The SONIC SPECTRUM
(c) October 1996
A LOOK AT SRI DARWIN GROSS [Part 1 and 2 united - Aldarow]
- by Michael Turner
This month we will be taking a look at one of my favorite spiritual teachers, and the One who helped me unfold into self and God-realization, Sri Darwin Gross. If it was difficult for me to talk about Kirpal Singh, it is doubly so for Sri Darwin. Of all the saints and Satgurus who have emerged from the USA in this century, He is dearest to my heart. Never in my life have I met a man whose devotion to His Guru, and God, is deeper and more sincere. Alone among the American Shabd Yoga Masters, Darji has always honored His Guru. His devotion to Sri Paul Twitchell - despite all of the latter's apparent faults and literary faux pas - has been unwavering for over a quarter century. And for this, I honor Sri Darwin Gross as the greatest American spiritual leader of the 20th Century.
Sri Darwin was born in Denhoff, North Dakota, on January 3, 1928, to Paul and Adina Gross. He had four siblings, Adeline, Harry James (Jim), Ruby and Donald. According to Darwin's official biography, From Heaven to the Prairie, Darwin had profound inner experiences from an early age, including interdimensional daydream journeys, astral planet-hopping, and very intense dreams which left him crying when he awoke. But they weren't nightmares, as He once noted,
"If a child screams and hollers during sleep... (It) isn't a nightmare; the Soul doesn't want to come back to the human state of consciousness. I fought it until my spiritual guide assisted me. I was only three or so at the time and after about three months of this, my parents were about to give up on me."
Regarding this spiritual guide, Darji recalls,
"One morning about three o'clock . . . I sat right up in bed for I could see this gentleman from the waist up, clad in very light blue. I sat there and stared at him. No communication took place verbally, only silently and subtly within myself and between the two of us. I lay back down on my feather bed after a time and pulled the covers over my head and went to sleep. From that moment on, all fear of going beyond myself and the universe passed by the wayside."
This inner teacher remained at Sri Darwin's side throughout His life, guiding Him on inner journeys through the astral and causal regions. Years later, in the 1960's, a cousin lent Him a copy of In My Soul I Am Free, Brad Steiger's biography of Sri Paul Twitchell. On the back was a photo of the Eck Master, whom Darwin immediately recognized as this lifelong spiritual mentor.
Aside from His inner life, Sri Darwin's childhood was much like that of others growing up in the northern Midwest during this time. There was more than a touch of Tom Sawyer in young Darwin. He took long walks in the fields, went skinny dipping a nearby lake, and spent many hours letting His imagination roam as He lay on His back and stared up at the clouds. Although, as I understand it, He only completed school through the sixth grade, he had an avid interest in learning, and remained a self-taught scholar throughout His life. He just didn't take well to imposed structure and authority, a trait also reflected in his aversion to the religious orthodoxy of His grandparents' Christian fundamentalism.
Sri Darwin also developed an early interest in music, making up songs and trying his hand at different instruments, starting with a brief dabbling at the piano, then switching to trumpet, before finally settling on the vibraphone as His instrument of choice, which He retains to this day. Darji has always stressed that both lyrics and music must be uplifting, that we have more than enough negativity in this world as it is, without adding to it with harsh, negative words and music. As He noted in Music From Spirit? (co-written with Sri Paul Twitchell),
"With music here is something very wonderful. Words are wonderful, but music goes beyond words. It speaks straight to our heart and reaches the very core and root of Soul. Music soothes us, stirs us up. It puts noble feelings in us. It melts us to tears at times, yet we know not how it works. It is the language that by ItSelf is divine . . . It is the ECK (Spirit) in expression which can be . . . ECK ItSelf. For when used positively with strings, flutes, the woodwinds, the high notes soft and graceful, it is the speech of God. So few of us even stop to think of music as a wondrous magic linked with God, which can take the place of a spiritual exercise or prayer. When the words of man have failed us with the weight of care, music that knows no country, race, or creed, gives to each of us according to our need. There is nothing that a child will learn quicker than a song, when given the chance.
