Dialogue in the Age of
David Lane makes it clear what inspired him to write his exposé on Paul Twitchell and ECKANKAR. He starts off by telling us:
This book is the product of over five years of extensive research. It began quite simply as a term paper for a Religious Studies class at California State University, Northridge. However, after sending my first paper to Eckankar's headquarters and receiving a letter from their attorneys threatening me with a lawsuit if I published my work, the project quickly evolved into a full-time investigation. The controversy over the paper primarily stemmed from my findings on the early life of Paul Twitchell, the movement's founder. They were completely contrary to what Eckankar had written.
From this statement we can easily see that the way an organization reacts to criticism or the revision of their history can create a powerful response from others. Whether intended or not, it becomes a form of dialogue that can play itself out in very public ways.
The sort of reaction that David received from ECKANKAR's headquarters was just the spark to turn a young student into a full time researcher to uncover a hidden story. In fact, this reaction, itself, plays the most crucial element in this exposé of David's. I think we will soon see that it is the meat on the bones, because while David indeed turned up some very interesting facts that had not been well known, without the reaction he received, his story would be lacking in its sense of intrigue, which all exposés need.
It is upon this reaction that David builds his story of an organization trying to cover up the truth. And it is this cover-up that creates the image of something gone wrong and something sinister. Tie this in with ECKANKAR being a new religious group and you have all the popular conceptions of a potentially dangerous cult with brainwashed followers. These are just the explosive feelings to trigger in writing an exposé. But what does this really mean when put in perspective? In other words, how much of this drama is really the reflection of public fears and the desire for sensationalistic news, and how much is really showing us something real?
A few years ago, Intel discovered it had a problem with its new Pentium microprocessor. While they were investigating the matter, word got to the news services that there was a problem and that Intel was hiding it. The issue revolved around a minor error during mathematical calculations, an error that might cause a problem for the average spreadsheet user once every 27,000 years. It was actually a much smaller problem than many previous problems, but the outrage by the public was overwhelming, costing Intel $475 million and threatening Intel's whole reputation.
Andy Grove, who was then President of Intel, later wrote in his book, "Only the Paranoid Survive":
For twenty-six years, every day that we did business, we decided what was good and what wasn't when it came to our own product. We set our own quality levels and our own specifications, and shipped when we decided a product met our own criteria...But now, all of a sudden, we were getting strange looks from everyone that seemed to say, "Where do you get off telling us what's good for us?"
What happened to us in the course of this event is something that happens to many businesses. All businesses operate by some set of unstated rules and sometimes these rules change - often in very significant ways. Yet there is no flashing sign that heralds these rule changes. They creep up on you as they crept up on us, without warning.
Changes were also taking place within ECKANKAR. ECKANKAR had grown rapidly and was no longer just a few scattered people reading the writings of Paul Twitchell and practicing the Ancient Science of Soul Travel. It had become established as a teaching. For the first time it had a history, and therefore a responsibility of portraying that history accurately.
But Darwin Gross, who was the spiritual leader of ECKANKAR when David wrote his term paper, was more concerned with staying loyal to Paul's vision. That was the role Darwin saw for himself. We'll get a better idea of why this was so important to Darwin in a later chapter.
This raises an interesting point. We are familiar with commercial and public organizations, as well as institutions, and we've come to expect that they must respond to the desires of the customer or voting citizen. We forget that the main responsibility of a spiritual teacher, however, is toward his or her own spiritual ideals, not toward public opinion. This, itself, creates conflicts with the public and the result is criticism, which all spiritual leaders have to face.
Returning to our story, Darwin stepped into the role as spiritual leader of ECKANKAR after only a little more than three years of training with Paul Twitchell, who died in 1971. Out of that time, Darwin spent only one year, at most, closely with Paul. Since Paul rarely spoke about his own personal history, it is likely that Darwin knew nothing about the information that David had discovered concerning Paul's past. Therefore, it is worth questioning whether David's accusations of cover-up are true, or whether Darwin was simply reacting to what he thought was false information.
We must also remember that to be a spiritual leader in the mid-70's meant being confronted by all sorts of criticisms and attacks. Later, we'll see how during this same time period Christian organizations were spreading propaganda against ECKANKAR to scare others away. This attitude toward new religious teachings was not uncommon in those days. So, it seems that Darwin reacted to David's information as just another attempt to stop ECKANKAR. This will soon become much clearer when we look at the actual events taking place at that time.
By saying this, however, I am not trying to excuse Darwin's reaction, but to give a better picture of what was taking place at that time. Looking back, and using today's standards, Darwin's actions seem too defensive. Yet, in 1970, only one year before Paul Twitchell died, Paul made the statement that for the first time he felt some sense of confidence that ECKANKAR would actually survive. ECKANKAR was still a brand new group. We can hardly even call it an organization at that time, since it was only about one decade old when David wrote his term paper. It did not have the strength or the numbers it has now. Therefore, some defensiveness doesn't seem too hard to understand.
