Shabdism in North America

Shabdism in North America

By David Rife


There are now several popular religious movements in North America which owe their existence, either partially or wholly, to the Radhasoami tradition of India. The spectrum ranges from immediate connections, as in Eckankar and the Divine Light Mission whose founders have taken initiation from one of the Satgurus, to associative influences where sects have borrowed (and, in some cases, plagiarized) writings and spiritual lineages from Radhasoami.

All of these new panths, though, have one thing in common: they give significant emphasis to the Shabd, the transcendent power which is believed to be the creative and sustaining force of the universe (it is also known as the “Audible Life Stream” or the “Music of the Spheres”).

And though there are groups which speak of this “Sound Current” which are both anterior and exterior to the Radhasoami tradition, all of the new movements under discussion have based their knowledge and writings on Radhasoami’s own particular interpretation of Surat Shabd Yoga, the practice of uniting the soul with the internal sound energy.

In this article, I will describe the relationship of these American religious movements to the Radhasoami tradition and then will examine the reasons why there is such a strong tendency in these new panths to deny their living religious heritage.


The Radhasoami Tradition of India
What distinguishes Soamiji’s teachings

The more prominent North American groups affiliated to Radhasoami

– Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind
A spiritual teacher and an activist for Indian rights
– Paul Twitchell and Eckankar
The most controversial of the new panths
– John-Roger Hinkins and M.S.I.A.
His teachings are almost exactly the same as Eckankar’s
– Divine Light Mission
Its connection to the Radhasoami tradition
– Walter Baptiste, Dr. Ramamurti Mishra, and Ray Stanford
Lesser-known individuals and groups

Genealogical Dissociation: Emergence and Repression in the New Panths
Why such a denial of their religious heritage?


The Radhasoami Tradition of India

The name Radhasoami has been generally applied to those gurus and gaddis (the seat/residence of a saint, living or deceased) who trace their spiritual lineages back to Shiv Dayal Singh (1818-1878), the proclaimed founder of the movement who resided in the city of Agra, in the Uttar Pradesh District of India. “Soamiji Maharaj,” as Shiv Dayal Singh was called by his disciples, came from a family of Nanak-panthis and was primarily influenced in his religious upbringing by the nirguna bhakti poetry of such Sants as Kabir, Nanak, Paltu, and most significantly Tulsi Sahib of Hathras.

What distinguishes Soamiji’s teachings (and subsequently those of the Radhasoami tradition) from Vaishnavism, Tantrism, Goraknathism, Saivism, and other forms of Indic piety is essentially the emphasis he gives to three cardinal precepts:

1. Satguru, both as the Absolute Lord (nirguna) and the living human master (saguna).

2. Shabd, which encompasses both varnatmak (spoken or written) and dhunyatmak (transcendent melody) expressions of the Supreme Lord (SatPurush).

3. Satsang, the congregation of earnest devotees of the truth.

Upon Soamiji’s death, several of his disciples served as gurus, resulting in a proliferation of satsangs. Today there are at least thirty different Radhasoami centers in India with direct lineage connections to Shiv Dayal Singh. For the purposes of this paper, however, we will only be concerned with two of the largest and most influential of these: Radhasoami Satsang Beas and Ruhani Satsang. For it is these two sects which have been instrumental in the development of a number of popular American religious movements.

Ruhani Satang and its parent Radhasoami Satsang Beas trace their lineages back to Shiv Dayal Singh through Jaimal Singh, Soamiji’s only Sikh successor who eventually settled on the banks of the Beas river in the now thriving farm community of the Punjab. After Jaimal Singh’s demise in 1903, his chief disciple and successor, Sawan Singh (1858-1948), founded a spiritual colony in honor of his guru. It was Sawan Singh who has been the most pivotal force in the spread of Shabd Yoga related panths in North America. His impact can be directly seen in the teachings and writings of the Divine Light Mission, Mishra’s Yoga Society, Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind’s metaphysical groups, and the Movement for Spiritual Inner Awareness (M.S.I.A.).

