Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Katsupari and the Living Slick Factor

It may be possible for human consciousness to exit the body and travel out into space. It may be possible, but then again it may not be desirable. It may be desirable but it may not be productive of anything of lasting worth. It may be convincingly real yet result in real and lasting delusion.

I can accept that people who belong to 'primal religions' like those of Australia, the Americas and Siberia might legitimately make use of trance-inducing techniques for going out into the 'astral' (starry!) planes peopled by spirit entities with the aim of solving specific problems for individuals or their communities. Even some of the most hard-minded of the anthropologists have been known to admit that it may in some way be effective. (Finding a wider context in which an illness makes sense may in itself have a palliative or healing effect.) When modern urban white-collar types start taking up shamanism or astral traveling I suspect it's neither legimate nor authentic. I'm not saying it absolutely couldn't be, just that it wouldn't seem very likely.

My brief acquaintance a few decades ago with some followers of Eckankar, while majoring in Religious Studies at university, didn't inspire me. Neither was I enthralled by my brief acquaintance with followers of Scientology and Theosophy; I never attended meetings or in any way belonged to these or any groups like them, although I did read some of their publications. I remember one Eckist telling me, "Well, we [we Eckists] are doing just what Milarepa was doing!" I also remember thinking that even though I was quite certain he was mistaken on this point there would be little point in trying to point this out to him, convinced and dogmatic as he was. I just kept silent, a silence he probably took as assent. And what I learned from the elaborate descriptions of psychic vampires encountered on the astral plane from another young Eckist with whom I accepted a ride hitchhiking one day didn't exactly inspire confidence. His peculiar brand of spirituality included what he called "materialing out," by which he meant owning every material possession possible.

These days it has become increasingly well known and well enough publicized that much of the literature composed by Paul Twitchell, the founder of Eckankar known as the Living Eck Master who died in 1971, was copied word-for-word (but with strategic alterations in the technical terminology) from various sources, in particular Julian Johnson's
The Path of the Masters — a clear case of plagiarism (some examples given here [broken link]). At the same time there are those who argue that many of the names of the Eck Masters that came before him (and that might be encountered in the astral planes by Eckists everywhere today) were made up by him in order to conceal his real sources, who were largely from the Radhasoami, founded in the 1860's, itself a branching from (or a special form of) the Sikh religion. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Radhasoami was mainly inspired by the Sant Mat, in turn largely inspired by the early 15th-century mystic poet Kabir, while Kabir served as a major inspiration in the founding of the Sikh religion. Radhasoami was from the beginning infused with influences from Sikh religion, Nath Yoga, Bhakti (devotional Hinduism) and so forth. Mysticism of sound is a Radhasoami specialty from its origins, but astral projection per se is not. Twitchell imbibed techniques for astral travel at a tender age from the general popular occultism of his day (apparently through his own father), not from any pukka Indian source. Still, Twitchell's technical terminology is almost all from Punjabi Sikh (and/or Radhasoami sources), including the name Eckankar itself (ek[a] means 'one' and ankar is omkara in Sanskrit, meaning the 'syllable om').

In my point of view, if you were to come to realize that conscious plagiarism and other forms of deception occurred in the founding moments of your religion, and you want to continue with whatever you've found to be true in it, it would be logical to go back to the more original inspiration, which in this case would mean that Eckists would go back to the Radhasoami, and perhaps even take the next step and go back to the Sikh religion or the Sant Mat itself, or still another step to the Hindu/Muslim masters who inspired the early Sikhs? (Sufism is most definitely the source of one of the main Eck spiritual practices, reciting the syllable Hu, which means 'He' in Arabic, referring to Allah. This is taken from Sufi
dhikr.) But don't all religions conceal from their followers, consciously or not, at least some of the actual sources of their revelations? Isn't this true of Buddhism which, for all its arguable originality, drew (and continued to draw) a lot from Hindu traditions, or Christianity taking much of its quite central 'suffering and resurrected savior' complex from paganism, etc. etc. I'm more than willing to think along those sorts of lines, but even after the most cynically deconstructive post-modernists have had their final deadly words about 'lineage construction' and 'legitimation,' I'm sure a lot of us humans will still find most meaning in a tradition of some kind or another. We seem to have a natural inclination to seek our truths within more long-lasting forms of collective religiosity. Spiritual development, after all generally a very slow and difficult process, would seem to require a context of the 'tried and true.' We need inspiration from the past in order to go forward with confidence. If that sounds rather conservative, I'd say it's manifestly superior to the extremist model of progress that says, 'Destroy it all and see what happens then.' The main progress that results from taking this approach consists in sins that will be visited on our descendents, wounds that won't heal for generations. Go ask China (for example).