Music is the only one of these fine arts in which not only man but plants and animals have a common property, which includes the fine feather friends that fly in the sky. For it is music that fathoms the wild blue yonder. As for myself, I'd rather be remembered by a melody or song than by some battle fought for greed. Music reveals us to ourselves. It represents those modulations and temperament changes which escape all analysis. It utters what most else remains forever unsaid. Unutterable. It frees that deep longing within us, of which all art is only the remembered echo, that craving to express, through that medium of the Isness, the spiritual and eternal realities that underline them." (135-6)
When He was in His mid-teens, Darwin's father packed up the family and moved from North Dakota to Portland, Oregon, where the World War II economic boom had bestowed a surfeit of jobs. Here Darwin remained until just after the war. Upon turning 18, He enlisted in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Japan during early post-war operations. I guess this was around 1946-47. This brought Him into contact with a Japanese Master He refers to as Sato Kuraj, who further helped Darji fine tune the alignment of His physical, astral and causal bodies with Divine Spirit.
I should probably also mention here that Darwin took up cigarette smoking during this time, a habit all to common with young people coming to grips with the ramifications of adulthood and the pressures which go along with it (and also one which included Shiv Dayal Singh and Faqir Chand among its practitioners). It was also very common at the time for the military to give out cigarettes as part of its rations for soldiers (there being a lot of tobacco company lobbying to turn people onto its product, and a lack of public evidence regarding its addictiveness). Some might find it contradictory for one who is undergoing major spiritual unfoldment to also smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol (which Darji also did). But bringing the human aspect into harmony with the inner bodies - and all of them into harmony with Divine Spirit, Shabda - takes time. And the human aspect often likes to take time out to get its bearings before taking a major spiritual step - it has to bring the new reality within its comfort zone, and often relies upon outer crutches to maintain a sense of constancy and familiarity, while exploring that with which its emotions and intellect are not so familiar. Later, Darwin dropped the tobacco habit, due to its physically debilitating effect.
After spending some time in Japan, Sri Darwin returned to Portland, where He worked a number of different jobs over the years and played in a variety of musical combos, including a group called "The Subtle Tones," which Darji described as having a "Modern Jazz Quartet" sound. Sometime in the Fifties, two events transpired which had a major impact on Darwin's life. One was that He got out of playing music semi-professionally, due to the negative vibes of the bar scene. Secondly, He was injured in an industrial accident which shattered one of His knees.
The latter event motivated Darwin to get out of the heavy labor field and move toward electronics, for which he had a natural curiosity and talent. After taking night school classes and working what jobs He could, Darwin accepted a position as chief engineer for a San Francisco Bay area electronics firm. Over the next few years, Darwin worked for variety of electronics companies in the Bay Area, Denver and Seattle. As synchronicity would have it, He was working in Seattle at the same time Sri Paul Twitchell was living there on a houseboat. Although there are no dates given in Darwin's biography, this may well have coincided with Paul's courtship of Gail and her introduction to Sant Kirpal Singh Ji during His 1963/64 world tour.
It is noted in From Heaven to the Prairie that Darwin read a wide variety of spiritual and metaphysical books during this time (including, apparently, the writings of Neville, a noted metaphysician of the times, whose works "Power of Awareness" and "Awakened Imagination" contributed to Darji's books of the same title, and for which He offered attribution), and even gave lectures on spiritual matters, "one as early as 1963 in Grand Junction, Colorado . . . " No mention is made as to whether He ever read any Sant Mat material, or attended any talks given by Kirpal Singh at this time. However, given Darji's immediate receptivity to the Shabda Teachings via Eckankar, and his comfort in using the word "Shabda" when referring to the Light and Sound Principle in later writings, my hunch is that there was some form of contact at this time.
In any case, Darwin's outer input evidently harmonized with His inner growth and interdimensional exploration. When He discovered Sri Paul Twitchell, and Eckankar, via In My Soul I Am Free, in 1969, He took to the Light and Sound teachings like a duck takes to water. Rather like Kirpal Singh after meeting Sawan Singh, Darji's reaction to seeing Paul's photo was instant familiarity:
"Darwin looked at the photo and a tremendous feeling of love, a burst of light and sound flooded through him. He knew that man! This was the one he knew as Peddar Zaskq (Sri Paul Twitchell's "spiritual name"), his spiritual guide whom he had though of as his guardian angel . . . and showed him the worlds beyond the veil of the senses. !"
