That religions often evolve out of other past religions is a well known phenomenon: witness Christianity's emergence from Judaism. What is not so well known, however, is how certain religions try to genealogically dissociate themselves from their historical roots. Eckankar is a classic case in point.
Founded in 1965 by Paul Twitchell, one-time disciple of Swami Premananda, Kirpal Singh and L. Ron Hubbard, Eckankar owes much of its theology to Radhasoami. Indeed, as Lane, Melton, and others have pointed out, most of Paul Twitchell's writings are derived from two Radhasoami publications, With a Great Master in India and The Path of the Masters (both authored by Julian P. Johnson in the 1930s). Certainly, it is not surprising that religious doctrines can at times appear to be similar, but what is surprising is when a religion which has borrowed much of its history, doctrine, and terminology from another tries to consciously deny its putative association.
The story of Paul Twitchell's association with Kirpal Singh, and, in turn, the influence of Radhasoami on Eckankar, is well documented. In 1955 Paul Twitchell received initiation from Kirpal Singh in Washington, D.C. Twitchell, who, according to his first wife Camille Ballowe Taylor, was a "seeker of religion," met Kirpal Singh after a five year stay at Swami Premananda's Church of Absolute Monism.
Twitchell kept up a ten year correspondence with Kirpal Singh in India, addressing his numerous letters to his guru as "My Dear Master," and so on. In 1963 when Kirpal Singh visited America for the second time, Twitchell brought his second wife to be, Gail Atkinson, to get initiated in San Francisco. The initiation records of both Paul and Gail are on file at Sawan-Kirpal Ashram in Vijay Nagar, Delhi.
Although Paul Twitchell and Kirpal Singh were on friendly terms, there arose a rift between them in the mid-1960s. Apparently, Twitchell sent a manuscript version of his book, The Tiger's Fang, for Kirpal Singh's approval. Kirpal Singh, however, did not agree with some of the things Twitchell said in his manuscript. Subsequently, Twitchell severed his ties with Kirpal Singh and demanded that his manuscript be returned. In the meantime, Twitchell began advertising for his new spiritual group called Eckankar: The Ancient Science of Soul Travel.
What really prompted Twitchell to disconnect from Kirpal Singh has been speculated upon by a number of scholars. Critics contend that it was due to money and that Twitchell wanted to start his own ministry, unencumbered by the fetters of restrictive Indian moral systems. Followers of Eckankar, on the other hand, contend that Twitchell was a spiritual trailblazer who had been divinely commissioned by the "Vairagi" masters to carry on the eternal "Eck" teachings. Whatever one may suspect about Twitchell's motives, one thing is certain: Eckankar draws heavily upon the teachings of Kirpal Singh and other shabd yoga masters for its theology.
Even the very name "Eckankar" is derived from Julian Johnson's use of the term in The Path of the Masters. Ek in Hindi means one; Onkar means God or Transcendental. Combine the two and you have a popular Sikh name for God, which is mentioned in Guru Nanak's 15th century poem, Japji. Twitchell most likely learned of the name from both Julian Johnson's book as well as from the Sikh scripture. Twitchell simply added a "c" between the E and the k to develop his own unique spelling and to give his organization's name an identifiable distinction. Moreover, Twitchell intertwined Radhsoami doctrines with other teachings he had encountered in his career, including Theosophy, Self-Realization Fellowship, Scientology, and Occult teachings in general.
The result is a fascinating mixture of Eastern and Western mysticism. Twitchell's creation (or revelation, depending upon one's appraisement) was a huge success. Today, some twenty-four years after its founder's death, Eckankar is one of the most successful new religions to be founded during the decade of the 1960s. Eckankar has followers all over the world and numbers its adherents in the tens of thousands (official numbers have yet to be released by the Eckankar organization).
* * *
Eckankar has also seen its share of controversies. When Paul Twitchell died, he was succeeded by Darwin Gross who assumed the title of "Living Eck Master." Gross was appointed by Twitchell's widow, Gail, after she claims to have had a dream where she saw the transference of power. Several months later Gail and Darwin got married only to be divorced in the late 1970s.
In 1981, Darwin Gross decided to step down and appointed Harold Klemp as his successor. In his resignation, Gross claimed that he was still the "Mahanta" but not the "Living Eck Master." However, just two years later Gross was stripped of even that title when Harold Klemp excommunicated him from Eckankar altogether and banned the sale of all Gross related publications. The early 1980s was a time of turmoil for Eckankar, but today in the 1990s it has weathered the storm and has witnessed a steady increase in its membership. Though Eckankar started originally in San Diego, it has moved its center of operations several times: to Las Vegas to Menlo Park and finally to its present site in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Eckankar has also had a long history of trying to come to grips with its Radhasoami roots. In the 1970s a number of scholars alleged that Twitchell tried to cover-up his association with previous real-life gurus by creating "cover" names. For instance, in his earlier publications for such magazines as Orion, Psychic Observer, and Search, Twitchell profusely mentions the names of Sawan Singh, Kirpal Singh, and other well known spiritual leaders. However, after he started Eckankar he redacted those names when he reprinted his earlier articles in new books. Twitchell did not change the story or the text, as such, but rather switched names: from Kirpal Singh to "Sudar" Singh; from Swami Premananda to "Rebazar Tarzs"; from the Holy Bible to "The Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad." What Twitchell was attempting to do is fairly obvious: he was trying to rewrite his biography so that it could dovetail with the antiquity of Eckankar's rich (if invented) mythology. In doing so, however, Twitchell had to deny his Radhasoami roots. Why? Because Twitchell wanted Eckankar to be an autonomous tradition which stood apart from his shabd yoga cousins. The only glitch, however, is that it was these very cousins which informed and shaped Eckankar's theology.
