by Dodie Bellamy
Authors Note: The following is a cover story I wrote for the San Diego Reader, which was published June 22, 1995, under the title "Hi Fubbi, this is Gakko: Former Eckankar Member Revisits the Movement," a title I did not choose. This version is my original version before the Reader made several minor editorial changes. The Readerwas quite supportive and allowed me free rein as far as style and content goes. Their main concern was that I make the article be about San Diego, a requirement that ended up being a lot of fun. I never would have written the extravagant sunset paragraph without it, for instance. In my article the sun literally rises and sets in San Diego. Focusing so much on place emphasized for me that this was a journey, both metaphorically and physically.
"We use more discriminating intelligence when we buy a used car than when we buy a religion", says philosophy professor and cult-buster David Christopher Lane. "Buying a used car you at least look underneath the hood, hit the tires, maybe take it to a mechanic to check it out. But in buying a religion you're supposed to wear these narrow blinders, so that if anybody disagrees you can block it out. It's basically, check your brains at the door when you join a religion."For the past twenty years, Lane's books and articles exposing the plagiarisms, lies, inconsistencies and scandals of a number of new religious movements have raised a fury among true believers. Members of various cults have made death threats, written him letters with skeletons on them, broken into his apartment, threatened lawsuits, and generally harassed him. Lane's no longer an easy man to find. He lives in the San Diego area, but the location is a closely guarded secret. He has no phone. "I actually kept my phone for years explains Lane, until one night when you're asleep and you've got to get up at four in the morning and go to school, you get a phone call saying, "We're going to fucking kill you." You know what I mean? It gets tiresome."
When I fly down from San Francisco in mid-December to interview Lane my interest goes beyond mere journalistic curiosity. For ten years I was a member of Eckankar, one of the groups Lane has written most extensively about. His critique was instrumental in my dropping out of Eckankar in the early '80s. This man literally changed my life. I anticipate our talk with a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Apparently Lane has equally conflicted feelings about me. Initially he refuses to come to the Hillcrest home where I'm staying, preferring to meet in a nearby restaurant. Since I don't want to play the awkward game of trying to figure out who one another are in public, I haggle. "I'm worried about getting lost" he says, exasperated. But it's just a few blocks off University. Finally, he agrees to come to the house, but I'm dubious as to whether he will really appear. With only a post office box and an answering service to connect me to him, Lane seems as slippery as Houdini. With the blink of an eye he could vanish from my life forever.
Lane does arrive, at one o'clock Thursday afternoon, on time to the minute. I open the door to a boyish thirty-eight-year-old with a full head of healthy brown hair. He's told me he surfs, and in his knee-length khaki shorts, plum-colored T-shirt and sandals, he looks like a surfer. His clothes seem to be tossed onto his rather stocky body. He extends his hand and smiles broadly. "Hi, I'm Dave." Sizing up his clean, homogenized attractiveness, I think, 'Tuck in his shirt and he could be on one of those infomercials, beside a pool selling motivational tapes - how to lose weight, gain friends, make it rich in real estate with no money down.'
We spend roughly nine hours, spread over two days, hanging out together. Lane is a real charmer, and I am easily charmed, so we get along famously. Besides religion, our conversation ranges from Joan Crawford to Pulp Fictionto vegetarianism to his love of teaching to his family, Catholic school, surfing, surfing movies (Lane loves Gidget,hates Big Wednesday), and our first sexual experiences. His occurred in a tree house when he was fifteen. We joke about calling this article Out of the Tree House and into the Dog House.
Sitting at a table outside Monsoon at Village Hillcrest, surrounded by potted plants and curving walls of mango orange, gold, deep purple, and rusty red, Lane sips a Coke and tells me the history of his involvement with alternative religious movements. At seventeen Lane, who was raised Catholic in the San Fernando Valley, became interested in Radhasoami, a branch of surat shabd yoga founded in India in the nineteenth century. In 1978, after five years of study, he was initiated into Radhasoami in India by the late Maharaj Charan Singh.
In 1977, noting the similarities between Radhasoami and Eckankar, a religious movement founded in San Diego in 1965 by the late Paul Twitchell, Lane wrote a term paper comparing the two for an undergraduate religious studies class at California State University, Northridge. In the course of his research Lane discovered that Twitchell plagiarized whole chapters from Radhasoami texts, lied about biographical details, and commenced vast cover-ups concerning the true origin of Eckankar's doctrines.
Lane leans across the cafe table, excitedly tapping his straw. "I found all this fun interesting stuff. I talked to Twitchell's first wife.Nobody knew he'd been married before. I was excited, twenty years old, in the moment of discovering something new. I had huge phone bills because I had called this professor or this person. So I sent my term paper to Eckankar, and then they turned around two months later and said they were going to sue me if I published it. So, I'm not scared of attorneys. My family is full of attorneys. Naturally the threat made me want to do more research. If they're going to sue you about a 120-page term paper when you're twenty years old, you know something's up."
The following year he wrote a second paper, The Making of a
Spiritual Movement: The Untold Story of Paul Twitchell and Eckankar. "I was obsessed", Lane admits. "I was on the Holy
Grail of research."Through a process that Lane himself does
not completely understand, this manuscript was photocopied and
circulated around the country. As the great Houdini wrote, "The
yellow thread of exposure seems to be inextricably woven into
all fabrics whose strength is secrecy."Houdini, like Lane,
was a man whose obsessions drove him to expose religious frauds.
In the meantime, Lane graduated from Northridge, visited India, and enrolled at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, where in 1979 he met Brian Walsh. "He wanted to make my research more available. So he puts up a thousand bucks and out comes this funky xeroxed self-published book with a weird cover".Within three weeks of its publication, The Making of a Spiritual Movement sold out. Around the same time, the Spiritual Counterfeits Project published their own journal, Eckankar, a Hard Look at a New Religion, based largely on Lane's manuscript, which they distributed to nearly every Eck center in the world. Disillusioned Eckists left the movement in droves.
Eckankar set up a meeting with Lane at their international headquarters in Menlo Park. "Were you nervous?" I ask. "No, I was excited that somebody would pay attention to my research." Lane exclaims. "I think they expected somebody who was more academic-looking. This was '79, fifteen years ago. I looked like a little kid. I'm a surfer, so I had this surfer hair and a turtleneck. They were dressed up in suits. They had this little tape recorder, and I was impressed - I thought it was very professional. And they looked at me like, 'What's this geek doing?' We sat down and they were really uptight because they knew the impact of my research. So, I said, 'You guys can get out of this simply: just explain that Twitchell plagiarized. And just explain that Twitchell covered up his life.' The upshot of it was, they didn't do anything."
