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Reiki and the Catholic Bishops

June 06, 2009 | by Bronwen and Frans Stiene

The system of Reiki has come to the attention of the Catholic Church in a publication by The Committee on Doctrine, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, March 25, 2009. This publication is undersigned by eight Catholic Bishops. It can be viewed here under Publications: http://www.usccb.org/dpp/doctrine.htm

Before discussing the paper’s contents directly, there is one major question that this publication does not satisfactorily address:
Why did the Committee feel the need to publish a viewpoint on the system of Reiki at all?

It is more than interesting that the Church has gone so far as to comment publicly on the system of Reiki. This is especially true, when on viewing the Committee website, there appear to have only been 13 publications (not including translations) prepared by the Committee in the last 20 years, and that includes “Guidelines for Evaluating Reiki as an Alternative Therapy” 1 . The other 12 publications involve such topics as the Church’s stand on homosexuality, abortion, contraception and the role of the male priest. That the system of Reiki finds itself in the company of such contentious religious issues is astounding. Perhaps why this is so will become more apparent as we discuss the issue further.

The misinformation provided to the public in this paper begins with the title itself “GUIDELINES FOR EVALUATING REIKI AS AN ALTERNATIVE THERAPY”. The Committee claims to attempt to evaluate the system of Reiki as an alternative therapy for the benefit of Catholics according to the Committee guidelines. Today, professional Reiki practitioners and teachers recognize that the system of Reiki is not an alternative therapy at all but a complementary one. The term “alternative” is one that could bring the system of Reiki into disrepute and may have been utilized by the Committee for this exact purpose. It is certainly not inline with how the system of Reiki is made use of in cancer clinics 2 or where professional Reiki practitioners are being employed by government run health institutions such as the British National Health Service 3 . Although this may appear as mere semantics - it is very important when placing the system of Reiki within a professional context. The first point of clarity that must be made is that the system of Reiki is not a replacement for medical care as is put forward by the Committee by its use of the term “alternative”.

That the Committee is in a position to state whether or not the system of Reiki is valid as any type of therapy without directly engaging with the Reiki community is, in itself, highly questionable. An incorrect title could well have been remedied had the Bishops’ inquired with professional Reiki bodies.  Which brings to light the greatest flaw in the creation of this publication - there has been no direct consultation with professional organizations within the Reiki community. As can be seen by the statements throughout the publication, references are solely from either the internet or books. Neither of these resources in today’s climate are reliable if one is unfamiliar with the subject, and in accordance with the conclusion of this paper it does not appear that the Bishops would openly allow themselves to be acquainted with the system of Reiki in any form. It goes without saying that the Internet is rampant with misinformation as, unfortunately, is often the world of publishing with many books not being held up to scrutiny by modern publishers, if they have a publisher at all.

DEFINING THE SYSTEM OF REIKI

The system of Reiki includes five major elements; precepts, hands-on healing, meditations and techniques, symbols and mantras, and reiju.

The system was developed in the early 1900s by a Japanese man called Mikao Usui. Influences upon Mikao Usui (1865-1926), and consequently upon his teachings (which are known as the system of Reiki today), came from his Japanese martial arts practice, Shintoism (the traditional Japanese folk religion), Japanese buddhism (namely Tendai), and Shugendo (a spiritual mountain practice). Naturally, the Japanese culture and philosophy that was apparent during Mikao Usui’s lifetime was also a great influence upon what has developed as the system of Reiki.

The almost magical qualities that the Committee assigns to the system of Reiki are certainly popular within New Age elements of the Reiki community - that cannot be negated. Yet, these qualities are viewed quite differently by those who work with the system from a Japanese perspective. It was not until the mid to late 1990s that Reiki practitioners began to look back at the origins of the system and retrace their practice to its Japanese roots. This has been most beneficial for many practitioners allowing them to gain a clearer understanding of their practice without the New Age influences and to understand the system more clearly as a Japanese art.

The teachings are not solely about hands-on healing as the Committee appears to understand but rather a personal practice that, once evolved, can lead to helping others (either professionally or in a more personal sense); in itself a compassionate action.