I worked at ECKANKAR's headquarters during this period of time, from the early to late Seventies. Darwin impressed me as a man working hard at following through on the dreams laid out by Paul Twitchell. In other words, I think Darwin's reaction to David Lane's research on Paul was to defend the honor of a man whom he loved and saw as a great spiritual leader, and to protect a religious teaching that he believed described a great path for seekers of Truth.
I bring this out, not because it changes the end result, but because it helps us see the real story. It provides some color to this black and white picture that exposés so often present, and it shows us not a madman but a human being who was protective of a teaching and a teacher that he loved.
Little did I realize then that the work [David's term paper] would cause such an intense dispute within Eckankar. Through a process which I do not completely understand, and which is probably best described as "through the grapevine," the manuscript found its way throughout different parts of America and even went so far as Europe.
To say that it caused "intense dispute" seems to me an exaggeration on David's part. Working at ECKANKAR's headquarters during that time, I don't recall much discussion about it. Yes, the subject came up once or twice, and we heard from ECKists (students of ECKANKAR) in the field about it, but mostly out of concern that David's paper was an attack against ECKANKAR. The fact that ECKists passed along copies of the paper, however, only shows the open communication that is common amongst ECKists. It hardly shows a huge reaction to a cover-up, as this passage seems to suggest.
In fact, to find any mention about ECKANKAR in any publication at that time always created a stir, no matter whether the report was positive or negative. As I remember, there were some areas around the country where ECKists felt David's research should have been discussed more openly and this created some conflict, because others didn't like the critical nature of his writings, but there were other areas where the local leaders simply laid the materials out for everyone to ask questions about and for them to be aware of.
Interestingly, when the subject did come up at that time, it was far more often over the concern that the material was seen as an attack, than worries about whether it was true or not. Most ECKists were satisfied that the teachings were working in their lives, and didn't seem too concerned about the kinds of issues David was raising. But they often did feel sensitive to anything that looked like a public attack on their spiritual path. We'll get to more about this later in the book.
My paper had caused such a tremendous rift among the Eck disciples that Eckankar hired a business consultant to review the manuscript, trying to find any possible loopholes in the research. But because the work was thoroughly documented, Eckankar could not take any legal action.
This paragraph paints a picture that is far from accurate. To say that David's paper caused a "tremendous rift among the ECK disciples" is clearly untrue. Yes, there were probably a few individuals for whom David's paper was a turning point, causing them to leave ECKANKAR, but when far less than 1% of the membership was affected in this way, I'd hardly call it a tremendous rift. (Since David's material has been available on the Internet, starting in the mid-90's, and since he has expanded his criticism toward ECKANKAR considerably, I'd say there has been a far larger reaction, but the impact is hard to determine accurately, since there are many reasons that contribute to a person leaving their spiritual path. We'll get to more about this later as well.)
For David to say that this "rift" was the reason for hiring a business consultant, without offering any evidence to support such a statement, seems to me far from good journalistic ethics. How had David arrived at this conclusion?
After this chapter was first published, David tried to support his claims via the Internet. In the process, we learned that this business consultant was none other than Bill Popham, a well known ECKist who lived not far from the ECKANKAR Office - hardly some outside hired gun. It also turned out that the main reason for Bill Popham's visit was over the public attack that came from the Spiritual Counterfeits Project. They had used some of David's research, and therefore David's writings were certainly a part of the concern. However, the SCP was the primary issue. We'll get to them shortly.
It also turned out that this meeting that David is referring to, with Bill Popham, took place two years after David wrote his term paper. However, it was shortly after the SCP Journal had been published. In other words, David's claim that ECKANKAR was trying to prevent some kind of rift in its membership over his term paper is simply inaccurate and doesn't even match the timeline. This is the danger of trying to build the story of a cover-up: One is often dealing with perceptions instead of facts.
David's suggestion that only because his manuscript was so thoroughly researched that ECKANKAR did not pursue legal action, however, really takes the cake. As we will see later, a great deal of David's book is hampered by misunderstandings and inaccurate facts. However, more to the point here, ECKANKAR's reasons for their legal decisions are protected by attorney-client privilege, so how is it that David came to know these reasons? When David responded to this point, after this chapter was first published, he could show no information to back up such a statement.
David should have made it much clearer that these were guesses, not facts, he was offering up. In fact, good journalistic practice says that a writer should not even try to insert personal opinions when writing an exposé. The actual facts are too important to be confused.
David finishes his previous paragraph with this sentence:
This did not stop them, however, from pursuing legal action against individuals whom I quoted in the text.
