New Age religion emphasizes personal spiritual development

The first time Karen Bezoski left her body she was sitting in a parapsychology class at Weber State University in 1971.

It was like the frequent stories of near-death experiences, weightless floating and walking into the light, she recalls. Except she wasn’t dying.

That experience, coached by meditation experts from Berkeley, Calif., led Bezoski toward a belief in reincarnation and “soul travel,” which eventually led her to Eckankar, a New Age religion emphasizing the importance of personal spiritual development.

Eckankar was founded in 1965 by American author Paul Twitchell, who claimed to be guided by ancient spiritual teachers. It draws on the religious teachings of Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Confucius, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Socrates and Martin Luther.

The faith, with headquarters and a striking white temple near Minneapolis, Minn., is lead by Sri Harold Klemp, who is considered the “Living ECK Master.”

According to Klemp, there is an “audible life current known as the ECK, or Holy Spirit, that connects each of us with the heart of God.”

The way to experience the ECK is through light and sound, Eckists believe, which is why Eckankar worship services focus on singing “HU” (pronounced “hue”) at the same pitch for five, 10 or 20 minute at a time.

Eckists also believe everyone is born with a specific spiritual destiny from past lives but only 1 percent of people remember what it is. The key to seeing and hearing messages from inner guides is to perform spiritual exercises, which Bezoski likened to spending an hour with God every day.

“It takes self-discipline and being open to find your mission,” says Bezoski, of Sunset.

She spent 20 years of training and study to become one of four Eckankar clergy in Utah. She helps lead worship services on Sundays and Wednesdays for the state’s 75 or so members. The clergy are not paid, but the church does ask for a $175 annual membership fee to help with printing study materials and for building expenses. The group is currently raising funds for an ECK community center to be built in Sandy next year.

For now, they meet in a rundown office suite at 366 S. 500 East in Salt Lake City. Klemp’s photo is in the middle of a six-pointed star on the wall.

“He is our teacher and leader, our way-shower, but we don’t worship him,” Bezoski says.

On a recent Sunday, about a dozen people gather for the 10 a.m. service. Bezoski leads a discussion taken from Klemp’s book, How to Find God. The topic is commitment.

“It’s up to us in each lifetime to commit to a principle and then live it,” she says.

She invites the group to meditate about commitment while they sing, “HU.”

“We do it as a group to form a vortex for the Holy Spirit to come and flow for the good of all life,” says Jim Shaw, who serves as the head ECK clergy for Utah.

But people also sing HU individually, says Shaw, a Salt Lake City home builder who has been an Eckist for about 28 years. “It helps you connect with God’s love and with that you gain guidance from the Holy Spirit.”

It’s all part of the progression toward a more godlike life, he says. And that progression requires a lot of experience to achieve, which is why reincarnation is a basic tenet of Eckankar.

“Every lifetime is like a class. It would be nice if you could learn everything in one class and then graduate, but most of us don’t,” Bezoski says. “So we come and take classes one after another — it’s just a forward progression.”

She says she knows many of her past lives.

“I can remember living in Mu, Atlantis, in ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, many, many lifetimes as an American Indian,” she says. “I have been many kinds of priest and priestess, which probably prepared me for what I do now with ECK.”

According to Bezoski, people aren’t just born with a mysterious talent, they earned it in a past life. Mozart, for example, could write music at 3.

Dreams are just as real as any physical experience, she says. “The soul doesn’t require sleep so when the body is resting, the soul is busy.”

Some years ago she was driving in the city when she spotted a license plate with the letters J-A-Y on it. A few blocks later, she saw another. Then a little later, she was stopped at a light and saw three cars in parallel lanes, all with the same letters on their license plates.

“OK, I get it,” she said to herself. “I’ll call my brother.”

Jay was in the hospital, having suffered a stroke. He was near death, so Bezoski asked her inner masters if she could help him cross over. They agreed and she tried, but Jay wasn’t ready to go. He lived six more years, dying last year.

“In other words, he had a choice,” she said this week.

Bezoski says ECK has provided not only spiritual guidance, but practical help in many situations — assisting her in emergencies, clarity of mind while earning her master’s degree and help with relationships.

Eckists don’t proselytize, she says. They offer public lectures and workshops to anyone who wishes to attend, but never contact anyone without being invited.

“We are of the opinion that everyone belongs to the religion that helps them the most right now,” Bezoski says.

For her, Eckankar is the perfect spiritual home.

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