Radhasoami's influence in America has most likely seen its greatest impact through the teachings of Eckankar. Whereas Radhasoami has limited appeal to Westerners because of its strict moral codes and exotic Indian terminology, Eckankar has done away with many of the more rigid ethical considerations inherent in shabd yoga (from vegetarianism to sexual abstinence, etc.) and tried to make its image more palpable to an audience interested in having "out of body" experiences, or what Eckists like to term "soul travel." Moreover, Eckankar charges money for its services and advertises extensively in the print media and occasionally on radio and on television. Eckankar is in many ways an Americanized version of Radhasoami mixed with Theosophy and Scientology. To thousands of Eckists (as members are often referred to) around the world, it is an irresistible combination.
What is most intriguing about the transfusion of Radhasoami ideas into Eckankar is how certain key concepts get transformed when transplanted from one group to another. The following is a close look at the Radhasoami/Eckankar transfusion.
Living Eck Master
One of the strong selling points in Radhasoami is its emphasis on the "living" master. All Radhasoami groups go to great lengths to argue that a living master is necessary for enlightenment and that past prophets and saints are of absolutely no value in the ultimate salvation/liberation of the soul. Eckankar shares this belief with its shabd yoga counterparts, but differs significantly in how much respect and adoration is shown to their leader. In Radhsoami circles the guru is seen as God incarnated on earth. Thus satsangis display tremendous amounts of respect to their respective gurus. In some instances, disciples have been known to drink their guru's saliva, drink water that has touched his/her feet, and eaten dust where he/she has walked. There is an almost bodily worship of the guru in Radhasoami.
In Eckankar this is not the case. To be sure, Eckists have high regard for their leader and show him the utmost deference, but they do not on the whole "worship" him in the ways that satsangis "worship" their guru. One of the reasons for this difference may stem in part from Twitchell's differentiation of the outer and inner master. The outer master in Eckankar is for all intents and purposes a human vehicle, replete with its limitations; the inner master, sometimes called the "Mahanta," however, is not limited and is a direct link with the infinite. Although outer and inner master are connected, their ultimate functions are distinct. Eckists on the whole are clear about the limitations of their "outer" masters; satsangis, on the other hand, are not, believing as they do that their particular guru is Supreme in all ways.
All of the Radhasoami branches speak at length about "leaving the body at will" or "dying while living" or "going within." Kirpal Singh, in particular, laid special emphasis on experiencing "above body consciousness" and seeing inner light and hearing inner sound. Indeed, he buttressed his claims for mastership by stating univocally that only a competent master could offer inner glimpses at the very time of initiation.
Paul Twitchell seems to have been fascinated with out-of-body experiences. Most of his early 1960s articles, just prior to the founding of Eckankar, talk about "bilocation" or the ability to be in two places at the same time. By the time he started Eckankar in 1965, Twitchell had coined a term called "soul travel" to describe in a nutshell what his path was all about. Although it is clear that Twitchell learned of "soul travel" from his association with Swami Premananda and Kirpal Singh, in developing Eckankar he modified the term to represent something a bit different than what his original teachers had in mind.
In Radhasoami meditation practice, for example, emphasis is placed on achieving out-of-body experiences while one is conscious. Thus any experiences that are derived during unconscious processes, like dreams and such, are not given much credence. However, the chief method by which Twitchell "soul traveled" was by sleeping and having dreams. In his numerous letters to Kirpal Singh, Twitchell repeatedly mentions how he left his body after lying down and going to sleep. Dreams for Twitchell were the gateway to other worlds. Kirpal Singh was suspicious of this modus operandi because in his tradition dreams are extremely unreliable and may not necessarily indicate a higher state of consciousness but rather a lower one. It was precisely on this point that Kirpal Singh critiqued Twitchell's manuscript, The Tiger's Fang, and which eventually led to their irresolvable rift.
To achieve out-of-body experiences during the waking state is a very difficult thing, according to Radhasoami practitioners. To achieve such during dreaming is much more easy, even if much more suspect and unreliable. That Twitchell emphasized the latter and not the former (in Radhasoami an initiate is enjoined to spend not less than two and a half hours in meditation daily; in Eckankar the "chela," as students are called, are enjoined to do about twenty minutes daily of spiritual exercises) proved to be one of the great attractions of Eckankar to new seekers. Since almost everybody dreams, the relative "success" rate of Eckists is bound to be much higher than those in Radhasoami, where only "waking" experiences are given value.