Although when Sawan Singh died, he was eventually succeeded (via Jagat Singh) by his grandson, Charan Singh, a number of his disciples founded their own movements. Eminent among these was Kirpal Singh who established Ruhani Satsang in Gur Mandi, Old Delhi. Kirpal’s influence on popular Shabd Yoga groups in America is second only to Sawan Singh’s. Both Walter Baptiste and Paul Twitchell (the late founder of Eckankar) were disciples of the Delhi master and have incorporated his teachings into their respective organizations.

The more prominent North American groups affiliated to Radhasoami

In the following section, we will examine some of the more prominent panths in America which have an affiliation in one way or another with the Radhasoami tradition of India through the aegis of Sawan Singh or Kirpal Singh.

Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind

In the early part of this century, many Sikhs immigrated by way of Canada to the United States. Outstanding among these was Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind, who was both a spiritual teacher and an activist for Indian rights. He was involved in the famous 1923 court case “United States vs. Bhagat Singh Thind,” wherein he attempted to escape restrictive racial causes by arguing that Indians are Caucasian.

During the twenties and thirties, Thind wrote a number of books and conducted classes throughout the country on metaphysics. Thind claimed at that time, as he did before his death in the late 1960’s, that his spiritual inspiration came from the Sikh religion. According to Kirpal Singh, however, Thind was actually an initiate of Sawan Singh of Radhasoami Satsang Beas and derived his teachings from him without due reference. Instead of utilizing Sikh doctrines, Thind was allegedly borrowing Radhasoami precepts, and in so doing was covering up his real religious theopneusty.

Comments Kirpal Singh:

When I went to America there was one gentleman, he’s passed away now, a Sikh gentleman who was giving talks on payment. His name was Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind. He married a French lady. He was initiated by Baba Sawan Singh, I know, definitely. When he wrote his first book, Radiant Road (sic: Thind had written several books before 1939) he sent a copy to Baba Sawan Singh. He gave it to me. It was a copy of what I had written. I wanted to meet him but he always evaded me. I was in America four months, I asked him for his program but he would change his program. We never met. He said he never even saw Baba Sawan Singh, and never knew that Radiant Road , his book, is the exact translation of a portion of the book I had written.

Part of the reason Thind has been accused of plagiarism over his book, Radiant Road to Reality (1939), was not because he used similar concepts as found in Radhasoami but because of the style and form with which he conveyed his message. The confusion over which book he actually plagiarized from (Sar Bachan Radhasoami , Gurmat Sidhant, or With A Great Master in India) sidelights the real issue: Why would Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind wish to employ almost all of Radhasoami’s specific parmarthi doctrines but deny their origin and his disputed association with the satsang? It is a question which we will examine at length in the last part of this article, for the denial of allegiance, as we shall see, is not an uncommon occurrence, especially with certain neo-gurus and movements.

Paul Twitchell and Eckankar

Perhaps the most controversial of the new panths associated with Radhasoami and Ruhani Satsang is Eckankar. Today the group, under the leadership of Harold Klemp (the present “Living Eck Master”) and Darwin Gross (the previous Master) does not admit that their founder, Paul Twitchell (1908-1971), was initiated by Kirpal Singh in 1955, although there is overwhelming documentary evidence to support it. Rather they claim, as did Twitchell from about 1966 onwards, that their founder was initiated by Sudar Singh of Allahabad and Rebazar Tarzs, a Tibetan monk supposedly over five-hundred years old. Though these claims would usually go by undetected (from lack of primary materials), this book (1978, 1979, 1983, and 1988) and the SCP Journal: Eckankar, A Hard Look At A New Religion (1979) have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Paul Twitchell was indeed a follower of Kirpal Singh, as well as Swami Premananda and L. Ron Hubbard.

Sudar Singh and Rebazar Tarzs, though their existence is factual to some extent as “cover names” for real gurus, are actually mythological characterizations of Twitchell’s genuine and imagined biography. In order to start a “new” movement, Paul Twitchell attempted to cover up his previous association with Kirpal Singh (while continuing to use him and the books of Dr. Julian P. Johnson as his primary source) and tried to create a mythology which made him and his group, Eckankar, a fulcrum for a unique and superior spiritual revelation.