Lane tried in vain to place his controversial book with a major publisher. "I got a number of bites, but they got worried because Eckankar's so happy to sue people." In 1983 Lane and Brian Walsh issued a glossier version of The Making of a Spiritual Movement through their own Del Mar Press. Eckankar threatened a lawsuit for the inappropriate use of their trademark symbol on the book's cover. Due to the popularity of the Ghostbusters logo, Lane and Walsh had put a no smoking sign over Eckankar's logo, which is EK formed into a circle. Del Mar Press agreed to change the cover on future editions. The Making of a Spiritual Movement,which is not advertised or available in bookstores, has sold over 10,000 copies.
Finally, 1992, Garland, a publisher of hardback reference books, accepted Lane's manuscript for their library series. Eckankar got wind of an early advertisement for the book before it came out and "legally harassed" Garland for several months. Even though the book was already typeset, Garland decided to withdraw it. Lane's green eyes turn serious.
"Be very careful with Eckankar. When they find out you're talking to me, I guarantee that their lawyers will write the Reader. I'm sure of it." He taps his finger on the table. "Actually, Eckankar is the one who has kept me going because they keep threatening me every time I try to come out with something. They sent letters about me claiming I was the negative force, that I was predicted from the beginning of mankind."In Twitchell's book The Far Country, alone, Lane found over 400 plagiarized paragraphs. "The more research you do the more you realize that Twitchell was an incredible plagiarizer." He smiles to himself as if he were having a beatific vision of Paul Twitchell hunched over some Radhasoami text, scribbling away. "In order to find out the full extent of Twitchell's plagiarism, you'd have to go through all the books that he read in his lifetime. I don't mean just an idea or a thought, I'm talking about the reproduction of grammatical mistakes, semicolon misuse. I'm talking about the very form of that truth being copied. Not the truth itself. I don't know what that is."
So who was this mysterious Paul Twitchell? Twitchell claimed to
have been born on a boat on the Mississippi, a few minutes after
a great earthquake shook the mid-South and formed a lake in its
wake. Twitchell told his second wife Gail that he was born in
the early twenties, but in one of his books he places the date
of his birth as, fantastically, in the early nineteenth century.
Lane's research indicates, however, that Twitchell was born between
1908 and 1912, on dry land in Paducah, Kentucky.
After leaving the Self-Revelation Church, Twitchell dove in
the Radhasoami movement. Radhasoami is a yogic teaching which,
according to Lane, "is designed to enable the soul or consciousness
to ascend beyond the physical body to higher spiritual regions
by means of an internal sound or life current." Central to
the teachings of Radhasoami, continues Lane, "is the necessity
of a living human master competent in initiating disciples into
the practice and technique of listening to the inner sound, contemplating
the inner light, and leaving the human body at will."
Twitchell married his second wife, Gail Atkinson, in San Francisco
in 1964. Shortly afterwards, a 500-year-old Tibetan monk, Rebazar
Tarzs, appeared to Twitchell and instructed him to move to San
Diego. Twitchell was living in Point Loma in 1965 when he started
teaching workshops and selling booklets on how to leave your body.
On October 22, Twitchell claimed to receive 'The Rod of Power'
from Rebazar Tarzs, becoming the 971st Living Eck Master.
The teachings of Eckankar are presented to the public through books, free brochures, advertised meetings and lectures, and, of course, word of mouth. According to one brochure, which invites me to "experience the miracle of spiritual growth" and to "climb the stairway to spiritual freedom", Eckankar membership is renewable on a yearly basis. Members receive a monthly discourse, which they have the option of studying alone or in classes. The suggested annual membership donation for individuals is $120, a bargain in the miracles and freedom market. A representative at the Eckankar international office assured me that no one is turned away for lack of funds.
Eckankar, which is now called the Religion of Light and
Sound, teaches that each individual is Soul inhabiting a
human body. Soul, being a spark of God, is on a journey to find
its way home to God, or the Sugmad. Eckankar is the most direct
path to becoming a "co-worker with the Sugmad". Initiations
link Soul to the Eck (holy spirit), which can be seen as light
and heard as sound. Followers of Eckankar believe that beyond
the physical world there are many other realms existing at higher
vibratory rates. Through daily spiritual exercises one can shift
one's awareness from the physical world and soul travel to these
higher planes. In order to burn off all their karma in this lifetime
and to be released from the cycle of death and reincarnation,
Eckists practice detachment from the vagaries of life. This is
not seen as coldness or indifference, but as a precursor to unconditional
In writing the above paragraph I consulted Eckankar materials,
but I didn't need to. After giving lectures and teaching Eckankar
classes for ten years, I already knew it all. As I sit at my computer,
I play Billie Holiday's Lady in Satin. In Eckankar there
is a technique called the Golden-tongued Wisdom, in which you
find spiritual guidance through an overheard conversation, a voice
on the radio, or the lyrics of a popular song. A line will leap
out and inspire you. "I'm a fool to want you", quivers
Billie through my stereo speakers.
Lane's research on Eckankar is meticulously documented. The
Making of a Spiritual Movement is, in fact, so well documented
that at at times it reads like a 200-page footnote. It lacks the
wit, passion, and narrative drive of his other books, Exposing
Cultsand The Radhasoami Tradition. In The Making
of a Spiritual Movement,like his counterpart Houdini, Lane
seems shackled. Two figures emerge from the stilted style of The
Making of a Spiritual Movement:the protean Paul Twitchell
and his young, vivacious wife, Gail, who, after Twitchell's death,
married his successor, Darwin Gross, in a Dynasty-like
power play that troubled and thrilled the faithful. Lane attributes
the initial success of Eckankar to Gail's organizational abilities.
"Because he had to get a lot done?"
"You got it. The way to get more income is to have new material. Imagine it - you've got a lot of new clientele out there ready to buy your stuff. To come up with original material takes time, and time is money. Dr. Bluth, Twitchell's personal doctor and vice president of Eckankar at the time, has confirmed that he gave Twitchell books from the Radhasoami library. So, Twitchell starts to plagiarize extensively from these books in order to get new material to get new money."
"More and more money comes in. His earlier writings didn't really talk about Rebazar Tarzs. The 500-year-old bearded Tibetan monk, Rebazar Tarzs, wears a maroon robe, carries in his powerful right hand a huge walking staff, and speaks with a musical voice. He's a character who has seized the imaginations of Eckists as completely as Ahab or Falstaff has seized ours. Instead, Twitchell wrote about Kirpal Singh and Swami Premananda. Now what do you do when your group is charging money and does not follow any of the restrictions of this Indian group it evolved out of, one whose teachings are free? So I came upon this idea called genealogical dissociation. Simply put, Twitchell cut his connection with Radhasoami for good marketing reasons. He had to make it seem like it's his own creation, because if he linked the two he'd lose his potential clientele."It was in order to hide these past connections, Lane believes, that Twitchell created the unbroken line of Vairagi Eck Masters, dating back some six million years to Gakko, who emigrated from the planet Venus.