For those practicing from a Japanese perspective, the system of Reiki is about consciously experiencing an innate and perfectly natural ability to connect with our world. The system of Reiki teaches methods to focus on this natural ability and strengthen it; to aid personal healing and that of others. To appreciate the intrinsic beauty of healing take the example of a mother holding a baby; that baby thrives on this connection - both physical and energetic. Without exposure to those two aspects of its existence a baby’s physical and mental health will not flourish, it will instead decline. The system of Reiki supports this natural ability by teaching techniques and providing teacher support to gain further understanding and skill. This brings a consciousness to the miracle of being human.

RELIGION

Although the Church states that Reiki proponents agree that Reiki is not a religion, the Church feels that there are several aspects of the system that are religious. This includes spirituality. It would be easy to argue that religion and spirituality are not mutually exclusive. One can definitely live a spiritual life without adhering to a religious doctrine. Although a person might not follow the Church’s Doctrines, one would hope that the Church would be supportive of anyone desiring to live a spiritual existence.

Why, then, you might ask, is the Church interested in making the system of Reiki look like a religion?

According to the Committee’s objectives, the Bishops are only to offer evaluations of theological trends (with theology being the study of the nature of God and religious belief). Therefore, to ensure that they are observing their proposed objectives, the Bishops are required to state that the system of Reiki includes several aspects of religion - otherwise the Committee has no business in publishing this paper.

Other religious aspects listed in the paper include manifestations of the New Age movement rather than the system of Reiki. The use of terms such as “God”, “Goddess” and “divine healing power”, and that Reiki is directed by “God” or a “Higher Intelligence” etc… are New Age terminologies that express what some people may understand about the system of Reiki in the modern world. The confusion between the system of Reiki and the New Age movement could be reconciled in the Committee’s mind if there was a better understanding of the history of the system from a Japanese perspective as is supported by the Shibumi International Reiki Association. If the Committee were to educate themselves with the Japanese influences on the system of Reiki there might not have been this confusion.

Is it then the New Age movement that the Committee is actually attacking in this publication rather than the system of Reiki? Perhaps so.

Below you will read short summaries of each of the points put forward by the Committee along with our understanding of these points from a professional Reiki association’s perspective, ultimately uncovering why we believe this paper was published in the first place.

HEALING BY DIVINE GRACE AND HEALING BY NATURAL POWERS

The Church states that it recognizes both of the forms of healing mentioned in this heading, yet the definitions attributed to these forms are exclusive and, as in this case, utilised to solely promote the views of the Bishops.

The first form is that of the “ministry of Christ, who performed many physical healings and who commissioned his disciples to carry on that work”. In short, this occurs through invocation of the name of Jesus and includes prayer and hands-on healing.

The second, natural powers, is the ability to heal using medicine as “Christian charity demands that we not neglect natural means of healing people who are ill”.

The Church does not recognize that the system of Reiki works in either of these forms.

The Committee appears to believe that “the healing power” of Reiki is at “human disposal” and is therefore not connected with healing by “divine grace”. From this statement it would appear that no matter what Reiki practitioners and teachers might do it will never be accepted by the Church. Quite simply because Reiki practitioners are not officially a cog in the structured hierarchy of the Church. This lack of membership ensures that there will be no acceptance of them or their actions by the Church (or so the Bishops would lead us to understand).

Such a lack of tolerance which states that hands-on healing lies only in the hands of those commissioned by the Church must surely be seen as detrimental to the wellbeing of the wider community. Healing, whether Church ordained or not, is for the good.

From a practical perspective, it is easy to see that healing is not owned by the Church.  Healing at its most human level is innate. Take the previous example of a mother and child or of how a cut on the arm naturally heals by creating a scab. This scab protects the arm while the body, in its natural magnificence, goes to work to heal. Once the healing is complete, the scab dries, loosens and falls away. The Church might claim that this is the work of God (which may well be true), yet no individual was commissioned by God to do this work. Healing is an innate human quality and its process is supported by the practices taught in the system of Reiki.

