "Capital of the Astral Plane" and gives it the name Sahasra del Kanwal.
Then he says the physical plane has a capital too, a city called Retz, located on the planet Venus. (pg. 197) Oh, come on. Really? The average surface temperature on Venus is 847F / 452C. On a cold winter's night it can get as low as 820F / 437C.
The name of the Lord of this physical universe, he says, is Elam, whom many have mistaken for Sugmad (God).
He says there are seven spiritual cities on Earth named Damcar, Agam Des, Shamball, Sat Dham, Akeviz, Kimtaved, and Nampak (pg. 197). These are located respectively in the Gobi desert, the Himalaya Mountains, India, the Pyrenees Mountains, Central America, South America, and Africa. Quick, call Google Earth. On and on he gives names to different worlds, planes and places. It's not an insignificant part of the book.
To bolster his claims he cites other famous "soul travelers" such as Hafiz, the aforementioned Blavatsky, Padre Pio (famous for bilocation, not OBE) and many others, all of whom predate Eckankar itself, and none of whom taught anything resembling Twitchell's bizarre cosmology.
Again, some of the claims in the book seem reasonable, but they are overshadowed by dubious or outright absurd claims. I have no doubt Twitchell had OBEs, but I think maybe he just went off the rails at some point and got caught up in his own delusions.
Don't get me wrong. I've met some very nice people who claimed to be followers of Eckankar, so it's not all bad, and maybe Harold Klemp turned the organization around for the better (one can only hope).
The writing is good, the content is plentiful, and the OBE techniques are decent, but it's like mining in the mud for an occasional gem (or cleaning out a horse stall). I give the book 2 stars out of 5.
24 May 2022
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