"Understandably he changed the names of his sources, because he didn't want people to know about his past. Remember, he'd been kicked out of Swami Premananda's church in 1955. His previous associations were tainted. He accelerated his cover up to the point that it became a mythology in which Twitchell couldn't remember all the names. On tape Twitchell is asked about Rebazar Tarzs. In what century was he born? He totally doesn't know, he doesn't know what the guy's talking about. 'Oh, oh! Rebazar Tarzs, yeah, thatRebazar Tarzs.' "Understand, he's got names coming out of the woodwork."
"So who do you think Rebazar Tarzs really is?"
"Probably a composite cover name for three people: Guru Nanak,
the founder of Sikhism, which was started 500 years ago; Sawan
Singh, who was Kirpal Singh's guru; and Swami Premananda. Whereas Sudar Singh [another memorable character in Twitchell's cosmology]
is a straight cover for Kirpal Singh."
Lane and his friends playfully call one another by the names of Eck Masters. Lane places his hand to his face like a phone receiver, "Hi Fubbi, this is Gakko." I choke down the last gulp of my Green Garden vegetable cocktail and ask, "Where do you think Twitchell got these names?"
"He got them from his Indian books on Radhasoami, or Julian Johnson's The Path of the Masters, or from With a Great Master in India. He came up with the name Sudar Singh from the name Sudarshan Singh - he just cut off the 'shan' part of it and put 'Sudar.' Usually he mixes Indian names with Chinese names that he read about in some popular Tibetan or Taoist book, and he'll conflate the two. An example is Jagat Ho. Now, 'Jagat' is actually the first name of a Radhasoami guru named Jagat Singh. Then he took the 'Ho', and he put the two words together. He does that all the time."
"So who is Jagat Ho?"
"He's one of the 970 Eck Masters who runs one of the Golden Temples near El Cajon." Lane laughs heartily at his joke. "Once when I was driving down to Baja on one of my frequent surf trips", he continues, "I noticed to my amazement a highway sign that said, Rebasar. I don't know exactly what it means - no passing - or something like that. I said to myself, I bet this is where Twitchell got the name Rebazar Tarzs! Remember, when Twitchell founded Eckankar in 1965 he was living in San Diego at Point Loma. I would not put it past Twitchell to have simply coined the name from one of his trips to Baja."
For tax purposes Twitchell moved Eckankar to Las Vegas, but he
maintained residence in San Diego for the rest of his life. When
he died in 1971 he was living in Del Mar. Lane asks me if I want
to see Twitchell's Del Mar home.
Once we get to Del Mar, Lane pulls to the side of the road and examines a copy of Twitchell's death certificate to get the exact address. "Here it is, Pine Avenue, right next to where I was living when I doing my books in the '80s. If I had a really good arm I could have thrown a baseball up the hill, without gravity, and maybe hit his house."
"Did you know this before you moved there?"
"No, I had no idea."
How Oedipal! We drive over and park a few blocks from the beach
in front of a posh two-story wooden house with a cobblestone drive,
surrounded by Torrey pines. Lane leans down to better peer through
"But, Dave," I whine, "why won't you talk about it on tape?"
"Because I have a certain kind of respect for him, a kind of sweet affection. There's certain things I left out of the book, and one of them is the night Twitchell died. There's lots of stuff I know about Eckankar, lots of stuff that is real juicy and real scandalous, but I wanted to limit my book to some major salient features about plagiarism and cover-up. What I found was so obvious that anybody could have discovered it. It wasn't just David Lane's personal opinion. I have nice feelings towards Eckankar. I don't have a real axe to grind except for being hassled legally for the last decade."
At Hillcrest's Espresso Roma Cafe, Lane confides, "The people
who scare me are John-Roger's people, not Eckankar's."
Lane pays for my coffee and his Coke, and we sit down at a small
dark table. The walls are covered with Andrea Zuill's dramatically
lit oil paintings of monstrous chalky-fleshed zombies. I imagine
them as the tormented souls of all the cultists who have lost
their faith because of Lane. "John-Roger was a follower of
Eckankar," begins Lane.
Browsing in a bookstore, Lane stumbled upon one of John-Roger's
books and noticed it was a "rip-off" of Eckankar. "You
can imagine how I felt," exclaims Lane. "This was in
'76 or '77, and I was twenty years old, so it's like All the
President's Men.I wrote to him, and he wrote a real nice
letter back, saying that we should get together and talk. This
guy's pretty smart, because he knows that if he pays attention
to me, that's a good way of buying me off, so he can spin-doctor
my research. He invited me to his house in Mandeville Canyon,
a beautiful house, a mansion. I should have been suspicious because
there were really good looking guys all over the compound, washing
his car in short-shorts. I was very naive. The minute he saw me
he canceled all of his appointments and spent six hours with me."
Lane leans across the table towards me and grins.
I nudge, "Can't you tell when somebody's got a crush on you?" Lane looks away shyly. "Did John-Roger ever make any moves on you?"
"No, no, no, no."
"He's really into setting it up so that I would get to the place where I would want it. That's his mentality. I was flattered that here was a spiritual master who was spending hours with me instead of dissing me or suing me. He wanted to know every dirty piece of laundry on Twitchell and Eckankar. He was obsessed. He used to send me Christmas cards, he gave me his personal phone number, and he offered me $5,000 to help with my research on Eckankar."
"Did you take any money?"
Lane shakes his head. "No. I kind of knew he was a fraud, but at the time he was being nice to me so I wasn't in the mood to expose him. Well, the upshot of it is, we were friendly for five years, and then in 1983 four of his closest disciples defected. They knew what I had done with Eckankar, and they thought, 'Well he can do this with J.R.' So there was a secret meeting in a Santa Monica condominium with these defectors. Very top secret, for they were really scared of upsetting John-Roger. I taped them for five hours." The accusations leveled against Hinkins included embezzling money, plagiarizing from the teachings of Paul Twitchell and others, skirting zoning laws, illegally obtaining airfare discounts, setting up tape recorders throughout his house to obtain information that he would later use to appear psychic, and sexual misconduct.
Lane pauses and thinks for a bit. He's concerned about sounding
homophobic, particularly since he knows I'm staying with two gay
"He has this thing called aura innerphasing, where you do aura balancing, soul balancing, etheric balancing. He usually likes heterosexual disciples, that is people that are not overtly gay, to have sex with. The disciples felt used and manipulated for spiritual reasons. It's not as if J.R. said, 'Look, I find you attractive. Let's go to bed.' That's one clear way of doing it-instead of saying, 'I'm God and God says that in order for you to get to the higher astral planes you need to get on all fours or whatever.' A friend of mine calls him the Divine Rump Ranger."