Today, the movement has somewhere between thirty and fifty-thousand paid members. Most “Eckists,” as followers are usually called, have never even heard of Kirpal Singh, Ruhani Satsang, Radhasoami Beas or Dr. Julian P. Johnson. According to the materials published by the group, most members are informed that Eckankar is the fountainhead of all religions. Though its inception only traces back to 1965, the movement’s living masters have taught that, if anything, Sant mat, Radhasoami, Shabd Yoga, and other forms of Indic spiritual discipline based upon the “Sound Current,” are offshoots from the ageless path of Eckankar. However, the hidden history behind Paul Twitchell’s life and work has recently been coming more well-known to the reading publicwhich will inevitably lead to a confrontation between what is “believed to be true” and what is “actually the case.”
John-Roger Hinkins and M.S.I.A.

In 1968, John-Roger Hinkins, a Mormon and ex-high school teacher, started his spiritual ministry. He was associated with Paul Twitchell and Eckankar, having been a mail correspondent member, and, to Eckankar’s records, a second initiate.

In several long, personal interviews with John-Roger at his house in Mandeville Canyon, I learned that he did not see his connection with Paul Twitchell as a master/disciple or teacher/student relationship.

Be that as it may, the fact remains that his group and his teachings are almost exactly the same as Eckankar’s, not even excepting particular Twitchellian nuances. It should also be noted that M.S.I.A.’s organizational structure is almost parallel to Eckankar’s with regard to initiation, discourses, and cosmology.

John-Roger is known to members of M.S.I.A. as the physical manifestation of the Mystical Traveler Consciousness (a concept quite similar to the Satguru in the Radhasoami tradition and theMahanta in Eckankar). According to Roger’s account, the mantleship of the MTC was passed on to him in or around 1963. During this time, Roger claims to have met Sawan Singh, the late Radhasoami Satsang Beas master. “J.R.”, as he is affectionately called, holds that the Great Master of Beas was the previous carrier of the Mystical Traveler Consciousness and passed on the “keys to the Kingdom” to him on the inner spiritual planes.

However, “J.R.” at that time did not recognize the luminous being as Sawan Singh. It was only later when he saw a photograph of the guru that he placed the picture of the Great Master with the powerful entity he encountered in meditation.

John-Roger’s group has grown considerably in the last ten years, and now has centers throughout the United States and in several countries across the globe. M.S.I.A. publishes its own newspaper, The Movement , and runs several sister-organizations, the most visible of which is Insight Transformational Seminars.
Divine Light Mission

Of all the movements under discussion, the one that fewest people know has a connection to the Radhasoami tradition is the Divine Light Mission.

As Juergensmeyer notes:

It is reported that the “Divine Light Mission” of the boy guru, Shri Sant Ji Maharaji , is derived from Radhasoami teachings and the Radhasoami community. According to some accounts, the father of the present boy guru had been a follower of one of the Radhasoami branches, but split off from them to start his own following.

With the emergence of Balyogeshwar (alias Guru Maharaji), the mission came to the attention of the general public in India and North America. The movement had its biggest impact in the early 1970’s when it attracted thousands of devotees. The initial growth, however, has since subsided, and the group is currently enjoying a relative stability, with neither a significant influx of new members or a substantial exodus.

The most striking parallel between the Divine Light Mission and the Radhasoami Tradition concerns their teachings on the “Divine Word,” the inner-spiritual melody. Both groups employ meditational techniques for initiates to concentrate their attention on this current of “light and sound” which is believed to free the soul from its attachment with the physical body. Though both groups have similar theological teachings concerning the nature of this “Divine Word,” each differ in their own way on how exactly to approach the Supreme Abode.
Walter Baptiste, Dr. Ramamurti Mishra, and Ray Stanford

There a number of lesser-known individuals and groups which have had alliance with Radhasoami. Walter Baptiste, for instance, was initiated by Kirpal Singh in the mid-1950’s. He now runs a yoga facility and a vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco, where his wife gives classes on Hatha Yoga. Baptiste also conducts spiritual counseling, and, I am informed, gives initiation using the same five holy names (panch nam) that all Radhasoami satsangs linked with Jaimal Singh (including Kirpal Singh’s Ruhani Satsang) have given out as their meditation mantra.