But anyway, it was my intention neither to rant until you start suspecting me of neo-con-ism nor to go very far into the Eckankar controversies which may be easily located on the internet (try the official
Eckankar website, but also look at the newspaper article here [broken link], the books and their rebuttals [broken link]). I do want to say something, something that might seem rather minor, about the reputed Eckankar-Tibetan connections from a Tibeto-logical perspective.

In 1951, long before Twitchell made Eckankar public in 1964-5, he claims to have met for the first time someone named
Rebazar Tarz in the vicinity of Darjeeling. (In one place Twitchell says their first meeting took place in Greece, but without recognizing him at the time.) On an earlier visit to India in 1935 he had met one named Sudar Singh in Allahabad. These two persons, met in the flesh and not only on the astral plane, are often believed to have been the most important two sources for Eckankar teachings. There has been a lot of discussion (especially in internet sources, including some supplied above) about the identities of these two persons. One conclusion is that Sudar Singh (the 'Sudar' is definitely not an expectable Indian name) is a truncated version of Sudarshan Singh, a known figure in the Radhasoami history. Another is that it is more likely Kirpal Singh, whose actual name was at first acknowledged by Twitchell, but subsequently disguised under the name Sudar Singh.

Another possibility that is sometimes mentioned only to be passed over quickly is that Sudar Singh is Sundar Singh. Born in 1889, Sundar Singh converted to Christianity from the Sikh faith. He did missionary work among Tibetans starting in 1908. Tharchin Babu the Tibetan
newspaper magnate [broken link], himself a convert to Christianity, met him. It's said that in 1929 he walked into the Himalayas and disappeared, never to be heard from again (with the implication that he may still be there!). Christian evangelicals nurturing hopes of converting Tibet to the only true way have made a special cult of his memory, and it seems to be difficult to obtain any information about him apart from what they provide. It is said he claimed he had met a 300-year-old Christian hermit at Mt. Kailash. Evangelicals generally fail to mention his approval of Swedenborg, encountered in a vision. Evangelicals are more than likely to remember Emanuel Swedenborg, if they remember him at all, for his associations with spiritualist mediums, and therefore "of the devil." These people will be surprised to learn (or rather refuse to learn) that the modern way of visualizing heaven, heaven as it appears in their own minds' eyes, owes a great deal to Swedenborg's visions. But more on that another time (meanwhile see the book of McDannell & Lang). The simplest explanation is that Twitchell used a truncated version of Sudarshan Singh, Sudar Singh, as a cover name to disguise the identity of Kirpal Singh (probably because they had a falling out). The parallelism between Sundar Singh's encounter with the 300-year-old Christian sadhu at Mt. Kailash and Twitchell's encounter in the vicinity of Darjeeling with the 400(500?)-year-old Rebazar Tarz is at least worth wondering over once or twice.

Rebazar Tarz is an especially significant figure, since it was from him that Twitchell claims to have received the 'rod of power' that signifies the transmission that made him into the Living Eck Master. It assuredly does not appear to be a Tibetan name, at least not all of it. It looks like faux-Farsi or Turkish. I'm thinking that while Reba could be taken to be Tibetan Repa (ras-pa, cotton clad one) as in Milarepa, it's more likely that it's Reb/Rab, an old Syrian and Aramaic word for 'teacher, master' eventually borrowed into Hebrew as Rebbe, and into Arabic as Rabb (English: Rabbi). With the first syllable Reb being a title, what remains to explain is the 'proper' name Azar Tarz, which sure looks like Turkish or Persian to me. Azar Hoshang is an early Zoroastrian teacher (here Azar means 'fire'), and although I haven't learned much if anything about him, he apparently had some legendary connections with the Azeris, the Turkic-language-speaking Azerbaijanis of today... These entertainable ideas may be fun and even worth pursuing for other reasons, but they don't help us in understanding how and in what manner Rebazar Tarz was supposed to be 'Tibetan,' or what he was doing in Darjeeling. The Eckist literature places him in the Hindu Kush, meaning in mountains in Afghanistan. He really does look like an Afghani in the full-bearded portrait of him found in Eckankar publications and websites. And to tell the truth I'm not very fond of the explanation that finds the source of Rebazar in street-sign Spanish Rebasar (look
here [broken link]). Amusing, yes.

{{Note: Since writing these words, I've learned that Āzar is a proper name that occurs once in al-Qurʾān, where it refers to (or is a nickname of) the father of Abraham, who is called Terakh in the Tanakh ("Old" Testament according to those who accept that there is a "New"). In the Hebrew at least, his name means 'laggard' (someone who is on a perpetual slow-down strike, or perhaps someone who had CFS before such a condition became known). Terakh was originally from Ur, but later moved his family to Haran, where he died at the age of 205. For more interesting discussion, see the
Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān, the entry for Āzar — Firestone, Reuven. "Āzar." Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān. General Editor: Jane Dammen McAuliffe, Georgetown University, Washington DC. Brill, 2007.

