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Authored by Lauren Alexander
Rising out of an open expanse of tawny prairie grass, the golden pyramidal roof of the ECK Temple looks oddly out of place. The shining golden roof, the highest point for several miles, is visible from the surrounding streets. The Temple, complete with a tall gate in front and flying several American flags, stands in contrast to the neat cul-de-sac neighborhoods and small strip malls that surround it. The ECK Temple, housed in the quiet southwestern suburb of the Twin Cities called Chanhassen, is the global headquarters of Eckankar, a religion revealed to the world in 1965. Eckankar is the Religion of the Light and Sound of God. Followers of Eckankar understand that the religion’s teachings are as old as human life and that, residing in every human being is Soul, a small piece of God sent to earth in order to gain spiritual experience through the knowledge of God. In his book, The Secret of Love, the current leader of Eckankar, Harold Klemp, writes, “Soul’s whole purpose for being in this world is to find divine love.”
The name ‘Eckankar’ is derived from the first words of the Sikh Scriptures entitled Sri Guru Granth Sahib. While the Scriptures generally translate the term as ‘There is one god,’ Eckankar translates it as ‘Co-Worker with God’ because the central goals of the religion are to make God a real presence in everyday life and to allow for personal interaction and relationships with God.
Followers of Eckankar, self-described as “ECKists,” believe that Light and Sound are the two twin features of the Holy Spirit or the ECK, the divine energy that flows from God. Each person is connected to God through the ECK. Eckankar offers its followers tools, including daily spiritual exercises in breathing, meditation, contemplation, and knowledge of dreams, to experience God through the hearing of Sound and the seeing of Light. The Mahanta, the Living ECK Master, is the leader of the religion and is central to this process of coming to know God. The Mahanta, who is appointed because of his level of spiritual achievement, shares essential divine knowledge and is highly respected as the prophet of Eckankar, but is never worshiped. Eckankar believes that spiritual experience and liberation through the knowledge of God are available to all in this lifetime.
The story of Eckankar is one of individualism and personal discovery, of community bonds and sharing, of hardship and difficulty, and of success. Eckankar’s journey, which began as a small group of followers based in the West Coast and has become an established, worldwide religion centered in Minnesota, is a complex one. The story allows us to reconsider and assess the ways by which we understand religion, spirituality, and authenticity, and to engage with categories, concepts, and experiences that will challenge and surprise us.