Other people have been influenced by Radhasoami but in less dramatic ways. Dr. Ramamurti Mishra, the famous yoga teacher, was initiated by both Sawan Singh and Baba Somanath. But their impact should not be overestimated as Mishra has adopted many gurus. Nevertheless, he does teach Nada-yoga (union of the soul with the interior/primordial sound) and lays emphasis on much of the Radhasoami teachings.

Today there exists a multitude of organizations which reveal a striking compatibility with Radhasoami teachings concerning the “Sound Current.” And though perhaps most of these movements have no direct link, they have somewhere along the line utilized practices or beliefs from the many Radhasoami publications. Groups in this category include: A.U.M. (Association for the Understanding of Man), whose founder, Ray Stanford, was initiated by Charan Singh of Radhasoami Satsang Beas; Morningland, which appears to have been influenced by some of Eckankar’sdistinctive doctrines; and Jerry Mulvin, former professional bowler and long time follower of Eckankar, who now claims to be an enlightened master and competent to “connect” disciples to the sound current (for a hundred dollars, no less!).

Genealogical Dissociation: Emergence and Repression in the New Panths

An important question arises when one reviews the startling tendency inherent in many of the new panths and their founders to deny their religious heritage–a denial which has taken on the form of name-deletions, plagiarism, and cover-ups. Why?

Though there may indeed be many answers [like SCP’s skepticism of Eckankar’s late founder: “Twitchell was a one-eyed man who preferred his own fabrications to the truth” ], it becomes quite apparent on closer inspection that there is one fundamental reason. Simply put, it is not that the new panths are in all instances concerned with suppressing their historical roots, but rather that they are overly anxious about their own distinctiveness as a new movement. It is primarily because of this emphasis on becoming established as a separate entity that the given group and its founder disconnect instead of integrate the past out of which they arose. This severance, which has its basis in developmental psychology, I have coined as “genealogical dissociation.”

Ken Wilber, in his books, The Atman Project and Up From Eden , sees this predisposition towards disunion as an underlying psychological problem in man’s development, both individually and socially. When attempting to differentiate from a particular state of awareness or stage of development, for instance, man has two options: either integrate the lower order where the emergence takes place or repress it. If it is integrated, then that stage remains conscious and pliable; if it is estranged or disconnected, however, then it turns unconscious and threatening. In terms of the mind/body dualism, Wilber explains it thus:

The mind/body dissociation was a natural result of the increasing death-terror that emerged with the mental-egoic phase, around 600 B.C. As the mind began to emerge in a clear way for the first time in history, the ego, in flight from death, simply alienated, dissociated, or repressed the body. And it did this for a simple reason: the mental-ego is composed of ideas, and ideas seem permanent, unchanging and fixed, whereas the body, composed of mortal flesh, obviously dies. For example, all real trees grow, live and then die–but the word “tree”, the symbol “tree”, stays the same. So if ideas seem fixed and unchanging, whereas bodies are fleshy and mortal, and you’re in flight from death, which of those two do you identify with? The minds, of course. You identify with words, symbols, concepts–the ego–and you deny, alienate, repress the mortal body. Ideas become the new immortality project, and the body becomes the new threat, the new enemy.

Applying Wilber’s elucidation to the development of new panths (specifically Eckankar), we can see that it becomes a “fear” of losing that emergence–that step forward–which prompts suppression or attempted annihilation of the lower order where the differentiation first took place. In our case, historical-religious genealogical dissociation. This disunion in many of the new panths (e.g., like Paul Twitchell’s denial of his association with Kirpal Singh and Ruhani Satsang), springs forward not so much out of ignorance but out of hope for a separate, distinct and lasting survival–an autonomous tradition.

