Examining Eckankar

The purpose of this research article is to apply the techniques of cold case homicide investigation to the Eckankar Worldview and the claims of its founder, Jacob Paul Twitchell. The selection of Eckankar as the research subject of this article was due to the fact that the writer’s younger brother is a devoted follower (Eckist) of the religion. The writer wished to learn more about Eckankar and to develop a cold case investigative technique response for his brother with the aim of leading him into the truth of Christianity.  Though the writer has often attempted to evangelize his brother, the writer has never become thoroughly informed as to the basic tenets of Eckankar to make an effective case against the religion.  This article is a labor of love.


Eckankar is a religious movement rooted in Eastern mysticism.[1] It has its foundation in Sikhism, the world’s fifth largest organized religion,[2] and the Sant Mat, a group of spiritual teachers dating back to the 13th century.[3]  Eckankar was founded as a business venture by Jacob Paul Twitchell in 1965.[4]  Eckankar was incorporated under the commerce laws of the State of Nevada.[5]  Twitchell was a self-styled spiritual teacher and sought to generate income from his teachings by charging his students for his writings.[6]

Twitchell was a contemporary and fellow pulp fiction writer of the founder of the Church of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard.[7]  The two served together in the U.S. Naval Reserves during World War II.[8]   In the ten years preceding the founding of Eckankar, Twitchell was a member of the Church of Scientology, serving on its staff, teaching classes, and writing articles for publication.[9]   He eventually had a falling out with Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, who later (circa 1968) ostracized Twitchell, placing him on Scientology’s Suppressive Persons/Groups List. [10]

Eckankar is known by its adherents as The Light and Sound of God. [11]  The light and sound of God are two aspects of the Holy Spirit.[12]   Eckankar describes the light of God as any religious experience attended by light, including viewing stained glass windows, personal inner visions of light, or more profound events such as any of those involving great displays of light that are depicted in the Christian Bible.[13]  Eckankar describes the sound of God as virtually any sound one makes or hears in song or music, or experiences in nature, such as the sound of blowing wind. [14]

Eckankar is primarily concerned with experiencing the Divine Being through spiritual exercises, certain of which the movement assigns to its followers each week via its website.[15]  Among Eckankar’s practices and beliefs are chanting, dream journaling, soul travel (out of body experiences), reincarnation, and karma.[16]  Originally, Twitchell claimed that his teachings were new,[17] but after incorporating Eckankar as a business, he insisted that his teachings were ancient.  His followers now hold that the teachings have existed since the beginning of humanity. [18]

ECK means “Holy Spirit,” and Eckankar means “Co-Worker with God.” [19]  The ultimate goal of the Eckist is to become a co-worker with God. Eckankar teaches spiritual liberation through self-realization and god-realization. [20]  Self-realization is the recognition of oneself as “Soul,” which is the ontological essence of all human existence.  Humans are inundated with physical sensory perception and need to be liberated into the inner spiritual realms. [21]  God-realization is the recognition of oneself as the “spark of God.” [22]  Each person possesses the attributes of the Divine Being, including power and knowledge, and is on a quest to recognize his or her own deity as a part of the Mahanta Consciousness (God). [23]

Upon its founding, Paul Twitchell became the Mahanta, or Living ECK Master. [24]  He is the inner and outer guide for the spiritual progress of the members of the religion toward self-realization and god-realization. Twitchell was succeeded after his death in 1971 by Darwin Gross,[25] who was subsequently succeeded by Harold Klemp in 1981. [26]  Eckankar boasts more than 40,000 adherents worldwide, and may have as many as 100,000 members. Its international headquarters is located in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota.


