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25 March 2009

GUIDELINES FOR EVALUATING REIKI AS AN ALTERNATIVE THERAPY

Committee on Doctrine

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

1. From time to time questions have been raised about various alternative therapies that are

often available in the United States. Bishops are sometimes asked, "What is the Church's

position on such therapies?" The USCCB Committee on Doctrine has prepared this resource in

order to assist bishops in their responses.

I. HEALING BY DIVINE GRACE AND HEALING BY NATURAL POWERS

2. The Church recognizes two kinds of healing: healing by divine grace and healing that

utilizes the powers of nature. As for the first, we can point to the ministry of Christ, who

performed many physical healings and who commissioned his disciples to carry on that work. In

fidelity to this commission, from the time of the Apostles the Church has interceded on behalf of

the sick through the invocation of the name of the Lord Jesus, asking for healing through the

power of the Holy Spirit, whether in the form of the sacramental laying on of hands and

anointing with oil or of simple prayers for healing, which often include an appeal to the saints for

their aid. As for the second, the Church has never considered a plea for divine healing, which

comes as a gift from God, to exclude recourse to natural means of healing through the practice of

medicine.1 Alongside her sacrament of healing and various prayers for healing, the Church has a

long history of caring for the sick through the use of natural means. The most obvious sign of

this is the great number of Catholic hospitals that are found throughout our country.

1 See Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Prayers for Healing (14 September 2000), I, 3:

"Obviously, recourse to prayer does not exclude, but rather encourages the use of effective natural means for

preserving and restoring health, as well as leading the Church's sons and daughters to care for the sick, to assist them

in body and spirit, and to seek to cure disease."

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3. The two kinds of healing are not mutually exclusive. Because it is possible to be healed

by divine power does not mean that we should not use natural means at our disposal. It is not

our decision whether or not God will heal someone by supernatural means. As the Catechism of

the Catholic Church points out, the Holy Spirit sometimes gives to certain human beings "a

special charism of healing so as to make manifest the power of the grace of the risen Lord."2

This power of healing is not at human disposal, however, for "even the most intense prayers do

not always obtain the healing of all illnesses."3 Recourse to natural means of healing therefore

remains entirely appropriate, as these are at human disposal. In fact, Christian charity demands

that we not neglect natural means of healing people who are ill.

II. REIKI AND HEALING

A) The Origins and Basic Characteristics of Reiki

4. Reiki is a technique of healing that was invented in Japan in the late 1800s by Mikao

Usui, who was studying Buddhist texts.4 According to Reiki teaching, illness is caused by some

kind of disruption or imbalance in one's "life energy." A Reiki practitioner effects healing by

placing his or her hands in certain positions on the patient's body in order to facilitate the flow of

Reiki, the "universal life energy," from the Reiki practitioner to the patient. There are numerous

designated hand positions for addressing different problems. Reiki proponents assert that the

practitioner is not the source of the healing energy, but merely a channel for it.5 To become a

Reiki practitioner, one must receive an "initiation" or "attunement" from a Reiki Master. This

2 Catechism, no. 1508.

3 Catechism, no. 1508.

4 It has also been claimed that he merely rediscovered an ancient Tibetan technique, but evidence for this claim is

lacking.

5 As we shall see below, however, distinctions between self, world, and God tend to collapse in Reiki thought.

Some Reiki teachers explain that one eventually reaches the realization that the self and the "universal life energy"

are one, "that we are universal life force and that everything is energy, including ourselves" (Libby Barnett and

Maggie Chambers with Susan Davidson, Reiki Energy Medicine: Bringing Healing Touch into Home, Hospital, and

Hospice [Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press, 1996], p. 48; see also p. 102).

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ceremony makes one "attuned" to the "universal life energy" and enables one to serve as a

conduit for it. There are said to be three different levels of attunement (some teach that there are

four). At the higher levels, one can allegedly channel Reiki energy and effect healings at a

distance, without physical contact.

B) Reiki as a Natural Means of Healing

5. Although Reiki proponents seem to agree that Reiki does not represent a religion of its

own, but a technique that may be utilized by people from many religious traditions, it does have

several aspects of a religion. Reiki is frequently described as a "spiritual" kind of healing as

opposed to the common medical procedures of healing using physical means. Much of the

literature on Reiki is filled with references to God, the Goddess, the "divine healing power," and

the "divine mind." The life force energy is described as being directed by God, the "Higher

Intelligence," or the "divine consciousness." Likewise, the various "attunements" which the

Reiki practitioner receives from a Reiki Master are accomplished through "sacred ceremonies"

that involve the manifestation and contemplation of certain "sacred symbols" (which have

traditionally been kept secret by Reiki Masters). Furthermore, Reiki is frequently described as a

"way of living," with a list of five "Reiki Precepts" stipulating proper ethical conduct.

6. Nevertheless, there are some Reiki practitioners, primarily nurses, who attempt to

approach Reiki simply as a natural means of healing. Viewed as natural means of healing,

however, Reiki becomes subject to the standards of natural science. It is true that there may be

means of natural healing that have not yet been understood or recognized by science. The basic

criteria for judging whether or not one should entrust oneself to any particular natural means of

healing, however, remain those of science.