But as Freudian and Jungian theories about personality maturation demonstrate, the unconscious or shadow self cannot be disregarded because it is part of the entire organism. It, quite simply, must be dealt with.

Religiously, we can see the attempt for “integration” in the early history of Christianity, especially with the influence of St. Paul. There was an effort on behalf of the newly emerging Church toinclude (not obliterate) parts of the Judaic religion and culture. Thus, even today Roman Catholicism acknowledges its indebtedness to the Jewish heritage. And so is the case with Radhasoami (particularly the Beas branch in the Punjab and Sawan-Kirpal Mission) towards Sant mat. There is both an acknowledged link and a proud remembrance in Radhasoami and Ruhani Satsang of its ancestry with the medieval nirguna bhaktipoet-Sants. In the context of some of the new panths, however, there is an endeavor to dislocate, dissociate, and even destroy their antecedents. Instead of an admission to their actual religious heritage, we instead find a denial of it–even in the very face of incredible contradictory evidence.

Take, as an illustrative example, the case of Paul Twitchell and Eckankar. When the group first started, Twitchell did not completely deny his association with his guru, Kirpal Singh. In fact, in many articles Twitchell wrote at length about his admiration for the Ruhani Satsang Master. However, from about 1966 onwards we find an accelerating cover-up. What prompted this shift of allegiance? The answer is perhaps simpler than we might expect: the growing popularity of Eckankar.When Twitchell came to grasp the significance of his new religious movement–the fact that it could draw in thousands of followers-he decided to subvert anything which would hinder Eckankar’s progression and potential popularity amongst the masses. He wanted his group to be self-determining, marking its own future course as a viable spiritual tradition. And the most serious threat to this much desired autonomy, at least to Twitchell’s purview, was his past. Hence, Twitchell invented a new mythology, one which intertwined fact, fiction, legend and imagination into a confused complex that exhibited only one truly consistent theme: the Living Eck Master (in this context, Paul Twitchell) as Hero.

Now the disturbing problem in all of this is that Eckankar’s attempt for a neo-mythology is not based upon some prior authenticated historical tradition, but upon its founder’s own creative impulses. Impulses which at times plagiarized whole chapters from copyrighted Radhasoami Satsang Beas texts, lied about biographical details, and commenced vast cover-ups concerning the origin of Eckankar’s doctrines.

However, it is not solely a repression of the past which prompted Paul Twitchell to deny his spiritual roots, but rather his heightened concern for the future, for the continuing growth of his new movement.

It was this obsessive anxiety which outweighed–instead of integrated–Twitchell’s authenticity to his actual past, the real heritage which brought forth his group Eckankar in the first place.

Though the psychological modus operandi of “emergence by repression” is age-old and is itself instrumental in the evolution of religion, in the case of some of the new panths (particularly Eckankar), it remains an essentially immature and disunifying attempt for genuine autonomy.

1. Paul Twitchell and Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind are two significant examples of spiritual teachers who have extensively plagiarized from Radhasoami texts. See Plagiarism in Review for a more in-depth look.

2. Most of this research is based upon my eight trips to North India. First, in the summer of 1978 with Professor Mark Juergensmeyer of the University of California at Berkeley; and, most recently, in January of 1990, where I saw for the first time Twitchell’s extensive correspondence with Kirpal Singh. See The Delhi Connection for moreinformation.

3. I have employed the word panth (lit., “way, path, or course”) because of its neutral and non-derogatory meaning and use–in contradistinction with the word “cult”, which, if anything, has become the mass media’s buzz word for the religiously off-beat.

4. The term Shabd has a variety of meanings depending in which context it is used. In Radhasoami terminology, Shabd represents the eternal “force and vitality which permeates the whole universe; it is the cause and sustainer of the entire creation.” Refer to Glossary of Radhasoami Faith (Agra: Sant Das Maheshwari, 1967), page 227, under the word Shabd.

5. It should be noted that the phrase “Audible Life Stream” did not come into popular usage until Julian P. Johnson’s The Path of the Masters (1939), a book which has been extensively plagiarized.

