By Suma Varughese
What has happened to Reiki, at one point the hot favourite New Age activity? Has it disappeared, stagnated or is it merely reinventing itself? An investigation
Dr Mikao Usui, who rediscovered Reiki, conceived of energy exchange after bad experiences with free healing. Now Reiki masters justify the hefty fee as being commensurate with its value. But can the worth of spirituality ever be conveyed through money?
Remember Reiki? The attitude of gratitude? The 27 positions? The five principles? If memory seems to be stirring hazily from the turbid depths of your mind, don’t apologise. It’s been a long time since Reiki was top of the mind recall.
Rewind to the mid-1990s, though, and it’s another story. Spirituality was still covert then, not yet a conversation piece at parties and lunches. Reiki changed all that. Rising swiftly from virtually nowhere, it spread like forest fire. Reiki seminars, healings, masterships and grandmasterships followed in rapid succession.
As the fever mounted, Reiki ads multiplied, and new forms of Reiki became popular. Karuna Reiki, Teramai, Saichem, Kriya and various others. People did distant Reiki for ailing friends and family, and gave Reiki to pets, telephones, computers and traffic jams. They healed relationships with it and used it to overcome fear, resistance and anger. They gave themselves Reiki in trains, taught Reiki to students and the mentally challenged and went to hospitals and slums with it.
Stories were told of people getting cured of cancer and AIDS and other grave maladies. Healers and teachers combined it with crystals, aura reading, naturopathy, ayurveda and whatever else therapy they had a passing acquaintance with. Many came out with their own version of Reiki. A panacea for mankind had finally been discovered, it seemed.
And then somewhere along the line, it petered out. Reiki ads thinned, Reiki masters became a dime a dozen and workshops and seminars ran on empty. Public attention tired and turned its gaze on the next Big Thing: Feng Shui (which also, incidentally, seems to have had its day, but that’s another story).
So what do we make out of this whole phenomenon? Is this the very nature of rapidfire fads? Or is there more to the decline and fall of Reiki?
In the first place, has it declined? Usha Thakore, Reiki teacher since 1996, admits that where she used to get 10 to 15 students in a workshop, she now gets four or five. Corroborates Alpa Parikh, a naturopathy and Reiki healer: “Nowadays, the public is less interested in Reiki.” Narendra Bhatia, former event manager for Paula Horan who is reputed to have brought Reiki to India in 1989, had started a Reiki centre at one time, but is today a disillusioned man who has left Reiki to return to the printing business.
So why has Reiki fallen upon bad times?
Shehnaaz Sheikh, an activist for women’s rights turned seeker, has been a healer since 1995 and Reiki teacher since 1998. She says: “One of the main reasons for its decline is commercialisation. People ask, ‘How much money will I make? When can I become a Master?’ Even the motive of healing became money. People said, “Yeh cancer patient hain, itna charge karna.’” She and several others point to the current trend to cram in the teaching of Reiki I, II and III over a weekend without the earlier insistence of the 21-day self-healing practice in between.
Gulrukh Bala, a healer and teacher since 1994, says: “Since 1998 itself, I was getting people who came to me for a refresher course after learning under someone else because they were not getting results. If the intention of the teacher is pure, then energy flows, but if the intentions shifts to the small i, it stops.”
She adds: “In 1999, I got a message from a medium that I should stop the practice of Reiki because it had got tarnished and move to something else. I dropped Reiki that year on the day of Guru Purnima and started what I call Heartlight Ascension.”
“Making masters has become so easy. In each street there is one,” says one healer who prefers to remain anonymous.
Some are more concerned with the plummeting rates. “People sell all three degrees for Rs 1,000 now,” complains Meera Kotak, a Reiki teacher since the mid 90s. “It has lost its respect.”
The question of money in Reiki has been a vexed subject since its inception.
Dr Pradip Diwan, one of the earliest to learn Reiki, recalls that Shamal Durve (who learnt Reiki under Paula Horan and is presently the initiator of Reiki India Research Centre in Badlapur, near Mumbai), had told him when she called to introduce him to the subject, that unlike other spiritual courses, there would be a charge for it. “But I was interested so I did it.”
The reason for the mandatory charge for Reiki teachings and healings revolve around the experiences of the man credited with rediscovering this ancient therapy. Dr Mikao Usui (earlier considered to have been a Japanese Christian monk, but according to Paula Horan, fresh research proves him to have been a practising Buddhist), was consumed with the urge to find the secret of Christ’s miraculous healings. Prolonged research finally divulged some sutras that talked about healing energies (originating in India according to Indophiles and in Tibet, according to others).
Embarking on a 21-day fast and meditative retreat on Mount Kuryama, he experienced a vision in which he saw bubbles with Sanskrit words and symbols. Thrilled, he ran down the mountain. On the way he stubbed his toe. By placing his hand on the toe, he controlled the bleeding instantly. Aware now of the power in his hands, Dr Usui created a system of healing by placing hands on 27 points in the body for three minutes each. Wanting to give help where it was most needed, he used it to heal the beggars in the market place, thinking that with their infirmities cured, they would become respectable citizens. To his disappointment, he found that after a while they returned to their old ways.