Whether Twitchell consciously realized this as a marketing tool is unclear, but it is certain that it contrasted dramatically with Kirpal Singh's teachings. Thus today dreaming is perhaps the central way for Eckists to "experience" the truth of their path. The present leader Harold Klemp when describing most of his inner experiences bases them upon his dream excursions. Eckists have also followed suit.
The Vairagi Masters
As we have seen in the early history of Radhasoami, lineage is an important legitimizing factor in substantiating the claims of a would-be successor or master. Almost all Radhasoami gurus try to link their putative role with the orders of their predecessors. Radhasoami gurus, in general, never try to claim that they are masters because of their own efforts (with the possible exception of Shiv Dayal Singh, but that's another issue). Rather, they view themselves as a link in a sacred parampara (guru lineage).
When Twitchell founded Eckankar he likewise attempted to connect his efforts with previous masters. But instead of directly linking with his real-life gurus, like Kirpal Singh and L. Ron Hubbard, Twitchell instead "invented" his ancient lineage entitled the "Vairagi" masters. He claimed that there were 970 masters which had preceded him. The very first master in this tradition was "Gakko" who brought the true teachings of Eckankar from the city of Retz on the planet Venus some six million years ago. Other masters in this pantheon include "Rama," "Jagat Ho," "Yaubl Sacabi," and "Fubbi Quantz."
In the modern era the two previous masters before Twitchell were "Rebazar Tarzs," a five-hundred year old monk who still resides in the Himalayan mountains, and "Sudar Singh," a shabd yoga teacher who resided in Allahabad until in his death in the late 1930s. Several scholars have argued that both Rebazar Tarzs and Sudar Singh are cover names for certain Sant Mat masters, like Sawan Singh and Kirpal Singh. Indeed, Twitchell himself never mentions either Rebazar or Sudar before 1964 in any of his published writings, but does profusely mention Kirpal Singh, L. Ron Hubbard, and others.
What was Twitchell attempting to do when he developed (or invented, depending upon your affiliation) the "Vairagi" master concept? Most likely it was a way to legitimize his own role as "The Living Eck Master." It is one thing to claim all by yourself that you are enlightened; it is a lot more impressive, though, to have hundreds of masters preceding you who back up and contextualize your claim. Clearly Twitchell did not wish to serve as merely a disciple of Kirpal Singh or a one-time student and press agent of L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology (which he was in the latter part of the 1950s). Twitchell believed that he was a gifted master in his own right. However, instead of acknowledging his previous association with other gurus, he instead denied them and created a biography that is filled with dubious gurus with curious sounding names.
In his study of Eckankar, for instance, Lane has never found any historical evidence to suggest that Sudar Singh is, in fact, a real person. The same is true, he claims, about Rebazar Tarzs. The evidence for such beings simply does not exist. Lane, therefore, contends that these masters serve as a way for Twitchell to invoke a double sense of mystery and antiquity, a sense in which Eckankar is connected not to a real historical past (one that can be discerned by scholars) but to a unique mythological one.2 It is a past that is exclusively Eckankar's; it is also a past which has been trademarked and legally protected in the United States.
Conscious co-worker with Sugmad
In his first books on Eckankar Twitchell used standard Radhasoami cosmology to describe the inner spiritual planes. He also used shabd yoga terminology in ways quite similar to their original usage. Over time, though, Twitchell began to redefine many Radhasoami and shabd yoga terms when he used them in Eckankar. An interesting example is his use of Kirpal Singh's often repeated phrase (derived in part from Sant Mat and Sikhism) about being a conscious "co-worker" with God. In Kirpal Singh's theology, the ultimate realization is when the soul merges back with God and becomes one with Him/Her/It. Twitchell also accepts that a disciple must reach the highest plane of consciousness to be "God-realized."
He differs with his predecessor, however, over the ultimate ontological status of the soul. Whereas Kirpal Singh and Radhasoami argue for a merging in God and a subsequent losing of one's individuality, Twitchell opts for an eternal permanence of the individual which keeps him or her distinct from the ultimate annihilation. Indeed, this is one of the bedrock doctrines in Eckankar's theology and one which they highlight to accentuate their differences with Eastern mysticism. Although Twitchell uses the Kirpal Singh's phrase "conscious co-worker" he defines it along a more dualistic and Westernized fashion. This is quite significant because it demonstrates that Eckankar is not merely a recapitulation of Radhasoami or shabd yoga, but rather a creative mixture of many mystical ideas and often with a Western slant.
Thus even though the influence of Radhasoami on Eckankar as a whole is tremendous, it must be kept in mind that many of its doctrines have been transfigured in their Western landscape. Perhaps this is the fate of all religions, to some degree, which evolve over time. They get nuanced in ways that are not prefigured when first developed. Eckankar's radical re-interpretation of Radhasoami suggests that religion is always in the process of being co-opted by its successors in ways that may seem entirely incongruent at first. It also suggests that religious ideas are quite fluid and dynamic.