Sri Darwin's biography goes on to comment on His reaction to reading The Tiger's Fang for the first time,
"Why, it's almost as if he had written about me!' Darwin thought. For here were the descriptions of the worlds he had been visiting, meetings with the Spiritual Travelers and Masters of whom he had been aware, and all of the principles of spiritual life spelled out . . . Here was a path that accepted his experiences for real. Here was a Master who could lead him even past the astral, causal and mental worlds into the positive God worlds of pure being. He had come home. This was his destiny. His long search was over."
Darwin immediately read all he could find about Eckankar, including The Flute of God and Eckankar: Key to Secret Worlds, and also subscribed to Paul Twitchell's spiritual correspondence discourses as soon as he could afford them. Within a few months, he also attended His first major Eckankar seminar, the 1968 Worldwide of Eck, held October 30 - November 3, in Los Angeles, and was blessed with the outer darshan of His Master, Sri Paul Twitchell.
Returning to Portland, Darwin's offer to help as an Eckankar volunteer and lead local Satsangs met with Paulji's approval, and Darwin quickly became the de facto Portland Eckankar representative. This steady increase in responsibility dovetailed into Darji's rapid spiritual unfoldment. At the Vancouver Eckankar Seminar early the next year, He received His Second Initiation from Paulji (something which traditionally takes two years of study took less than six months), and returned to Oregon to give a series of talks throughout the state.
Darwin continued to unfold at an exponential pace, receiving His Fifth Initiation (which, in Eckankar, establishes one on the Soul Plane) the following October at the 1970 Worldwide of Eck. Around the same time, He was approached on the inner by a council of past Shabda Masters (known to some as the "Nine Silent Ones") who asked if He would be willing to serve as a Living Master of the Time. As Darji recalls, "I said, You must know what you are doing. I'll accept the responsibility, and also, I know I'll need some help.'"
From then on, Darji's life went into overdrive. He changed positions at His job to allow for more time flexibility for traveling and giving talks. He rented a cheaper apartment as a way of saving money. He accompanied Paulji and Gail on a tour of Europe in the Summer of 1971, serving His Master in a variety of ways, including sitting in on consultations Paul gave.
These experiences combined to give Sri Darwin a greater degree of self-confidence in communicating the ancient Teachings, as well as depth and breadth of understanding their timeless nuances. The transformation became apparent to those with inner vision. Millie Moore, one of Paulji's original satsangis, attended a youth planning conference in Las Vegas that year at which Darji was present,
"Looking around at the people gathered in the room, Millie saw a young man she had never noticed before. My God,' she exclaimed to herself, I've seen him in my dreams. That's Paul's replacement.' . . . Later, she found out other Eckists, quietly and without saying anything to anyone else, had come to the same conclusion."
This process reached its culmination in the fall of 1971, when Paulji died on September 17, and Gail formally recognized Sri Darwin Gross as Paul's successor at the Worldwide of Eck on October 22nd. Although He had only been an official student of Eckankar for a little more than two years, Darwin's lifetime of inner training paid off and He proved to be a strong and visionary leader of the path. He up leveled the touring schedule He had maintained as the Northwest regional representative, giving talks all over the country at a myriad of seminars, large and small.
Sri Darwin also hit the major media airwaves, granting interviews on such TV shows as Tom Snyder, Phil Donahue and Joe Franklin, and with such radio personalities as Rus Coughlin. I reckon if they had been around at the time, we might well have heard Darji on the Michael Jackson (the radio personality, not the singer) show and seen Him on Larry King Live. As it was, His personal outreach was incredibly successful.
Within five years, Eckankar blossomed from a membership of a few thousand to more than 50,000 official students. Seminar attendance ballooned from hundreds to thousands of attendees, and new major seminars were added to the tour schedule, a Springtime Youth Conference, and a Creative Arts Festival coinciding with International Children's Day in June.
