Eckankar is a religious movement founded in the United States in 1965. It focuses on spiritual exercises claimed to enable practitioners to experience what its followers call “the Light and Sound of God.” The personal experience of this spiritual Light and Sound is a primary goal of the teaching. It claims to provide a personal, unique and individual spiritual inner path to understanding of self as soul, and development of higher awareness “consciousness” and God.
The name derives from the sanscrit Eka Omkara which is a name for God. Eckankar’s headquarters are in Chanhassen, Minnesota, southwest of Minneapolis. The Eckankar Temple, an outdoor chapel, an administrative building, and the ECK Spiritual Campus are located at this site.
One of the basic tenets is that Soul (the true self) can leave the body in full consciousness and travel freely in other planes of reality. Certain mantras or chants are used to facilitate spiritual growth. One important spiritual exercise of Eckankar is the singing or chanting of HU. The HU has been used in the Sufi and other mystical traditions, and is viewed in Eckankar as a “love song to God”.
Dreams are regarded as important teaching tools, and members often keep dream journals to facilitate study. According to followers of Eckankar, dream travel often serves as the gateway to Soul Travel or the shifting of one’s consciousness to ever-higher states of being.
Eckankar teaches that “spiritual liberation” in one’s lifetime is available to all and that it is possible to achieve Self-Realization (the realization of oneself as Soul) and God-Realization (the realization of oneself as a spark of God) in one’s lifetime. The membership card for Eckankar states: “The aim and purpose of Eckankar has always been to take Soul by Its own path back to Its divine source.”
Primary to the teaching is the belief that soul can leave the body. Also, the concepts of Karma and reincarnation help to explain situations in life. The beliefs that individuals are responsible for their own destiny and that their decisions determine their future are important concepts to Eckankar. Eckankar students meet in open public services and classes to discuss personal experiences, topics, books and discourses.
Internet communities of disgruntled ex-members and critics, such as the Usenet newsgroup alt.religion.eckankar, include criticisms dating back more than ten years. Eckankar has been labeled a cult by some, including both former members and Christian writers.