The Inner Planes
Radhasoami has a complex cosmology concerning the physical, mental, and spiritual universes. Following the lead of previous gurus in the Sant tradition, Shiv Dayal Singh described five inner planes (Sahans-dal-Kanwal, Trikuti, Daswan Dwar, Bhanwar Gupha, and Sach Khand) which a soul must pass in order to reach its ultimate destination. Shiv Dayal Singh has also at times given slight nuances to this basic five plane cosmology, with the two major variations concerning the region between Daswan Dwar and Bhanwar Gupha, known as Maha Sunn (the great darkness), and the further subdivisions of Sach Khand, which he calls Alakh, Agam, and Anami. In the various Radhasoami branches in India there has been debate over some of these more rarified distinctions, but overall there is general agreement on the major features of the inner planes. Below are three of the most popular and commonly agreed upon versions:
common in Beas related groups
common in Beas related groups
common in Agra related groups, particularly Soami Bagh
|1. Sahans-dal Kanwal (lit. "thousand petalled lotus;" astral region)||1. Sahans-dal-Kanwal||1. Sahans-dal-Kanwal|
|2. Trikuti (lit., "three prominences;" casual region)||2. Trikuti||2. Trikuti|
|3. Daswan Dwar (lit., "tenth door;" beyond mind)||3. Daswan Dwar||3. Daswan Dwar|
|4. Bhanwar Gupha (lit., "whirling vortices")||4. Bhanwar Gupha||4. Maha Sunn|
|5. Sach Khand (lit., "Truth Region;" soul/God union)||5. Sach Khand||5. Bhanwar Gupha|
|. . . . . .||6. Alakh Lok||6. Sach Khand|
|. . . . . .||7. Agam Lok||7. Alakh Lok|
|. . . . . .||8. Anami Lok||8. Agam Lok|
|. . . . . .||. . . . . .||9. Anami Lok (sometimes it is mentioned in Soami Bagh literature that there are two "anamis"-- one right above Sach Khand and the final, great anami at the very end)|
Paul Twitchell's first books on Eckankar were entirely based upon the two versions common in the Beas Satsang. Below is an exact comparison of Radhasoami's and Eckankar's inner plane cosmologies and the sounds which are heard at each plane; note that there are essentially no differences, except in the spelling of technical terms:
(as given in With a Great Master in India by Julian P. Johnson)
(as given in Dialogues with the Master by Paul Twitchell)
|1. Sahansdal Kanwal: bell sound||1. Sahasra dal Kanwal: bell sound|
|2. Trikuti (Brahmananda): drums/thunder||2. Brahmanda (Trikuti): drums/thunder|
3. Daswan Dwar: sarangi
|3. Deswan Dwar: violins|
4. Bhanwar Gupha (Sohang):
|4. Sohang (Bhanwar Gupha):
|5. Sach Khand: vina||5. Sach Khand: vina|
However, Twitchell did not keep the Beas cosmology intact for long. In the late 1960s he began making changes which dramatically altered the sounds, lights, deities, and function of the various planes, even though it contradicted his previous charts as given in The Dialogues with the Master, The Tiger's Fang and The Far Country. Most initiates of Eckankar are unaware of the alterations. The following is the revised version given in the 1971 text, The Spiritual Notebook, and which is today the standard cosmology for all Eckists in the world:
1. Physical: Elam (thunder sound)
2. Astral: Sat Kanwal-Anda (roar of surf)
3. Causal: Maha-Kal-Par-Brahm (tinkle of bells)
4. Mental: Brahmanda Brahm (running water)
* Etheric: Saguna-Saguna Brahm (buzzing of bees)
5. Soul: Sat Nam (single note of flute)
6. Alakh Lok: Alakh Lok (heavy wind)
7. Alaya Lok: Alaya Lok (deep humming)
8. Hukikat Lok: Hukikat Lok (thousand violins)
9. Agam Lok: Agam Lok (music of the woodwinds)
10. Anami Lok: Anami Lok (sound of a whirlpool)
11. Sugmad World: Sugmad Lok (music of universe)
12. Sugmad: Sugmad-Living Reality (music of god)
The differences between Twitchell's earlier version and his later, standard one are significant.(3 ) As Lane points out in his book, The Making of a Spiritual Movement, Twitchell's changes include altering which sound one hears in the Astral plane (first version: tinkle of bells; second, revised version: roar of surf) and the Soul plane (first version: vina or great sound current; second, revised version: single note of flute), as well as replacing the various Lords or Deities (first version: Maha Kal was above Saguna Brahm; second, revised version: the two are switched). Although these differences may appear to be trivial to an outsider, to members of shabd yoga related movements they are quite pivotal since the technical yoga is based upon knowing which sounds to adhere to and which to discard.