Of course increased visibility and popularity can be a double-edged sword. For one thing, with Eckankar's rapid growth came greater public scrutiny, especially from people who were concerned about the negative effect of non-Christian "cults" on America's youth. One group in particular seized upon the less-than-flattering information uncovered by Prof. David C. Lane (then a college student in Southern California) about Sri Paul Twitchell's past. Armed with documented evidence of Paul plagiarizing Sant Mat materials (Julian Johnson's Path of the Masters, in particular), changing Swami Premananda and Sant Kirpal Singh's names to "Sudar Singh" and "Rebazar Tarzs," and covering up his past association with these, and other, masters (not to mention Darji's marriage in 1973 to Paulji's widow, Gail Twitchell), this group proceeded to indict by association the entire body of Light and Sound Teachings.
This led quite a few students to question, and leave, the path. Yet Darwin's faith was unshaken. Regardless of Paulji's human foibles, He was the One who led Darji into the Pure Positive God Worlds, and Darwin steadfastly refused to hear any criticism of - or in any way repudiate - His Guru. This has led to some clashes with critics, particularly Prof. Lane, over the years which have attained a level of notoriety which we need not repeat here.
Such outer conflicts combined with the spiritual stress of an exponential increase in satsangis to take a serious toll on Sri Darwin's life. His marriage to Gail ended in 1978, with them parting on amiable terms. Perhaps what is more important, His health took a turn for the worse, as old knee and back injuries came back to haunt Him. There were times it was all He could do to stand or even sit up straight and give half-hour or 45 minute talk. From what I understand, doctors prescribed a variety of muscle relaxants and pain killers to help Darwin cope with His ailments, which they may have done a bit too well.
By the end of the 1970's, the gossip mills were running overtime about Darwin's alleged drug and alcohol problem. The latter seem to have surfaced at around the same time He started getting back into playing music in His spare time. Darwin had been performing at Eckankar functions for a while; but He still had a hankering to go back on the road with a light jazz/blues combo where he could showcase His love for the vibraphone and exhibit the possibilities of music as a spiritually uplifting and healing force. Whether or not His return to a part- time musician's lifestyle led to any form of alcohol consumption is anybody's guess. I wasn't there, so I can't tell you.
"When all the cards are down There's nothing left to see There's just the pavement left And broken dreams And in the end, there's still that song Comes cryin', like the wind Down every lonely street That's ever been." - Hunter/Garcia
What I can tell you is that all of these factors took their toll, and Sri Darwin began to consider removing Himself from being the primary spiritual focal point of Eckankar. By 1979- 1980, He began quietly floating trial balloons regarding the possibility of Him stepping aside as the *Living* Eck Master, turning over that responsibility to someone else, and instead serving as a sort of semi-retired "master emeritus."
As far as I know, such a thing had never been done before. In the annals of Sant Mat, there is virtually no reference to a Living Master turning over the mastership to another while still maintaining the physical body. Such a rite of passage has always coincided with the previous master's death almost immediately thereafter - and frequently there is even an interregnum (period of public quietude), before the successor begins giving Satsang and offering Initiation.
As a result, there is no modern precedent for what occurred on October 22, 1981, when Sri Darwin Gross passed the spiritual mantle to Sri Harold Klemp, and then went into semi-retirement in Oregon. For the first year or so this arrangement seemed to work out all right. But by mid-1983, problems were brewing underneath the surface, fed in part by Eckankar High Initiates who were unhappy with Darwin's leadership in the past (and may have been concerned about Him uncovering financial improprieties during His audit of Eckankar's computer system), and looking for an opportunity to get rid of Him once and for all. What apparently began as tension surrounding boundaries issues on Sri Harold's part, developed into a full scale palace coup.
As I mentioned, there was no modern precedence for a master to remain living after turning over the mastership, and Sri Harold and Sri Darwin appeared to be defining the parameters of their relationship as they went along. Sri Darwin obviously believed He was entitled to substantive input regarding Eckankar policy, felt that the chelas initiated by Him remained under his care (which is consistent with Sant Mat tradition), and that Paulji had specifically entrusted Him to be the custodian of His (Paulji's) writings. Sri Harold evidently felt that, having made him the new Living Eck Master, Darwin should now step into the background and let him (Harold) run the entire show without interference. Like I said, they were, essentially, boundary issues.
In any case, in August of 1983, the Eckankar Board of Trustees had a secret meeting to which Darwin was not invited. At this meeting they decided to remove Darwin and two other board members from any positions of leadership, both on the Board (He was board president at the time), as well as with Eckankar in general. When Darwin arrived for the regularly scheduled meeting (as I recall, it was held the next day), He was stripped of any organizational responsibilities and sent packing to Oregon.
