By Sri Harold Klemp
Paul Twitchell was a person who had to go through experiences of all kinds so that he would be fit to become the Mahanta, the Living ECK Master. To say he had a checkered life is an understatement. In many ways he was quite a rascal.
A Correspondence Trail
In January I got to look at copies of some of the letters Paul had written over the years. He was an avid letter writer, and he always kept a carbon copy. His correspondence was so diverse that there were times I couldn’t quite figure out if this was the real Paul Twitchell or if it was one of his masks.
At one time Paul made his living by writing for pulp magazines. He also wrote public-relations copy during his stint in the navy. He was always thinking, always writing.
Tracking Paul through his letters revealed a unique, highly talented being. He sincerely cared about spiritual unfoldment and growth. He went through volumes of books on consciousness, a subject which was not in vogue in those days. In fact, it’s barely in vogue today. But he loved it, and he thrived on the study of the different philosophies.
A couple of years ago I decided to research Paul’s past life which he wrote about in The Drums of ECK. In that life he was born on the Mississippi in 1811. At the moment of his birth, a huge earthquake rocked parts of the United States and formed Reelfoot Lake in northern Tennessee. The earthquake of 1811 came at a time when the world was in turmoil. Napoleon was marching across Europe to invade Russia, probably in much the same way that Hitler, in more recent history, marched across Europe. The world was turned upside down.
It was at this time in 1811 that a series of earthquakes hit the Midwest. But this one that formed Reelfoot Lake was actually the worst that ever occurred in the United States, far more severe than the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. It started in November, with tremors lasting throughout the month. More were felt in January and some even as late as March. They came in three main groups. The only reason there wasn’t more loss of life or destruction of property was because it didn’t happen in a heavily populated region.
It was during this time that Paul was born into his previous life. In The Drums of ECK, he tried to tell the story about his service in that lifetime. Even in his most recent life, he still had a great fascination for the Civil War. He and his father used to have contests to challenge each other’s knowledge about some bit of trivia—which regiment did this or that—and they would try to match names and dates and events.
There are several different versions of the date Paul was born into this life. One person I talked to said the Twitchell family Bible recorded the year as 1910; another person, who also told me he’d seen the family Bible, said Paul’s birthdate was shown as 1908. It’s amazing how certain each person was that he knew the truth. Each one claimed to have seen it with his own eyes. So by some accounts, he was born on October 23, 1908 or 1910, while other accounts give the date as October 22.
Unscrambling the Pieces
Paul loved his privacy. Early in his youth he was involved in a variety of activities, but he made it a point to obscure any facts associated with his life. In so doing, he left a trail so clouded that it’s going to take our historians years to piece it together.
It reminds me of the philosophy of the tax protestors. With taxes being so high today, they go to great lengths to conceal their income. They won’t use credit cards and rarely open any bank accounts. In a way, they feel they can protest against the tax system by not participating in it. But, of course, they began to participate in it even before they had a voice in the matter—by way of a social security number.
A tax protestor might reason that one way to obscure your record is to provide the computers with such a mishmash or volume of information that no one could keep up with it. You open a few bank accounts here and there, close one or transfer a little bit of the money to another, buy up stocks or property, take a loss on one, and reinvest in another. In a sense, this may have been Paul’s philosophy in covering the trail of his life. He kept adding and changing so many things that it’s taking a while to unscramble it and figure out who he really was.
And I was very curious about the man behind the Mahanta, the Living ECK Master who came out in 1965.
Paul was quite athletic. He was short, of course—five-and-a-half-feet tall—with a very powerful upper physique. He was also rather bowlegged. Some people who didn’t think so kindly of him joked that when he was walking down the street, you could almost run a billy goat between his legs.
It’s hard to tell exactly when he graduated from high school. Back in the early 1930s, the record-keeping wasn’t as accurate as it is today. Nowadays, if you follow the usual course of education, generally you will graduate from high school at the age of eighteen. But in those days high school was the way college is today—you could quit for a while and then go back. So Paul probably graduated from high school between age eighteen and age twenty-three.
