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Founded by Paul Twitchell in 1965, Eckankar is a syncretic religion that claims ancient origins. Adherents are known as ECKists.

Born in Paducah, Kentucky, Paul Twitchell served in the US Naval Reserve during World War II and was honorably discharged as a Lieutenant Junior Grade in 1945. He was a reporter for Our Navy magazine for a short time, then went on to become a freelance journalist and pulp fiction author.

Twitchell investigated several spiritual movements and was an avid reader of spiritual, occult, religious, and philosophical books.

In 1950, he joined a spiritual organization that used the Bhagavad Gita as a text but was asked to leave for reasons of personal misconduct a few years later. Shortly afterward, he separated from and later divorced his wife. In 1955, he was initiated into a yoga fellowship, an offshoot of Sikhism, for a short time.

Having connected with L. Ron Hubbard at some point during his Naval career, while Hubbard was also a Naval Reserve officer, he became affiliated with the Church of Scientology in 1956, remaining until 1959, during which time he was a member of the Scientology Church's staff, and one of the first Scientologists to achieve the status of Clear. He taught classes, audited others, and wrote articles for Scientology publications. Later, Hubbard was to list Twitchell and Eckankar on Scientology's list of Suppressive Persons/Groups.

Twitchell married again in 1964, around the time that he began writing about his new teaching, Eckankar. By 1965, he was conducting a long-term series of regular workshops and lectures on Eckankar and founded the Eckankar Corporation and Illuminated Way Press in late 1965.

Eckankar was named for a transliteration of the phrase Ik Onkar, which is used in Sikhism. According to the Eckankar glossary, it means "Co-worker with God." ECK is another word for the Holy Spirit, which Eckankar also defines as the Audible Life Current, Life Force, or Light and Sound of God.

The spiritual leader of Eckankar is known as the Living ECK Master, although some Eckankar leaders, such as Twitchell and Harold Klemp, who now serves as the body's leader, have also held the title "Mahanta," which is a reference to the inner aspect of the teacher.

Religious scholars believe that the teachings of Eckankar were heavily influenced by Sikhism, Hinduism, and the Sant Mat movement.

A basic creed in Eckankar is that the Soul, the most sacred part of each person, may be experienced apart from the physical body. Soul Travel is a natural way that a person can expand his consciousness, as the Soul is capable of traveling freely in other planes of reality. Soul is eternal, and it is the individual's true identity. Eckankar teaches that such spiritual experiences are the most natural way back to God.

Certain mantras (chants) are used in Eckankar to encourage spiritual growth. An important exercise is the chanting of Hu, which is intended as a love song to God. ECKists chant or sing it alone or in groups for about a half hour at a time.

Dreams are viewed as significant tools for learning. ECKists are encouraged to keep dream journals to allow for the later study of the content of their dreams. Dream travel is believed to serve as a gateway to Soul Travel. ECKists also believe that karma can be resolved during sleep.

The ultimate spiritual goal for all ECKists is to become conscious Co-workers with God.

The concepts of karma and reincarnation also play into the religion of Eckankar.

The holy scripture of Eckankar is the Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, which consists of two books that teach the key beliefs of Eckankar, including Soul Travel, karma, reincarnation, love, Light and Sound, and other topics. There are also a series of Satsang writings that are given out with a yearly membership in Eckankar.

An ECK Light and Sound service usually includes a Hu Song, a period of contemplation, a talk by a member of the clergy, and sometimes a creative arts demonstration or a group discussion. There are worldwide Eckankar seminars in the spring and fall, which include speakers, discussion groups, workshops, creative arts, and other activities.

There are few requirements for membership in Eckankar. Daily spiritual exercises are recommended, the most basic being the singing of the Hu. Other exercises are also offered, and members are encouraged to create their own. ECKists are free to maintain membership in other religions.

Ceremonies include a Consecration ceremony for initiating infants, a Rite of Passage ceremony at the age of thirteen, Wedding ceremonies, and Memorial services.

The focus of this category is on the religion known as Eckankar. Websites whose chief topics are Eckankar may be submitted to this category.



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