Issue: What is Reiki? Is there medical evidence that Reiki is effective? Is Reiki compatible with the Catholic faith?
Response: Reiki (“ray-key”) means “universal life energy” or “universal life force.” Advocates describe Reiki as “a hands-on spiritual healing tradition”1 in which
“spiritual energy” is communicated from one individual to another. Regarding its effectiveness, even Reiki practitioners acknowledge that “evidence for the
efficacy of Reiki is mostly anecdotal, and clinical research is minimal.”2
Reiki has foundational beliefs and practices that are irreconcilable with Catholicism, including not recognizing Jesus as a divine Person and the Savior of all mankind. Reiki involves a belief similar to pantheism, in which a universal life energy—not Jesus—provides life to all living beings and is also said to govern the Reiki healing process. Because Reiki practitioners believe they can harness and use this universal life energy, Reiki is not simply a form of superstition but rather opens oneself up to dangerous involvement in the occult practices of divination and magic (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 2111, 2116-17).
Discussion: Mikao Usui, a Buddhist monk, is said to have “rediscovered” Reiki in 1914 while praying and fasting on a retreat. He also understood that he was to share
this healing power with others. The term “Reiki” comes from “Rei” (whose simplest meaning is “universal”) and “ki” (“life force” or “life energy”). Reiki became pervasive in Japan, was introduced in Hawaii by Hawayo Takata in 1930, and reached the U.S. mainland in the early 1970s.
Reiki students ascend through levels of proficiency. Masters pass on Reiki to students through “attunements,” a process that involves the laying on of hands and which is said to open “recipients’ channels to facilitate the flow of Reiki.”3
While it has the appearance of physical therapy, Reiki does not rely on a therapist’s skilled hands. Rather, to aid the healing process, Reiki practitioners rely on spiritual agents which, upon close examination, are non-Christian.
What Animates the Body?
The Church teaches that all things and persons were created through Jesus (cf. Col. 1:16). The Church also teaches that every man has a unique soul that animates the body, i.e., makes his material body “a living, human body” (Catechism, no. 365). Reiki agrees that the life principle of man is spiritual, but does not assert that this life principle is the unique soul. Rather, the life principle of all men is “Ki,” which is
the nonphysical energy that animates all living things. As long as something is alive, it has life force circulating through it and surrounding it; when it dies, the life force departs. If your life force is low, or if there is a restriction in its flow, you will be more vulnerable to illness. When it is high, and flowing freely, you are less likely to get sick. Life force plays an important role in everything we do. It animates the body and also
is the primary energy of our emotions, thoughts and spiritual life.4
“Any energy used as part of the body’s operations—such as the electricity in our nervous systems—is material in nature, not spiritual,” counters This Rock Magazine, affirming the Church’s teaching in an editorial response in the October-December 2001 issue. “The various forms of Hinduism and Buddhism that posit the existence of a life energy (ki or kundalini) interpret that energy as spiritual,” the magazine adds. “Since this is contrary to
Christian theology, it is inappropriate for Christians to participate in activities based on this belief.”
Who or What Is Invoked?
As noted above, in Reiki, spiritual energy is said to be transferred from master to student during the attunement process. The Catechism makes clear that all “attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others—even if this were for the sake of restoring their health—are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion” (no. 2117). The Church also warns against the occult practice of “divination,” which include using mediums to communicate with spirits (no. 2116). The attunement process, as described by Reiki advocates, involves attempting to use what the
Church would describe as occult powers:
This process opens the crown, heart, and palm chakras and creates a special link between the student and the Reiki source.
