There are an endless number of metaphysical programs and schools of study most of which seem to be evolving along with the evolution of consciousness. Most of the teachings go to healing issues as people scurry about trying to find meaning and create balance in their lives. I believe that a teacher is meant to stay in your life for a period of time, then one must move on. Metaphysics has become about those who are healed becoming the healers and teachers, each person creating a course of study that works for them. From there they write a short book, do a CD and off they go to heal and help the world, or those who would attracted to their services. There are old schools of study and new. It is all evolving quickly.
I have studied with my teachers who have different philosophies, never remaining long with anyone. The path to enlightenment is to be walked, meeting many along the way.
One of the oldest schools, and it all began for me was A.R.E. - Association for Research and Enlightenment the Edgar Cayce Studies, though I never traveled to their home in Virginia Beach. This was the in the 1980's. I found the A.R.E meetings interesting and a great jump-off point. Now we have the Internet where all is at your fingertips.
My friend Stewart belongs to a group that has been around for a long time, called Eckankar.
The teaching emphasizes the value of personal spiritual and physical experiences as the most natural way back to God and does not advocate reliance on external authority, books or dogmatic beliefs. The term "Soul Travel" is copyrighted by Eckankar. It describes one of the basic tenets of the teaching; Soul (awareness or consciousness) can leave the body in full consciousness and travel in other worlds. The current spiritual leader of Eckankar (since October 1981) is Sri Harold Klemp. Eckankar offers membership and mail out discourses to interested parties, as well as support groups who meet to discuss the teaching at what is known as "Satsang". Membership is open to all, it is not a requirement to leave your current faith in order to join.
There are few personal requirements to be an ECKist, however certain spiritual practices are recommended for spiritual growth. Chief among these is daily practice of the Spiritual Exercises of ECK for 15-20 minutes a day. The most basic ECK Spiritual Exercise is singing the word HU (pronounced like the "hue".) There are no dietary requirements, sexual taboos, or enforced ascetic practices. The teaching puts forward no religious holidays, but acknowledges the ECK Spiritual New Year on October 22nd.
The teaching states that Eckists (students of Eckankar; also called chelas) must prove the veracity of the path for themselves. Eckists believe it is possible to achieve self-realization and God-realization in this lifetime. The emphasis has shifted in current times away from out of body experiences to experiencing God's Love in everyday matters. The final spiritual goal of all ECKists is to become conscious co-workers with God. This is the meaning of the term "Eckankar" ... ECK means ONE, ANKARA means Worker. Eckankar therefore means "Worker with the One" or in modern terms, a coworker with the Divine. Some suggest this word comes from the opening words of the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, which reads: ik-oNkaar. (Which means "One Universal")
Eckankar teaches that spiritual experience and spiritual liberation in this lifetime are available to all. By actively exploring the spiritual worlds through Soul Travel, dreams, and other spiritual techniques you can awaken and become aware of your true nature as Soul. Eckankar's belief is that Soul is eternal and is the individual's true identity, not the body or the mind. You are Soul; you exist because God loves you. You are on a journey of Self-Realization and God-Realization.
Eckankar uses the term ECK in a similar context where Christians commonly use Holy Spirit. The teaching states that this "spirit" can be experienced as spiritual Light and Sound. These are given as the twin aspects of God, and it is stressed that the student can experience this divine essence personally. This ECK, or audible stream of life, has been described in various ways in all religious texts. EG: In the beginning there was the "word". In the Vedic Scripts, it is called Shabda or the Bani, and all major religions at some point refer to these aspects of Spirit, the Light and Sound.
Eckankar is different because it stresses these aspects as essential to spiritual growth. It claims to teach the student (chela) how to recognize and experience the Light and Sound of God through the use of spiritual exercises. It gives specific techniques that a student can practice in order to attain enlightenment based on these twin aspects of divinity.
Light and Sound: the Light and Sound of God are the cornerstones of the teaching. These twin aspects are said to be something any individual can experience. It is claimed that an individual can learn to consciously lift themselves out of their body by tuning into these aspects of Spirit. Early Origenist philosophers and Gnostics followed similar beliefs. There are indications in the Christian Bible that also indicate this belief: 2 Corinthians 12: I know a man in Christ above fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I know not, or out of the body, I know not; God knoweth), such a one caught up to the third heaven.
KARMA and REINCARNATION: These are primary beliefs in Eckankar. The ECK (Holy Spirit) helps purify oneself of karma, making it possible to accept and understand ourselves and our place in the universe, gaining wisdom, charity, and freedom in the process. If you attain Self Realisation, you are set free from the Awagawan, the endless wheel of life, or what we call reincarnation.
Spiritual Practice: Spiritual unfoldment can be accelerated through conscious contact with the ECK, Divine Spirit. This contact can be made via the Spiritual Exercises of ECK and the inner and outer guidance of the Living ECK Master.
Spiritual Master: The teaching states that the Living ECK Master's spiritual purpose is to link Soul to the Light and Sound of God; Eckankar always has a Living ECK Master. It is stated that there are degrees of Mastery, recognised by an inner hierarchy called "The Brotherhood of the Vairagi". This is a brotherhood of Monks dedicated to Detachment, and it is claimed they have existed since the Dawn of Time. The current Master is always a member of this Brotherhood.
Personal Responsibility: The aspect of the Student creating their OWN connection with the Divine is strongly emphasised. Personal responsibility, personal effort, personal interaction with the Divine are all stressed and dependence on outer authority is downplayed. Paradoxically, there are sets of guidelines for behaviour within the teaching.