After the secret meeting, Lane phoned Hinkins to ask him about
these charges. "He went nuts. The courtship was over. Man,
it was a nasty conversation. I told him I didn't plan to write
about him, but he started to send out smear letters around the
country, saying that I was a gay FBI agent in San Diego, that
I had researchers working for me that I wasn't paying. Some letters
contained death threats against me and my informants. In one he
refers to me as 'Lane the widower'
Four or five months later, on October 5, 1984, Lane's apartment in Del Mar was broken into. "John-Roger personally came and robbed my house. I was teaching at UC San Diego at the time. I came home around 12:30 in the afternoon and the place was ransacked, I mean I couldn't get in the door. So I had to climb through the bedroom window. The bed was overturned, drawers were everywhere. The phone wire had been disconnected. And there was a big note on a box that said, NO MORE. No jewelry was gone - he took only research stuff, including materials for my doctoral dissertation."
"He took nothing else?"
"He took my wife's personal diaries, a camera which he must
have thought had film in it, video tapes, an address book, and
my recipe file containing my favorite recipe for Del Mar Lentil
Loaf. He probably thought my recipe file was written in code,
had secret information, or something like that. Gumby and Pokey
were laid out on the bed, like they'd been thrown. I said, 'I
know it's John-Roger-look at Gumby and Pokey!'
About four weeks later Lane's guru in India, Charan Singh, received a letter, supposedly from another follower in San Diego, criticizing Lane and quoting from his wife's stolen diaries. Charan Singh realized the letter was a fraud and forwarded it to Lane. That same week Hinkins wrote to Lane assuring him that he wanted to be friends again and that he had nothing to do with the robbery. Hinkins also wrote to Charan Singh asking him to use his influence to get Lane to stop doing research on him. All three letters are printed in the same typeface with the same malfunctioning capital A.
"Then," Lane says excitedly, "John-Roger committed the biggest mistake he's ever made. He took my wife's diaries and made hand-written notes in the margins. 'Should I send this to the IRS?' 'Should I send this to Eckankar?' Little notes he was making to himself. Then he mailed some of the stolen documents anonymously to Eckankar, under the assumption that they would use it against me, and I would think Eckankar robbed my house. But Eckankar's attorneys mailed the package back to me. It came from a P.O. box that John-Roger had personally paid for. The guy's like an idiot, right? And so I had handwriting analysis done on the writing on the diaries and on that NO MORE sign. Two different analysts verified they were all written by John-Roger Hinkins. Moreover, people within John-Roger's group have confirmed that on the day of the robbery he was in San Diego, and he came home that night, hot, sweaty, like he'd done something really bad, dude. Another person in John-Roger's group, who has to remain anonymous because he's right next to him, admitted to me that he was with John-Roger the day of the robbery, and that John-Roger personally entered into it."
Lane decided against pursuing a lawsuit against Hinkins, but he
did go public with his story. In Understanding CultsLane
published The Criminal Activities of John-Roger Hinkins,
a laborious account of Hinkins' alleged break-in and smear campaign.
He also gave full accounts to the San Diego Sheriff's Department
and to numerous news agencies.
After such an exhausting chronicle, I feebly inquire, "Are you still doing research on John-Roger?"
Lane takes a deep breath. "No."
Several hundred members of Eckankar live in the San Diego area, but not all of them partake in local events. Although no meetings are required, the local Eckankar newsletter lists a variety of classes, book discussions, "Hu chants," and lectures. Many events are open to the public, including the Sunday worship services, which tackle spiritual topics of broad interest. Last April the current Living Eck Master, Harold Klemp, spoke at a three-day "major seminar" at the San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina. Each year Eckankar holds three of these major U.S. seminars, which can draw 6,000+ people.
Three local Eckists agreed to speak with me. Late Wednesday afternoon I visit transpersonal psychologist Charles Richards at his office on Camino del Mar. I'm greeted by a tall handsome black man with short cropped hair graying slightly at the temples. He looks professional but not stuffy in his moustache, blue suit jacket, gray shirt, and black boots. As we shake hands I notice he's wearing a gold ring with an embossed EK logo. Around his neck hangs a similar pendant. When I sit down on the cream-colored day bed, he suggests I might be more comfortable in the armchair facing him. On the wall to my right is a framed print of the yin yang symbol, with a feather fixed to it.
In 1978 Richards moved from North Carolina to San Diego to pursue his graduate training in psychology. Besides working as a therapist, Richards has taught at the University of Humanistic Studies and is an adjunct staff member of the Center for Creative Leadership in La Jolla, an organization that specializes in executive management leadership training. He also does private executive coaching. He is a reserved man whose dimpled smile betrays a sense of humor. On the desk behind him sits a Teddy bear.
When I ask him what Eckankar's position is on Lane's research, Richards, who's been in Eckankar for twenty years, says he doesn't know. "Basically I feel that David Lane is making a name for himself by being an antagonist to Eckankar. Everybody has a right to pursue whatever interest they have. He focuses a lot on past things, Paul Twitchell and how much his writings look like the writings of a teaching Lane happens to be in. That's his axe to grind with Eckankar. You can get in a debate over whether one paragraph in one of Paul Twitchell's writings looks like a paragraph in somebody else's writings, but that has nothing to do with your spiritual experiences and the confirmation you get personally through the teachings and your work with the inner master. To me if people want to get into those kind of discussions, fine, and I'll kick it around with them for a while too if they want to talk on that level, but the stuff that Lane goes after has nothing to do for me with the validity of the teachings."
"When I was in Eckankar, one of the things that I really liked about it was its respect for other faiths, and that there was no pressure to get anybody to join."
"Sri Harold Klemp has taken a special effort to make it clear that we accept the value and the need for all different paths and religions because people operate at different states of consciousness. Eckankar is not for everybody. The Temple of Eck in Chanhassen [Minnesota] is open to people of all faiths to come, to attend the worship services, maybe just to enhance their own beliefs. It's even available for community events. Eckankar is still very much open to and supportive of whatever religion a person belongs to. In fact, we find more in common with people of other religious or spiritual beliefs that we have with people who don't have any religious or spiritual beliefs, simply because they have a commitment to spirit on some level."
I'm curious about how Eckankar had changed since I left it in the early '80s. "Well," Richards says slowly and thoughtfully in a charming Southern accent, "I think the present Living Eck Master has not changed the essence of the teachings, which is basically about self-realization and god-realization in the most direct way that the individual can achieve that. Rather, he's tried to make the teachings more accessible to the average person who's interested in religion or spirituality but may not be familiar with a lot of the terms that we've used in the past."
"What alternative terms have been developed?"
"Instead of talking about contemplations or the nurat or the surat technique for the light and sound, we just say we do spiritual exercises. They're very much like physical exercises, but they're for soul, to strengthen soul's connection with spirit. The spiritual exercises are a form of prayer. We have a different focus and intent, that's all. We talk about the Hu as a prayer song, or a love song to God, instead of saying it's a chant or mantra. In the past we thought that this was our little private esoteric religion. So Harold said, 'Hey, why should we make this difficult for people? Let's try to make it easy for them to at least understand what we're doing, what we're about, and what the potential of the teaching is.'"
