A cultish but more or less non-threatening religious group who are heavily in to dreams. They are the "religion of the sound and light of god". They believe that god is a great sound and a bright light, and that lucid dreaming can be a religious experience. They believe that by invoking one god-like sound, "Huuuuuu", you can control your dreams. There is always a Living Eck Master, who supposedly visits Eck practicers in their dreams to provide spiritual guidance. Right now the Living Eck Master is some soft-spoken fellow in South Africa.

I say cultish because they have a few recruitment practices reminiscent of many cults. First, the charismatic leader. Second, they often host free "Dream Seminars" offering to teach dream interpretation without mentioning their religious affiliations, and then spend the entire seminar talking about Eckankar, giving out religious material, and getting people to chant Hu. Creepy, but as I said, not particularly threatening and easy to walk away from.

Eckankar is very popular in Alberta and California (and, I presume, South Africa). They have annual conventions in North America that the Living Eck Master attends.

I'm not an Eck practicer (I am but a gentle Unitarian), so take this with a grain of salt. This information is from a pamphlet I got and my vague recollections of a seminar. I walked out of the seminar early because I was really creeped out, so I invite anyone with more knowledge (perhaps an actual practicer of Eck?) to add a node below.

“Ancient Science of Soul Travel”

Not much is known about the history of ECKANKAR, also called "ECK."

In 1965, a Kentucky man named Paul Twitchell saw what he called the Vairagi Masters one night as he was meditating, and with them participated in soul travel. Twitchell began calling himself "Sri," a title that is characteristic to Sikh philosophy. Since his death, there has been one other Sri, Harold Klemp.

ECKANKAR has a wide range of sources from where they glean their beliefs.

ECKANKAR's beliefs incorporate ideas from many of the main religions and philosophies throughout the world. They share many doctrines with Hinduism, and use the Bhagavad Gita as a reference. From Judeo-Christianity they use the Bible, Apocrypha, and Book of Mormon. They also lend validity to beliefs from Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Greek mythology, Scientology, Cabala, and I Ching. Furthermore, because ECKANKAR considers itself the religion of the "Light and Sound of God," they highly respect the works of artists both visual and auditory, namely Raphael and Beethoven. Also, ECK is a faith that concerns itself with scholarship, and so studies the works of Emerson, Shakespeare, and Einstein. Lastly, because ECK believes that God can speak through any medium, they search for Him in untraditional media such as nursery rhymes and the daily news.

ECKANKAR has very distinct doctrines, as well as carefully-defined thoughts as to their origin.

According to the Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, or the "Way of the Eternal," ECKANKAR "is the original fountain from which all other faiths spring...Religions have been developed to aid mankind in reaching God. Each religion is a channel of ECK…to spiritually uplift a…band of consciousness.” Simply put, ECK followers believe that all religions are an avenue to reach God. As an ECK follower will tell you, “Love is the ONLY way to God.” According to this belief, all believers are mere vehicles for the Divine Spirit. The goal of ECK is “To find greater freedom, wisdom and love, and spiritual unfoldment.”

While ECKANKAR uses many terms to describe their beliefs, often there are many words to describe the same concept.

In ECK, "Soul," "Spark of God", "Spiritual Eye", and SUGMAD are synonymous terms. Life force, Holy Spirit, Word of God, Audible Life Stream, Life Force, ECK, Divine Spirit, Hu, Ocean of Love and Mercy, God-power, Essence of God, and Sat Nam are all different terms for the same thing. Lastly, Living ECK Master, Sri, Mahanta, and Living Word are all the same.

In ECKANKAR, there are five "planes" of consciousness that one must travel through in order to reach a state of "enlightenment." [Note: The first name stated is the plane's "Vedantic name," while the second given is the "Mystic" name.]

First, there is the Astral plane. This is the physical plane, known as Earth, and is considered the lowest of the heavens. Its leader is called Jot or "Kal Niranjan." ECK followers believe that he is the ruler and creator of all matter of the “lower worlds.” Also, it is necessary to note that Niranjan is their personification of Satan. On this plane, marriage is important; its purpose is a vow to help another person become a Master in this lifetime. And, as aforementioned, since light and sound is an intrinsic element to the belief system, each plane has a trademark sound and/or color. According to ECK, the universe lies inside each color and sound. In the Astral plane, there can be heard bells and a resounding conch shell.