By a close analysis of Twitchell's writings, it is clear that Eckankar's ideas underwent an evolution from 1965 to 1971. What is not clear is why. Why, for instance, did Twitchell feel the need to modify what had more or less been standard fare in Radhasoami circles for nearly a century? There may be several answers, ranging from the critic's charge that Twitchell needed to develop his own unique "brand" of Sant Mat so that he could distinguish Eckankar from its Indian counterparts and thereby "copyright" his schema as unique (which he did, by the way, in his work, The Spiritual Notebook) to the more sympathetic insider who believes that Twitchell was given revelations that previous shabd yoga masters were not. In any case, Twitchell's cosmology is a decidedly different one than his earlier ones and represents a drastic overhauling of the Radhasoami version.
That this evolution occurred within the span of less than four years is remarkable; that such an evolution is documented in books is even more remarkable. It suggests at the very least that a new religion (and maybe new religions in general) are much more pliable in their early development than anyone inside or outside the movement may at first suspect.
Initiation into Radhasoami is regarded as the most sacred event that can occur in the life of a disciple. Theologically it represents the transference of the soul's tie with Kal (the negative force) over to the Satguru (the positive force). Although there are many different branches of Radhasoami, there are certain common traits to be found in each of their initiation procedures. First, a sacred name ("Radhasoami" in the case of Agra related groups) or names (five names in the case of Beas related groups) is given to the disciple as his/her mediation mantra to be repeated as often as possible at the third eye. The disciple is also instructed how to listen to the inner sound (technically known as bhajan) by assuming a certain yogic position, the details of which are considered semi-secret.
In some Radhasoami groups, like Kirpal Singh's related movements (Sant Bani, Kirpal Light, and Sawan-Kirpal Mission), during initiation there is a meditation sitting in which the neophyte is given the opportunity to hear inner sound and see inner light. Overall, the key feature to Radhasoami initiation is learning the procedure of how to meditate, which includes simran (repeating names), dhyan (contemplating at the third eye center, looking either for light or for the form of one's initiating master), and bhajan (listening to inner sound). These three features are prevalent, with slight modifications, in all bona fide Radhasoami satsangs.
When Paul Twitchell developed Eckankar he also conducted initiations. Although he borrowed much from his association with Kirpal Singh and Ruhani Satsang (like similar instructions how to meditate), he made distinctive changes which transformed the character of the initiation process altogether. Perhaps the most obvious change is that he did away with a singular initiation which is common today in Radhasoami circles (at the maximum there are two initiations given in Radhasoami: instruction in the name and instruction in the sound). Twitchell instead invoked multiple initiations, arguing that for each plane of existence a new initiation was necessary. Since Twitchell did away with his original five plane cosmology and replaced it with twelve planes, his multiple initiation also followed suit. Today the official number of potential initiations are twelve, with most members of Eckankar ranging from 2nd level to 5th level. In Eckankar's official dictionary, it explains the purpose of these initiations:
Inner initiation serves the function of raising the vibrations of the individual to those of the nearest higher plane. The inner initiation may come years after the outer initiation. The First Initiation is an inner initiation given in the dream state by the dream master. Sometimes the chela is fully conscious and can remember everything about it; it prepares the chela for the linkup with the Eck Sound Current, the Audible Life Stream. All initiations above the Eighth are inner initiations.4
Twitchell stresses that the first initiation takes place in the dream state where the dream master appears to the chela. Such dream initiations are practically unknown of in Radhasoami circles, though there have been exceptions. Perhaps one of the reasons Twitchell invokes such a modus operandi is because dreams played a tremendous role in his own inner development. Indeed, in most of his accounts about leaving the body, it is clearly implied that such excursions occurred when he was dreaming.
Moreover, the second initiation, or first outer initiation, in Eckankar does not have the same strict prerequisites that are required in Radhasoami. For instance, in Radhasoami there are four vows which all the groups, more or less, enjoin: 1) strict vegetarianism (no meat whatsoever, including eggs); 2) abstinence from alcohol and any mind-altering drugs; 3) a pure moral life (no sex outside of marriage); and 4) two hours plus of meditation daily. In Eckankar there are essentially no prerequisites in terms of lifestyle (outside of giving up smoking and drugs), except that one has to be a paid member of Eckankar for at least two years.
Finally, Eckankar's initiation ceremony itself is quite different than Radhasoami's. In many ways it is more reminiscent of Transcendental Meditation's ceremony, where one offers a fruit or gift to the initiator and one is given a name suited to that person's personality. Eckankar does not give out the five name mantra of the Beas related satsangs, nor does it give only one name for all initiations. Rather, there are a series of names which the particular initiator (working on behalf of the Master) can give. In sum, Eckankar's initiation is a hybrid of various methods, but one which is most closely aligned with T.M. and Ruhani Satsang.