"A lot of people who read the Readerwould see Eckankar as a cult. How would you address that issue?"
Richards takes a long, reticent pause before he answers. "People typically define cults, first of all, as based around worshipping a personality. We don't do that in Eckankar. Secondly, we don't have any kind of communal living. Eckists are all over the world, and in different walks of life, and from different political orientations, different socio-economic levels. There's always been a complete reliance on the individual's own inner guides and not some pre-established protocol that everybody has to operate under. Since its early days Eckankar has always really been a religion. It's had to be recognized as such in this country to operate as a non-profit organization. When you look what we do relative to other religions it basically is no different, we just have a different doctrine and somewhat different beliefs." Richards flashes me his dimples. "We figure, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, we might as well call it a duck."
When I leave Richards' office it's dusk. As I stroll toward the
ocean through a lush, affluent neighborhood, disappointment creeps
over me like the tide. I was never able to penetrate Richards'
reassuring politeness until I turned the conversation from Eckankar
to Freud, Adler and Jung. Then his whole manner changed - he leaned
forward in his chair, his voice emphatically rose and fell. But
even in his formality I instinctively trusted him.
Friday afternoon I visit twenty-two year veteran of Eckankar, Kevin McMahon, in his two-story Cardiff home. I'm surprised to meet a casually dressed middle-aged man with graying hair, who seemed much younger on the the phone. McMahon looks as Irish as his name, with a large soft face and a sad mouth that bends pleasantly when he smiles. As he fetches me a glass of juice I sit in his cozy living room, which is decorated with family photos, relics from Thailand, and McMahon's own paintings, imaginary landscapes with lots of vivid blue. McMahon, who was raised Catholic in New York City and on Long Island, has always been interested in spirituality. In the Army he traveled to Thailand, where he met his wife. "She was a Buddhist, and I became interested in Buddhism. You know, just a natural progression. When I came back to the States I read a book by Paul Twitchell called The Tiger's Fang. I had heard about this ability to get out of the body where one can have an internal spiritual experience. The experiential aspect to Eckankar really interested me, and that's how it started."
McMahon seems suspicious of me, so I tell him that my current
husband is an Irish Catholic from Long Island, and that I'm still
very much in contact with my former husband, who's a higher initiate
of Eckankar like himself. He's unimpressed on both counts.
"Do you think this was because of Lane?"
"No, it had nothing to do with him. I'm just saying that
if he had a personal problem with some Eckists, this is not an
indictment against Eckankar, this is an indictment against the
individuals he's had contact with. I met David Lane in San Diego.
He was giving a talk at UCSD, trying to sell his book, preaching
against Eckankar and a whole bunch of other religions. I stood
up and said, 'You know, I'm a member of the community, I'm a coach
in the Little League, I'm involved with the schools.' I gave a
list of my involvements with the community, and then I said, 'I'm
an Eckist and I believe in God. Why is one faith trying to knock
somebody traveling the same path to God? It doesn't make sense.'
"What about Lane's plagiarism charges?" I ask. "What I find interesting is that his material doesn't shake the belief of most Eckists."
"This is why," he responds immediately. "We don't rely on the written word. I had out of the body experiences, I had contact with spirit, I saw the blue light, saw all the things they talk about in the books - prior to coming to Eckankar. A lot of people have. I met a guy from Vietnam whose whole family traveled here to San Diego by boat, guided by Rebazar Tarzs, who's one of the Eck Masters that's written about in the books. And he didn't know anything about Eckankar."
"How did he know it was Rebazar Tarzs?"
"The guide was a bearded man in this maroon robe. When the
Vietnamese fellow was in San Diego he saw a poster for an Eckankar
event that had a picture of Rebazar Tarzs on it, and he recognized
him. We've had people who have recognized Harold Klemp prior to
his becoming the Living Eck Master; he kept coming to them into
their dreams. Plagiarism charges fall on deaf ears with Eckists
because we've had experiences outside of book learning. If we
were to rely on books as the source of our knowledge and our truth,
we'd be really hurting because we'd be all going in different
directions. There'd be nothing to believe. I'm not interested
in all this other dialogue that David Lane is so focused on. People's
experiences don't matter to David Lane. If that's his focus in
life then he has a very limited view of life."
McMahon doesn't blame anyone for being skeptical. "I think that in Eckankar skepticism is healthy," he continues. "One of the disciplines that we employ is the law of discrimination. We actually challenge our inner experiences in the name of God, to make sure that they're not phony, not of the negative world of Kal. We have to make sure for ourselves that what we're experiencing is truth and not an illusion."
When we begin to speak of his relationship to Eckankar, McMahon warms up. "A lot of things seem to fade - you know you get into multi-level marketing systems and you get so excited and then all of a sudden, gee this is not really worth it. Eckankar has lasted for me because it's a teaching that's worked. It never presumed, it never made any promises to me, and it never exaggerated anything. It's saying that heaven can be yours, that heaven is yours-for you to take hold of, to grab. Eckankar's sort of like a guidebook to the galaxy. It shows you the way, but it's up to you to do it. Eckankar is not a spiritual welfare program. You are responsible for everything that you do. We believe in the teachings of karma, which is an exact repayment for your deeds, good or bad. You're not supposed to be spending every moment checking your account book to see whether you've been good or bad, but you're training to become aware so that what you're doing is more in service of God rather than of your own personal self."
McMahon generously drives me over to my interview with holistic
health practitioner Bettina Yelman, whose Del Mar office is just
down the hall from Richards'. Yelman is stunning-tall and extremely
thin, clad in a pale beige pant suit, her natural blonde hair
pulled back into a bun, the bangs teased like feathers across
her forehead. Her enormous eyes seem to sparkle.
"So you were awake when you had this experience?" I ask, intrigued.
"Totally aware," she says seriously. "It was like
in my imagination. I would just close my eyes and he would be
there, and I would be there with him too. One time he said, 'I
want to take you someplace.' I said, 'Okay!' It was exciting,
someplace to go! I remember he took my hand and I could feel it,
a concrete thing. We were suddenly in a marketplace with lots
of bright burgundy-colored carpets. People were wearing rich,
colorful clothing. There was music and noise and clamor, and I
turned to look at my friend. He had on a white turban with a gemstone
right here in the middle." Yelman points to her bangs. "He
was kind of dark complexioned. Once I got into Eckankar I was
suspicious that he probably was an Eck Master, but he never really
I keep looking around at Yelman's office. Everything is mauve
and cream: the water cooler, the paper cups, the walls, carpet,
chairs, and even the stereo. Yelman's studies at UCSD brought
her to San Diego in 1974. Nine years later she read Paul Twitchell's
Eckankar: Key to Secret Worlds.