The second form that enables the Bishops to not recognize the system of Reiki is scientific research, or lack thereof. Research, not only into the system of Reiki, but Biofield therapies (as National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, NCCAM, inclusively calls them), has been constantly growing. “In 2006 in the US, the National Center for CAM (NCCAM) received $122.7 million from Congress to fund research.” 4

There have been issues with researching CAM such as lack of funding, limited infrastructure in the field, and an inadequate understanding of how CAM can best be approached. For example, the Bishops’ paper clearly re-iterates the wording “physical” as the form of healing that it is referring to in relation to the system of Reiki. This healing practice, however, is acknowledged to work in many ways, with healing not being limited to the physical alone. Yes, the medical scientific world has, in its recent history, only viewed humanity as either mind or body, and this has been considered by many as a major failing of conventional medicine. To begin to remedy this, some modern doctors now incorporate other therapies and modalities that support their clients’ healing. Meditation is just one of these additions and is one of the five main elements of the system of Reiki from a Japanese perspective. The podcasts listed at the end of this article are just a few examples of the benefits that can be gained by integrating the system of Reiki into mainstream healthcare and education.

This prevailing concept of healing the body or the mind as two separate ‘beings’ is a major culprit regarding the lack of research available regarding the system of Reiki. How does a conventional researcher then undertake research into a system which works not only on the mind, the body, but also on one’s wellbeing and spiritual connection? Although science has static theories it must also be open to new understandings rather than simply dismiss them because of its inability to effectively measure them. The system of Reiki is consequently in its infancy as far as scientific research is concerned. With more money and commitment there will be new methods of research and, accordingly, more research data available.

Nevertheless, research is not necessarily the rod which measures a method’s success. Methods that work for people grow in popularity, methods that don’t work – die.  The popularity of the system of Reiki has continually grown, with or without research. It has grown because people have experienced the healing for themselves. In 2007, in a NCCAM study it was found that in the USA over 1.2 million adults and 161,000 children had used some form of energy healing such as Reiki in the previous year. If people did not feel the benefit of energetic healing then such numbers would not be possible. Is it then the ‘numbers’ that are in fact the Church’s true issue?

WHY REIKI?

Coming back to our initial question.
Why did the Committee feel the need to publish a viewpoint on the system of Reiki at all?

Purportedly the Church feels that the eastern attitudes expressed in the philosophy of the system of Reiki undermine the distinctions that Church has in place of “self, world and God”. Yet, the system of Reiki is not in competition with the Church and does not claim to replace the God of any individual. The key word here is “competition” and aligned to this word is another… “threat”.

The sheer number of people attracted to therapies such as the system of Reiki is finally sinking through to the higher levels of the Church hierarchy. Many American adults are moving away from solely utilizing conventional medicine according to NCCAM who concluded from its studies that 38% of the adult population use CAM. 5   Not all forms of CAM necessarily hold large scientifically proven portfolios. With over 67 million Catholic residents in the USA in 2008 6 , there are sure to be a large number of Catholics benefiting from these complementary therapies, including Reiki. Many of these therapies just like the system of Reiki are holistic in nature, focusing on the person as a complete individual, and satisfying needs that perhaps the Church feels that it should be attending to.

The paper has also aligned the system of Reiki with the very large and almost mainstream New Age Movement. Which begs the question; could the Committee’s stance not relate to an issue with the system of Reiki but rather with the New Age Movement as a whole? Perhaps the system of Reiki is a first port of call, in an effort to bring Catholic people back into line with the recent Churchdeliberations. It is true that the New Age Movement is strongly influencing how people live their lives and this, too, could be seen as threatening the Church’s dominion. If this is the case, however, the Bishops are misguided. The system of Reiki is traditionally a Japanese practice that has evolved from a Japanese culture and philosophy rather than being a New Age creation.

