Laying the Foundation
After Paul Twitchell severed his association with Kirpal Singh, he began to
formulate the basis for his own movement. From late 1963 to October 1965, Twitchell laid the groundwork for Eckankar, his own spiritual counterpart to
Ruhani Satsang, Scientology, and several other religious and occult groups. He
wrote a number of articles on his new movement for magazines such as Orion,
Search, and Psychic Observer.
"Paul Twitchell, Man of Parts,"an interview by Jack Jarvis of the Seattle Post Intelligencer, appears to be the first article written about Twitchell and his new group, Eckankar. The interview was conducted on July 9, 1963. Twitchell's later article, "The Square Peg," was written in response to Jarvis' interview. Twitchell claimed to have been besieged with telephone calls and mail asking, "what in heaven's name is a Cliff-Hanger?" In the "Square Peg," Twitchell responded:
"The Cliff-Hanger is a one-man cult. I am the original Cliff-Hanger and its sole disciple. This zany character is called the vanguard of a new religion, entitled "Eckankar," a Hindu word meaning union with God. This unorthodox philosophy received a wide welcome among the European intellectuals and college circles following the publishing of my works in European Magazines. The Cliff-Hanger seeks solace in meditation and bi-location experiences common in the lives of the Old Christian Savants.""Eckankar, The Bilocation Philosophy," published by Orion Magazine of Lakemont, Georgia, in January 1964, seems to be Paul Twitchell's first public article entirely devoted to his new movement. In the "Bilocation Philosophy," Twitchell writes:
"Eckankar, the philosophy of out of body experience, is that understanding which I have gained from bi-location excursions similar to those in the lives of saints of all faiths. Eckankar is the study of bi-location experience."In the same article, Twitchell explains the difference between Eckankar and the orthodox Eastern philosophies:
"The orthodox Eastern Philosophies teach that man must become one with God, but I cannot hold to this concept. The individual self of man becomes a coworker of God, not a part of the unity of Him, in the sense of being one with the divine source, anyways, for we are dwelling in the body of God..." [Ibid.]Although Eckankar, according to Twitchell, was not "officially" founded until October 22, 1965, it did, nevertheless, have several years of preparation behind it. The Psychic Observer based in Southern Pines, North Carolina, published several of Twitchell's articles prior to 1965. "The Cliff-Hanger," printed in July of 1964, expounds Twitchell's definition of the "enigmatic one" and of the Cliff-Hanger's philosophy--Eckankar:
"Eckankar, which I formed out of my own experience, is the term used for the philosophy I have developed for the Cliff Hanger. It is based on Shabd-Yoga, a way out form of yoga. The word is the Hindu locution for the cosmic sound current which is known in our vernacular as the cosmic river of God."In a later article, The God Eaters, dated November 1964, for Psychic Observer, Twitchell elaborates on the impetus behind Eckankar:
"Eckankar is the philosophy of phardar pax Latehue walae, or what you know as the Cliff Hangers. This grew out of my visits to Agam Des, the land of the God Eaters. The basic axiom of this philosophy is: Power is the only force generated by Occult knowledge."It was thus by a series of articles on the philosophy of Eckankar and on the eccentric personality of the "Cliff Hanger" that Twitchell laid down the public groundwork for Eckankar. Brad Steiger, in his biography of Twitchell, In My Soul I Am Free, asked Paul when he really began to settle down and start to formulate how to spread the message of Eckankar. Answered Twitchell,
"probably when my sister Kay Dee died in 1959."In response to Steiger's question on when he changed from being a "Cliff-Hanger" to a spiritual adept, Twitchell replied:
"The switchover from the Cliff Hanger to Eck began taking place after I met my present wife, Gail. She insisted that I do something with my knowledge and abilities."After securing lecture time from Edna Rice at the California Parapsychology Foundation in San Diego, Twitchell began a six-month tenure teaching the art of bilocation. Although the auditorium where Twitchell gave his lecture series was almost always filled to capacity, it was not his speaking engagements that captured the bulk of his followers. Rather, it was his correspondence courses on Eckankar which attracted most of his devotees (or "chelas" as he called them) to him and his new philosophy.
Jim Peebles in his paper, Eckankar: The Ancient Science of Soul Travel (Term paper; California State University, Northridge, 1977), writes: "Eckankar, though it is non-profit, is also quite expensive. The texts, which a devout Eckist is expected to purchase, range in price from $2.00 to $10.00, the average price being around $7.00 (remember there are over twenty texts). . . An Eckist is also required to take at least one set of discourses each year. By purchasing these on a time payment plan he will pay $85.00 for each set (there are seven adult sets now)." Peebles' paper was written in 1977; the prices have since increased considerably.
In the July/August 1965 issue of Orion Magazine, Twitchell advertised The Illuminated Way to God.It was one of his first such advertisements. It reads as follows:
Bilocation is the Illuminated Path of the Supreme Consciousness. It is the secret way that all masters use to reach the ultimate of all universes. One must learn the separation of spirit from body by his own volition. It increases awareness, helps solve problems and gives a spiritual insight into one's own akashic records and the hidden worlds. New techniques. For information, write: Paul Twitchell, P. O. Box 13052, San Diego, California 92113.Later, Twitchell took out full page advertisements in Orion Magazine with his photograph and the headline caption, ECKANKAR, The Secret Science of Soul Travel. Similar advertisements were also taken out in other occult magazines, including the New Cosmic Star.