Examining Witnesses

The Claim of Ancient Origins

Eckankar claims to be the oldest religion on earth, predating Islam, which was founded by Muhammad in the 6th century, and Christianity, which was founded by Jesus in the 1st century. While both Muhammad and Jesus can point to earlier figures such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, as ancient witnesses to their religious roots, Eckankar has no such witnesses.  Eckankar offers no documented historical figure of antiquity to stand as a witness to the claims of the ancient origins of the religion.  The only witness to the claims of the ancient origins of Eckankar is its founder, Paul Twitchell, and he lived in the 20th century.  Approximately 5,000 – 7,000 years of human history precede Twitchell’s founding of Eckankar, but there is no evidence of any other person in history, prior to Twitchell, who asserted the claims of Eckankar.

Confirming and Impeaching Witnesses

Witnesses should be evaluated on several criteria. Were they present at the events they claim to know about? Are their stories corroborated by others? Are their stories historically accurate?  Were they biased in their claims?  Answers to these questions will lead the investigator to either confirm or impeach a witness.  Since, as its founder, Paul Twitchell is the only witness to the origins of Eckankar, he must be evaluated using the accepted norms of witness verification.

First, was Paul Twitchell present during the events of which he claims special knowledge concerning the origins of Eckankar? No, he was not. Twitchell lived in the 20th century.  He was born on October 23, 1909.  He died on September 17, 1971.  His knowledge of the origins of Eckankar came from his own study of various spiritual teachers and leaders from numerous, and mostly Eastern, religious traditions, both ancient and contemporary, as well as from what he claims to be special revelation from the Mahanta Consciousness (God).

Second, is Twitchell’s story about the ancient origins of Eckankar corroborated by others? No, it is not.  Eckankar does not appear as a religion until 1965.  There were no adherents, leaders, or sacred writings which predate Twitchell’s founding of the religion.  Thus, no one could corroborate his claims.

Third, is Twitchell’s story historically accurate? This cannot be confirmed.  Twitchell’s religion is pieced together from a variety of Eastern and Western religious traditions, most of which are ancient, but some of which are modern.  In addition, Twitchell added new teachings of his own to the collection of ideas that make up Eckankar’s theological framework.  The result of which is a compendium of religious teachings which have no singular demonstrable historical origin and, thus, cannot be evaluated historiographically

Moreover, on the question of truthfulness and accuracy, Twitchell claimed to be a prophet, but was exposed when he falsely predicted the end of the Viet Nam War by 1968 and the reelection of Lyndon Johnson to the U.S. presidency.[27]  U.S. involvement in the Viet Nam War was technically ended by an act of Congress on August 15, 1973. The war officially ended at the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese Army on April 30, 1975, seven years after the date predicted by Twitchell. Lyndon Johnson withdrew from the 1968 presidential race and did not seek reelection for a second term, in contradiction of Twitchell’s prophecy.

Fourth, was Twitchell biased in his claims? Yes, he was.  Most crimes are motivated by one of three vices: passion, power, or greed.  Twitchell, who was born into a Christian home, left Christianity and investigated Eastern spiritual traditions, eventually joining and becoming a recognized leader in the Church of Scientology. After a falling out with Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, Twitchell began writing and publishing spiritual articles and building a following of his own disciples.[28] He eventually incorporated Eckankar as a business to promote and sell his writings.  Today, members are required to pay membership fees in order to fully and officially participate in the international Eckankar movement.

Finally, Twitchell’s one-time spiritual leader, L. Ron Hubbard, is famous for having made, at various times in the 1940s, statements such as, “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, start a religion.” and “I’d like to start a religion.  That’s where the money is.”

It seems that Twitchell was motivated by the financial gains he hoped to make through the sale of his writings. It appears that his desire for financial benefits inspired and influenced his writings and actions in the founding and development of this new religion.  Eckankar was born out of financial motivation and, thus, cannot be free from legitimate suspicion.

Separating Artifacts from Evidence

A Documented Plagiarist

In the 1970s, Paul Twitchell was exposed as a plagiarist by Dr. David C. Lane, a professor of sociology and philosophy.[29]  Lane earned his master’s and doctorate at the University of California at San Diego. He is currently a lecturer in religious studies at California State University at Northridge. Lane and another professor, Dr. John Sutphin, compared Twitchell’s writings on Eckankar with the spiritual writings of Julian Johnson, Sant Kirpal Singh, Lama Anagarika Govinda, Walter Russell, Helena Blavatsky, and perhaps most notably, Scientology founder, L. Ron Hubbard. Their conclusion was that the majority of Twitchell’s writings on Eckankar were plagiarized from these and various other sources.