This sentence then runs right into David's next paragraph that starts like this:
In 1979, Eckankar tried to take a two-and-a-half million dollar lawsuit against Professor Ed Gruss of the Los Angeles Baptist College for allegedly "publishing" a highly defamatory term paper by James M. Peebles, a fellow class-mate of mine at California State University, Northridge.
Reading this transition between paragraphs, as it is written, we get the clear impression David is saying that ECKANKAR took a lawsuit against Ed Gruss as an attempt to harass David's sources and repress his research. However, the facts surrounding this lawsuit have turned out to be far different than the story David is telling us here. Let's take a look.
Through numerous long discussions with David via the Internet, and the research of other ECKists, a very different story has emerged. It turns out that Jim Peebles and David had both independently chosen to write term papers on ECKANKAR as a part of their religious studies class. Peebles, who had been an ECKist for a short period of time, wrote a short 12-page paper that received a failing grade, which he presented at the same time as David's lengthy highly critical report.
After hearing David's research, Jim Peebles became disgruntled and left ECKANKAR, returning to his Baptist roots. To gain a passing grade, Peebles took the summer to meet and talk to those who were doing critical research on ECKANKAR, expanding his term paper. In the process he met with the Spiritual Counterfeits Project, who we will get to later. Peebles assisted them by offering information that was negative towards ECKANKAR. Unfortunately, almost all of the information that Peebles is credited with supplying the SCP and in David's later book, was inaccurate. This is not too surprising, since Peebles had been a student for such a short period of time.
Peebles included some of this information in his new revised term paper. He then later gave a copy of this term paper to a Baptist minister. It seems that the paper was handed onto Ed Gruss, who it turns out was an author and lecturer teaching the dangers of cults at the LA Baptist College. Ed Gruss handed out the term paper when a parishioner expressed concern over their daughter, who was taking up the study of ECKANKAR. This daughter told the ECKANKAR office about the term paper, which they learned contained some false information.
To verify that indeed this term paper was being distributed by the LA Baptist Church, and to get a copy of it, Mike Noe was sent down from the ECKANKAR office. He didn't state that he was with ECKANKAR, but said he had heard about the term paper and showed interest in seeing it. Ed Gruss made a copy and sent it to Mike Noe, after Noe paid some money to cover the cost of copying.
It also turned out that a few months before this took place, the Spiritual Counterfeits Project had warned ECKANKAR that they would be publishing a piece on ECKANKAR. From past publications by the SCP, it was obvious the publication would be highly critical. To prevent the spread of the defamatory information in Peebles' term paper, and especially to prevent it being distributed through the publications of the SCP, which were imminent, ECKANKAR took out a lawsuit against Peebles, Gruss and the LA Baptist Church.
According to David, the term paper contained two particular statements that seemed to cause the greatest concern. The first was a statement that Darwin Gross had fathered an illegitimate child. Peebles admitted later in his deposition that this information was based purely on hearsay and gossip. He had nothing to verify it was true. The second was a statement that ECKANKAR was not recognized as a non-profit organization by the IRS as they claimed. This was proven false when ECKANKAR showed the official documents to Peebles.
Once Peebles saw the case against him, and realized that he could not defend the statements in his paper, he agreed to pull back all copies and not distribute it anymore. Peebles also agreed to pay the legal expenses for all parties. The suit was then dropped.
From these real facts, we can see that there is nothing to support David's accusation that ECKANKAR was trying to attack his sources as part of a cover-up. In fact, once again, it was concern for the imminent public attack by the Spiritual Counterfeits Project that seems to be the main underlying cause for the lawsuit. The basis for the suit was that false and defamatory information was being distributed, which was proven to be true.
However, here is what David went on to write in his book:
Prompted by a letter to their office, Eckankar sent one of their own officials, Mike Noe, down to southern California to secure a copy of the twelve page report, which claimed, among other things, that Eckankar was skirting tax laws and that Darwin Gross had fathered an illegitimate child. Mike Noe, as it turns out though, asked for the paper from Ed Gruss under the false disguise that he was a member of the Spiritual Counterfeits Project (a conservative Christian research ministry centered in Berkeley). Gruss, who had not read the work, kindly gave Noe a photocopy. Noe went back to Menlo Park and Eckankar then proceeded to take a lawsuit against Gruss for "publishing" the report. Though the lawsuit never did come to trial, Eckankar used it as the basis for several half-page advertisements in which they claimed that their group and its teachings were being attacked by conservative Christians. These advertisements were run in some of the major newspapers across the country, including the Los Angeles Times.
I find it interesting that David left out the fact that Gruss had already handed out the term paper to others before Noe ever visited, and that the information in Peebles' paper was proven to be false.