Two months later, at the 1983 Worldwide of Eck, not only was He not invited to attend or speak, but several of his supporters were prevented from entering the building. During the seminar, Harold held a special meeting with the Eckankar High Initiates (5th and above), during which all grievances with and charges against Sri Darwin were aired, *without Darwin being there to represent and/or defend Himself.* None of these proceedings were mentioned to the Eckists at large at the time (I was one of the attendees at this seminar and had looked forward to seeing both Sri Darwin and Sri Harold on the same stage - instead, Darji was nowhere to be found!), and kind of a funny vibe pervaded the entire weekend.
Less than three months later, in January 1984, Sri Harold sent out a letter to all Eckankar members stating that, not only was Darwin no longer a member of Eckankar (major news to me, in and of itself!), but He was not even considered any sort of Spiritual Master. His stripes had been pulled and, we were effectively told, He had been sent to the spiritual equivalent of Devil's Island for the crime of "spiritual disobedience."
Just as there was no precedence for Darji's role as a "semi-retired" Master, so to was there virtually *no* precedence *whatsoever* for Living Master to denigrate - much less *excommunicate* - His Master. Sri Harold event went so far as to imply that Sri Darwin was a "black magician," and that to avoid His negative influence, good loyal Eckists should remove and/or destroy any of His books, tapes or photos they might have in their homes. I'm sorry, but no matter what Darji might have done to step on Sri Harold's toes, there was absolutely no justification for such disrespect on Sri Harold's part for His Satguru.
The fallout from this event reached far and wide. A huge percentage of Eckists left the organization between 1983 and 1985. I don't know the actual numbers, but I once heard that membership dropped from more than 60,000 to somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000. While a major portion of these people left the path altogether, some Satsangis decided to follow Darji into the wilderness. Left with no organizational support, and a pile of legal bills due to lawsuits between Himself and Eckankar, Sri Darwin went back to the drawing board and basically started from scratch. First came "Sounds of Soul," which published His new books (You Can't Turn Back, Awakened Imagination, The Atom, and The Power of Awareness), discourses (starting with My Letter to You, in 1985), and lecture and music tapes. Then came His redefinition of the Path as the "Ancient Teachings Of the Masters" (or "ATOM"). In the late 1980's, some satsangis helped Darji set up a new distribution outlet for His books and tapes called "Be Good To Your Self," which has served in that function ever since.
"I've stayed in every blue light cheap hotel Can't win for tryin' Dust off those rusty strings just one more time Gonna make em shine, shine!" - Hunter/Garcia
Since Sri Darwin started ATOM in the mid-1980's, He has taken spirituality to a whole new level. Prohibited by Eckankar's attorneys from using a myriad of trademarked words (e.g., "Eckankar," "ECK," "Eck Master," "Mahanta" and "Vairagi," to name but a few), He has had to use his spiritual resourcefulness to come up with more current terminology and new ways of teaching the ancient path of Light and Sound. The crowds are smaller these days, numbering in the low hundreds rather than 5-15,000. And yet the intimacy can be a real blessing. People desiring this great Master's darshan don't have to wait in a long receiving line at seminars; they can usually just walk right up to Darji, talk to Him and shake His hand. He is relaxed, real, and in the moment, as He has always been. And the people who have remained with Him exhibit a love and devotion for their Master which should serve as a shining example for satsangis of all western Light and Sound Paths.
"It all rolls into one And nothing comes for free There's nothing you can hold for very long And when you hear that song Come crying like the wind It seems like all this life was just a dream. - Hunter/Garcia
"A great Symphonic Theme That's Spirit within you" - Stella by Starlight, as sung by Sri Darwin Gross
I'm going to close off here with some choice quotations by Sri Darwin Gross regarding the Light and Sound Teachings, and the spiritual path.
Until next month . . . Baraka Bashad!