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7. Judged according to these standards, Reiki lacks scientific credibility. It has not been

accepted by the scientific and medical communities as an effective therapy. Reputable scientific

studies attesting to the efficacy of Reiki are lacking, as is a plausible scientific explanation as to

how it could possibly be efficacious. The explanation of the efficacy of Reiki depends entirely

on a particular view of the world as permeated by this "universal life energy" (Reiki) that is

subject to manipulation by human thought and will. Reiki practitioners claim that their training

allows one to channel the "universal life energy" that is present in all things. This "universal life

energy," however, is unknown to natural science. As the presence of such energy has not been

observed by means of natural science, the justification for these therapies necessarily must come

from something other than science.

C) Reiki and the Healing Power of Christ

8. Some people have attempted to identify Reiki with the divine healing known to

Christians.6 They are mistaken. The radical difference can be immediately seen in the fact that

for the Reiki practitioner the healing power is at human disposal. Some teachers want to avoid

this implication and argue that it is not the Reiki practitioner personally who effects the healing,

but the Reiki energy directed by the divine consciousness. Nevertheless, the fact remains that for

Christians the access to divine healing is by prayer to Christ as Lord and Savior, while the

essence of Reiki is not a prayer but a technique that is passed down from the "Reiki Master" to

the pupil, a technique that once mastered will reliably produce the anticipated results.7 Some

practitioners attempt to Christianize Reiki by adding a prayer to Christ, but this does not affect

6 For example, see "Reiki and Christianity" at http://iarp.org/articles/Reiki_and_Christianity.htm and "Christian

Reiki" at http://areikihealer.tripod.com/christianreiki.html and the website www.christianreiki.org.

7 Reiki Masters offer courses of training with various levels of advancement, services for which the teachers require

significant financial remuneration. The pupil has the expectation and the Reiki Master gives the assurance that one's

investment of time and money will allow one to master a technique that will predictably produce results.

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the essential nature of Reiki. For these reasons, Reiki and other similar therapeutic techniques

cannot be identified with what Christians call healing by divine grace.

9. The difference between what Christians recognize as healing by divine grace and Reiki

therapy is also evident in the basic terms used by Reiki proponents to describe what happens in

Reiki therapy, particularly that of "universal life energy." Neither the Scriptures nor the

Christian tradition as a whole speak of the natural world as based on "universal life energy" that

is subject to manipulation by the natural human power of thought and will. In fact, this worldview

has its origins in eastern religions and has a certain monist and pantheistic character, in that

distinctions among self, world, and God tend to fall away.8 We have already seen that Reiki

practitioners are unable to differentiate clearly between divine healing power and power that is at

human disposal.

III. CONCLUSION

10. Reiki therapy finds no support either in the findings of natural science or in Christian

belief. For a Catholic to believe in Reiki therapy presents insoluble problems. In terms of caring

for one's physical health or the physical health of others, to employ a technique that has no

scientific support (or even plausibility) is generally not prudent.

11. In terms of caring for one's spiritual health, there are important dangers. To use Reiki

one would have to accept at least in an implicit way central elements of the worldview that

8 While this seems implicit in Reiki teaching, some proponents state explicitly that there is ultimately no distinction

between and the self and Reiki. "Alignment with your Self and being Reiki is an ongoing process. Willingness to

continuously engage in this process furthers your evolution and can lead to the sustained recognition and ultimate

experience that you are universal life force" (The Reiki Healing Connection [Libby Barnett, M.S.W.],

http://reikienergy.com/classes.htm, accessed 2/6/2008 [emphasis in original]). Diane Stein summarizes the meaning

of some of the "sacred symbols" used in Reiki attunements as: "The Goddess in me salutes the Goddess in you";

"Man and God becoming one" (Essential Reiki Teaching Manual: A Companion Guide for Reiki Healers [Berkeley,

Cal.: Crossing Press, 2007], pp. 129-31). Anne Charlish and Angela Robertshaw explain that the highest Reiki

attunement "marks a shift from the ego and self to a feeling of oneness with the universal life-force energy" (Secrets

of Reiki [New York, N.Y.: DK Publishing, 2001], p. 84).

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undergirds Reiki theory, elements that belong neither to Christian faith nor to natural science.

Without justification either from Christian faith or natural science, however, a Catholic who puts

his or her trust in Reiki would be operating in the realm of superstition, the no-man's-land that is

neither faith nor science.9 Superstition corrupts one's worship of God by turning one's religious

feeling and practice in a false direction.10 While sometimes people fall into superstition through

ignorance, it is the responsibility of all who teach in the name of the Church to eliminate such

ignorance as much as possible.

12. Since Reiki therapy is not compatible with either Christian teaching or scientific

evidence, it would be inappropriate for Catholic institutions, such as Catholic health care

facilities and retreat centers, or persons representing the Church, such as Catholic chaplains, to

promote or to provide support for Reiki therapy.

Most Rev. William E. Lori (Chairman) Most Rev. John C. Nienstedt

Bishop of Bridgeport Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis

Most Rev. Leonard P. Blair Most Rev. Arthur J. Serratelli

Bishop of Toledo Bishop of Paterson

Most Rev. Josť H. Gomez Most Rev. Allen H. Vigneron

Archbishop of San Antonio Bishop of Oakland

Most Rev. Robert J. McManus Most Rev. Donald W. Wuerl

Bishop of Worcester Archbishop of Washington

9 Some forms of Reiki teach of a need to appeal for the assistance of angelic beings or "Reiki spirit guides." This

introduces the further danger of exposure to malevolent forces or powers.

10 See Catechism, no. 2111; St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae II-II, q. 92, a. 1.

 

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