Chapter Eight


Authenticity, Legitimacy, and Deception in the Study of Religion

     Many followers within Eckankar today feel that the truth or underlying message of their founder, PaulTwitchell, is valid, regardless of whether or not his (or their) beliefs fit a historic and objective purview. To such Eckists, the inner core of the teachings relates a truth and a reality far superior to the shadowy contradiction it casts in a fact-oriented world. Thus, when accusations of plagiarism, cover-up, and fraud are labeled against their founder, devout members dismiss the allegations under the pretext that it has nothing to do with the real path, which is the ascension of the soul into the higher "God Worlds."

     But is this truly the case? Can we separate the factual world from the inner spiritual realms? According to Ken Wilber, perhaps the premier transpersonal philosopher in the world today, the answer is no. Reality is not the exclusion of one conditional part from another (as we find in the extreme case of dualistic Zoroastrianism), but the very ground of being from which all conditions and events arise. In this light, the material world and the spiritual planes cannot be arbitrarily dissociated--rather they are inseparable and complementary.

     Therefore, any comprehensive study of new religious groups like Eckankar, according to Wilber, must take into account two important factors: 1) legitimacy, the degree of integration that a particular religion offers. That is, how well does the group harmonize its follower with the teachings, the membership, and the society at large? And 2) authenticity, the determination of the religion's real goals. Is it aiming for just a better world? Or is it trying for the realization of higher planes of consciousness? Wilber, in A Sociable God, elaborates more on these two important elements:

Corollary: "Degree of legitimacy" refers to the relative degree of integration, meaning-value, good mana, ease of functioning, avoidance of taboo, and so forth within any given level. This is a horizontal scale; "more legitimate" means more integrative-meaningful within that level.

Corollary: "Degree of authenticity" refers to the relative degree of actual transformation delivered by a given religion (or world view). This is a vertical scale; "more authentic" means more capable of reaching a higher level (and not merely integrating the present level). [1]
[1] KenWilber, A Sociable God (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1983), pages 60-61.]

     Wilber's methodology is important because it judges religious groups on both its spiritual aims and its worldly interactions. When we apply such a scale to Eckankar, we find that the group is essentially an illegitimate expression (because of its founder's denial of his real theopneusty) of an authentic religious aspiration, the attainment of higher levels of consciousness. It is most likely on account of Eckankar's lofty aims that it draws such an extensive following. However, what the group finally delivers is not the same as what it advertises. First, Eckankar is not a unique path unduplicated anywhere in the world, since, as we have previously noted, almost all of its teachings and practices are derived from pre-existing movements. And secondly, its founder, Paul Twitchell, does not qualify as a genuine spiritual master since he not only disqualifies his verdicality by copious lying, cover-ups, and plagiarism, but because he also cannot live up to his own self-made criterion for a true Eck Master. [2]

     Thus, in Wilber's critical model, Eckankar is illegitimate simply because it cannot integrate its claim for a unique revelation within the objective-rational world without contradicting and ultimately invalidating itself. On the other hand, Eckankar's claim for authenticity is a more complex issue.

[2] Refer to SCP Journal: Eckankar--A Hard Look at a New Religion (Berkeley, September, 1979) for a comprehensive breakdown of Twitchell's inconsistencies in Appendix Number One.

The Manifestation of Rebazar Tarzs

     Documented research indicates that Paul Twitchell created the character Rebazar Tarzs, basing the monk's life story on the biographies of Kabir, Shiv Dayal Singh, Sawan Singh, Kirpal Singh, and several other real life gurus. This finding, however, is known only to a few members in Eckankar. Others, not conscious of this fact (and who are allegedly adept at "soul travel"), claim to have extraordinary visions of the Tibetan, describing in detail his appearance and peculiar dress.

     The preceding issue raises an important question with regard to Eckankar's claims for authenticity. Can a religion which is proven illegitimate still be authentic? More precisely, can Eckankar, though it is founded upon fraudulent lines, nevertheless, deliver genuine spiritual experiences? Surprisingly, the answer is both yes and no.

     Yes, because it is theoretically conceivable that an earnest devotee may have an authentic experience of a fabricated mystic in higher planes of consciousness beyond the waking state. [3] However, it is important to remember that the authenticity of such an encounter has nothing to do with the image-content as such. Rather, it is the structure of consciousness itself which gives numinous power to the experience. Whether or not a guru is a literary invention or a historical personage matters very little in terms of authenticity. (It does have an important role, though, in determining the ultimate legitimacy of the encounter.) [4] Near-Death experiences, which are replete with culturally bound visions, indicates that the content of one's experiences may be unconscious projections (Christians see Jesus, not Buddha; Sikhs see Guru Nanak, not Mohammed; and so on), whereas the context or field of such transpersonal interplay is superconscious and not due to cultural restrictions.

