By Suma Varughese May 2004 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? Reiki is an 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. “Reiki will find its balance. Those who are into it for money will fall by the wayside, but sincere practitioners with integrity will thrive,” says Paula Horan, who for some time has focused more on her spiritual workshops and bodywork training 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 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 wit
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