Spiritually-Charged Words: One important spiritual exercise of Eckankar is the singing or chanting of HU. The HU has been used in the Sufi traditions and other paths, and is seen to be a "love song to God". pronounced "hue," and sung gently over and over for about 20 minutes. Eckists sing it alone or in groups during worship services, seminars, and Satsang (classes) (hear an example) for spiritual upliftment. Another aspect of Eckankar is using a variety of Sacred Words (or Mantras) to experience Soul Travel. This practice is claimed to allow the Chela to step back from the overwhelming input of the physical senses and emotions and regain Soul's spiritual viewpoint.
OM (AUM) is recognized as the word for the Mental plane, but is not generally used as a spiritual mantra in Eckankar.
Dreams: Dreams are regarded as an important teaching tool. Members are urged to keep a dream journal to facilitate study. It is said that a person can become capable of exploring other planes of existence, through understanding Dreams and learning to practice Soul Travel.
There is a large body of literature that discusses these and many other spiritual principles in detail that the Chela can study at his/her leisure. The Master is not Worshipped:
Apologists for Eckankar state that the "Living ECK Master" of Eckankar is not someone to be worshipped or idolized, but used as a role model or stepping stone to achieving the enlightened state within themselves, and for each individual to lift themselves in consciousness until they are a Master unto themselves. However, there in only one official Master recognized by Eckankar, and his name is Harold Klemp. Mr. Klemp is the only member of Eckankar recognized as a "Master" by the Eckankar organization and its membership.
A basic goal of Eckists is to work off karma and achieve Self-Realization and God-realization in this lifetime. The stated goal on the back of every membership card reads: "The aim and purpose of Eckankar has always been to take Soul by Its own path back to its divine source." ŠThe Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, Book Two.
Membership Anyone can join Eckankar. The only requirement for membership is contact information and submission of a requested donation. This membership contributions ($150) is renewable yearly. Membership is required to gain Eckankar initiations. At any time a member may request up to a five-year rest period from membership without compromising his study record or initiations. However, members who do not renew by the end of that period are dropped from membership rolls. A donation is requested however a wavier or discount is generally given in matters of hardship. Membership gives access to certain meetings and also the quarterly "Mystic World" where the leader of the teaching address students directly on a number of issues.
Members in Eckankar receive monthly discourses and a quarterly newsletter. Individual spiritual progress is reflected in a series of initiations spanning many years. From Eckankar's web site "Most ECKists receive their First Initiation during the first year of membership, and it often comes in a dream. ECKists take at least two years to explore the ECK teachings to prove to themselves what Eckankar has to offer. After two years, you may decide to make a deeper commitment to your spiritual awakening and request the Second Initiation."
Eckankar differs from many other teachings in this regard, in that there is a waiting period before you can commit to greater involvement. Further initiations for active members occur at different points throughout the Eckists life (varies according to the individual). There is a larger general body of older initiates called High Initiates (or "H.I's") who have devoted themselves to the teachings of the Mahanta, the Living ECK Master.
Eckankar began as a formal teaching circa 1965. Paul Twitchell, the founder, started Eckankar as a business, changing it soon after to a Not For Profit organization. It was based in Las Vegas and Los Angeles until the present Master Sri Harold Klemp moved the basis of operation to Minneapolis. He also changed the Non-Profit status of the teaching to that of a religion under the laws of the United States. The headquarters and main Temple as well as the yet to be formed spiritual campus are in Chanhassen, Minnesota.
The origin of Eckankar, according to its followers, is timeless. Images relating to the "EK" symbol used by present day Eckankar have been found in Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece. A 1930's book set in the pre-dynastic period of Egypt "The Winged Pharaoh" by Joan Grant, while fictional, does mention a teaching remarkably similar to present day Eckankar.
"Out Of Body" experience (known in Eckankar as "Soul Travel") is not new to the world's religions. In Christianity, for example, the Apostle Paul claims, "I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven - whether in the body or out of the body I do not know." (2 Cor. 12:2) (Biblical scholars now generally accept the "person in Christ" is most likely Paul himself.)
The books of Eckankar contain a good deal of information about historical spirituality, and current practice. In addition to its teachings on dreams and soul travel, the present leader, Sri Harold Klemp, has written extensively about Eckankar and recommends books by Paul Twitchell, the late founder (books like Stranger by the River, The Flute of God, and ECKANKAR - The Key to Secret Worlds). Mr. Klemp also refers students to many "outside" sources, including alternative health practices and education. Many of Eckankar's Chelas have also written commentaries and books on the faith.
According to various biographies, Eckankar founder Paul Twitchell studied many of the world's religions, from Surat Shabda Yoga under (Kirpal Singh) to Scientology. Paul Twitchell reportedly read over 30,000 books on spiritual and other topics and was a prolific writer.
The most authoritative sources for the origins of the teaching are covered in Doug Marman's book "Dialogues in the Age of Criticism". (See bottom notes) Here he presents evidence of Twitchell studying under Sudarshan Singh who ran a now defunct teaching called "The Parent Faith". Most of the current Light and Sound teachings appear to have derived from the same source.
Paul Twitchell claimed that Eckankar was a compilation of the best of all teachings, reformed into a modern "Science of Soul Travel". In Eckankar, he brought together many teachings that he felt were most the important for the development of Soul. After Twitchell, Darwin Gross was the leader for 10 years until he appointed Harold Klemp in October 1981. After a significant and public conflict, Gross set up his own spiritual teaching. His teachings are similar to Eckankar but called the Ancient Teachings of Masters, or ATOM for short. Gross has also written several books and discourses. This change in Eckankar leadership has been hotly debated, but currently there seems little dispute. Certainly the great majority of Eckists have remained loyal to Sri Harold Klemp.
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