Is the System of Reiki a Cult?

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      • Audio of the article “Is the System of Reiki a Cult?” by Bronwen Stiene


    Simply put, the system of Reiki is a number of practices that a man in Japan in the early 1900s put together to help himself and his students with their self-development. Although these practices have been developed upon and altered by numerous people over the last 100 years, a thread of five major elements runs through all versions of the system. These are hands-on healing, Reiki precepts (or ideals), 4 symbols and mantras, meditations or techniques, and a spiritual blessing called a reiju [[Reiju has been developed into what is known as an attunement in the West.]]These elements when brought together form a complete system – one that holds no dogma, only personal practice for spiritual development and healing expertise.

    A cult, however, according to Michael Langone, is: A group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing, and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control designed to advance the goals of the group’s leader, to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community.

    Cults are groups that often exploit members psychologically and/or financially, typically by making members comply with leadership’s demands through certain types of psychological manipulation.[[Cults: Questions and Answers, Michael D. Langone, Ph.D., Cultic Studies: Information about Cults and Psychological Manipulation.]]The system of Reiki has none of these cult elements. However it could be possible for an individual to misuse the popularity of a system such as Reiki to develop a cult-like organisation. With the system of Reiki lacking regulation the way it currently does, this would not be such a difficult task to achieve. The reason for this article is to clarify for prospective clients and students where a teacher of the system of Reiki may have devolved the system into one with cult-like tendencies.

    Curiously, no human being believes that he or she would be gullible enough to be taken in by a cult yet look at this list of possible cult members developed by the Cult Hotline & Clinic[[]] :

    The recruit can be almost anyone including:
    • From middle to upper socio-economic family backgrounds
    • Of average or above-average intelligence
    • Usually well educated, including college graduates
    • Intellectually curious
    • Idealistic or seeking meaning or purpose in life

    ‘Idealistic’ souls who are reaching out for a Reiki treatment or course need to be sure that they are not involving themselves in a group that has cult-like possibilities. Below we look at some of the points brought up by Michael Langone and compare them with elements of the system of Reiki. This will help clarify whether teachings using the guise of Reiki are cult-like in nature.

    Excessive Devotion or Dedication to Some Person, Idea or Thing
    No teacher within the system of Reiki would require devotion or even dedication for him or herself, any previous teachers of the system or any other Reiki aspect.

    The system of Reiki is about supporting practitioners in self-development and healing and this can only be fulfilled by the practitioner him or herself with the understanding that “the only person who can heal you is yourself”. A teacher’s role is to be a support for the student’s personal practice.

    Respect, not devotion, should be a natural part of a Reiki teacher/student relationship. Yet respect can only be earned, never expected or demanded.

    Historically within the system of Reiki there is a founder and his name is Usui Mikao. Unlike many cults, he holds no messianic position within the system. There is, in reality, so very little factual information about him as a person – except for a sentence or two provided through the Usui Reiki Ryôhô Gakkai[[Reiki Society, said to be created by Usui Mikao, which still exists in Japan today]] and conflicting parables told by Hawayo Takata[[Hawayo Takata was the first known practicing teacher of the system of Reiki outside of Japan]] – that it would be suspicious if a Reiki group claimed superior knowledge of his life or his personal experiences.

    If a Reiki teacher creates personalities that require excessive devotion or dedication within their Reiki history or develops historical stories that indicate that the teachings are “special”, “unique” or “better than” then once again this would be suspicious without the relevant facts to back it up.

    Being pressured into defending or promoting a Reiki teacher by repeating false assertions or stories would be another example of a Reiki student becoming enmeshed in a cult-like environment.

    Unfortunately the title “Master” which has been used by Reiki teachers in the West has connotations of one having power over something or of one being of a higher standing than another. The system of Reiki is not about either. Due to the lack of Reiki regulation, the term Reiki Master may even be utilised by one who has minimal Reiki training. Within Reiki, one’s title does not convey the abilities of the individual. For this reason the term Reiki Teacher is becoming a popular, and often more reasonable alternative, to Reiki Master.

    Employing Unethically Manipulative Techniques of Persuasion and Control
    Creating “special” practices, an inner circle of people, and detailed, often unreasonable or impractical rules to follow are some of the practices used by cults.

    The system of Reiki is an open practice that as you work through each level you learn new techniques, 4 symbols and mantras and, if you follow through with the practice, you eventually learn to practice reiju. Some of these elements are required to be taught from teacher to student and therefore reading about them in a book is fairly ineffective. For this reason the system of Reiki is never taught from a book but always from teacher to student directly. It is not that these elements are a secret but the system is an energetic one rather than solely technical and for the teacher and student to make a meaningful energetic connection this is required.

    The form of the teachings might be considered to be the rules ie. in the system of Reiki there are the compulsory elements such as the five elements mentioned previously. Within the form there are many individual understandings of what Reiki is or how the system works because it is a personal practice and its lack of dogma allows deep introspection.

    The content of the Reiki precepts is about as far as setting “rules” for students goes and they are merely suggestions for living a healthy and happy life. One translation of them is:

    For Today Only:

    Do not anger
    Do not worry
    Be humble
    Be honest in your work
    Be compassionate to yourself and others

    There are no rules about what you must eat, drink, wear, say or think.

    Benjamin Zablocki, a professor of Sociology, states that cults are at high risk of becoming abusive to members. This is in part due to members’ adulation of charismatic leaders contributing to the leaders becoming corrupted by power. Zablocki defines a cult as an ideological organization held together by charismatic relationships and that demands total commitment.[[Dr. Zablocki, Benjamin, Paper presented to a conference, Cults: Theory and Treatment Issues, May 31, 1997 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania]]Exploiting Members Psychologically and/or Financially
    People pay for Reiki courses – it is only natural to pay for a service. But how many levels are there within the system ie. how long do you keep on paying money to your teacher? Generally 3, and sometimes 4, levels is an accepted number of levels within the Usui system of Reiki.

    It is never a requirement to complete more than the level of Reiki you are interested in. Completing one level does also not automatically mean that you must move on to the next level and so on.

    Psychological and financial exploitation is common where students feel pressured to support the actions of the leader in any number of ways. It generally always comes back to building the power of the leader. Cults are the creation of an individual who has an ulterior motive that uses teachings or beliefs to gain power psychologically and/or financially over others.

    The system of Reiki is about empowering individuals, not taking their power away.

    Leaving a Cult
    If a student believes that he or she is involved in a cult-like organisation it can be very difficult to leave, often resulting in trauma. The student may suddenly feel unsupported as he or she may lose friends and community by leaving. The emotional investment and time and money spent within the organisation by the student may also be felt to have been a waste.[[Barrett, D. V. The New Believers – A survey of sects, cults and alternative religions 2001 UK, Cassell & Co.]]Support Organisations for Reiki Practitioners
    Reiki practitioners who feel that they have been manipulated either psychologically or financially, have been pressured to complete more teachings or to undertake actions or support actions which are unethical and aimed at gaining more power for their teacher, have been given unreasonable or ridiculous “rules” to work with, or feel misused in any other way should contact an outside organisation for help.

    One organisation that can be of help is a national Reiki organisation.

    Always fully research any teachings you are about to undertake. Ensure that you aware of what is expected from you within the organisation and know what your own expectations are. Check with a national Reiki body, like the Australian Reiki Connection before taking the plunge and signing up.

    With these thoughts in mind you are sure to find Reiki teachings which will support you with your personal development and healing.

    Resources about Cults Online
    Cultic Studies: Information about Cults and Psychological Manipulation
    Cult Information Centre
    Cult Awareness Information Centre
    Cult Hotline & Clinic

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