Concluding that free treatment was not valued, he conceived of the idea of energy exchange, which meant that something must be given in exchange for the healing. In the beginning, says Paula Horan, that something was not necessarily money, but labour. Money seems to have definitively entered the picture when Hawayo Takata, credited with having brought Reiki to the West in 1940, created a fee-charging system. The first degree would cost the participant a week’s salary, the second a month’s and the third, a year’s.
Reiki masters justify the charges as being commensurate with its value, but one can question if the worth of anything, particularly spirituality, can ever be conveyed through money. Indeed, to fix a monetary or material price for what is above the material is actually pulling it down, it can be argued. Without being cynical, one can also conclude that the emphasis of money in Reiki has at least something to do with the fact that it came to India from the West, never the most austere of cultures.
Such guidelines ended in lakhs being exchanged for a mastership and a grandmastership. The fees for the initial levels were more reasonable though still high. Level I went from Rs 500 to Rs 1,000; level II around Rs 2,000 and Level III Rs 5,000. Paula herself charged Rs 50,000 for mastership and those who learnt under her also charge a similar amount. Alpa Parikh, who learnt under a Japanese Master, says she spent more than Rs 2 lakh to receive her mastership and grandmastership.
The consequence of these steep fees was the perception of Reiki as a money-spinner. Housewives, motivational trainers, the unemployed, all sniffed a lucrative employment possibility with what appeared to be minimum qualifications. A weekend here and a weekend there, and voila, one is a master with the possibility of earning serious money. Many even left established careers to jump on to the Reiki bandwagon.
At its inception, some norms were observed. For instance, participants were told to heal themselves with Reiki for 21 days before doing another level. Paula adhered strictly to her requirement that anyone wanting a mastership should spend at least three years in healing others. But these were discarded by the later entrants. In response to the intense competition as more and more ‘masters’ entered the fray, prices were slashed, Reiki was taught in a matter of hours, and finer points like the attitude of gratitude, ignored.
Paula points out that commercialisation is the “nature of samsara everywhere. Even yoga and martial arts are very commercial today.” Nevertheless, Reiki’s high fees gave an inbuilt impetus to exploitation and abuse.
Many also speak of the ‘adulteration’ of Reiki with various other practices. Says Dr Pradip Diwan: “People mix up Kabbala, vastu, etc, make a bhelpuri out of it and sell it. And I question some of the symbols like swastika and trishul. How can they be part of Reiki?
Adds Meera Kotak: “Yoga teachers are combining it with yoga, acupressure healers are also combining it with their therapy. The purity of the lineage is lost.”
Reiki also entertains many belief systems not necessarily open to experiential knowledge. For instance, there is the assumption that Reiki channels universal energy unlike Pranic Healing which is supposed to channel personal energy. Is there a difference? Does not all energy move through the healer, making it both universal and personal?
It is also believed that Reiki flows to wherever it is needed and that the recipient draws the energy, unlike in Pranic Healing where the healer gives his energy. Who says so? How do they know?
And what about attunements? Can Reiki masters really open up chakras from the outside? Can they really align people to universal life energy?
Says Paula: “A Reiki master does not open up chakras. He merely transfers through osmosis his own quiet mind and greater life force to the participant. This is why I insist on three years of practice before mastership.”
Because Reiki requires belief and is easy to practice, it is hugely popular at the mass level, but has limited appeal to serious students of spirituality. They may well learn and use Reiki, but will usually find other paths for further growth. Many Reiki masters too follow a natural progression of moving on to other techniques and therapies. Shamal Durve is a follower of Sri Sri Ravishankar while Paula herself went on to become a disciple of the Advaita guru H.W.L. Poonja.
Shorn of the mystical wrappings, how does Reiki work, which it undoubtedly does? If all is energy, as even science today is proving, and we are one creation, then we are steeped in and surrounded by universal energy. Our access to it will depend on how much in harmony we are with it, which again depends on how well we abide by the laws of the universe. Reiki works through the power of intention and attention. By laying our hands on a certain part of the body, we are directing our attention and intention there. Moreover, Reiki invokes the power of gratitude, which is a beautiful way of aligning ourselves with the larger universe. By that same token, other positive emotions such as compassion and above all, love, should have the same effect.
Moreover, by laying hands on the object of attention, a connection is soldered, thereby creating intimacy and healing relationships not only with humans but with pets and inanimate objects such as vehicles and computers.
Does this mean that technically one can practise Reiki without learning it? Yes, it does. Says Paula: “I look forward to the day when there is no longer a need to train people to be connected to the energy. There is already a natural link.”
Because of Reiki’s focus on energies and so on, there is a natural inclination for pracititioners to move into western occult practices such as channeling, ascension, crystals, etc. The talk is of the violet flame, lightworkers, dowsing, ascended masters and so on, all of which can seem a little remote from the real task of spirituality, which is self-transformation.