The Reiki attunement is a powerful spiritual experience. The attunement energies are channeled into the student through the Reiki Master. The process is guided by the Rei or God-consciousness and makes adjustments in the process depending on the needs of each student. The attunement is also attended by Reiki guides and other spiritual beings who help implement the process. Many report having mystical experiences involving personal messages, healings, visions, and past life experiences.5
Note that while Reiki Masters tap into and direct Reiki, it is the “Rei,” i.e., “God consciousness,” who is said to oversee the whole process. In its 2003 interdicastery report on the New Age, the Vatican distinguishes between “pantheism,” “the belief that everything is God,” and “panentheism,” i.e., “that everything is in God and God is in everything.”6 Given its personal description of the divine “Rei,” Reiki is more accurately categorized as panentheism, employing a belief in God that is clearly not Christian:
The word Rei as it is used in Reiki is more accurately interpreted to mean supernatural knowledge or spiritual consciousness. This is the wisdom that
comes from God or the Higher Self. This is the God-Consciousness which is all knowing. It understands each person completely. It knows the cause of all
problems and difficulties and knows what to do to heal them.7
Jesus is not “a universal life energy,” “supernatural knowledge” or “spiritual consciousness” as described by the Reiki belief system. Jesus is a divine Person who is all-knowing and all-powerful. In addition, a Catholic may not and should not invoke God other than in the name of the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit, i.e., the Holy Trinity. Invoking God or a “God consciousness” otherwise makes oneself vulnerable to an evil spirit or spirits that might become present. Furthermore, while the Bible and Christian Tradition affirm praying with the laying on of hands, the attunement process is something quite different. It is not Christian in origin and therefore, not surprisingly, does not invoke the Persons of the Trinity. It presumes to invoke an impersonal “God Consciousness,” which is assisted in attunement process by unnamed “spiritual beings.”
By What Authority?
Further, in their attempts to recruit Catholic practitioners, Reiki advocates openly oppose orthodox Catholicism in favor of heretical forms of Christianity that existed in the early Church. Jesus is said to have healed in a manner similar to Reiki and to have also passed this “secret knowledge” on to certain followers:
The early followers of Jesus’ teachings were made up of several groups. One such group was the Gnostics.8 They practiced laying on of hands and professed to have a secret knowledge that had been passed on to them by Jesus and his disciples. The Gnostics were made up of many smaller groups some of which were known as the Docetists, the Marcionites, and the Carpocratians. . . .
When Christianity became organized after the second century, its teachings were centered around faith and the official teachings of the church, rather than healing or “good works” and inner guidance as practiced by the Gnostics. At this time, those promoting the organization of the church began subduing and banishing those Gnostics who would not conform to the authority of the newly developing Church. In addition they tried to destroy the Gnostic gospels. With the elimination of the Gnostics and the establishment of the Official Christian Church, the practice of laying on hands by lay Christians was strongly discouraged.9
Affirmation of the gnostics is common among New Age enthusiasts. It is also telling. For example, the Docetists believed that Jesus merely appeared to have a human body, thereby denying the Incarnation and God’s salvific plan for mankind through the Sacrifice of Calvary. In its document on the New Age, the Vatican adds the following on gnosticism:
An adequate Christian discernment of New Age thought and practice cannot fail to recognize that, like second and third century gnosticism, it represents something of a compendium of positions that the Church has identified as heterodox. John Paul II warns with regard to the “return of ancient gnostic ideas under the guise of the so-called New Age: We cannot delude ourselves that this will lead toward a renewal of religion. It is only a new way of practicing gnosticism – that attitude of the spirit that, in the name of a profound knowledge of God, results in distorting His Word and
replacing it with purely human words. Gnosticism never completely abandoned the realm of Christianity. Instead, it has always existed side by side with Christianity, sometimes taking the shape of a philosophical movement, but more often assuming the characteristics of a religion or a para-religion in distinct, if not declared, conflict with all that is essentially Christian.”10
As a result of its incompatibility with Catholicism, prominent Church leaders have condemned the practice of Reiki, including Cardinal Norberto Rivera of Mexico City in his 1996 pastoral letter on the New Age, “A Call to Vigilance.”11 In his Pentecost 2003 pastoral letter, “Jesus, the Way, the Truth, the Light,” Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, also warned against New Age practices. While Cardinal Pell didn’t mention Reiki by name, his spokesman Msgr. Peter Elliott cited Reiki healing as dangerous because of its emphasis on spirit guides in a follow-up interview in a major Australian newspaper.12 In addition, there is the 2003 provisional report on the New Age, Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the “New Age,” a cooperative effort of a Vatican congregation and two Pontifical councils. The document does not mention Reiki by name, but condemns processes integral to Reiki, namely, “psychic healing” and “communication
with spirits via mediums or channeling.”13
Calling Upon Spirits
Reiki advocates acknowledge that Reiki involves channeling and psychic practices.14 Attunement, it may be recalled, relies on “Reiki guides” and “other spiritual beings” for the implementation of the process.
