Chapter Four

THE ADVENT OF DARWIN GROSS

Translation and Successorship


     John Paul Twitchell died on September 17, 1971, of arteriosclerotic heart disease. He "translated" (Eck terminology for death) at approximately 12:50 a.m., in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he was scheduled to give a lecture on Eckankar.
[Copy of Paul Twitchell's Death Certificate, Ohio Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics.]

     As with his birth, several stories have cropped up concerning Twitchell's unexpected death (translation). A few Eckists, including Jim Peebles, believed that he was poisoned to death; some state it was in Spain, others claim in Czechoslovakia. No one seems quite sure. At the time of his death, Dr. Louis Bluth, one-time President of Eckankar, reported seeing Twitchell's soul carried out in a celestial cloud of light. Yet, he later changed his story, claiming instead that Twitchell had disobeyed the orders of the Vairagi Masters and was carried away in chains. Whichever story one believes--even if one belongs to Eckankar--the fact remains that an autopsy was performed and the coroner's findings were that Twitchell died of a heart attack.
[Ibid.]

The Controversial "Five Year Plan"


     When Twitchell first took over as the "Living Eck Master" in 1965, he stated at the very outset that he had been given a "five-year" mission, and that after those five years a new master would be appointed.
[Woodrow Nichols and Mark Albrecht, op. cit., page 19.]

     Yet when 1970 came around (five years after his proposed statement), Twitchell told his followers at the Fourth World-Wide Eckankar Seminar that he had been given a five-year extension by the Highest Lord, the Sugmad, because the second Mahanta had failed his preliminary testing. Therefore, he would continue as the Mahanta until the third one was ready.
[Ibid.]

     Nichols and Albrecht in their paper, "Eckankar: The Ancient Science of Deception," have researched extensively Twitchell's self-proposed "five-year plan." They consider it to be a crucial point of controversy within Eckankar. Below is the essence of their study.

     By January 1971, the dispute within Eckankar had reached such proportions, Twitchell had to devote his entire letter of that month to quelling the disturbance:
"There is a lot of idle chatter going on by some chelas in Eck who make the unusual claims that they are going to be the next Mahanta, the Living Eck Master. But whatever you hear about this can be taken with a grain of salt, as the old expression goes it simply isn't true."
     Dr. Bluth attributes this change of plan to Paul's attachment to Gail. . . Paul told Bluth that he was training a child somewhere on the West Coast to be the next Mahanta. A lot of members of Eck began leaving the fold at this time sensing a betrayal. Paul did not quell the disturbance.

     Even in May 1971, the storm was still raging. C. Lydon Harrell, Jr., Twitchell's attorney, signed a letter dated May 1, 1971, on his letterhead, addressed to the chelas, that once again states that the next Mahanta is a child and won't be ready for fifteen years.

     Paul Twitchell never lived to carry out his five-year extension that had been granted to him by the Order of Vairagi, the ascended Eck Masters. He never lived to pass the rod of power to another Mahanta, or even an interim Master. [Ibid., pages 20-21.]

The Advent of Darwin Gross

     "The next Mahanta is about fifteen years away. He is now in training but where he is nobody knows and won't know for a long time yet."
[--Paul Twitchell (January 1971)]
[Ibid., page 20.]

     Sri Darwin Gross, Portland, Oregon Eck Mahadis, and professional engineer was announced at the Fifth World-Wide Seminar of Eckankar, to be the new living Eck Master.
[Eckankar News Release (October 1971)]

     The Eckankar News Release reads: "The announcement was made before an assembly of over a thousand followers at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. Gross known in spiritual circles as Dap Ren succeeds Paul Twitchell, author 30 books, master and founder of the present, world-wide Eckankar movement who died (translated) in Cincinnati Sept. 17, 1971."

     It came as a surprise and a shock to many Eckists when Paul Twitchell died suddenly on September 17, 1971. Many of Twitchell's followers had expected their master to live at least another five (if not fifteen) years. It came as a bigger surprise and shock to some of those same Eckists when Darwin Gross was proclaimed the new "Living Eck Master" a month after Twitchell's demise. Shortly thereafter, several esteemed Eckists, including Dr. Bluth (President of Eckankar and Paul's personal doctor) and Edward Pecen (Paul's personal bodyguard and confidante), left Eckankar disclaiming Darwin Gross and Gail Atkinson.
[Edward Pecen, personal interview with the author, November 1977.]

     Part of the reason behind the astonishment of many Eckists over the advent of Darwin Gross was because he had been in Eckankar only since 1969. Nichols and Albrecht retell the controversy:

     "According to Bluth, Gross was flown to Las Vegas. . . from Portland, Oregon, where Gross was immediately granted a fifth initiation and briefed extensively for days so that he could pass the scrutiny of the experts. None of the experts were fooled, and there was a fairly large exodus from the movement at the time, including Dr. Bluth and Dr. Wiggelsworth."