The Sacred Writings: The Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad
Eckankar's most sacred writings, The Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, Book One and Book Two, authored by Twitchell and published in the early seventies, have striking similarities with Julian P. Johnson's 1939 book, The Path of the Masters.5 Although Twitchell's adoption of lengthy passages from Radhasoami literature empirically illustrates the extent to which he was influenced by Radhasoami, of greater interest perhaps are the numerous alterations of concepts and terms which Twitchell invokes, giving insight into how religious ideas evolve.
When Twitchell first started writing about Eckankar he more or less used terminology which was based upon shabd yoga. However, he quickly began to take on terms which were not in Radhasoami literature and incorporate them into the larger theology of Eckankar, as witnessed in The Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad. In so doing he made Eckankar an eclectic teaching, even though its major emphasis was Indian in origin. The term Mahanta is a case in point. Although the term usually translates as "one who is in charge of a temple" or "head of an ashram," Twitchell utilized it as meaning: "The Living Eck Master." He writes:
The full force of the Rod of Eck Power and the Mantle of the Mahanta are embodied directly in him; all those who come to him in the present age have been with him since their advent into the world; the body of the Mahanta is the Eck, which is the essence of God flowing out from the Ocean of Love and Mercy. This special incarnation of the Sugmad makes an appearance but once every five to a thousand or more years, depending upon the part he is to play in a major upliftment of consciousness on every plane.
In other words, Mahanta now stands for Radhasoami's Satguru. They are more or less interchangeable in their essential functions, except for the part about manifesting every "five to a thousand or more years" which is Twitchell's addendum to the concept.
Thus, Twitchell not only uses Radhasoami terms, but he also uses Radhasoami concepts without the terms, preferring to coin his own Indian or Sufi names for his own purposes. There are several examples in The Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad of how he substitutes Indian words for Persian ones, such as referring to God as Sugmad instead of Sat Purush, using the term zikar instead of simran, and employing the sacred Sufi word "hu" as a chant (much like the use of "om" in Indian philosophy). Even the title of his book, The Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, is Persian for The Path of the Masters, although it translates more like The Law/Path to God. Indeed, most of Twitchell's understanding of Sufi terminology comes directly from Hazrat Inayat Khan, who Johnson cites in section 11.5 in The Path of the Masters. But Twitchell does something distinct from Johnson: instead of merely citing Sufi terms Twitchell incorporates them into his religion while altering their meaning for his own unique theology. Perhaps this is an effort to distinguish his group a bit more from its Indian ancestor.
Moreover, while Twitchell may adopt lengthy passages from The Path of the Masters, he tailors them to fit Eckankar, leaving out any material that conflicts with its teachings. A key example of this occurs when Twitchell utilizes a passage of Johnson's that deals with morality but he omits an important section concerning the wrongfulness of killing and eating animals. Why? Because unlike Radhasoami, Eckankar does not require a vegetarian diet. Below are five examples illustrating how Twitchell not only adopts certain Radhasoami ideas, but how he transforms some and rejects others, although keep in mind that this is just a small sampling of the numerous "empirical correlations" found within these texts:7
The subject matter here concerns the living guru. These two sections are a near match. Yet, Twitchell makes a few substitutions to fit his Eck terminology, like referring to God as the Sugmad instead the Indian term Sat Purush, and using the term Mahanta instead of Satguru or Master. (On occasion in other sections of his writing Twitchell may use the term ECK Master.)
|Radhasoami Literature:||Eckankar Literature:|
The Path of the Masters
(Fifteenth Edition) p. 180
Book I p. 80
|There is but one to whom the Master bows in humble submission--the supreme Lord, Sat Purush. His sovereign will is the only law the Master recognizes, that and the universal law of all laws--love. Yet the Master breaks no law of man, but supports all good governments. His life and teachings are universal. He belongs to no race or time, but to all nations and all times. He is a citizen of the world-more correctly speaking, having come down here to bring light...||There is only one to whom the Mahanta bows in humble submission. This is the Supreme Lord, the Sugmad. ITS sovereign will is the only law the Mahanta recognizes, and the universal law of all laws--love. While living on earth in the human form though he will break no law of man, but supports all good governments. His life and works are universal. He does not belong to any race or time, but to all nations and all times. Correctly, he is a citizen of the macrocosmic worlds, a being which has entered this world to bring the Light to all peoples.|
These are very important passages, for we see how Eckankar develops its own theological ideas apart from its predecessor. Witness the last line of Twitchell's writing where he refers to the necessity of transferring one's allegiance from one Master to the next. This idea is not part of Johnson's group (Radhasoami Beas). Moreover, when discussing God in the beginning of the passage Twitchell opts for the term Sugmad. Finally, there is a variance in writing when Twitchell states that the "stumbling block" for man is that he cannot see all God's manifestations," whereas Johnson is suggesting that the "stumbling block" occurs for religions who do not realize that a Master is needed for spiritual growth.
Radhasoami Literature: Eckankar Literature: The Path of the Masters
Book I p. 82
It still remains a fact that not even God himself can instruct us or give us the needed help on the upward path without a Master in human form to act as his agent or spokesman...This is the greatest stumbling block of all religions...If you insist that your dead Master is not dead, then I will cheerfully agree with you. He is not dead, but he had left this theater of action. He is no longer in touch with humanity. His present work is elsewhere. of the chela must change to the successor.