6. Surat Shabd Yoga (lit., “the union of the soul/consciousness with the internal spiritual sound”) is an ancient discipline designed to enable the soul (or consciousness) to ascend beyond the body to higher spiritual regions by means of the internal sound or life current. It appears that Shabd Yoga has its roots in the pre-Vedic period of India. However, the yogic practice has only become clearly articulated and well-known in the last five-hundred years. Major works which describe or illustrate Shabd Yoga techniques include: Hathayoga Pradipika, Nadabindu Upanishad , and the writings of the nirguna bhakti poets of the Sant tradition such as Anurag Sagar (attributed to Kabir but most likely of a later time period) and Ghat Ramayana by Tulsi Sahib. However, the clearest and most detailed treatment of Surat Shabd Yoga practices comes from Shiv Dayal Singh’s Sar Bachan (including both the prose and poetry volumes), the main scripture of the Radhasoami movement.

7. This is the first paper of its kind which has examined the close link between the Radhasoami tradition and such popular American religious movements as the Divine Light Mission, Eckankar, M.S.I.A., and Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind’s group. Those scholars which have been pioneers in opening up this area of investigation include Professor Mark Juergensmeyer and Dr. J. Gordon Melton.

8. I have spelled the word “Radhasoami” (with the “o” instead of the transliterated “w”) in deference to the Soami Bagh Satsang in Agra which consider it an affront not to spell the words Radha and “Soami” together (thereby dropping the capital in the last word). The Beas Satsang and other branches spell it variously and do not mind how “Radhasoami” is spelled. In almost all cases, I have followed Soami Bagh’s procedure for spelling, primarily because of their vocalness in the matter. For more on this small, but interesting, controversy see S.D. Maheshwari’s Correspondence with Certain Americans (Agra: Soami Bagh), Volumes One through Five; and Lekh Raj Puri’s Radha Swami Teachings (New Delhi: Pvt. published, n.d., 1967?).

9. Ibid. My spelling is again in deference to the Soami Bagh Satsangin Agra.

10. There exists a controversy between the “Beas” and “Agra” satsangs over whether or not Tulsi Sahib was Shiv Dayal Singh’s guru. The “Beas” satsang (and those connected with them, including Tarn Taran and Ruhani Satsang) argue that Shiv Dayal Singh was indeed initiated by Tulsi Sahib of Hathras at a young age. The “Agra” satsangs (which include Peepal Mandi, Soami Bagh, and Dayal Bagh) deny any spiritual connection between the esteemed masters, claiming instead that both were swateh Sants (born perfect) and did not, therefore, need the assistance of any guru.

11. Refer to P.D. Barthwal’s The Nirguna School of Hindi Poetry: An Exposition of Medieval Indian Santa Mysticism (Benares: Indian Book Shop, 1936) and Dr. Mohan Singh’s Goraknath and Medieval Mysticism (Lahore: 1937).

12. The colony is named Dera Baba Jaimal Singh and is one of the largest spiritual communities in all of India.

13. Charan Singh had the largest following of any Radhasoami guru in the world before his death on June 1, 1990. He had initiated over one million and two-hundred thousand people in his thirty-nine year reign as Sant Satguru.

14. Mark Juergensmeyer, “The Ghadar Syndrome,” Sikh Studies: Comparative Perspectives on a Changing Tradition (Berkeley: Graduate Theological Union, 1979), page 182.

15. My parenthesis; Thind had written several books before 1939, including House of Happiness (Salt Lake: Pvt. publication) in 1931.

16. Kirpal Singh, Heart to Heart Talks, Volume One (Delhi: Ruhani Satsang, 1975).

17. Although Kirpal Singh claims that Dr. Thind plagiarized from Gurmat Sidhant (which was originally published in Punjabi with Sawan Singh’s name as author), most of Thind’s literary “borrowing” comes from Julian P. Johnson’s With a Great Master in India (1934). See Plagiarism in Review for more on this topic.