His first jobs after he came out of high school were as a physical-education instructor. He started with positions in a couple of different towns through the YMCA. Around the same time, he was the director of municipal recreation in Paducah, Kentucky, which in the book In My Soul I Am Free was called China Point. There is no such town as China Point in Kentucky. He constructed the story to protect his family, so that later on, when people sought him out to learn about Eckankar, his family wouldn’t be pestered by well-meaning people intruding in their lives.
His Own Drumbeater
At the tender age of twenty-seven, he decided it was about time that he got his name in Kentucky’s Who’s Who. This is a publication which lists the accomplishments of all the renowned people in the state—lawyers, doctors, geologists, politicians, and people of this caliber. At twenty-seven years of age, the most Paul had ever done was to teach physical education. But by the time he wrote it all up, exaggerating and twisting the facts, he had worked up a nice little paragraph about all the grand achievements of one Paul Twitchell. He made it sound quite impressive. You can see why, after hours of reading so many dull entries, the editor of Who’s Who in Kentucky thought Paul sounded pretty interesting. Without bothering to check out the dates or details, he probably said, Oh, why not—and Paul gets into Who’s Who in Kentucky right along with the most distinguished leaders in the state.
This was followed by a lot of dark years for Paul. It is important to recognize that one who is in training for Mastership is a prototype for the initiates in ECK. When you say, “I have problems, I am crying, I am weary”—realize that Paul cried and grew weary too. In fact, there were times when his burdens seemed so heavy that he didn’t know how he could get up and face another day.
Starting as early as the 1930s, Paul was his own best drumbeater. Anytime he did something, he would write an avalanche of press releases about it. He promoted himself all the time. When he was ready to go into the navy, he wrote up a blurb about how Paul Twitchell has just finished basic training and now he’s ready to go off to war. He sent it to the newspapers in Kentucky, to the local librarian, here and there. As if anybody cared at the time. But without realizing it, he was just practicing. Someday he would have a chance to take this teaching called Eckankar—maybe he didn’t even know the name then—and put it in front of people.
I saw an article in the obituary column in one of the West Coast newspapers a few weeks ago about a seventy-seven-year-old lady who had founded a certain church many years ago. But who ever heard of it? This talent of self-promotion was necessary for Paul’s mission.
The ECK teachings have been here from the earliest times, but they haven’t carried the name of Eckankar. They have been brought out under different names at different times because they could not be presented openly, but at this point in history they can. So Paul was advertising himself in any way he could, and in general preparing for the future when he would use his talents to promote his books and articles on Eckankar.
In about 1942, during World War II, two major events took place in Paul’s life. He got married to a woman named Camille Ballowe, and he enlisted in the navy. For some reason he never got assigned to combat duty. When his navy bosses discovered his gift with words, they put him into public relations.
There are several photographs of Paul with prominent people. In one he’s with Pat O’Brien, who was a famous actor; and in others he’s posing with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and General Eisenhower. There was more substance to Paul than appears in the current superficial writings about him by people who don’t quite understand that he had something special.
He and Camille were married in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1942. When he got out of the navy in 1945, they moved to New York. Paul wandered around a bit and eventually took a job with the navy as the Washington, DC, correspondent for Our Navy magazine. He kept copies of a lot of letters written from Washington, DC, or the Washington Press Club, so we know he worked there for quite a while.
Paul became interested in occult teachings around 1950. About this time he hooked up with Swami Premananda, who headed the Self-Revelation Church of Absolute Monism in Washington, DC. Paul and his wife lived in the ashram on church property for quite some time.
The Cliff Hanger
In 1955, two more striking events happened in his life. He was kicked out of the ashram for some kind of misbehavior, and he separated from his wife. On July 4, while Paul was in the kitchen of the swami’s church, he got into a fistfight with one of the other church members. Paul used to work out with weights and was a very strong person, but the other guy was just too big for him.
The fistfight started in the kitchen of the church, moved through the screen door, and ended up out in the backyard. Being the smaller of the two, Paul could only try to defend himself. He attempted to run for the back porch of the parsonage where he hoped to find some help, but the other fellow caught up with him. The fight resulted in a permanent injury to Paul’s right eye, as well as a broken rib and general bodily damage. He was in such bad shape that some friends put him in a car and drove him down to Florida, where it took him several weeks to heal. It was during this time that he got kicked out of the swami’s church.