What “guides” or “other spiritual beings” would be present? Reiki advocates conclude that, “because Reiki is guided by the God-consciousness, it can never do harm. It always knows what a person needs and will adjust itself to create the effect that is appropriate for them. One never need worry about whether to give Reiki or not. It is always helpful.”15
Yet, as the Church conveys in the Catechism and elsewhere, such spiritual activity is perilous to one’s spiritual well-being (cf. Catechism, nos. 2116-17). Claretian Father John Hampsch, a veteran spiritual director, confirmed that there are spiritual risks with Reiki. In an interview with Catholics United for the Faith, he gave an example of a woman who heard a Reiki master invoke spiritual beings by name while providing her a Reiki treatment. These beings were apparently invoked to “help implement the process.”
“This is dangerous stuff,” said Fr. Hampsch, who said that he was cautious in learning about Reiki before condemning it. While he describes Reiki as a “very subtle” New Age practice, Father Hampsch said that there is undoubted danger, as with other occult practices, because one opens oneself up to the influence of evil spirits. He said that there is always the “devil’s compensation” in occult practices, including improving one’s health, but that the “payment” is always worse, including addictions, problems with relationships, and even suicide. Father Hampsch added that he has spoken to various people who have experienced problems after involvement in Reiki.
What Does Vatican II Say?
Some may argue that Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate (Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions) allows for Catholics to “promote” the genuine truth in non-Christian religions. Article no. 2 of Nostra Aetate does say that we are exhorted to “acknowledge, preserve and promote the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, also their social life and culture.” However, there is a crucial paragraph that
immediately precedes those remarks:
The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of truth which enlightens all men. Yet she proclaims and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and life (Jn. 1:6). In him, in whom God reconciled all things to Himself (2 Cor. 5:18-19), men find the fullness of their religious life.
The Church, therefore, urges her sons to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions. (no. 2, emphasis added)
Clearly, then, the Church’s teaching affirms the genuine truths found in Buddhism, Hinduism and other non-Christian faiths; it does not affirm the distinctive doctrines of each faith that are incompatible with Catholicism. Only the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of truth, and God desires all people to be incorporated into the Church.16
There is also the citation from Vatican II’s Ad Gentes, the Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity, in which Catholics are told to reflect “attentively on how Christian religious life may be able to assimilate the ascetic and contemplative traditions whose seeds were sometimes already planted by God in ancient cultures prior to the preaching of the Gospel” (no. 18).
Note well that the document says “assimilate” and not “accommodate.” The purpose of any catechetical program or retreat center is to form people in the one, true Catholic Faith,17 not to engage in activities that deliberately or may indirectly foster religious indifferentism. That is the important point to make to any catechist or retreat center that professes to be Catholic and is attempting to integrate Reiki. As Ad Gentes itself notes, “As the salt of the earth and light of the world (cf. Mt. 5:13-14), the Church is summoned with special urgency to save and renew every creature. In this way, all things can be restored in Christ, and in Him mankind can compose one family and one people” (no. 1).
A great desire to relieve human suffering is understandable and commendable. Mainstream disciplines seem to provide little recourse. To quote extensively
from the introduction to Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life:
Some say that the Christian religion is patriarchal and authoritarian, that political institutions are unable to improve the world, and that formal (allopathic) medicine simply fails to heal people effectively . . . New Age is attractive mainly because so much of what it offers meets hungers often left unsatisfied by the established institutions.
The Renaissance and the Reformation have shaped the modern western individual . . . with this cult of humanity, religion is internalized in a way which prepares the ground for a celebration of the sacredness of the self. This is why New Age shares many of the values espoused by enterprise culture and the “prosperity Gospel” and also by the consumer culture, whose influence is clear from the rapidly-growing numbers of people who claim that it is possible to blend Christianity and New Age . . . .
. . . But here is a central question: just what is meant by spirituality in a New Age context? . . . Some versions of New Age harness the powers of nature . . . and to help individuals tune in to the right frequency to make the most of themselves and their circumstances. In most cases, it is completely fatalistic. Christianity, on the other hand, is an invitation to look outwards and beyond, to the “new Advent” of the God who calls us to live the dialogue of love.