During their first six months of membership new Eckists usually
receive what is known as their "first initiation" in
the dreamstate. Yelman received hers while at an Eck seminar in
Hawaii. "After dinner," she confides, "I walked
along the beach and sat down beneath a tree to do a contemplation.
This most incredible feeling came over me, literally like light
inside of me. The sound current was very loud. Spirit can express
itself as sound or as bright or even colored lights. The ocean
usually I hear a sound that is like electricity,
kind of high pitched, but richer, fuller than just electrical
buzzing. Some people who have ringing in their ears say that it's
horrible. But this is not oppressive at all. This feels like all
the atoms in the universe moving around, it's like a rushing sound
in the background.
"So was your childhood teacher an Eck Master?"
Yelman flickers in her pink and cream chair like a pale flame. "He is Shamus-i-Tabriz." [Living Eck Master of 400 years ago who now teaches on the Causal Plane at the Sakapori Temple of Golden Wisdom in the city of Honu.]
"And which Eck Master initiated you?"
"Rebazar Tarzs." she says reverently. "In another lifetime I may have had a connection with Rebazar Tarzs, and so that would be a good way of linking me back in. Same with Shamus-i-Tabriz. I'm also aware that in at least two previous lifetimes I was killed because of my beliefs, specifically in reference to Eckankar, and so I think some of that karma was still sitting heavily on my chest, so to speak."
I'm impressed with Yelman's absolute assurance. "The Living Eck Master gives support and guidance for the things that we choose to do." Yelman pauses for emphasis. "If you were going to visit a new city, wouldn't you want a guide, wouldn't you want to stay away from the places where the prostitutes are, from the dark streets and the hoodlums? When you're traveling you want to have fun; you want to see pretty things. You need a guide who knows the city. The Living Eck Master helps the souls that are embodied here on Earth to gain the spiritual insights that they need to grow and evolve spiritually."
"You must feel very safe."
"I do. I always feel very safe, in the larger scope of things. Something could happen to me, I could have a car accident, but I can grow from that. Lots of quote unquote bad things have happened to me, but my spiritual understanding of them makes a huge difference, so that they're not bad things, they're just things to help me to learn lessons - and truly that's exactly what's happened. When you define your life as beyond the context of physical reality, suddenly you get a bigger picture, and things aren't frightening any more. You're not nearly as afraid of death, or speaking in front of people, or making mistakes, or whatever. Spirit is always communicating with us, through dreams, through experiences, in contemplation-twenty-four hours a day. Eckankar teaches us how to read the language that spirit uses."
"What part does humility play in your life?"
Yelman grows silent, her eyes filling with emotion. "Humility," she says slowly and determinedly, "is probably the most spiritual lesson that anybody is seeking. If you read Paul's account of the Eck Masters and if you watch Sri Harold you'll see wonderful examples of humility. I don't know if all the students of Eckankar necessarily have mastered it, but when you look at Sri Harold's humility it almost makes you want to cry sometimes. It's unworldly."
Yelman hugs me goodbye, and I take an endless rush hour cab ride
to Hillcrest, during which the driver asks me endless questions
about Eckankar. He's a friendly guy with lots of dreams of his
own, but I just want to stare at the streams of headlights along
the highway. When I get home my hosts John and Tom greet me with
a Manhattan. I need it.
On Saturday when I lunch with Lane at Il Fornaio in Del Mar, he's wearing the same khaki shorts and sandals as before, but his T-shirt has been replaced with a faded blue and purple plaid polo shirt. I hook my mike over the bread basket and turn on the tape recorder. He tells me he's currently working on a second book about Eckankar, entitled Gakko Came From Venus: Exploring the Hidden World of Eckankar, an Unauthorized Expedition.
"But, Dave," I ask in exasperation, "after all this time, why are you persisting?"
"Rarely in life do you ever get to play detective," he says. "That's really what it is for me. I want Eckankar in some weird universe to keep going, because it's fun for me. And I don't mean fun in a mean way, I mean I find Paul to be incredibly imaginative and very interesting to investigate."
It may be a game for Lane, but believers are playing for high
emotional and intellectual stakes. Dropping out of a religion,
one in which one attempts to focus one's every thought, every
action on those teachings, is a horrible experience. Though Eckankar
does not try to coerce disillusioned members to remain on the
path, Eckists are warned that when they drop out their spiritual
growth stops, and they are at the mercy of the Kal, or the negative
force of the universe. The Kal is similar to Satan, representing
everything that is materialistic and evil, a being of vileness,
wrath and vengeance.
"But Eckists are such sweet people," I insist. "Don't you feel like the Great White Hunter attacking the endangered rhinoceros?"
Lane responds with animation. "People always say, 'Leave us alone; Eckankar works.' I do leave those people alone, I don't go into Eck centers and walk around and say, 'Here read my book.' All I'm saying is that Twitchell was lying to his constituency in a major way. If you want to go and follow a group in which the founder lies to you point blank at every turn, whether it's about the spiritual masters on the inner planes, about his personal life, or about the sources of his information and his books, well fine. Do people get mad at Ralph Nader for saying that a Pinto blows up? Wouldn't you want to know everything you possibly could about the history of this group, and then make your choice? It seems to me I'm doing a huge favor to the Eckists because now they can know what they're joining, and if they've read my book, they've done all the research and if they still think this is for me, then fine. They've made an open-eyed decision."
"There's contradictions and scandals in every religion, Christianity included. Why do you make a point of fingering Eckankar?"
"I do think Christianity has fucked up more people in its
history than Eckankar ever has. You're right, every world religion
has got its problems. I think it would be wrong of me to say that
Eckankar is unique. Let's just say that on a relative scale, Jim
Jones and Jonestown is the worst, and that Mother Teresa of Calcutta
is the best - in that range Eckankar is kind of in the middle, and
I don't think it should rank with the most dangerous of cults.
It has its positive aspects, a sense of community, a sense of
focusing on the individual and his or her experiences of the divine.
"But, Dave," I counter, "when you talk to Eckists they always tell you, 'I'm a totally skeptical person, I don't believe anything until it's proven to me.'"
"I'm sure they said that about Jim Jones; I'm sure they said that in David Koresh's group, Mother Teresa's group. They would say that in any college or institution. You're not going to say, 'Well I'm a dumb shit. My group is for dumb shits. Everybody has an IQ of 80 or lower uuurrrrrrrrrr, let's go, let's start a religion.'"
Our pizza arrives, and Lane politely allows me to take the first piece. I ask, "How do you account for Eckankar's success?"