Twitchell’s first major work laying out the tenets of his new religion was Eckankar: The Key to Secret Worlds.  Twitchell’s plagiarism of other writers, both ancient and contemporary, resulted in a set of artifacts which must be separated from both the ancient writings upon which he claims Eckankar rests, and the body of original works written by Twitchell that make up the remainder of the theological framework of the religion.  Twitchell plagiarized other writers and passed them off as original works that, along with the ancient writings and the writings he truly originated, supposedly constitute true Eckankar doctrine and practice.  When the artifacts (the plagiarized works) are separated from the actual evidence (the ancient writings and the little that Twitchell actually originated), Eckankar is no longer recognizable as an original or distinct religious tradition.  What remain are a hodge-podge of rambling thoughts and ideas, and a series of disconnected practices, all of which lack cogency and authenticity.

The Chain of Custody

The Claim of Ancient Teachings

Eckankar founder, Paul Twitchell, claims that his teachings date to the beginnings of human history. His claim is that his teachings represent the original doctrines of the one true religion, Eckankar.  However, the earliest date that can be substantiated for any of Twitchell’s teachings is sometime around the 13th century.

Sant Mat

Eckankar admits that many of its teachings come from Sant Mat (or, Teachings of the Saints).  In the 13th century, a loose collection of spiritual personalities, in what is now modern-day India, were organized into an informal association or school that became known as Sant Mat.  While the members of the group held several spiritual truths in common, such as an inward devotion to a divine principle, reincarnation, egalitarianism, and opposition to the Hindu Caste system, they departed sharply from one another with teachings that became quite unique and diverse.  Sant Mat does not represent a cohesive set of religious doctrines or practices, but rather a varied set of explanations and prescriptions for the spiritual life.  Each Sant, or teacher, developed his own doctrines and practices, and then built a group of followers or students.

Successive Sants came up with new views, practices, and conventions and also retained some of the earlier teachings. This effectively resulted in the creation of multiple new and independent religious sects and orders.  Sant Mat may best be described as an ebbing and flowing river of mystical thought and practice that meandered down through the centuries, changing currents and courses, and splitting off into new branches and streams that led into a diverse and independent group of sub schools and sects. The incohesive and inconsistent nature of Sant Mat precludes it from being held out properly as an historic religion.


Sikhism, from which Eckankar acknowledges that it also draws a number of teachings, was not formalized into a religion until the 15th century.  Sikhism was founded by a young boy named Nanak, who was born and raised in what is present-day Pakistan.  He was the first of ten gurus, over a period extending from 1469 to 1708 that formed the traditions and philosophies which make up today’s Sikh religion.  However, this formation of Sikh’s traditions and philosophies amounted to the collection of extant teachings and their organization into a religious system.  Unlike Islam and Christianity, Sikhism was not founded on the original writings or doctrines of its founder.

A Broken Chain

If Eckankar’s claim that it dates to the beginning of human history is to be accepted, there must be evidence of a chain of custody of the writings, traditions, and practices that supposedly make up the religion.  But, prior to the 13th century, the trail goes cold.  There is no original religion known as Eckankar that was extant at the beginning of recorded history, nor has there been such a religion throughout the 5,000 to 7,000 years of human history.  Eckankar emerged in the 20th century.


Eckankar fails on at least three cold case investigative techniques: witness verification, separating artifacts from evidence, and the chain of custody.  Paul Twitchell, Eckankar’s founder, claims that his religion is ancient.  However, no witnesses exist in the historical record in support of this claim. Twitchell, himself, was not present during the origination of the religion in antiquity, there are no historical writings identifying his teachings as a cohesive religious system, the historicity of his claims cannot be substantiated or verified as accurate, and he was motivated by greed to found the religion.