Reiki and similar New Age spiritual practices are neither medically credible practices, nor are they compatible with Christianity; indeed, these practices pose serious spiritual risks for those who participate in them. Given the nature of Reiki and similar practices, they cannot be adapted to conform with Christianity. Jesus Christ the divine Healer is the true of source all spiritual healing and freedom (cf. Jn. 8:32), whether that pertains to life on earth
or preparing us for life eternal with Him in heaven. Indeed, it is Jesus Christ—”the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6), the One came to provide us “life abundantly” (Jn. 10:10)—who should be sought for our spiritual well-being, now and forever.
1 Pamela Potter, MA, MSN, APRN, “What are the Distinctions Between Reiki and Therapeutic Touch?” Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, January/February 2003, (vol. 7, no. 1), p. 1.
2 Ibid. Because Reiki purports to involve a spiritual energy, its effectiveness, strictly speaking, cannot be determined by scientific methods, which can only make determinations about the physical world. Similarly, science cannot prove a Church-approved miracle. It can only report a wondrous change in the physical world for which there is no scientific explanation, but which, for example, coincided with prayer on behalf of a seriously afflicted individual.
4 “What is Reiki” The International Center for Reiki Training, as given at http://www.reiki.org/FAQ/WhatIsReiki.html. Much of the information contained in this presentation is taken from a major pro-Reiki website (http://www.reiki.org/), which largely relies on William Rand’s Reiki, The Healing Touch (Southfield, Mich.: Vision Publications, 1991).
5 “Learning Reiki” The International Center for Reiki Training http://www.reiki.org/FAQ/LearningReiki.html
6 The Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the “New Age,” no. 7.2, original emphasis.
7 “What is Reiki?” The International Center for Reiki. as given at http://www.reiki.org/FAQ/WhatIsReiki.html.
8 The term “Gnostics” derives from the Greek term for “knowledge”: gnosis. Among other beliefs, the gnostics believed that salvation came from knowledge and that the physical world is evil (cf. Catechism, no. 285).
9 William Lee Rand, “Similarities between the Healing of Jesus and Reiki,” as given at http://www.reiki.org/reikinews/reikin16.html.
10 The Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue,Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the “New Age,” no. 1.4, citing Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), 90.
11 See no. 21. Online version available at http://www.ewtn.com/library/bishops/acall.htm.
12 The Age, June 12, 2003; The Age is based in Melbourne
13 see section 2.2.3. “Health: Golden living” and discussion of “parapsychology” in “Select Glossary,” no. 7.2.
14 see “Learning Reiki” and “How Does Reiki Work?”
15 “How does Reiki work?”
16 cf. Vatican II, Unitatts Redintegratio (Decree on Ecumenism), no. 3.
17 cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 848; cf. Jn. 14:6.
Holy Bible (Catholic edition)
Catechism of the Catholic Church (Paperback and Hardback available)
Vatican II Documents
Hontz, Jenny, “The energy to heal: With ancient concepts of a life force going against mainstream, research is catching up.” Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2004, health section, pg. 1.
Noonan, Moira, Ransomed from Darkness: The New Age, Christian Faith, and the Battle for Souls. El Sobrante, Calif.: North Bay Books, 2004.
Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the “New Age.” 2003.
Pacwa, Father Mitch, S.J., Catholics and the New Age: How Good People Are Being Drawn into Jungian Psychology, the Enneagram, and the Age of Aquarius. Cincinnati, Ohio: Servant Publications, 1992).
Rand, William, Reiki, The Healing Touch. Southfield, Mich.: Vision Publications, 1991.
Hahn and Suprenant, eds., Catholic for a Reason: Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God
Leon Suprenant, ed., Servants of the Gospel
Frederick Marks, A Catholic Handbook for Engaged and Newly Married Couples
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, Without a Doubt
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Related Faith Facts
- Hold Fast What is Good: On Borrowing Forms of Meditation from Eastern Religions
- Let the Son Shine: The Truth About the New Age Movement
- Above and Beyond: The Church’s Teaching on Miracles
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Last updated: 4/28/06