Hinduism Eckankar
Andrea Diem
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0208


Paul Twitchell (b. 1909–d. 1971) officially founded Eckankar in 1965. However, a couple of years prior he had published several articles in various paranormal magazines (such as Orion and Psychic Observer) previewing his new religious movement. Twitchell claimed that Eckankar was based on his own bilocation experiences and those of previous saints in various religions. Twitchell coined the word Eckankar (a Punjabi word meaning “One God” or “Supreme Reality”) from Guru Nanak’s Japji, as found in the Sikh’s holy scriptures, Guru Granth Sahib. Twitchell declares that he learned Eckankar directly from two spiritual teachers, Sudar Singh of Allahabad, India, and Rebazar Tarzs, a supposed five-hundred-year-old monk from Tibet. Critical scholars of Eckankar, however, contend that these gurus are cover names for Twitchell’s real-life associations with Swami Premananda of the Self-Revelation Church in Washington, DC; Kirpal Singh, the founder of Ruhani Satsang in Delhi, India; and L. Ron Hubbard, for whom Twitchell once worked as a press agent. Much of Eckankar teachings are derived from Twitchell’s association with Self-Realization Fellowship, Sant Mat, and Scientology. Eckankar believes that there are higher levels of consciousness that can be accessed through soul travel. There are tens of thousands of Eckankar members worldwide, with the majority of followers from the United States. After Twitchell’s death from a heart attack in 1971, he was succeeded by Darwin Gross (b. 1928–d. 2008), who was appointed by Twitchell’s second wife, Gail Atkinson, at a ceremony in Las Vegas, Nevada. After ten years, Gross appointed Harold Klemp (b. 1942–), an Eckist who was working in the organization’s print office, to be his successor as the Living Eck Master. Darwin Gross intended to stay on in Eckankar in a spiritual capacity (as the Mahanta), but was excommunicated in 1983 from the group when he had a financial and personal falling out with Harold Klemp. Afterward, Gross started his own small movement called Ancient Teachings of the Masters (ATOM). Harold Klemp, during his tenure, has authored the vast majority of Eckankar’s literature. There are over thirty Eckankar centers around the world, including established followings in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Mexico. Eckankar also has branches in every state in the United States. Eckankar’s main headquarters are in Chanhassen, Minnesota, where they have built a large Temple of Eck for spiritual study and contemplation.

General Overviews

There have only been a handful of scholarly studies published on Paul Twitchell and Eckankar since the mid-20th century. One of the first critical investigations of the movement was done by the Spiritual Counterfeits Project (SCP) in Berkeley, which published a special journal issue entitled Eckankar: A Hard Look at a New Religion. Their journal was primarily based on David Christopher Lane’s undergraduate research paper that was later published as a monograph, Lane 1993. Both works question the official biography of Paul Twitchell and allege that he never visited India when he claimed. They also raise issues of plagiarism and how dependent Eckankar is on Sant Mat, Scientology, and Theosophy. Roger Olson elaborated on Eckankar’s continued growth and controversial history in his chapter “ECKANKAR: From Ancient Science of Soul Travel to New Age Religion” in America’s Alternative Religions, edited by Timothy Miller (see Olson 1995). Andrea Diem-Lane’s work on the influence of shabd yoga teachings on new religions (see Diem 2015), which was the basis of her PhD dissertation (1995), includes a section on Eckankar and provides a detailed analysis of the similarity between Twitchell’s books and those of Julian P. Johnson, a medical doctor associated with Radhasoami Satsang Beas. Also included is an extensive analysis of various Eckankar offshoot movements, including Gary Olsen’s MasterPath and John-Roger Hinkins’s Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA), among others such as Ford Johnson, a former member of Eckankar, who left the movement after thirty years and wrote an extensive expose (see Johnson 2003), which provides extensive documentation about the life and work of Paul Twitchell not found elsewhere. Doug Marman, a long-time follower of Eckankar, attempted to address skeptics of his religion in Marman 2007 by providing a wealth of new information about the early life of Paul Twitchell and a theological interpretation of what it means for devoted members of Eckankar. A number of encyclopedia articles have also elaborated on Paul Twitchell and Eckankar, including Peter B. Clarke’s Encyclopedia of New Religious Movements, Ashcraft and Gallager 2006, and David Christopher Lane’s article on Eckankar in Thomson Gale’s Encyclopedia of Religion.