Twitchell plagiarized much of the writing that comprises Eckankar. When the plagiarized works (artifacts) are separated from the collection of ancient teachings and the paltry original work that Twitchell himself added (evidence), it becomes obvious that Eckankar is not a true, distinct and independent religion that has existed as a cohesive system of spiritual thought since the beginning of humanity.

The chain of custody of religious writings, leaders, and devotees of Eckankar cannot be established as any earlier than the 13th and 15th centuries. Sant Mat and Sikhism are the acknowledged bases of Eckankar, yet Sant Mat was formed in the 13th century, and Sikhism was founded in the 15th century.  There are no earlier writings upon which Eckankar claims to be based.  There is no historical record of a succession of leaders (Living Eck Masters) from the beginning of human history, nor is there any record of devotees dating to antiquity.

Eckankar is a made up religion, invented by Jacob Paul Twitchell, for his own personal financial gain. Those devoted to the religion have been duped by promises of self and god realization, and have been lured into esoteric spiritual practices that offer nothing in the way of true enlightenment, forgiveness of sins, or eternal salvation.  These may only be found in historical Christianity.  The Cold Case of Eckankar is now closed.


Johnson, Ford. Confessions of a God Seeker: A Journey to Higher Consciousness. Online: “One” Publishing, 2003.

Bostock, Alex J. Sant Mat: The Way of the Saints. London: Black Prints Promotions, 2012.

Nesbitt, Eleanor. Sikhism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University press, 2005.

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

Klemp, Harold. “Spiritual Exercise of the Week.” Eckankar, July 13, 2014. www.eckankar.org/ (accessed July 15, 2014).

Twitchell, Paul. ECKANKAR: The Key to Secret Worlds. Minneapolis, MN: Eckankar, 1987.

[1] David Christopher Lane, The Making of a Spiritual Movement: The Untold Story of Paul Twitchell and Eckankar – The Unauthorized Critique (Del Mar, CA: Del Mar Press, 1993), 23.

[2] Eleanor Nesbitt, Sikhism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, UK: Oxford University press, 2005), Introduction.

[3] Alex J. Bostock, Sant Mat: The Way of the Saints (London: Black Prints Promotions, 2012), 1.

[4] David Christopher Lane, The Making of a Spiritual Movement: The Untold Story of Paul Twitchell and Eckankar – The Unauthorized Critique (Del Mar, CA: Del Mar Press, 1993), 36.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 37

[7] Ibid., 26

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 27

[11] Paul Twitchell, ECKANKAR: The Key to Secret Worlds (Minneapolis, MN: Eckankar, 1987), ix.

[12] Ibid., 96

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Harold Klemp, “Spiritual Exercise of the Week,” Eckankar, July 13, 2014, www.eckankar.org/ (accessed July 15, 2014).

[16] David Christopher Lane, The Making of a Spiritual Movement: The Untold Story of Paul Twitchell and Eckankar – The Unauthorized Critique (Del Mar, CA: Del Mar Press, 1993), 33-41.

[17] Ibid., 34

[18] Ibid., 39

[19] Paul Twitchell, ECKANKAR: The Key to Secret Worlds (Minneapolis, MN: Eckankar, 1987), 17.

[20] Ibid., 45-46

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] David Christopher Lane, The Making of a Spiritual Movement: The Untold Story of Paul Twitchell and Eckankar – The Unauthorized Critique (Del Mar, CA: Del Mar Press, 1993), 43.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid., 47

[27]  Ford Johnson, Confessions of a God Seeker: A Journey to Higher Consciousness (Online: “One” Publishing, Inc., 2003), 180-181.

[28] David Christopher Lane, The Making of a Spiritual Movement: The Untold Story of Paul Twitchell and Eckankar – The Unauthorized Critique (Del Mar, CA: Del Mar Press, 1993), 161-163.

[29] Ibid., 173-179.

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