18. In 1977, I talked with Mrs. Thind about her husband’s relationship with Sawan Singh of Radhasoami Satsang Beas. Mrs. Thind was informed by her husband that he did not know of Sawan Singh; rather, he claimed to have been initiated by a Himalayan priest and was a disciple of Guru Nanak in a previous incarnation. Although Mrs. Thind had met Kirpal Singh personally and knew about the supposed connection of her husband with the Radhasoami Satsang in Beas, she was never told by Dr. Thind that such a link ever existed.

19. “Mahanta consciousness”, as used in Eckankar terminology, means the Divine Master within. It is very similar in usage to the esoteric term “Radiant Form” as spoken of in Radhasoami teachings.

20. See Plagiarism in Review .

21. See Part Five.

22. Already several hundred devotees have left Eckankar because of the findings presented in earlier editions of The Making of a Spiritual Movement and SCP Journal’s “Eckankar: A Hard Look at a New Religion.” In fact, several world-wide memos have been issued by Eckankar’s international headquarters in Menlo Park, California, warning its membership against the “untrue” accusations of researchers “who have not done their homework.” See Preface.

23. Personal interview with John-Roger Hinkins at his home in Mandeville Canyon (1978).

24. Roger’s cosmology is exactly the same as Paul Twitchell’s. This is unusual because of Twitchell’s own creative implantations. Compare the following charts:

Eckankar’s cosmology (as found in The Spiritual Notebook by Paul witchell, dated 1971]:

1. Physical/Thunder 2. Astral/Roar of the Sea 3. Causal/Tinkle of Bells 4. Mental/ Running Water 5. Soul/Single Note of Flute 6. Alakh Lok/Heavy Wind 7. Alaya Lok/Deep Humming 8. Hukikat Lok/Thousand Violins 9. Agam Lok/ Music of Woodwinds 10. Anami Lok/Sound of a Whirl pool.

M.S.I.A.’S cosmology (as found in The Sound Current by John-Roger, dated 1976):

1. Physical/Thunder 2. Astral/Roaring Surf 3. Causal/Tinkling of Bells 4. Mental/ Running Water 5. Soul/Sound of a Flute 6. {Regions above Soul are not named in the book–only the Sounds} Sound of Wind 7. Humming Sound 8. Ten Thousand Violins 9.Woodwinds.

The previous cosmologies are almost exactly the same. Twitchell came up with his own unique schema of how the universe is structured, giving a particular sound to each level. John-Roger copied the same verbatim. Both cosmologies, however, represent a radical departure from the Radhasoami esoteric version.

25. I made this observation to John-Roger personally (in 1978, op. cit.) who told me that he had great love for Twitchell and his work. Roger went on to say that he does garner ideas (and organizational procedures) from other spiritual teachers and traditions, while remaining true to his own personal direction and understanding. John-Roger has been the subject of an intense scandal for the past ten years. See The J.R. Controversy and The Criminal Activities of John-Roger Hinkins (UCSM, Volume One, Number One and Volume Two, Number Two) for more on J.R.’s nefarious escapades.

26. Personal interview with John-Roger Hinkins at his home in the summer of 1979.

27. Ibid.

28. Insight Training is quite similar in structure to EST, the popular seminar group founded by Werner Erhard.

29. Mark Juergensmeyer, “Radhasoami as a Trans-National Movement” (unedited version); unpublished. In confirmation with Juergensmeyer’s contention that Guru Maharaji’s father was associated with one of the Radhasoami sects, I was informed personally in July of 1978 at Sawan Ashram, Old Delhi, India, by Bhagwan Gyaniji (who was a disciple of Sawan Singh and personal secretary to Kirpal Singh) that Balyogeshwar’s father was indeed initiated by Sawan Singh of the Radhasoami Satsang Beas and later branched off to start his own movement. It also appears that Balyogeshwar’s father was a disciple of another Sant mat guru named Sarupanand, who worked in the tradition of Sri Paramahans Advait Mat –a surat shabd yoga lineage apparently connected to Shiv Dayal Singh which was founded in the latter part of the 19th century and is now centered in Guna.