Also, through later discussions via phone and Internet, Gruss could not even confirm his own earlier claims that Noe had actually disguised himself as a member of the SCP. Noe admitted in his deposition that he did not tell Gruss that he worked for ECKANKAR, but Noe never said that he lied about who he was. In his phone call, Gruss could only state that he was under the impression that Noe was affiliated with the SCP for some reason.
What about David's claims that ECKANKAR used this lawsuit as the basis for several advertisements claiming that they were being attacked by conservative Christians? Once again David is trying to build his story that ECKANKAR had launched a cover-up in an attempt to suppress damaging information. The real story is quite the opposite. After more than a year of requests to David, he finally scanned in his copy and posted it to his web site. Here are some quotes from one of the actual ads. It is from the LA Times, May 30, 1979:
There is a great religious controversy in this country. It has come at a time when we all cherish most our own unique ways of thinking and living. This has come from the shocking realization that there are groups trying to influence individuals against their own wishes or knowledge. Those groups apparently feel that everyone should live and believe, feel and pray the same way they do.
But did you know that some of the religions have taken this time to attack those who simply try to live their lives the best they know? They distribute materials slanted against others who do not control anyone and who do not condemn any other person or religion. There are Christian institutions such as a Lutheran organization, a Baptist college and a Christian-supported attack group who have circulated printed materials of a false and damning nature about those who simply choose to believe differently than they...
NOT A WAR
ECKANKAR is a teaching that grants its followers total religious freedom in all aspects of their lives. It does not condemn any person or any teaching but recognizes each as being part of God's plan. Yet, it is strange that religions with millions of followers should be involved in war-like tactics against ECKANKAR, a relatively small group of people, especially when we do not proselytize...
Anyone can discover the golden thread of Truth which permeates all the religions of the world. It is this golden, essential Truth which has been the key precept of the spiritual leaders of ECKANKAR. This common essence springs directly from Spirit, the Word of God itself. One of the many names for this life-giving Spirit is ECK. Others have been Logos, Holy Spirit, Bani and Shabda. It has something to offer all but each individual is free to choose for or against.
FREEDOM OF RELIGION
We are fortunate that the founders of our great country, the United States of America, recognized these spiritual principles. The cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution provides freedom of religion as the base upon which the entire moral and ethical framework of America rests. To jeopardize that foundation in any way, whether by emotional self-interest, distribution of false information or by subtly influencing individuals within society through deception in mass media, endangers the very principles which have made our country great...
ARE YOU BEING DECEIVED?
Some groups have pointed at ECKANKAR claiming it to be against Christ, yet ECKANKAR is not against any religious teaching. Jesus was a beautiful and gentle Soul who came into the world with a great message at a time of spiritual hunger and weariness. One wonders, after all these centuries, if anyone truly understands and practices what he said.
FACT: The ECK teachings repeatedly warn of the negative consequences which can result from personal involvement with psychic phenomena. Yet a magazine called The Lookout falsely called ECKANKAR "...the ancient art of Hindu witchcraft..." Untrue.
FACT: ECKANKAR and its followers grant total freedom to all others as a form of spiritual love for all life. It does not condemn any teaching or person. Yet, one organization alleges that "ECKANKAR is blatantly anti-Christian." This is completely false.
FACT: A survey of a large, well-known Christian denomination of an adult study class, after reading material published by that denomination about ECKANKAR, classified ECKANKAR on a social distance scale as less desirable than mentally disturbed persons or alcoholics. The truth is that students of the teachings of ECKANKAR live responsible, involved existences in all strata of society. They are interested in growing spiritually and in living their lives the best way they know. Drugs and marijuana do not mix with the spiritual teachings of ECKANKAR...
ECK REQUESTS FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IGNORED
ECKANKAR has requested these groups to delete ECKANKAR from their material and has asked for a letter of apology and retraction. Meetings to correct this have been ignored. As a result, in order to protect the rights of ECKANKAR and its members and to uphold the important rights of all religious minorities, ECKANKAR has filed one lawsuit in Los Angeles and another in Minneapolis. We must take a strong moral stance for the rights of individuals everywhere to live responsible lives without being called names or giving a bad image which they have never in any way earned by their own actions. It is basic to freedom of religion that a spiritual path such as ECKANKAR have the right to maintain its name against deception and untruths. It is this basic freedom, which in this country should not need defense, which ECKANKAR has found necessary to defend in the judicial system.
Doesn't it strike you as ironic that this ad, which was clearly written to prevent the distortions and untruths that others were spreading against ECKANKAR, would be turned around by David into some kind of ploy to cover up some horrible truth? And "ploy" is exactly the way that David described it through his discussions via the Internet newsgroups.