Paul was a feisty person. He called himself a Cliff Hanger. This evokes an image of a man hanging on to the side of a cliff, high above the swarming masses who are lost in the drudgery of day-to-day living. The Cliff Hanger could feel the wind and be close to the eagles—but he’d better not let go. This was Paul.
At that time he ran into Kirpal Singh, who was in charge of the Ruhani Satsang. Paul said there were many Masters who taught him. We sometimes like to think that truth is isolated, that it comes all by itself, that it has never appeared anywhere else in the world, and that it has never touched shoulders with anything else at any time. But truth builds upon itself; it always has. In the old days, the scribes in the monasteries would say, This is wisdom, this is truth. And they would take the truth they found and use it as a springboard to go even further.
Touching the Face of God
In late 1956 or early 1957 Paul had the experience that is recorded in The Tiger’s Fang. If he touched the face of God in 1956, some people may wonder why it took him until 1965 to become the Mahanta, the Living ECK Master. It’s really quite simple. Your habits and emotions have been built up over the years, and although your consciousness has gone far ahead, the emotions feel lonely. You feel truly left out. If Paul ever felt left out before, he must have really felt it after this experience. Even at the point when he had experienced God-Realization, as he returned from the inner planes, one of the ECK Masters said to Rebazar Tarzs, Paul’s teacher, “I see he still has much to learn.”
Paul cared deeply about spiritual enlightenment. He continually tried, in a way that very few people ever do, to find spiritual enlightenment in all facets of his life. And finally it came to him. But when you touch the hem of God’s garment, you are never the same again. One of the biggest changes you find when you come back to the physical consciousness is that you are the only awakened individual in a world of sleeping people.
During these years, Paul Twitchell came in contact with Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard. They knew each other, and Paul learned a lot from him. Strange as it may seem, even as late as 1961 Paul was still trying to find a shelter and a haven here on earth. On the one hand, he had had the great experience of God-Realization; on the other hand, he was still trying to get baptized into the Catholic Church—but the priest wouldn’t allow it because of his separation from his wife. Paul got outraged and wrote him a blistering letter. Later he concluded that although the priests of the church are knowledgeable and intellectual, they certainly aren’t enlightened. Paul had his own view of enlightenment, and it was broader than that of the church.
It’s important that you know who Paul Twitchell was. There are things we have to look at. We are initiates on the path of ECK, and as it says in The Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, it’s never the written works which are important. It’s always the Light and Sound.
The Living Shariyat
Anything in the material worlds is fallible and subject to error. The Shariyat is merely a translation. Paul even explained that the Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad comes out in many different ways. With a certain person as the vehicle or instrument, it comes out as poetry; with someone else, it comes out as parables and stories; and for another person it comes out largely as prose.
The Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad is gathered by the Nine Silent Ones. It is drawn from the experiences of the initiates as they go through the lower worlds and meet the hardships in life—as Paul did and as we do. As we meet these experiences, there is always something to be learned.
It reminds me of a story about El Paso, which is in West Texas. One day a young man moved to town during a dry spell. It’s nearly always dry, but when it does rain, it’s constant. For weeks there wasn’t any rain, but when the rain finally started falling, it wouldn’t stop. It just flooded everything.
The newcomer commented on this to an old man who had lived there for many years. The old man, who usually couldn’t put two and two together, came up with an interesting statement which may have reflected the sum total of his observations in life. He said, “I spend 75 percent of my life praying for rain, and the other 25 percent praying for it to stop.” This old man’s viewpoint displays a certain degree of wisdom.
The ECK Masters and the Nine Silent Ones gather a statement such as this out of each person’s life. Some people have more than one statement; some people have chapters of statements. These are distilled and put together, and they become the teachings in the books of the Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, which are always being written. They are not yet finished.
I would like to leave you with this: As you do your contemplative exercises tonight, look to the Inner Master. Chant your secret word or chant HU, and in the spirit of love and a desire to know truth and to know the Sugmad (God), say, “Teach me Thy ways, O Sugmad.”
May the blessings be.