In this light, the Church’s stance appears as an intolerance of the Japanese culture. The system of Reiki is a Japanese art centering upon a “discipline and spirituality” that may “benefit people of any culture” 7 . Teate or Tenohira, hands-on healing, is a very common form of healing utilized by both young and old in Japanese history. There are many beautiful “spiritualized” Japanese arts such as shodo, the Japanese art of calligraphy or sado, the Japanese art of tea making, or ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement. Different practices, all steeped in the classical, engaging beauty of Japanese culture and philosophy. Although they are of a spiritual nature, they are not religions and they are practiced and respected worldwide.

It is evident that the system of Reiki has been targeted for a number of reasons. Most importantly the Church considers itself threatened. This threat comes not from some outside force, but instead from its own congregation. The natural science of hands-on healing and personal growth in general is not only in Church commissioned hands but also in that of the people. One of the many great attractions of the system of Reiki is that it focuses on self-empowerment; the acknowledgement of one’s innate capacity. If the Church could see that this is not a threat but rather a support and celebration of the natural abilities of humankind then this perceived threat would disappear. If the Church wished to see it so, it could also be a celebration of the compassion of God to provide humanity with the ability to redeem itself, allowing it to move to spiritually higher goals, through self-healing.

CONCLUSION

The Catholic Church can find no support for the system of Reiki as being healing by Divine Grace and healing by natural powers . This, it believes, provides insoluble problems for Catholics. In fact the Bishops state that it is dangerous to put faith in Reiki, and to do so would be superstition. It appears that superstition is the enemy of the Church, making it inappropriate for any Catholic institutions or personages “to promote or provide support for Reiki therapy”.

It is difficult to know exactly what the Catholic Bishops aim to achieve by this declaration. Initially it would seem that they are simply trying to create boundaries for their congregation, clarifying what is and isn’t acceptable to the Church. Yet, their inappropriate conclusions lead us to consider that there is more at stake.

Apart from the incorrect assumption that the system of Reiki is a replacement for medical care, the Bishops’ paper lacks knowledge about the system of Reiki which automatically invalidates any right they might feel they have to pronounce upon it.

To be able to comment on the system of Reiki they have had to place it in a religion context, i.e. something that competes with their own practices. Within this religious context the Church believes it can then make judgements as to the legitimacy of the system. Yet, the system of Reiki is not a religion and is, in fact, compatible with any religion whether it be Islam, Buddhism, Christianity or Hindusim (as can be seen by the variety of Reiki practitioners that exist and the number of countries that the system is practiced in). Therefore, as it is not a religion nor pretends to be, the entire argument that it is not healing by Divine Grace is irrelevant.

Their second argument that the system is not yet scientifically validated is one that some may feel is in itself untrue. Scientific research does exist in relation to the system of Reiki. The system is now utilized in hospitals and hospices and through government health organizations and in third world countries to support and help individuals everywhere. Scientific research will grow with time and justify the phenomenal number of Reiki practitioners that exist worldwide. Science will catch up, but just because science isn’t there yet doesn’t mean that the experiences of millions, perhaps billions of people, is inconsequential.

Basically, Catholics are being asked to agree that their exposure to the system has not been beneficial to their lives or the lives of others. Reiki churchgoers are expected to accept the Bishops’ conclusions without personal inquiry or reflection upon their own experiences and life journey. In fact, these very reflections are being invalidated by the Catholic Bishops’ pronouncements. As can be seen by the statistics utilized in this article there are undoubtedly many Catholic Reiki practitioners around the world who have found no conflict between their Reiki practice and their devotion to God. Is it God/Jesus telling the faithful that they may not practice a self-healing practice to support themselves through their life-journey or is it the American Catholic Bishops? This dilemma has often caused conflict in Church history as humans make pronouncements in the name of God. Yet, until now the Reiki practitioners have had no conflict in reconciling their Reiki interests with their religious convictions.