"One must forget all the words and go to what is called the Sound Current, or the Word. In the Bible it is called the Logos. It is known as the Shabda, which is the Word of God and Its Light. This Light and Sound is ALL of God. Until we come to the point of knowing, and once one reaches into himself and goes beyond this boundary of what we know here, beyond these unseen boundaries that lie within us, and move into these high areas of consciousness, then we can understand what is meant by the heavenly music of the spheres, the Sound of God." (The Atom, pg. 14)
"One must learn how to leave this body and the physical state of consciousness. Then we will know and understand survival after this life . . . As we grow into this state of spiritual understanding, it is in the heavenly worlds beyond. We come to the spiritual level which we know and understand. You cannot allow, at any time, any negative attitudes when working from those lofty spiritual heights where there is no negativeness." (Ibid, pg. 19)
"God of ITSELF is so enormous and so great that the unschooled Soul, one who has not been taught the acrobatics of Soul while here on Earth, to move through the levels of heaven, cannot reach the magnificent atom structure that we think of as God. IT is a structure of atoms, so magnificent, that the unschooled and unguided Soul would be burnt to a crisp in the physical, unable to handle the flow of the divine power that would flow back to the physical body. That is why it has been stressed in the teachings of the Masters, brought forth by Paul Twitchell, to take your time, to unfold and build your spiritual foundation slowly and develop via the acrobatics of soul." (Ibid, pp 23-24)
"The worlds of God in the pure state where there is no negativeness, start out at what is known as the Fifth plane, or Soul Plane... In thee heavenly realms or levels, there is no negativeness and they have been referred to by different writings down through time as the Atma worlds, which is an eastern word for the fifth plane, or Soul Plane. You must be there in Soul before you can work from this pure area, or above that area. That line between the negative and positive worlds is very exacting, and until one learns various spiritual lessons here on earth, in Soul, you cannot get into these pure positive God Worlds and work from those areas." - (Ibid, pg. 28)
"For those that work in... some area of responsibility, must have and do have greater ethics. Otherwise, they find themselves in turmoil. The laws of karma will come into play very swiftly. The chela in ECK has the linkup in initiation and it takes the Living ECK Master to do that, but the Word, or that which we know as the Sound Current, is the reactivation within himself to establish himself again in the kingdom of heaven. In other words, initiation is simply that which gets him to have self-recognition. This is why it has been stressed that one must take a little initiative. He is not forced or told that he must do this or that. It is up to the individual every step of the way. His goal should be that of Self-Realization first, and then God-Realization, and third, to be a co-worker with God during this lifetime, there and now." - (Your Right to Know, pg. 17)
"The Shabda has been spoken of as the Living Waters of Life, the Bread of Life. This is the security of the Eckists. It is through the ECK (Spirit), the radiant form of the Living ECK master, that they have the protection. As one goes about his tasks and duties, even through one may go through rough water, or experience of the fire, the waters will not sweep you under nor will the flames fall upon you, but around you, should the Word of God be within you and flow forth from the temple within you. It is that nectar, your bread and water of life, as the bread and fishes Jesus spoke of. The Word can be the one from your initiation, or one from the God Worlds of ECK. It wants to be a vital living force within you. By allowing the ECK within your world it must become part your consciousness. Then the ECK can function for the good all eternally should we keep it alive within us." - (Ibid, pg. 20-21)
"It is easy to see in the objective world that one's attention is not only attracted by, but is constantly directed to, external impressions should you let them be so directed. However, with the help of the Living ECK Master, the Inner Master, your control in the subjective world can be mastered...
When you... are able to control the movements of your attention in the subjective world, you can modify or alter your life as you wish. However, this control cannot be achieved if you allow your attention to be attracted constantly from without. For example, listen to the gossip or others or be influenced by what you see the rest of the world doing. Each day set yourself the duty of deliberately withdrawing your attention from the outer world around you and focus it subjectively by doing the spiritual exercises... " - (Ibid, pp. 23-24)
"It is necessary to have both the Light and Sound in your spiritual life. As you know, the Light is for the traveling Soul to see the pitfalls and obstructions on Its journey to God, and the Sound is for Soul to follow the path back to the throne of the King of Kings, to the SUGMAD. So you must make contact with both aspects of the Word within thyself.
And this is provided by God and unfolded by the true Godman, the Living ECK Master of the time along with the Sound, step by step into the land of pure and eternal bliss." - (Ibid, pg. 29) *
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