"Eckankar uses two things that everybody has to have. That is, people have to find meaning in their lives, regardless. Second, everybody has to dream at night, or most people dream at night, and Eckists dream about Fubbi Quantz or Rebazar Tarzs or Paul Twitchell. I dream about all these guys myself, because if you study the stuff long enough I see Eck masters, I see Radhasoami masters, I see Rebazar Tarzs and Sudar Singh. But it's my vivid imagination, the projections of my own mind, my own day to day experiences. I don't give them any value. But if I belonged to an organization that did, I'd really start believing I'd had a spiritual experience, I'd wake up feeling like, 'Wow!' Eckankar works because it doesn't make you have experiences that are impossible to have."
"What about soul travel, visiting higher planes of existence?"
Lane swallows his pizza. "I am skeptical of paranormal claims because I believe we need to shave more with Occam's razor."
"The principle of competing theories, developed in the 14th
Century by a guy named William of Occam, who said that if you
have competing theories, go for the simplest theory first - if it
explains the issue fully. An example: I claim the reason I missed
our appointment last night was because Elvis was on Venus and
sucked me up into a space capsule. That's one explanation. The
other one is I overslept. Among those two explanations, Occam's
razor points to the simpler one: I overslept.
It's a beautiful, sunny day. Sitting at our outside table, high above Camino Del Mar, surrounded by sky and ocean, I feel as if we're gods feasting on petty human concerns. I swallow my pizza and ask, ever so casually, "Is it true that you have some friends who are Eckists?"
"How do they justify that you are doing things that might damage the group?"
"They differentiate the message from the medium. They say, the message works for me, the contemplation works for me. Paul Twitchell's the past - we've evolved out of that. They say you can never damage the Eck spirit because it's life. So, I may be damaging the organization, but the real essence of Eckankar is not the organization, it's the Eck, that inner spirit."
"How did you meet these people?"
"They read my book. One interesting guy I met was Jerry Mulvin.
He was a pro-bowler as well as a higher initiate in Eckankar.
In 1979 he called me from Northridge, where he was living at his
girlfriend's aunt's house. He'd read the book and wanted me to
visit him. After I'd talked to him for a couple of hours, Jerry
said, 'Dave, why don't you start your own religion? With all this
information you have, you could start your own thing.'
"And what was Jerry's response?"
Lane rolls his eyes. "Classic. He said, 'Some of us live
the spiritual life, others intellectualize it. Signed, The Master.'
"You know the ins and outs of how religions are organized, and you're a charismatic person - Jerry Mulvin's suggestion that you start your own cult must have been intriguing on some level. I bet you've fantasized about it. Do you think it would be an easy thing to do?"
Lane gives me a big grin. "Well, yes I've always thought that as a sociological experiment it would be a lot of fun to create your own religion. I wouldn't do it myself because I have too many skeletons in my closet. The skeletons would just keep coming out and coming out. Some old girlfriend would come over, 'Hey wait a minute.' I don't need a Paul Twitchell scenario. Also I wouldn't do it because it plays too much on people's ultimate vulnerability. But in my lurid imagination I've always thought, how would you pull this thing off?"
Lane needs a bit of prompting. "How would you do it?"
"People aren't doing it the right way, I can tell you that
much. First of all, I'd pick a woman as the leader. There's not
enough women taking advantage of the market."
"Number two, you don't charge any money because you'll make tremendous amounts of money by not charging money. What you say is, 'This is completely free.' The more you keep saying that, you're going to get people who feel really good about you. Precisely at that point you have people set up donation funds for other activities, which people voluntarily give to.
"Thirdly, you create a hierarchy - you know, levels, initiations. Eckankar does this really well. Scientology does it even better. People love hierarchies; they love status. You may be a loser in the real world, but if you join this cult and all of a sudden you're some ninth honcho, it really gives you a sense of meaning, of purpose - and a sense of power. In our day to day society unless you have the money, education, political connections, you don't have much power. You're just part of a big huge clog. But in these associative groups, these mini-universes, boy, you can become addicted. So the more you have this tier level, the more people will stay within your group.
"Then of course you come up with secret esoteric teachings, which I would synthesize but not plagiarize. You totally acknowledge your sources. But then I'd say that in my trip in 1978 - because everybody knows I went to India in '78, meeting all these gurus - I'd say that I met somebody I never talked about and that I found his secret manuscript which reveals the secrets to life. However, it's been ordained that only the first chapter be printed before the turn of the millennium. The other twenty chapters, will have to wait. You get all this interest, "Wow!" You come out with the other chapters later. It's a marketing device."
The waiter arrives with our check, and Lane and I bicker over who's going to pay for it. Nobody wins, so we just let it sit there. Lane's still a member of Radhasoami, but he's been reticent to talk about it beyond mentioning that his guru Charan Singh's death in 1990 has thrown him into a state of crisis. Other students of Radhasoami have objected to Lane's critical stance in The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Successorship (Garland Publishing, Inc.). Clearly Lane is not a blind follower, but I'm amazed that, after all the dirt he's dug up on religions, he could seriously be involved in any spiritual path. I ask him how his research into cults has affected his own beliefs.
"My research has helped because it's made me more discriminating, more critical-minded. At this stage of the game I can't buy the crap that permeates religion, not just new religions, but religion in general. There's so much shit. I only accept that thing which I can verify or that thing which I consider to be somewhat genuine. I think of Rumi, the great Persian poet, who said, with all these false coins abounding there's got to be something genuine in the midst of it."
Again, I am reminded of Houdini, whose interest in spiritualism was awakened with his dearly-loved mother's death. Houdini longed to communicate with her beyond the grave. But, whereas his friend Arthur Conan Doyle and other enthusiasts were impressed with mediums' supernatural sideshows, Houdini, with his vast knowledge of magic techniques, could duplicate the effects. He took to unmasking frauds, but always with the hopes of finding a true medium. In The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini, Ruth Brandon writes, "He terribly wanted to be convinced. That he could not be, was his tragedy." I wonder if this is not Lane's tragedy too. I ask gently, "Dave, what do you believe?"
"I'm a mystical agnostic materialist. What it means is that I ultimately don't know. And in my unknowingness I like to explore how much more I don't know."
"Is this a scary position?"
"I love it. I love unknowingness."
"Talking to these Eckists the conscious, rational, jaded Dodie faded out, and this other little Dodie inside me was starting to feel an incredible seduction. I wanted Bettina Yelman's calm, I wanted Charles Richards' benevolence, I wanted Kevin McMahon's assurance. I like you and I'm enjoying our talk, but nothing you're saying is very seductive. Do you know what I mean?"
"When my philosophy students come in and we talk, everybody wants to know the secret of life. And I want to give them the secret, but I don't know it. You're saying that my sense of unknowingness, my sense of skepticism, isn't glamorous or enticing. To be quite frank with you, I loved my guru beyond description. I didn't call him my guru, I called him my friend, because guru has such a weird, master/slave connotation. He was a beautiful person, and I don't know anything beyond that. To me it was very tangible, very real going to India and seeing him work with the poor in the hospitals and feed the masses. Everybody was happy just to see him. And when he died my dreams " Lane makes a downward, crashing movement with his hand then looks into my eyes so woefully my heart goes out to him.
