What the Heck Is Eck?

By Nicholas Scribner
March 26, 2023

I wrote this article for Chaska High School's student newspaper, The Hawk Herald. It appeared in the May 29, 2006, issue. I also created and managed the website for The Hawk Herald, which one can still see in Archive.org's Wayback Machine at this link. Nevertheless, I thought the article's last vestiges on the World Wide Web existed at the aforementioned link. Until today. Within the last hour, I remembered I kept a copy of the article on my student home page at Bard College. I was able to remember the URL and access the file in the Wayback Machine, which one can visit at this link. What follows is a mirror of the file from my Bard College home page.

The city of Chanhassen has several famous landmarks: the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres; Prince's studio, Paisley Park; and a religion's world headquarters--the Temple of Eck. Anyone in the area is surely familiar with the bright golden temple situated on the corner of Powers and West 78th Street. Despite its prominent placement, most local residents have never actually visited the temple, much less have the slightest idea about the actual religion.

Eckankar, which means "Co-worker with God," is more or less a hodgepodge of ancient Eastern religions with some similarities to modern Western practices. "But Eckankar is not a branch or anything of another religion," explained D'arcy Fox (12). "I was talking to someone just the other week," said Cheryl Seese, an Eck follower, "and they were saying the best qualities in every religion--and Eckankar had all of them."

According to a 2004 estimate, Eckankar has over 36,000 members in the United States and is present in more than 120 countries. In the local area alone, there are 700 to 800 members. Every day of the week and during all times of the day, cars move in and out of the temple's gates, often branded with the "ECK" logo on their bumpers.

"The Religion of Light and Sound of God" is Eckankar's official title. Eckists believe they play individual roles in the pursuit of God and higher consciousness, and every day they practice some of their hundred spiritual exercises. Like Freudian theory, Eckankar stresses the importance of dreams in day-to-day life. Unlike Freudian theory, however, Eckankar claims its believers can actually visit spiritual places through a process called Soul Traveling. "We look to dreams for spiritual guidance and to answer questions," said Eck follower Beverly Foster. "We believe we are soul; we have always lived."

Eckankar's foremost spiritual exercise is the HU (pronounced hue), a technique similar to meditation practiced by closing your eyes and singing "Huuuuu" in five to ten second intervals. In the chapel, Eckists sing the HU together to connect with God. The HU is supposed to let you focus with your third eye, which enables you to see light and take journeys to spiritual worlds. "I do the HU before I fall asleep," said Devin Seese (12), "to relax after a long day of school and work."

If the last two paragraphs sounded like a bunch of spiritual gobbledygook, you shouldn't worry. "I know this is a lot to take in," admitted Foster. "At first it always seems complicated."

The temple itself has brought a lot of attention to Eckankar. "The Chanhassen temple was an award-winning design made in 1990 by the same people that designed the Mall of America," said Foster. In total, Eckankar claims 174 acres of prime land near downtown Chanhassen directly behind Lake Ann.

The Aztec-like exterior of the temple represents the eight steps toward the path to God. "Its octagonal shape gives each of the rooms along the wall a different shape," said Foster. The temple's interior is a minimalist design with virtually bare, white walls and gold fringing. On the walls are pastel paintings of spiritual worlds that Eckists have visited in their dreams. "We get paintings from members all around the world," said Foster. "I like to think of the paintings as little windows." Often showing up in the paintings are Eck Masters.

Eckankar's Mahanta, or Living Eck Master, is the leader of the religion and helps guide other Eckists on their own spiritual paths. The current Living Eck Master is Sri Harold Klemp, a native of Milwaukee, who replaced Darwin Gross after his short-lived reign ended in 1983 when he was excommunicated from the church. "Twice a year, Harold Klemp speaks at the Minneapolis Convention Center that attracts Eckists from all over the world," said Foster.

There is a long line of Eck Masters that supposedly goes back to the beginning of time. "The Eck Masters remain alive forever in the spiritual world," said Foster. Portraits of notable Eck Masters are displayed conspicuously in the chapel and portray a melting pot of gurus. For example, there is a woman, a Chinese, an Ethiopian, and an ancient Egyptian Eck Master who bears a strikingly similar appearance to Fabio. "Since I was child, I've always had a sort of spiritual connection with [Eck Master] Fubbi Quantz," said Fox. Another Eck Master, Rebazar Tarzs, supposedly revamped Eckankar from a primeval practice into an inclusive religion in the fifteenth century. Eckists believe he is still living in a hut in the Hindu Kush mountain range of Afghanistan.

Paul Twitchell, the first modern-day Eck Master, brought Eckankar to the masses during his leadership starting in 1965 until his death in 1971. Twitchell wrote books, gave lectures, and sent missionaries to Africa and other parts of the world to recruit members. Before Twitchell divulged the ancient practices, there weren't any members or physical evidence of Eckankar in any modern society.

It is for this very reason that critics have labeled Eckankar as a cult. They claim Twitchell, a former member of Scientology and apprentice of L. Ron Hubbard, plagiarized and even flat-out invented the religion. The advent of the Internet has allowed former Eckists and anti-cult proponents to share their lore on Eckankar. Perhaps the most most vocal opponent of Eckankar is Professor David C. Lane, who in 1978 first uncovered the purported plagiarism in Twitchell's writings for his college term paper. Commenting on the cult allegations, Foster exclaimed, "I've heard just about everything."

Individuals should decide for themselves whether claims against Eckankar are true or false. Eckists encourage anyone interested in learning more about the religion to come and visit the temple. "We are very tolerant of other religions," said Cheryl Seese, "and we don't get involved in social issues or have a 'Ten Commandments.'" Added Seese, "It's great to be in America where we have religious freedom."

Article ID: 16