30. Ibid.

31. Telephone interview with Harold Ross, personal follower of Walter Baptiste (1978) and one-time follower of Radhasoami Beas, Soami Bagh, and Eckankar.

32. This same mantra of the “Five Holy Names” is also given out by John-Roger Hinkins of M.S.I.A., though in an altered fashion.

33. Personal letter from Dr. Ramamurti Mishra to the author, dated October 30, 1980.

34. Ramana Maharishi stands out as a classic example.

35. See Plagiarism in Review .

36. Radhasoami, though much of its terminology is from tantric-yogic schools of thought, has a distinctive vocabulary. Phrases such as “Ringing Radiance” and “Audible Life Stream” have come into popular usage because of their frequency in Radhasoami Beas publications.

37. Woodrow Nichols, “Eckankar: The Ancient Science of Deception” (later incorporated in SCP Journal–Eckankar: A Hard Look at a New Religion (Berkeley, 1979).

38. The phrase “genealogical dissociation” is a useful one in that it clearly illustrates what happened in the evolution of Eckankar in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Twitchell attempted to severe his past by not only denying his genuine religious heritage but also by implanting a new spiritual genealogy–one which allegedly traces back to the Master Gakko, who brought the true teachings of Eckankar from the planet Venus.

39. I am not utilizing developmental psychology in order to “reduce” Twitchell’s motives to a Freudian or Jungian paradigm, but rather to establish a sympathetic foundation where new religious movements are not just relegated to the academic outposts of “social aberrations.”

Instead, like most traditional religious groups, these new movements represent basic human drives and emotions. If phylogeny in some way recapitulates ontogeny (or vice versa; refer to Carl Sagan’s Broca’s Brain , 1979), then groups such as Eckankar can be more fully understood in light of human psychology. This, of course, should not be solely an attempt to reduce religion to its neurological roots, but as a partial means for a clearer understanding. See Ken Wilber’s Up From Eden (New York: Doubleday, 1981) for more on this perspective.

40. Ken Wilber, op. cit.

41. Although in Twitchell’s case ignorance does play a part. Eckankar’s founder had a short and, oftentimes, inaccurate memory.

Once when questioned about his personal guru, Rebazar Tarzs, Twitchell forgot who he was. This could be due to the fact that Rebazar Tarzs is a fictional character, and his autobiographical byline changed year-to-year with the growth of Eckankar.

42. This “integration” of Judaic culture and religion by the Roman Catholic Church, though, must be contrasted with its “dissociation” of certain Gnostic schools in the Second Century A.D. The Church also tried to destroy some of its own religious roots, including the highly mystical texts produced by “heretical” Gnostic authors.

43. Even though the Church has many times persecuted its religious brothers and sisters in the name of God, anti-semetism, though now formally disdained, has much of its impetus and basis in Catholic history, theology and tradition.

44. The Radhasoami Satsang in Beas has even established a “Mystics of the East Series” which is designed to publish monographs on the life stories of famous Sants in the medieval nirguna bhakti tradition.

45. The secretary of Eckankar once issued a world-wide memo declaring that the works of Julian P. Johnson (from which Twitchell was accused of plagiarizing) were not copyrighted. This, of course, is false since Johnson’s Radhasoami books were all copyrighted and remain so today.

46. Including “The Flute of God” which was published in installments in Orion Magazine in the mid-1960’s.

47. By 1967, Twitchell had shifted his center of operation to Las Vegas, Nevada, to avoid heavy taxation.

48. See SCP Journal–Eckankar: A Hard Look At A New Religion(Berkeley, 1979).

49. Twitchell’s paranoid concern reached a pinnacle when he wrote a personal letter to Kirpal Singh in late 1971, threatening the Ruhani Satsang Master with a lawsuit if he continued claiming that Eckankar was derived from Sant mat teachings. Twitchell died of a heart attack shortly after the letter was received in Old Delhi, India.

50. See my article, “The Hierarchical Structure of Religious Visions,”op. cit.

Final Note: This paper was first presented to the American Academy of Religion’s Western Region Conference at Stanford University on March 26, 1982.


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