Will these pronouncements benefit the Church? It would seem that the Church wishes to turn back the clock to a time when its congregation lived in fear and awe of religion and the religion makers. Today, due to extensive global communication there is a greater tolerance of other cultures and philosophies, with the world opening itself up to learn and benefit from one another especially with the advent of Interfaith talks and conferences. This does not mean that one must throw away one’s faith, but use it as a rock to interact with the world at large. The time for superstition is behind us. It is not our intention to invalidate the Church’s beliefs, or question the Church’s fundamental beliefs, but we ask that the Church remain in step with the changing world and use its influence to positively support its congregation.

For those Catholics who might be concerned by the Bishops’ pronouncements perhaps the Story of the Good Samaritan and Jesus’ words might help to set your minds and hearts at ease. Let us continue to show mercy to others and to ourselves, let this fundamental human quality shine through each of us no matter what our religion or creed.

Luke Chapter 10: 30-378

And Jesus answering, said: A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, who also stripped him, and having wounded him went away, leaving him half dead.
And it chanced, that a certain priest went down the same way: and seeing him, passed by. In like manner also a Levite, when he was near the place and saw him, passed by. But a certain Samaritan being on his journey, came near him; and seeing him, was moved with compassion. And going up to him, bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine: and setting him upon his own beast, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took out two pence, and gave to the host, and said: Take care of him; and whatsoever thou shalt spend over and above, I, at my return, will repay thee.
Which of these three, in thy opinion, was neighbour to him that fell among the robbers? But he said: He that shewed mercy to him. And Jesus said to him: Go, and do thou in like manner.

RESOURCES

What is Reiki?  http://shibumireiki.org/index.php/about_us/what_is_reiki
What is (and isn’t) Reiki? http://www.reiki.net.au/copy.asp?id=BenefitsWhatIs

Podcasts of interviews with people working with Reiki in Health and Education.

Demystifying Reiki in the Mainstream Healthcare System
http://www.reiki.net.au/copy.asp?id=PodcastClaudia

The Haijin Reiki Doctor
http://www.reiki.net.au/copy.asp?id=PodcastVal

Reiki: Supporting Fanilies Affected by Cancer
http://www.reiki.net.au/copy.asp?id=PodcastMargaretG

Reiki in High Schools
http://www.reiki.net.au/copy.asp?id=PodcastSchools

Reiki Helping Brain Injuray and Coma Recovery
http://www.reiki.net.au/copy.asp?id=PodcastAllison

Reiki Helping Aids Patients in Cambodia
http://www.reiki.net.au/copy.asp?id=PodcastBethG

Reiki in the Dentist’s Chair
http://www.reiki.net.au/copy.asp?id=PodcastPamR

Sister Eileen: Poet, Artist, Author, School Teacher, Catholic Nun and Reiki Teacher
http://www.reiki.net.au/copy.asp?id=PodcastSister

Reiki and Sick Children
http://www.reiki.net.au/copy.asp?id=PodcastGraham

Dr Jeri Mills: Coming out as a Reiki Practitioner
http://www.reiki.net.au/copy.asp?id=PodcastJeri

Reiki Relieving Suffering and Trauma caused by War and Disaster
http://www.reiki.net.au/copy.asp?id=PodcastJan

Reiki and Breast Cancer
http://www.reiki.net.au/copy.asp?id=PodcastJulieA

Getting Reiki into Hospitals
http://www.reiki.net.au/copy.asp?id=PodcastAngie

Christianity and Reiki - Do They Mix?
http://www.reiki.net.au/copy.asp?id=PodcastDawn

  1. http://www.usccb.org/dpp/doctrine.htm
  2. 2004 August, SCGH Brownes Cancer Support Centre, Patient Care Report, Australia:  http://shibumireiki.org/index.php/research/researching_reiki/
  3. Buxton-King, Angie.The NHS Healer, Virgin Books, 2005.
  4. Stiene, F and B. Your Reiki Treatment, O Books, p:126-127, 2007
  5. http://nccam.nih.gov/news/camstats/2007/camsurvey_fs1.htm
  6. Global Catholic Statistics: 1905 and Today by Albert J. Fritsch, SJ, PhD.
  7. Davey, H.E. The Japanese Way of the Artist, Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley, 2007