The most usual (not for that reason necessarily correct) explanation of the name Azarbayjan or Azerbaijan is that it comes from Persian. "Azarbayjan is an Arabicized form of the Persian word Azarpadgan meaning the Place of Guardians of Holy Fire (Azar=fire, pad=guard, gan=prefix of place)." See
this. The mountains of this region have been known for many centuries as site of many natural gas fires. See this. But it seems that the problem of the 'true' Azerbaijan is a point of controversy on the basis of both historical considerations and contemporary politics. See for example this.}}

At first I was thinking that Fubbi Quantz might have been formed by changing a letter or two of 'Ruby Quartz,' but to be perfectly honest I don't know what to make of it. This name, too, has nothing conceivably Tibetan about it. He's supposed to reside in a monastery in northern Tibet that houses a part of the scriptures Eckists call Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad (the one in the ethereal Akashick Records, or the one available from Amazon, I'm not sure which). The name they give for this monastery is Katsupari. This does indeed look like, and I believe is, a Tibetan name for a monastery. L. Austine Waddell published something on it long ago in 1895 in his book The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism, as part of a list of monasteries in Sikhim (an old spelling for Sikkim) on page 285. Waddell spelled it Ketsuperri, supplied the exact Tibetan spelling as Mkha' spyod dpal ri, which he explained as meaning "The noble heaven-reaching mountain," telling us that it had eleven monks. This Khachöpelri (this just being my preferred method of phoneticizing it; the 'ch'/'ts' variation is common in Nepal... the 'l' is in any case scarcely audible) is one of the important holy places in Sikkim. The travel literature available to me pays attention to the holy lake, and hardly ever mentions the monastery further uphill. Tourists are told the charming tale that leaves are never allowed to settle on the lake's surface since birds immediately snatch them up.

I am really not sure why this particular lake, known to the tourism literature by the name of the nearby monastery (which itself looks like the name of a mountain!), was supposed to be all that holy. Apparently it has some legendary connection to Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava). Some Lepcha legends do connect their tribal origins with lakes. Like you, I don't have in my library the only extensive English-language source about Sikkim's history, which still exists only in the form of an unpublished manuscript (long ago Rock, and more recently Steinmann, made use of it), and I haven't looked into the several Tibetan-language guidebooks to the holy places of Sikkim that are available to me. Not yet. My thinking is that while Twitchell was visiting Darjeeling, he may well have heard the name of this place, only about 30 miles away as the crow flies. He could have even gone there, I suppose. I imagine that Eckists will sooner or later catch on to this connection. Well, so long as they pay due respect to the fragile local Eck-osystem, it doesn't bother me that they will start pounding the forest paths up to Khatsupari Monastery. The lake, at least, is already on the regular tourist route. And I imagine the monks in residence won't mind if people stop by to ask them a few puzzling questions about Fubbi Quantz and the
Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad. They will probably welcome both the company and the entertainment. I recommend a long stopover in Azerbaijan.

Read more:

Martin Boord, A Pilgrim's Guide to the Hidden Land of Sikkim Proclaimed as a Treasure by Rig 'dzin rgod kyi ldem 'phru can, Bulletin of Tibetology, vol. 39 (2003-2005), pp. 31-53. Available as PDF here.

Alka Jain and H. Birkumar Singh, S.C. Rai, E. Sharma, Folklores of Sacred Khecheopalri Lake in the Sikkim Himalaya of India: A Plea for Conservation, Asian Folklore Studies, vol. 63, no. 2 (2004), pp. 291-302.  You may be able to get there directly from here.

Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang, Heaven: A History, Vintage Books (New York 1988), especially Chapter 7: "Swedenborg and the Emergence of a Modern Heaven."

Joseph F. Rock, Excerpts from a History of Sikkim, Anthropos, vol. 48 (1953), pp. 925-48.

Eric J. Sharpe, The Riddle of Sadhu Sundar Singh, Intercultural Publications (New Delhi 2004).

Brigitte Steinmann, The Opening of the Sbas yul 'Bras mo'i gshongs according to the Chronicle of the Rulers of Sikkim: Pilgrimage as a Metaphorical Model of the Submission of Foreign Populations, contained in: Alex McKay, ed., Pilgrimage in Tibet, Curzon (Richmond 1998), pp. 117-42. Notice the picture-map for pilgrims on p. 118, and the small hilltop monastery labeled "Khe Choe Palri" in the lower lefthand part.

D.P. Walker, The Astral Body in Renaissance Medicine, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 21, nos. 1-2 (January 1958), pp. 119-133. The concepts of the astral body and astral travel of modern popular occultism are rooted in later forms of Neo-Platonic philosophy, perhaps Proclus. See this entertaining but as usual rather scattered Wikipedia entry.

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