The next plane, The Mental Plane, or Brahmanda, is led by Lord Krishna and the Vedas to create, maintain, and destroy lower worlds. This state, called Aum-Omkar, where minds come from and to which they must return. ECK believes that the Heavens of Christians and other religions are found in this plane. In this world, there is a warm color of sunset, with the sound of a great drum.

Located in the stratosphere lies the next plane, the Wisdom Plane, or Daswan Dwar. The leader is Ramkar, and the purpose of his world is to supplying power to lower worlds. This world is the source of miracles, and is home to the Lake of Nectar and swans. The world is lit by the light from the glorified souls, called "soul light," as well as the light of twelve suns with orange rays. In this plane, violins can be heard.

The Bliss Plane, or Maha Sunna is believed to be located within ions. In this world, one is One with the Supreme. The colors are those of rubies, emeralds, diamonds, and blue, and a keen flute can be heard.

Lastly, the highest plane, the God-Plane, or Sach Kahnd is the encompassing of pure joy. According to belief, this plane is separated from the other planes by the Darkness Zone, and only saints can cross the void and enter the sacred plane. After one reaches this state, they return to earth as a Redeemer. Because of the ultimate rapture and ecstasy of the joy , ECK followers say that it is "futile" to try to describe the color or sound of joy.

ECKANKAR has distinct rules and laws regarding behavior and spirituality.

There are Five Spiritual Laws:

  1. One of the most important laws in ECK is Kamit, or the Law of Silence. It states that if someone denounces your ECK faith or speaks out against you, it is not for you to defend yourself, but that karma will decide their fate.
  2. The beginning of human life is when breath comes into the fetus.
  3. Love is the first and greatest commandment, called the Rule of Spiritual Law, and probably their most important; love God, love your neighbor, love yourself.
  4. "Give tribute to God and Caesar," a.k.a. tithe to ECK temple and pay taxes.
  5. Reward the laborer. (This law is why ECK followers are adamantly opposed to Welfare).

Like many Eastern philosophies, ECK believes in dharma, which they call the Law of Life. The Law of the Self dictates that each must understand and act to solve the mystery of their little self before they can solve the mystery of God. The Law of Noninterference says that it is not a soul’s responsibility to interfere with the affairs of another soul. The Law of Danda is another name for self-discipline. The Law of Spiritual Protection says that you are to “speak not; harm not those who are the bearers of Light, for harm will come to him who does.” The Law of Strength says that only the strong enter the kingdom of heaven. The Law of Facsimiles explain that all effects in life are brought about by thoughts and pictures in the mind of the individual; ECK followers use connecting diamond diagrams to represent events in lives of individuals to illustrate cause and effect. Along with the "written" laws of ECK, there are “Invisible laws”: appreciation, sincerity, unselfishness, idealism, devotion, personal effort, and attainment.

Fun facts about ECKANKAR that you should know:

  • They don't believe in "righteous anger."
  • Sex is a “higher spiritual consciousness,” and inside marriage, ECK followers are encouraged to practice regularly.
  • There is a strong sense of polarity in ECK, ie: yin v. yang, negative. v. positive, feminine v. masculine, black v. white, evil v. good, aggression v. passivity, etc.
  • ECK has no desire to convert believers to their faith.
  • There are more than 50,000 ECK followers in more than 100 countries around the world.
  • The World Headquarters for ECKANKAR is located in Minneapolis.

I discovered this religion when I walked past an ECK temple when I was in Ghana, and my curiosity was aroused. In my research, I've even heard this faith called a cult, but I would rather not put a label on this belief system. Then I discovered that my then-boyfriend's grandparents were ECK. (Which would explain the hour-long CD of nothing but a circular breathing unified note of "Hu." (It all makes sense...)

Cramer, Todd and Doug Munson. ECKANKAR: Ancient Wisdom for Today. 2nd ed. Minneapolis: ECKANKAR, 1994.

Klemp, Harold. Modern Prophet Answers Your Key Questions About Life, A. Minneapolis: ECKANKAR, 1998.

Klemp, Harold. Soul Travelers of the Far Country. Minneapolis, MN: ECKANKAR, 1987.

Klemp, Harold. Spiritual Laws of Life, The. Minneapolis: ECKANKAR, 2002.

Robinson, B.A. ECKANKAR: Religion of the Light and Sound of God. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 2003.

Twitchell, Paul. Dialogues With the Master. Menlo Park, CA: ECKANKAR, 1970.

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