     "Gail had claimed to have had a vision in the middle of the night where Paul had come to her in Nuri Sarup body and told her that Darwin Gross was to be his successor. There was no more mention of the child that Twitchell supposedly had been training."
[Woodrow Nichols and Mark Albrecht, op. cit., pages 23-24.]

Jim Peebles makes a similar observation:

     "Here one should remember that Paul left no word as to who his successor should be. . . As it was, Darwin Gross first became interested in Eckankar in 1969, thus he was an Eck Chela for less than a complete two years at the time he was declared to be the new living Eck Master (i.e., Paul's successor)."
[Jim Peebles, op. cit., page 12]
     Darwin Gross was revealed as the new "Living Eck Master" in Las Vegas, when Gail Atkinson Twitchell, Paul's widow, walked over to Darwin and presented him with a blue carnation. Shortly thereafter, to the bewilderment of a number of Eckists, Gail and Darwin were married. However, their marriage was short-lived. In early 1978, Darwin sent a personal letter to a every Eck chela in the world informing them that he and Gail were getting divorced. A couple of years later, Darwin got remarried, but it lasted only a few months and he got the marriage annulled. The ramifications of Darwin's divorce, remarriage, and annulment on the membership in Eckankar in the 1970's is difficult to ascertain. Yet, it can be presumed by the continued growth of Eckankar in the United States that its ultimate impact, like Darwin and Gail's marriage, was nominal.

     Gail Atkinson, according to the personal letter sent to all Eckists, is still a member of Eckankar and will continue to support the activities of the Eck Master and the group.

Post-Twitchellian Eckankar

     I have used the term "post-Twitchellian" because I think it best emphasizes the crucial importance of Paul Twitchell on Eckankar.

     The growth of Eckankar, since of the death of its founder, Paul Twitchell, and the advent of Darwin Gross, has been remarkable. Although Darwin has only authored a few books (including the small booklet, Eckankar: A Way of Life ), as compared to Twitchell's enormous output (over sixty texts), Eckankar has increased its membership almost triple.

     The exact figures have not, as of yet, been released by Eckankar. But in 1970 the membership was reported not to exceed twenty-thousand. In 1991 it is estimated that the number is somewhere between forty-thousand and sixty-thousand core members.

     Since Darwin's acceptance of the mantleship, Eckankar established its Headquarters in Menlo Park--an impressive million dollar building. [Now under the leadership of Harold Klemp, the central headquarters is in Minneapolis, Minnesota.] Yet the most enterprising of Darwin's projects was to build a spiritual center in Sedona, Arizona. The project, however, had to be abandoned due to lack of finances and a devastating lawsuit taken against Eckankar over property rights in the Sedona area.
[See Sedona's Red Rock News (November 5, 1980) for more on the lawsuit taken over Eckankar's land holdings.]

The Third Living Eck Master: Harold Klemp

     In October of 1981, Darwin Gross passed on the mantleship of Eckankar to Harold Klemp, a long-standing Eckist. The event took place in Los Angeles, California, at the World-Wide Seminar. For many members, the announcement came as an abrupt transition. Apparently, to ease in the appointment of Harold Klemp, Darwin Gross agreed to work at the International Office in Menlo Park in an advisory capacity. But all did not go well and in 1983 a severe break occurred between Darwin Gross and Harold Klemp, which led to Gross' removal and subsequent excommunication from the fold.
[See Part Five for a detailed examination of this most unusual chapter in Eckankar's history.]

     Although we have examined briefly Paul Twitchell's life and work up to to his death and the successorship of Darwin Gross in Eckankar, we have not, as of yet, studied the most crucial and controversial aspect of Eckankar: namely, the untold story of Paul Twitchell. The first two parts have served as an introduction, for what follows is the most intriguing, yet the most disputed, aspect of Twitchell's life and work.

NOTES

1. Copy of Paul Twitchell's Death Certificate, Ohio Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics.

2. Ibid.

3. Woodrow Nichols and Mark Albrecht, op. cit., page 19.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid., pages 20-21.

6. Ibid., page 20.

7. The Eckankar News Release reads: "The announcement was made before an assembly of over a thousand followers at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. Gross known in spiritual circles as Dap Ren succeeds Paul Twitchell, author of 30 books, master and founder of the present, world-wide Eckankar movement who died (translated) in Cincinnati Sept. 17, 1971."

8. Edward Pecen, personal interview with the author, November 1977.

9. Woodrow Nichols and Mark Albrecht, op. cit., pages 23-24.

10. Jim Peebles, op. cit., page 12.

11. Gail Atkinson, according to the personal letter sent to all Eckists, is still a member of Eckankar and will continue to support the activities of the Eck Master and the group.

12. I have used the term "post-Twitchellian" because I think it best emphasizes the crucial importance of Paul Twitchell on Eckankar.

13. The exact figures have not, as of yet, been released by Eckankar. But in 1970 the membership was reported not to exceed twenty-thousand. In the early 1990's it is estimated that the number is anywhere between twenty and forty thousand core members.

14. See Sedona's Red Rock News (November 5, 1980) for more on the lawsuit taken over Eckankar's land holdings.

THE COVER-UP
1