     Therefore, an Eckankar member may achieve a higher state of consciousness and behold a vision of what he/she believes to be Rebazar Tarzs. But it is not the Tibetan monk who is bestowing the elevated experience; rather, it is the devotee's own inherent capability for advanced structural adaptation (manifested, for example, in N.D.E.'s) which allows for such mystical heights. Hence, the important point concerning the authenticity of religious visions, as Wilber clearly points out, is not one of content (structurally speaking, it matters little if one beholds the Virgin Mary, Buddha, Krishna, or Fubbi Quantz), but of context. [5]

[3] For more on this issue, see "The Hierarchical Structure of Religious Visions," Journal of Transpersonal Psychology (Volume 15, Number 1); "The Himalayan Connection: U.F.O.'s and the Chandian Effect," Journal of Humanistic Psychology (Fall 1984); and The Unknowing Sage: The Life and Work of Baba Faqir Chand (forthcoming).
[4] Ken Wilber, A Sociable God, op. cit., pages 61-64.
[5] See "The Hierarchical Structure of Religious Visions."

     No, since Eckankar is illegitimate it has an inborn tendency to validate its spiritual claims in less than truly authentic ways. For instance, many so-called religious visions reported by Eckankar members of Rebazar Tarzs are nothing more than vivid images which manifest quite normally while one is dreaming. Simply because an image is of a holy or revered personage does not qualify it automatically as a Divine manifestation. A distinction must be made between subconscious (pre/dream-like) and superconscious (trans/transcendent) manifestations. If this is not done - as is often the case in Eckankar where most dreams are elevated to spiritual experiences - a "pre/trans fallacy" occurs, resulting in the confusion of infantile image with genuine spiritual apparitions. [6]

The Future of Eckankar

     Professor Mark Juergensmeyer in the foreword of this book postulates that Eckankar will survive my revelations about its history relatively unperturbed. Comments Juergensmeyer, "criticisms from outside can sometimes solidify a group and buttress its members' faith all the more, a paradox demonstrated in Leon Festinger's study of UFO cult, When Prophecy Fails." No doubt, there will be those within Eckankar who will become disenchanted and leave the fold (as has already been the case), but eventually the overall membership will stay generally the same.

     Why is this the case? What is it that allows obviously fraudulent groups to survive? Rational humanists, such as Paul Kurtz, will argue that man has a predisposition towards gullibility, a will to believe for its own sake even if the belief turns out to be false or misconceived. More sympathetic scholars, on the other hand, like Mircea Eliade, point out that religious beliefs are derived from myths, which are sacred truths dealing with the reality of a group or sect of individuals. It is not an indagation, these scholars contend, to determine if there was actually an Adam or an Eve, or, in Eckankar's case, if Rebazar Tarzs really exists, because myths transcend scientists' quest for origins. Hence, in such academic circles, the driving and always reappearing question of "is it really true?" or "did it actually happen?" is side-stepped, parenthesized, or called the "fallacy of demystification." [7]

[6] Ken Wilber has written a superb article on the "pre/trans fallacy" in Revision (Volume 3, Number 2, 1980).
[7] Mircea Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religions (New York: New American Library, 1974).

     Both of the above viewpoints represent the opposite extremes currently popular in analyzing religious beliefs. The first perspective, as exemplified by Carl Sagan, Paul Kurtz, Issac Asimov, and others, depicts science's persistent materialistic (or, if generous, epiphenomenalistic) attitudes towards non-rational intuitions. The second purview, as propounded by the phenomenologist school, which includes Mircea Eliade and Robert S. Ellwood, Jr., reflects a basically empathetic and non-reductionistic stance towards spiritual phenomena. However, if we are left just to these two outlooks, we end up either reducing religion to its physiological-psychological roots (e.g., "God as vague birth memories of the obstetrician") or allowing for the inevitable, but thoroughly misleading conclusion that "all religions are the same." [8]

     What is called for in the examination of new spiritual movements, like Eckankar, is not more 19th century materialism or indecisive phenomenological-hermeneutics, but a comprehensive and critical methodology, such as the one Wilber has outlined in A Sociable God and (with Dick Anthony and Bruce Ecker) in Spiritual Choices (1987). Only then can the claims of mysticism move out of the darkness of occultism and into the light of rational scrutiny.

     In conclusion, since Eckankar has never really encouraged open and unbiased research into its founder's life and work, I don't envision any invitations for scholars to do so in the future. But if Eckankar remains in such a guarded position, then it will automatically castrate future researchers and objective seekers from its fold. In the end, a religion which does not open itself to logical inquiry cannot, with any form of reasoning, ask its followers to believe in its genuineness.

[8] Refer to Wilber's important criticism of hermeneutics in A Sociable God, op. cit., pages 12-16.