David's book leads the reader to believe that Darwin Gross had some things he wanted to cover up, such as fathering an illegitimate child and "skirting tax laws". However, the truth turned out to be very different. Peebles and Gruss were distributing false and defamatory information. Once they stopped, the lawsuit was withdrawn.
David leaves the impression that there is a connection between this lawsuit and the sources for David's manuscript. Once again, cover-up is the reason. David never could offer evidence to show us that this was true. He stops at innuendo. When making accusations like these, professional journalists are especially careful to support such comments or quotes with a clear account of what they are implying and why. In this case, when we track down the facts, it is clear that David cannot support his implications.
Spreading stories about the non-profit tax status of ECKANKAR, whether intentionally motivated or not, would at a minimum create a great deal of confusion and alarm. And remember, Peebles had also brought this information to the SCP, which was preparing a publication attacking ECKANKAR.
My reason for pointing these things out is that these examples show how far from good journalism this book of David's really is. This doesn't mean that David hasn't done some good research. I think many of the facts that he brought to light have been new and very interesting, and they present a different picture of Paul Twitchell's past. So, David has solid material to deliver in his book, and he makes some good points as well about how difficult it has been for many ECKists and for ECKANKAR to accept these facts that he has discovered. Those are also valid observations.
However, the problem is that David doesn't just deliver the facts and let the reader draw their own conclusions. David falls into the habit of trying to draw all of the conclusions, himself, based on assumptions of his own and often some very strange interpretations that are without foundation. He turns his facts into poison pills, and if the reader is unwary they will never realize they are swallowing the poison when they accept the facts.
This is not just a minor matter but a basic fundamental principle of journalistic ethics. Unfortunately, I think it significantly undermines David's work, making his book appear more as an attempt to destroy ECKANKAR's credibility than it does to present new relevant information. In other words, it often seems as if David is more interested in writing the story of Unmaking a Spiritual Movement, rather than The Making of one, as he titled his book.
As I said before, dealing with these sorts of discussions, especially when it comes to matters of religious beliefs, is extremely difficult. It takes a delicate balance, and everyone will find a different point where he or she thinks the balance should lie.
By bringing to light these problems with David's manuscript I can be accused of trying to cover-up his facts. On the other hand, David can be accused of religious persecution. It is important, therefore, to keep an open discussion going to avoid these extreme ways of seeing things and find a way to deal with issues that are uncomfortable to face, as well as to point out the huge difference between opinions and facts.
Due to Eckankar's increasing efforts to undermine any open and objective investigation into its founder's past, Brian Walsh and I printed a limited edition of my manuscript in the summer of 1979. Within three weeks of its publication, the work sold out. It even earned the distinction of being stolen from Shambhala bookstore in Berkeley; the five copies were presumably purloined by some disgruntled Eckist.
It should be noted that only about 500 copies of the manuscript were printed, as David later admitted. And when David says that five books were presumably purloined by some ECKist, he is only saying this as another guess. He admits that no one knows whether this was true or not.
David states that ECKANKAR was trying to undermine any open and objective investigation into Paul's past, however, as we have seen, Darwin was responding to what he felt was an attack against ECKANKAR based upon false and defamatory information. Darwin was concerned about a number of Christian groups who seemed intent on spreading distortions about ECKANKAR, such as the Spiritual Counterfeit Project who we will get to next. Also, David's research, which was a part of the SCP, could hardly be called open and objective, as we will see.
There is a big difference between cover-up, which David keeps bandying about, and responding to accusations. The questions really are: How do you answer such accusations without your own answer sounding defensive? Is it fair of David to make such answers look like some kind of cover-up? Shouldn't a cover-up be clearly identifiable before we accuse someone?
Around this same time, the Spiritual Counterfeits Project published their own journal on Eckankar which was largely based on my manuscript. Their work was widely distributed, reaching almost every Eckankar center in the world. This caused quite an uproar and many initiates left the movement. Eckankar's headquarters again attempted to repress the furor over the controversy by sending a bulletin--this time, worldwide. Declares the memo:
"Sri Darwin was not allowed to edit the SCP-Journal publication as had been promised by the Spiritual Counterfeit group, and it does not tell the straight story. The SCP material, taken from a college thesis submitted by David Lane, was not completely researched and is untrue. These people are being used by the Kal forces to dismantle ECKANKAR and are referred to by Sri Paul Twitchell in a private tape he made in July 1971, shortly before he translated...
"Sri Darwin asks that these SCP-Journals be destroyed. Many ECKists who have been on the fence have dropped ECKANKAR due to this SCP material, and the Living ECK Master will not be responsible for the karma being built by these SCP people."