The SUGMAD cannot instruct, or give man the needed help on the upward path, without the Mahanta in human form to act as his instrument and spokesman. The greatest stumbling block for man is that he cannot see all God's manifestations. Those who cling to a Master who has been translated from this earth world are in error. He is not dead, but he has left the field of action in this region of matter. He is no longer in touch with humanity; his work is elsewhere. The discipleship. . .
While these passages are both concerned with how one should properly meditate, there are a few obvious differences. Notice that Twitchell makes some substitutions of terms to resonate with Eckankar thinking. For instance, he refers to "ECK Dhun" instead of "Shabd-dhun;" he speaks of "music of the ECK" and not the "audible life stream;" and he calls the disciple "chela," and the Master "Mahanta." Moreover, he keeps certain Indian terms, like dhyan and bhajan, but replaces simran with the Persian word "zikar." He eliminates reference to Patanjali in this passage as well, perhaps to separate his ideas a bit more from India.
Also of importance is his mention of chanting "the sacred name of God," as though indicating there is only one name and it is voiced externally. In the Radhasoami Beas group, however, there are several sacred names one internally chants while meditating. Hence, even though the resemblances may be overwhelming, the alterations made give us insight into how Twitchell is trying to make the teachings his own.
Radhasoami Literature: Eckankar Literature: The Path of the Masters
The Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, Book I
There is no pranayama in this yoga, as it has no place in the system of the Masters. Fixing the mind at the prescribed center, bringing it to one point, is the dharana of the yogis of Patanjali.
Of course, this has to be done if one is to go inside. Beholding the Master with a loving gaze, either in the physical form or the radiant form, is the dhyan of this path. This has to be done in any case. But in this yoga, simran comes first, before dhyan. Then after simran and dhyan comes bhajan, a form of exercise not known to any other system. It consists of listening to the Sound, the audible life stream. The reason that no other system has this is because they know nothing of the audible life stream, the Shabd-dhun. Thus they miss the most vital thing in the whole process.
There is no Pranayama in the practice of seeing the Mahanta during this spiritual exercise of ECK. The chela must sit in the proper position, with the mind detached from the world and fixed at the spot between the eyebrows, bringing all of his attention to focus upon the singular eye.
This has to be done if one is to go inside and behold the Mahanta. He softly chants the sacred name of God beholding the Mahanta with a loving gaze in the radiant form. The Zikar come first and then come the Dhyana, the vision of the radiant form of the Mahanta. Following this comes Bhajan, the spiritual exercise of listening to the music of ECK. No path to God has this form of exercise, mainly because none know the ECK Dhun. They miss the most vital part of the realization of the SUGMAD in their lives.
In these passages the inner spiritual journey of the disciple is sketched out. There are some notable differences between the two, however. First of all, in referring to shabd Twitchell prefers ECK, unlike Johnson who calls it the "audible life stream." Secondly, when looking at the eyes of the Master for a spiritual boost Twitchell suggests that one can gaze upon the eyes seen in the inner vision or, if necessary, one can use a picture. Johnson, on the other hand, does not mention the use of a picture but seems to insinuate that one should look at the eyes of the physical Master, and thus those near him in location have a greater advantage over those who are not. Moreover, whereas Johnson mentions simran, which for the Radhasoami Beas group is a universal mantra given at the time of initiation, Twitchell speaks of an "individual mantram," sometimes referred to as "Zikar." And unlike Johnson, Twitchell recommends that when looking at the eyes of the ECK Master one should "softly chant the Master's name."