Reiki also lays emphasis on personal gain. Says Meera Kotak: “Before I did Reiki I practised Vipassana for five years, but it was austere. Reiki brought play into my spiritual life and also the possibility of asking the Universe for things.”
But having tabulated the long litany of Reiki’s negatives, one must look at its virtues as well, which too are considerable. Almost all the Reiki masters interviewed admit to having derived much benefit from the practice.
Says Usha Thakore: “I used to be very emotional, which took a toll on my relationship with my siblings. The principle of gratitude changed all that. Today, anger is almost gone and so is worry. When problems appear, I feel confident of being able to handle them. My relationships work very well. In fact, I have an almost telepathic connection with my mother-in-law. I cook whatever she wants to eat without her having to ask for it. I even started to speak English during the first day of my Reiki seminar. I’ve lost weight and people say I look younger. My life has been transformed by Reiki.”
Meera Kotak, who practises Reiki regularly, says that she healed herself of a thyroid problem and an ovarian cyst through it. She attributes 50 per cent of her spiritual growth to Reiki. “Because of Reiki, I learnt crystals and pendulum dowsing.”
As a surgeon, Dr Diwan used Reiki very profitably at work. “I used to tell the more educated patients about Reiki and offer it as an option to an operation. Many cases were resolved. One person who is today a Reiki master himself, was healed of his bleeding piles on the first day of attunement itself. He also healed of an addiction to gutkha.” He adds: “When there is too much bleeding in an operation, I do Reiki and the bleeding stops.”
Dr Alpa Parikh was compelled to learn Reiki to help heal her husband, bedridden by sciatica and spondylitis. “My husband was soon able to stand up,” she says. Today, she combines Reiki with naturopathy and uses it to heal psychological disorders as well as arthritis, back problems, knee pain, etc.
Personally, she uses it on her family and plants. Says she: “When we travel out of town and there is no one to water the plants, I give them distant Reiki, and not even a single plant is worse for wear when we return.”
One of Reiki’s biggest contributions has been an easy introduction to spirituality for thousands. Requiring nothing other than laying hands on oneself, its appeal is universal. Says Akanksha, Usha Thakore’s teenage daughter who was introduced to it at the age of 9. “It’s the simplest way to get in touch with spirituality. Anyone can learn it.” She says that learning Reiki gave her mental stability, the ability to get a grip on life.
Indeed, Reiki has actually given rise to a bonafide guru, according to Pradip Diwan, referring to one of his students, Mangesh Wadavkar, who today has thousands of followers.
As a first aid kit to help oneself or one’s family members, it is invaluable. Even those suffering from major illnesses can be soothed, comforted and helped to heal through Reiki. As for its use in everyday life, there is no end to it. “I give Reiki to my children during exams,” says Usha Thakore, “and whenever anyone in the family loses something they call me to give the object Reiki. Recently, a girl in the local train was distracted because she had lost an important file. I told her to look for it again and gave the file Reiki. Sure enough, she found it.”
Others cover any important future meeting with white light (its use is taught in Reiki classes) to ensure a positive outcome, put themselves to sleep with it, eliminate stress with it and use it as a power tool in all aspects of their lives. As a drugless and costless therapy, it has its place in every person’s life.
Reiki is also a very effective antidote to the alienation of the modern urban age. Starved as we are for tactile comfort, the Reiki touch can heal the profound loneliness and despair of those locked in their own psyches. Many healers aver that Reiki works particularly well for psychological disorders.
How then is Reiki to be revived and cleansed of its present evils? Many would say that it is already happening. Says Meera Kotak: “I think there’s a second wave happening. Those who got left out of the first one want to learn. Myself and my partner, Anand Tendolkar, are getting lots of new students suddenly.” Says Paula Horan, “What’s happening now here happened in Germany 10 years back. At that time, people were questioning its future, but lately, my German publisher has reprinted my first book, so obviously it has revived. I believe that Reiki will find its balance. Those who are into it for money will fall by the wayside, but sincere practitioners with integrity will thrive.”
Many point to Shamal Durve, who unfortunately refuses to be interviewed, as an example of the kind of sincere practitioner who will keep the Reiki flame burning. Charging a nominal amount and deeply committed to the therapy, she has trained many hundreds.
There are other low-profile practitioners of her ilk. In a letter to Life Positive in response to the letter by Harinder Singh Bhalla in the February 2004 issue wondering what has happened to Reiki, (which incidentally is the inspiration behind this article), reader Parvati Swaminathan says that she has been teaching Reiki both in Delhi and Bangalore and that her sincere and dedicated students have spawned much healing.
Sincerity, dedication, integrity, seriousness. Perhaps it is time to change the currency of energy exchange. Instead of asking students to pay through money, they should be asked to pay in the currency of such qualities. Only those rich in them should be permitted to learn. The rest should put themselves to the task of amassing this wealth.
Perhaps then, Reiki will fulfil its potential to be a spiritual path that can lead the aspirant all the way to God, while bringing health and comfort to all those who avail of its healing touch.
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