  • Albrecht, Mark, Brooks Alexander, and Woodrow Nichols, eds. Special Issue: Eckankar; A Hard Look at a New Religion. SCP Journal 3 (1979).

    The first widely distributed critique of Eckankar, both historically and theologically. Although written from the perspective of evangelical Christianity, the journal nevertheless unearthed a bevy of historical information concerning Paul Twitchell’s checkered past and alleged plagiarism. Also provides a theological comparison of Eckankar teachings with SCP’s fundamentalist understanding of Christianity.

  • Ashcraft, William, and Eugene V. Gallager. Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America. Vol. 3. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2006.

    Detailed description of Eckankar’s evolution, primarily focusing on key historical events in the group’s history and the various schisms that have occurred over time, including breakaway groups such as MSIA, MasterPath, and Darwin Gross’s ATOM. See pp. 113–130.

  • Clarke, Peter B. Encyclopedia of New Religious Movements. London: Routledge, 2006.

    Focuses on the history of Eckankar from its inception under Paul Twitchell and the continued growth of the new religion into a transnational movement. Primarily based on earlier research conducted by D. V. Barrett and David Lane. See pp. 178–179, 643.

  • Diem, Andrea. The Guru in America. Walnut, CA: Mt. San Antonio College, 2015.

    One of the first studies to explore the influence of Radhasoami on new religions in America, particularly those that emphasize the practice of surat shabd yoga. Focuses on Paul Twitchell and Eckankar, John-Roger Hinkins and MSIA, Gary Olsen and MasterPath, and Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind and his ministry. The book shows how Twitchell and others appropriated the words of previous Sant Mat gurus without attribution and how, in turn, such concepts were transformed and made distinctive in the Eckankar lexicon.

  • Johnson, Ford. Confessions of a God Seeker: A Journey to Higher Consciousness. Silver Spring, MD: “ONE” Publishing, 2003.

    Written by an Eckist of nearly thirty years in the organization, Ford Johnson defected from the movement and proceeded to write an in-depth analysis of the movement’s history, focusing on the discrepancies in Paul Twitchell’s official autobiographies. Includes extensive documentation and new historical information, particularly about his life prior to starting Eckankar. In Ford’s work, we learn about Twitchell’s doctored age in his marriage certificate with his second wife, Gail Atkinson (he claimed to be born in 1922, whereas he was born in 1909). These and other details (such as Twitchell’s earlier literary career) have significantly altered our understanding of how Eckankar was created.

  • Lane, David Christopher. The Making of a Spiritual Movement: The Untold Story of Paul Twitchell and Eckankar. Del Mar, CA: Del Mar Press, 1993.

    First written as an undergraduate term paper at California State University, Northridge, in 1977 and later enlarged in 1978, Lane’s research served as the basis for a new understanding of Paul Twitchell’s life and work. Lane focused on Twitchell’s previous associations with Self-Revelation Church, Ruhani Satsang, and Scientology and how each in their own way influenced the creation of Eckankar.

  • Lane, David Christopher. “Eckankar”. In Encyclopedia of Religion. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2005.

    Concise overview of Eckankar’s checkered history with a special emphasis on Paul Twitchell’s past associations with Kirpal Singh, Swami Premananda, and L. Ron Hubbard. Includes descriptions of the religion’s beliefs and the evolution of the movement under its current leader, Harold Klemp.

  • Marman, Doug. The Whole Truth. Ridgefield, WA: Spiritual Dialogues Project, 2007.

    This is an important historical and theological study of Paul Twitchell and the formation of Eckankar by a long-time follower of the religion. Although it is structurally a point-by-point rejoinder to Lane’s critical research on Eckankar, Marman’s research has uncovered a number of disputed biographical details, including Twitchell’s birthdate and early writing career.

  • Olson, Roger E. “ECKANKAR: From Ancient Science of Soul Travel to New Age Religion.” In America’s Alternative Religions. Edited by Timothy Miller, 363–370. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

    Roger Olson is one of a handful of scholars not affiliated with Eckankar or related movements to write on the history and organization of the movement. In this piece, Olson reiterates the controversial beginnings of Eckankar and Paul Twitchell’s questionable past. Provides an overview of Eckankar’s gnostic-related teachings and their relation to Sant Mat.

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