Radhasoami Literature: Eckankar Literature: The Path of the Masters
Book I p. 116-17
A new stage marks his career. So far his success has been only partial, but very great. He has accomplished much, but he has only fairly begun his upward journey. Up to that time, he has been doing simran, repeating the keynotes. And that has given him fair concentration. But from now on, he will discontinue simran. He will not need it. He now has the presence of the Master whom he may behold constantly. This is called dhyan. This sights inspires much love and adoration. It is the most perfect dhyan and it is more effective than simran for concentration. In fact, at all times, even before the disciple goes inside, his best possible exercise is to look steadily at the Master's form, and particularly his eyes. If one will take advantage of every moment to look steadily, with no shifting of vision, right at the Master's eyes, he will find himself concentrating and going inside quicker than any other way. This is one very great advantage a disciple has in being personally near the Master. So we now have simran and perfect dhyan. These are two of the essentials in the exercises. At this point something else of great importance happens. You will contact the audible life stream perfectly and consciously, and its music will begin to work changes in you. You get a little of it before this point, but here you get it more perfectly. Here it begins to fairly enchant you and to pull you up with increasing attraction and power. You will find yourself listening to it with rapt attention and deep delight, completely absorbed in it. You will never wish to leave it or to miss a single note of this marvelous strains...It is said that the student who reaches this point may consider that one-half of his work is finished for the whole of his journey. While formerly you had to exert your will to hold your attention upon the focus, now you will find it equally difficult to withdraw your attention from it. You will most ardently wish to go on forever looking at the one and listening to the other. This new stage in the life of the chela brings about a remarkable change in him. Up to this time his success has been partial. He has had the opportunity to test the exercises of ECK and repeat his "individual mantram". [my italics]
From this moment on he may discontinue his chanting of the mantram for he will not need it. He is now in the presence of the Mahanta, the living Master, whom he may view constantly. This is the Dhyana, which inspires love for the ECK Master and the Master's love for him. It is well in the beginning for the chela to understand that his greatest exercise is to look steadily at the living ECK Master's form be it in his inner vision, particularly the eyes, or simply a picture of the Master. If one does this during his contemplation period, looking steadily into the eyes, he will find himself going into the other words more quickly than any other method. By softly chanting the Master's name and gazing steadily into his eyes he has the twofold essentials of the spiritual exercises, the Zikar and Dhyana. It is at this point that a great occurrence takes place. He will contact the ECK and ITS prefect sounds will bring about changes within himself. He will find himself with increasing attraction and love. He will never want to leave it, or to miss one note of its delightful strain. The chela who has reached this point will find that half of the preparation for his journey is done. While before he had to exert his will power to focus the attention of the sounds of ECK, now it is difficult to withdraw attention for it. The living ECK Master and the ECK are attracting him, lifting him higher with each effort that he makes...He will have the most ardent wish to go on forever looking at the eyes of the Mahanta and listening to the sounds of the ECK.
Here Johnson and Twitchell discuss the moral and social degradation of the human race which they claim began after the golden age. There is a section of Johnson's, though, that Twitchell omits--the one dealing with the immorality of killing and eating animals. Unlike Sant Mat, Eckankar does not require a vegetarian diet. Twitchell 's omission of this section illustrates how Twitchell is adopting only certain Radhasoami ideas and not others.
Radhasoami Literature: Eckankar Literature: The Path of the Masters pp. 333-36 The Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, Book II pp. 68-9 Connected with this great fact of nature is a problem of vital interest to society in general. It is this: Reincarnation and karma offer society a sound basis upon which to proceed in dealing with all sort of human irregularities...A knowledge of reincarnation will make great difference in our treatment of both men and animals. It will teach us that we are all bound up in one karmic bond. We cannot then mistreat animals, neither can we go on "killing and eating them". [my italics]
Civilization and governments have changed from age to age, in each age taking shape to correspond with the inner development of its citizens. Not only do the saints teach that there was a Golden Age from which the human race has descended, but they point out the more important fact that such descent has been marked by a gradual degeneration of mankind from their pristine glory...It is a fact which must sooner or later be acknowledged that kings, rulers, courts, judges, priests, policemen, lawyers and legal punishments are all marks of racial degeneration and not indices of a high degree of civilization, as many fondly believe. We would much like to discuss this subject more fully...As evil tendencies become more and more manifest in society, some regulations had to be adopted to protect society...It is an old trick of priests and kings to teach the mob that whatever they give out is the will of God...The real code could be only
a righteous law. The real code had in view just as much the divine rights of the people as it had the divine rights of kings. Over this bar of divine rights even the king could not trespass. We cannot fail to make note of the fact that as the human race entered upon it decline in civilized standards, there was a transfer of the center of government from within man to enacted statues--in other words, for moral standards deeply embedded in the inner consciousness of the people to laws written in books. When the time came that the fundamental law of life was no longer in the hearts of the people but in books, then the decline of civilization had already set it.
Reincarnation and social reconstruction go together in this physical world; in other words, there is a vast interest in society in the field of reincarnation and karma. Both offer society a sound basis upon which to proceed in dealing with all sorts of human irregularities...The knowledge of reincarnation makes a great deal of difference in the treatment of both men and animals. It teaches man that he is bound up in one karmic bond.
It shows that civilizations and governments have changed from age to age, in each age taking shape to correspond with the spiritual development of its citizen. It is a fact, since man as descended from a golden age, that sooner or later it must be acknowledged that kings, rulers, courts, priests, lawyers and legal punishment are all marks of racial degeneration and not indices of a high degree of civilization, as so many believe. It would do well to ponder this point. As evil tendencies are necessary to adopt to protect the members of society. It is an old trick of priests and kings to teach the masses that whatever they give out is the will of God. The righteous law is called Danda. It treats of the divine rights of the people as well as that of the kings. When it works both ways, it means that neither can trespass upon the other's rights. To have to write law upon the books and use this as a guide to keep society right with the moral standards of life is to bring about disorder in society. As the human race enters upon its decline in civilized standards there is, and was, a transfer of the center of government from within man to enacted statutes; in other words, from moral standards deeply embedded in the inner consciousness of people, to laws written in books. When the time came that the fundamental Danda, the law of righteousness, was no longer in the hearts of people, but in books, then the decline of civilization set in for society's decline.