While David's term paper, when it first came out, didn't create much of a reaction, the Spiritual Counterfeits Project Journal certainly did. Although a portion of the material came from David's book, the SCP material also included a great deal of misinformation, such as misinterpreted quotes and false explanations of what ECKists believed. It was funded by a group whose mission was to dig up dirt on any of the new religious groups that weren't Christian. They had raised quite a bit of money to fund their research and to distribute copies of their journals to churches throughout the country. Such an effort was a bit scary in those days to a minority religion.
Interestingly, the front cover of the SCP Journal issue on ECKANKAR included a subliminal image of the devil superimposed over a painting of Paul Twitchell, Darwin Gross and Rebazar Tarzs. This was discovered accidentally by Harold Klemp, who was trying to make a color separation of the front cover, and found the subliminal image clearly hidden in one of the colors. It was this attempt at subconscious manipulation by the SCP that prompted Darwin to ask that the copies be destroyed.
Besides this subliminal image, the journal contained three more pictures of the devil. Clearly the SCP was characterizing ECKANKAR as the work of Satan, and made the comparison numerous times. For example, the Preface says:
"Scripture makes it clear that this world is locked in a life and death struggle for the soul of humanity; evil is real, deception is real, and suffering is universal...It is clear that both Jesus and his apostles (Paul, Peter, James and John) reserved their harshest words for the peddlers of false religion. It is particularly noteworthy that in addition to confronting false religion in general, they singled out those forms of deviance which misrepresented or misused the revelation of God (biblical scripture) to justify their own error. Eckankar provides an especially instructive example of such abuse of scripture. It handles revelation frequently and mishandles it unfailingly. On this ground alone, it merits the most uncompromising critique from a biblical perspective."
I feel comfortable in saying that the SCP material was not even close to journalism. It was propaganda, pure and simple, intended to paint a fearful picture to Christians and turn them against the many new religious groups that were springing up. David's material was the most solid part of their piece on ECKANKAR, but I think Darwin had every right to say that it did not tell the straight story.
The SCP group was sued by at least two other religious organizations and lost one of those suits in court because of the misinformation they published. They settled the second case before going to court. I find it quite sad that any Christians would support the use of propaganda in attacks on other beliefs. I'm also disappointed that David didn't put this in perspective by explaining the SCP's intentions, or explain to the reader why David would have associated himself with such an effort. Perhaps David felt that the SCP was helping him in fighting to get the truth out on ECKANKAR, and therefore saw them in a favorable light. However, an exposé is one thing, and propaganda is another.
Let's review again the story David has told us so far. First, he paints a picture that it all started when he first sent his term paper to ECKANKAR, in 1978. The fact that ECKANKAR threatened to sue him if he published his work, was proof to David that ECKANKAR was trying to cover up the information he had written about.
[It should be noted that although David has been asked to produce this threatening letter for more than two years, he has yet to do so, which leaves the question open as to how threatening this letter really was. I only mention this because time after time David's interpretations have not appeared the same to others once the original documents have been revealed.]
Second, according to David, ECKANKAR filed a lawsuit to stop the distribution of a term paper by Jim Peebles. Even though this took place a year later, in 1979, David saw this as a lawsuit to cover up information. Even worse, David implies this lawsuit was ECKANKAR's attempt to take legal action against David's sources.
Then, because of "ECKANKAR's increasing efforts to undermine any open and objective investigation," meaning the lawsuit, David decided to print a limited edition of about 500 copies of his manuscript. Six months later, the SCP published their journal on ECKANKAR. In response to this, Darwin sent his letter to the ECKists asking them to destroy the SCP Journals. Once again, David implies this was an attempt to cover up David's research, as well as "undermine any open and objective investigation." David doesn't mention the subliminal images the SCP used in their publication, or that Darwin never suggested destroying David's books or term papers.
In other words, the picture David paints is that ECKANKAR repeatedly attempted to suppress David's research every way it could. But is this what really happened, or is this just the way it appeared to David?
In fact, it wasn't David's term paper in 1978 that ever caused much of a problem with ECKANKAR. Few ECKists even saw it or heard about it. It was the propaganda campaign launched by the well-funded SCP that painted ECKANKAR as the works of the devil, seriously distorted the ECK teachings, and distributed thousands of copies of their journal across the United States to ECK Centers and Christian churches. That was why Darwin ran his ads in newspapers around the country claiming that ECKANKAR was being attacked by certain Christian groups.
Wasn't this also Darwin's real reason for trying to get a copy of Jim Peebles' term paper, since he was concerned that it was going to end up in the hands of the SCP? In fact, we learned that Darwin and his lawyer went right over to the SCP immediately after taking the depositions of Ed Gruss and Jim Peebles. Wasn't that the real concern? David's own words confirm this.