According to Twitchell, Eckankar was not "officially" founded until October 22, 1965. On that illustrious night, Twitchell claims to have received the "Rod of Power" (passing of the successorship) from Rebazar Tarzs, a Tibetan monk supposedly over five-hundred years old. The Tibetan, according to Twitchell's account, had appeared to him since the early 1950's in his atma sarup (soul/light body). Concerning Rebazar Tarzs and the founding of Eckankar, Twitchell writes:
"We were married in 1964 in San Francisco, and shortly afterwards Rebazar Tarzs began to appear and give me intensive instructions. He had been appearing regularly in the latter fifties, but he said that those sessions had only been designed to prepare me for the exhaustive drills which now faced me. I was told to move south, to choose San Diego for our home. My first out-of-town lecture was at Long Beach, where three gentle ladies, two widows and a spinster came. I decided that I could lecture as well to three as to three hundred. Word began to get around about Eck, so I agreed to write the monthly discourses and to offer instructions by mail. I went from three chelas to thousands in less than three years."
"There is too much dishonesty among those who try to get tax shelters because they claim to be religious groups. God didn't establish nontaxable foundations, so why should I try to get under such claims? If Eck cannot take care of itself, then it can be of little value to anyone else."After his first out-of-town lecture and the inception of his mail correspondence courses, Twitchell began to attract a large following. It was with the great influx of seekers and the money that came with them which prompted Twitchell to incorporate Eckankar as a business organization under license in the State of Nevada. Twitchell had previously moved his original center of operation from San Diego, California, to Las Vegas, Nevada, in order to avoid heavy taxation. In response to Steiger's question concerning the business status of Eckankar, Twitchell replied:
"I do not run Eckankar as a non-profit organization. Most people in this line of work do indeed use the Religious non-profit organization provision as an escape clause on their taxes. Eckankar is licensed in the state of Nevada as a business organization. I do this because I feel that it is only proper and fitting that I make my own way instead of trying to get under a tax shelter. It is hard, of course, but I manage to do it."Twitchell's hard line against tax exempt religious organizations, however, did not last long. Later, under mounting pressure from Eckankar board members, he had Eckankar's original status changed to that of a "non-profit" religious organization. The Eckankar Board Members included Dr. Bluth and Dr. Wiggelsworth.
Outside of the mail correspondence courses (and the assorted Eckankar advertisements), Twitchell penned a number of books on Eckankar, and even authored a featured column in the New Cosmic Star. Twitchell's first three books, The Tiger's Fang, The Flute of God, and An Introduction to Eckankar , appeared to have all sold well. However, it was not until Steiger's chapter on Twitchell in the Enigma of Reincarnation (1967) that Twitchell's name caught hold of the general reading public. Steiger claims to have had tremendous response from his readers to the two chapters he included on Paul Twitchell. Shortly thereafter, Steiger wrote Paul's official biography, In My Soul I Am Free, for Lancer Books, Inc.
Later, Twitchell had contractual problems with Lancer Books, Inc. Evidently, he was given royalty on only 25,000 books, when in actuality Lancer Books had sold over 100,000 of Twitchell's books. Lancer Books soon went bankrupt and out of business.
Paul Twitchell and Eckankar had become a marketable item. The biography, In My Soul I Am Free and Twitchell's own work, Eckankar: The Key to Secret Worlds, became bestsellers for Lancer Books. Twitchell and his new group had, indeed, caught the attention of the public. Even Look Magazine wrote a brief article on the "World's leading authority on Eckankar--The Ancient Science of Soul Travel."
According to Brad Steiger (personal telephone conversation with the author, op. cit.), Paul Twitchell used quotations from Look out of context. Look was belittling Twitchell and his "Eck" group, and sarcastically termed the group's founder, "The World's leading authority on Soul Travel."
Jim Peebles in his paper Eckankar: The Ancient Science of Soul Travel remarks on the rapid growth of Eckankar in America:
Since the early days of Eckankar, which began with Paul personally typing the discourses each month, the movement has grown rapidly; and so did Paul's need to express the teachings in writing. Between the publication of the Tiger's Fang in 1965, and Paul's death in 1971, he managed to author an additional twenty texts, seven complete sets of discourses (not to mention the discourses which he wrote for children), a monthly letter called a "wisdom note" to his chelas, a very active series of lectures each year, and numerous articles which appeared in various publications by Eckankar.The rapid growth of Eckankar had come from three areas: 1) Paul Twitchell's mail correspondence courses, which he advertised extensively in occult and religious outlets; 2) Twitchell's indefinable charisma; and 3) the times in which Eckankar developed.
The single greatest factor to Eckankar's astounding growth, outside of its spiritual message and Twitchell's personality, was the time in which Eckankar blossomed. The late 1960's were a time of considerable discontent in American society. Eckankar was born in the very midst of a growing disenchantment within secular society for "orthodox" religions. The rebellious youth were turning toward the East; mysticism, yoga, and Zen were the "in" thing. Eckankar, however, was different. It was unique in that it took from the East teachings regarding karma, shabd yoga, and reincarnation while essentially remaining a Western-based movement. To many Eckankar offered the only real solution to life's problems. The 1960's were finally a time for new avenues of thought. Eckankar offered one such new exploration--an exploration into higher consciousness.