"Everybody wants to see their guru, their teacher as God,"
he continues. "I'm quite the opposite. I'm the one guy who
wants to see him pick his nails. I'm the guy who wants to see
him eat a jellabi. I'm the guy who wants to see a tear in his
eye. I want to see the humanness. That's what I love. I don't
know anything about God.
Lane drives me back to Hillcrest, and we part with gifts. I give him my new book, and he gives me a rare copy of the 1983 edition of The Making of a Spiritual Movement, the one with the banned no-smoking sign on the cover. "Sign it," I urge. He writes, "To my friend for a lovely 2 days of conversation. Thanks - the Kal force, Dave." The Kal force, remember, is the power of negativity. Lane can be such a card.
The following evening, when the airport shuttle drops me off in front of my San Francisco apartment, five guys are smoking crack beside a dumpster. It's hard to leave the magical vistas of Del Mar. It was hard to leave Eckankar too. And it's hard to write this article. I turn on the stereo and stare out the window. Rosanne Cash sings, "Some dreams die with dignity. They fade out clean and quietly. But some won't let you let 'em go." It's raining. In her Golden-tongued wisdom Rosanne Cash continues to sing, "A cold hard rain comes pouring down. It wasn't like this last time around. There's no calm center to this storm." And it continues to rain. In January, while I'm working on this article it rains twenty-six days in San Francisco. The skies themselves seem to be weeping with loss.
Just when I thought this story was over, a new development pops up, like the arm jutting from the grave at the end of Carrie. Lane tells me that former Living Eck Master Darwin Gross is appearing February 11 at the Best Western Hanalei Hotel. Every thriller these days has a false ending and then a real ending, to the point that when I watch a pre-Carrie film I am disappointed at how easily chaos is defeated. With some trepidation, I return to San Diego, exhausted from two months' immersion in religion. I have a nightmare in which Lane and I go to the wedding reception of a couple we do not know, and Lane abandons me.
The mastership of Darwin Gross is a black cloud in Eckankar history, a history that Eckankar wants to erase. Nowhere in any of the Eckankar press materials is Gross mentioned. I wonder how long it takes new Eckists to even learn of his existence. When word got round that I was doing this article, I got an odd phone call from Don Ginn, the California Regional Eck Spiritual Aid. He didn't bring up David Lane, but he requested that I not dwell on Darwin Gross. Sorry, Don - I really wasn't planning to write about him.
Gross' rise to power was steeped in controversy from the beginning.
When Paul Twitchell suddenly died in September, 1971, he left
no word as to who his successor should be. Then his widow, Gail
Atkinson, had a vision in the night in which Twitchell named Gross.
In October, at a seminar in Las Vegas, Gross was revealed to be
the new Living Eck Master when Atkinson walked over to him and
handed him a blue carnation.
Since Gross had been in Eckankar less than two years, his appointment
shocked and disturbed many Eckists. Some left the movement. A
few months later Gross and Twitchell's widow married, sending
more ripples of confusion throughout the fold. Not long afterwards
I joined Eckankar, unaware of the dissension that was brewing.
Whenever I saw Gross and Atkinson I would be seated in an auditorium,
surrounded by thousands of avid followers, each hoping at some
point to receive the darshan, the Master's gaze. Gross was in
the habit of wearing light blue leisure suits, and men throughout
the audience mimicked his attire. Outsiders would think they had
stumbled into a convention of traveling salesmen.
In October, 1981, Eckists were again floored with Gross announced
his resignation as the Living Eck Master, but not without first
signing a contract which gave him a salary of $65,000 for life,
as well as full medical and dental coverage, use of a company
car, and entertainment expenses. His new title was President of
Eckankar. The Rod of Power was passed on to Harold Klemp. Within
two years Klemp fired Gross, accusing him of negativity, spiritual
decay, and embezzlement.
Gross continues to work as a spiritual master, with a small group of devoted followers, many of them former Eckists. He publishes books through an organization called Be Good to Your Self, located in Las Vegas. Home study discourses and musical tapes are also available. Much of Gross' current teachings center around the easy-listening jazz he performs on the vibes. Gross' uplifting music is claimed to have miraculous healing powers. The program Lane and I attend at the Best Western Hanalei is called "The Universal Basics of Life Through Music." It costs $35 at the door.
Saturday afternoon when we arrive at the Hawaiian-themed hotel
with photographer David Allen, Lane keeps disappearing into the
bathroom. He and Gross have been sparring since 1977. As late
as December, 1993, Gross sent out a memo to all his readers defending
Paul Twitchell and "the corporation he started" against
Lane's attacks. Gross' fastidious avoidance of the copyrighted
term "Eckankar" is noticeably awkward and circuitous.
Lane has countered with a point by point rebuttal, "When
God Responds: Sri Darwin Gross versus David Lane," which
he's including in his new book Gakko Came From Venus.
We take our seats among the fifty or so other seekers, many of
whom have flown in for the event. Gross's young perky assistant,
Dawn, is finishing an applied kinesiology demonstration of the
power of Gross's music. A volunteer raises one arm straight out
to the side, and Dawn easily pushes it down. Then she asks him
to think about Gross' music as he again holds out his arm. This
time the arm doesn't budge no matter how hard she pushes down
on it. "See!" she exclaims. We close our eyes and chant
Hu together for several minutes. I feel shy about doing this while
seated next to Lane, knowing he'll be able to hear how off-key
I am against the general harmonics of the room.
After a couple more tunes, Gross and Kurz are joined by vocalist
Kim Driggs, an attractive woman with dark shaggy hair. In a husky
voice smooth as malt whiskey she sings, "Don't blame me for
falling in love with you. I'm under your spell, but how can I
help it." There is a double edge to this torch song-from
the way she keeps glancing affectionately over at Gross, it is
the Master's spell that Driggs can't be blamed for falling under.
When she begins her next selection, "My Funny Valentine,"
I lose all objectivity. Valentine's Day, my birthday, is only
three days away. I vacantly stare at Lane's tanned hairy legs,
nostalgic for the boyfriends who played this song for me. The
loss of my old loves and Gross' loss of status become merged in
an ineffable sadness. After she finishes, Gross says, "She
can belt one out, can't she? I hope you all had your seatbelts
I keep waiting for Gross to give a speech, but he never does.
We zone out on lounge music for an hour and a half, then Dawn
walks to the front of the room and says, "That's it."
I ask Lane if he's going to introduce himself. Lane shakes his
head. "I don't want to tweak his day. He's got his music.
He's having a good time."
Sri Harold Klemp has immense financial resources available to
guide the spiritual lives of his tens of thousands of believers.
Gail Atkinson, who has long since broken with Eckankar, is said
to live in wealthy seclusion in Palm Springs.