Doesn't this also put into perspective why ECKANKAR brought in Bill Popham, the business consultant that David referred to? Not just to review David's term paper, but more importantly to deal with the SCP attack, which included the material from David's research? Yet, David makes it sound as if this review was only over his own term paper, which was distributed long before the SCP Journal was published. In other words, don't all these facts really show us that ECKANKAR was responding to the attacks centered around the SCP journal and other Christian groups, and that David's material was secondary?
Here is an excerpt of what was published in The Mystic World, a publication that goes out to all ECKists. It was written by Bernadine Burlin, from the ECKANKAR International Office, dated August 1979, which was about the same time the SCP Journal was first published:
Dear Fellow ECKists,
There have been groups and individuals actively distributing misinformation about the ECKANKAR teachings. With this in mind, we wish to provide you with the following information...
Religious organizations through their publications, have published a widely-promoted and distorted view of ECKANKAR, with subliminal techniques that are dangerous to the spiritual insights of readers and participants. These materials are presented to seekers as honest and objective. Actually they are intended to manipulate the reader into predetermined conclusions...
Most of the attacks are inquisitorial and personal. Directly, or by strong implication and innuendo, they seek to besmirch the reputation of Paul with accusations of plagiarism, obfuscation and dishonesty, and of Darwin with claims against his legitimacy as the Living ECK Master and Mahanta, and of others on personal bases connected with ECKANKAR. Prominent will be the claim that many of Paul's writings prior to his advent as the Living ECK Master and Mahanta are found in other works or written by other people...
As surprising as it may sound, such attacks will often be in the name of the Lord, or scholarship, or open-mindedness...These attacks will concentrate on the lower realms of experience rather than on the truths of ECKANKAR. They will be defamatory more than philosophical.
They will not, of course, and cannot deny the verity of personal spiritual experience as an ECKist and the truth that lies within each of us! In that light there is nothing to defend and nothing to prove.
Does this sound like ECKANKAR was trying to cover something up, or does it sound as if it was letting ECKists know about these publications that were negative toward ECKANKAR? Isn't it also clear that the SCP Journal is most prominently referred to in this article?
We can easily see why David would think that ECKANKAR's whole motivation was to cover-up his research, but that was his perception of the events, not the experience of ECKists or ECKANKAR. To most ECKists, and apparently to Darwin, it was simply an attack by a well-funded Christian propaganda organization, using David's research, as well as the words of disgruntled ex-ECKists to create a very distorted picture of ECKANKAR.
It is not as if any of the information presented in the SCP publication was open and objective, as David calls it. It was filled with falsely derived implications and misleading information. There was a definite purpose behind this, and that is why most ECKists saw it as an attack upon their own spiritual path by those from another religion.
On the other hand, David did uncover a number of interesting facts and ECKANKAR didn't openly deal with the issues that David raised at that time. This was probably due more to David mixing this information with so many false conclusions and interpretations, but this still fed David's belief that he was uncloaking some misguided new-age religion. The real truth behind these stories, I think, is far more interesting than that, however, and the real lessons to be learned from a more thorough exploration is why I have taken on this work. The story will unfold as we go along. But for now, let's return to David's closing remark from his Preface.
Since the private publication of The Making of the Spiritual Movement, I have received letters from interested Eckists and seekers in countries around the world, including West Germany, Sweden, England, South Africa, Nigeria, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and India, about my investigation on the history of Eckankar and its founder, the late Paul Twitchell. From these letters, I have learned that some Eck chelas were being harassed by officials higher up in the group and that several lawsuits were being taken against Eckankar and its questionable activities. Three Eckists even claimed that they had received death threats because of their turning away from the movement. In light of this disturbing news and in response to the growing number of requests for my manuscript, I decided to revise and update the work, making it more uniform both in appearance and content. This book is a result of that endeavor.
I, too, have been on the receiving end of several threatening letters from Eckists who were displeased with my research work. One Eck chela said that, "The army of Eckankar soldiers will come after you!" Another disciple, perhaps a bit more serious, drew skeletons on his letter and told me that I was not worthy to tie Paul Twitchell's shoe laces. From what I have seen over the past four years, I am not in the least surprised by Eckists claiming that they have received death threats. It may not be a reflection on the movement, as such, but on the fanaticism of a few who get carried away.
It is sad that anyone would feel so strongly about their religion that they would threaten others who disagreed. This is exactly why open dialogue should be more common, not less. David's book challenges the beliefs that some ECKists hold, and this challenge should become an opportunity for those ECKists to examine what they believe and why.
ECKANKAR stresses in many places that we should first doubt and question before we accept the teachings. There is no need to take anything in ECK on faith, and in fact these are some of the problems that occur when people do take things only on faith.
If we have based our beliefs on what we know from our own experiences, or our own understanding, then these beliefs will not be easily shaken. However, beliefs taken on faith, or beliefs accepted from our childhood training, are easily challenged. And when they are challenged we feel as if our whole life's foundation is endangered. This is why people act so defensively, and this is why our society has such a difficult time with open dialogue about spirituality, because so few people really examine their own religious beliefs.
Therefore, David's materials, while challenging certain beliefs, should be seen as an opportunity to reexamine what we know and what the spiritual path is all about. We should never be afraid to face the truth, no matter what it might be, and we certainly shouldn't shoot the messenger, as the saying goes. Few people feel comfortable examining their own deeply held beliefs, but this is exactly what the spiritual path is all about. Whoever leads the unexamined life will never learn the real meaning of spiritual Truth.
Now, with that said, I would also like to point out that unfortunately this issue is the reflection of a much bigger social problem. While the threats that David wrote about may have only been verbal, they still represent a very serious matter. When people don't know how to respond to the power of the published word, especially if they feel something has been falsely portrayed, they can become too forceful in their reactions. They don't know how else to answer these accusations that they feel are changing how the world sees something they believe in. Their threats can be found in any religious group. In fact, every organization, institution and company must deal with reactions like these. This shows us the vital necessity of open dialogue, rather than the popular trend for public criticism.
I know that such behavior is rare in ECKANKAR, but for those who don't know ECKANKAR it only takes a few cases to cast a bad reflection upon the whole organization. While ECKANKAR seminars almost always get the highest praise from hotels, airports and convention centers, for the polite and friendly manner of most ECKists, this doesn't mean there aren't some people joining who are looking for something to stabilize their life. If the teaching they believe is providing them stability becomes threatened, then they can feel threatened personally. We must become sensitive to this, but the problem is not likely to ever disappear completely.
Part of what takes place, from what I've seen, is that people who belong to a religion, especially a smaller one, feel that they are creating something and building something of value to the world. Then, if someone comes along and publicly characterizes their religion in a negative way, or publicly challenges their religious teachings, these members feel as if their own creation has been brought out for public judgment. Or as if some personal matter of choice has suddenly become the subject of public debate.
People often feel offended by this, as if it were an invasion of their privacy, as well as an attempt to destroy what they have been building. Some will fight back. Others feel embarrassed and leave their religion to avoid further humiliation. But most people wisely recognize that the spiritual path they follow is their own personal matter, and short of persecution they do not care what the public opinion is. They realize there will always be some who agree with them, and some who don't.
On the other hand, there are those who become even more committed to their path after their religion has been attacked. They sometimes feel like soldiers with a mission of defending their teaching.
Strangely, there are also those who leave their religion after it has come under attack and turn on those who have stayed behind. They can spend endless hours fighting against the beliefs of those who were once their friends.
All of these extremes show us individuals that feel compelled to make a public fight to defend the reputations of the beliefs they identify with. It's not their personal reputation that they feel is at stake, but the reputation of the teaching or belief system that they belong to.
The problem here is that everyone has a different idea of what a teaching's reputation should be. The very idea of reputation, itself, is supposed to spring from the experiences that individual people have with such a teaching, but experiences are different for each person. In other words, reputation should never be created or manipulated by broadcast messages or images, but should spring from the experiences of people. Yet, the war of public criticism is focused on trying to alter reputations through the use of words.
These are some of the explosive dynamics that make an open dialogue of religion so difficult. But, rather than backing away from these matters, we should be addressing them and trying to understand them. We now live in an age when many of our private moments and experiences can suddenly become public, and our spiritual path is just one of these. Such things take place, however, because all communities develop fears of anything that is different or is hidden too secretively. While we live individual lives, we are also part of a community and part of society.
I do question David's statements that "officials higher up in the group" were harassing ECKists. By higher up in the group, does David mean an officer from the ECKANKAR International Office, or is this merely another member who had been a student a little longer, perhaps had a higher initiation or had assumed some voluntary duties in helping the organization? And these death threats, were they from the ECKANKAR Office, or from an individual person? David's statements seem to imply that the organization of ECKANKAR is harassing its students, or those who leave, to the point of death threats. I find this characterization completely untrue. ECKists have always been shown the greatest freedom in every area of their spiritual beliefs.
As I said before, it is a sad thing but there are individuals who will threaten others because they do not know how to resolve their own problems or how to respond to public criticism, but this is far different from an organization itself threatening the lives of others. I have read about members of certain religious groups who have claimed their religious organizations have instituted death threats and threatening actions against the lives of those who leave, but I have never heard of anything even close to this in ECKANKAR. Quite the opposite. I'm assuming that David did not intend that, but his choice of words could easily leave someone the wrong impression. Or perhaps to David, whether the threat comes from an individual member or from the organization itself, it is all the same.
Now let's get on to the far more interesting discussion over David's research into Paul Twitchell's early life, and see what new information David had discovered.
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Copyright © 2000 by Doug Marman