Is Reiki real or pseudo-nonsense?
“Can you write an article about Reiki for the benefit of society? Thousands of readers could use this power for healing, happiness and peaceful life. I can give you lot of inputs. I humbly request you to write…” – a message from a reader Nithya Sairam.
Some of my friends and relatives practice this faith healing. So, I am not new to this Reiki cult.
Few years ago, I had hand pain due to a minor accident. Nandan, my friend, took me to a Reiki master in Kerala (Can’t publish his name as per his request), saying the latter can cure my pain.
“Reiki is the universal life force energy that flows through everything and everyone. It works on different levels – the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual enhancing everything in life” Nandan said. I am open to any ideas. So I went with him, without any prejudice and biased.
The Master, a retired professor, was a nice person. He explained to me about the methodology of Reiki: “Uday, there is a Universal Life Force or Cosmic Energy. It’s also called Qi, the healing energy. It is available to the Reiki practitioner to enable the human body to heal itself. I can even transfer this energy to the patient, even at a distance, and thereby enable the body to heal itself…”
“Oh, that’s great!” I said.
The Master asked me to lie-down in a special bed. He held his hands over me without touching me. Then he moved his hands as if he is magically shifting something. It continued for approx. fifteen minutes.
“I have removed the ‘negative energy’ from you and transmitted the divine healing energy. Did you feel anything?” he asked.
“Nothing?” Nandan asked.
“Some people may have block to accept this energy…” the master said.
“Yeah. I know. It is my fault, right? This is the usual excuse all faith healers or ‘holistic divine healer’ would say,” I said.
“No. I have transmitted energy to you…” the Master claimed.
“How many Joules?” I asked.
“What?” he looked at me surprisingly, “What’s that?”
“Sir, energy is measured in Joules…”
“This is a special mysterious energy…”Nandan said.
“Nandan, we both had studied physics,” I said, “Can you define that energy? What instrument do you use to measure this energy? If this form of energy did exist, it would violate the laws of thermodynamics and conservation of energy, so the first good study that proves it exists will have an all-expense paid trip to Stockholm. You will get a Nobel prize…”
“It is immeasurable energy” the Master said.
“Okay sir, then at least can you explain how exactly is the energy transferred? I mean, if you hit someone, there is energy transference, or if you held your hand close to them and it was hotter than them, there may be heat transmission. Energy can be transmitted through Conduction, Convection and Radiation. What is it that you are using?”
“Everything cannot be explained by your physical science…” Master said curtly.
“Sir, these are the typical excuses of all faith healers and cult medicine practioners. Yes, modern science cannot explain everything. Does that means whatever you said is true? Just because science cannot explain many things, how can faith healing be real?”
“This works ONLY with the believers…”
“That’s the third and final excuse. What’s that energy that cannot work with non-believers? If you swallow pain killers, your pain will disappear whether you believe in it or not,” I said.
He didn’t listen that. He said: “Reiki is purely scientific…I can get you hundreds of testimonials…”
“Sir – I trust your words on testimonials. Nandan says he was cured by you. I trust my friend. Why would he lie to me? It’s true for him. But personal testimonials are not scientific evidence. ‘Proof’ should be a definite thing. Not vaguely suggestive of a possibility. Otherwise it’s only an opinion. Science needs inductive reasoning. It is based on empiricism and repeatability. If you say, Reiki is a placebo and it is useful for those who (blindly) believe in it, I don’t have any problem. But when you say, it is scientific, I cannot subscribe to that concept…”
“Uday, it has some scientific basis…” Nandad said.
“Nandan, if you want to believe that Reiki is an immeasurable mystical force, that’s your option. But when you say it is with science and evidence and don’t understand or define the meaning of the terms you are discussing, I find that relatively ridiculous. If it is science, please explain.”
“Uday, I thought you would believe in this, that’s why I brought you here. You believe in god, you go to temple.”
“So? I believe in many things – but I don’t claim all my beliefs are truth. I used to see Jackie Chan movie. I enjoy when he fights with hundreds of bad guys single-handedly. Movie is a make-believe thing. So, if I don’t believe Jackie Chan’s fighting power I cannot enjoy movie. But I know it is not true…”
“You perform rituals and follow Hindu dharma…”
“Nandan, I follow Sanatan Dharma because I can explain anything related to it with reasoning – scientifically, logically and rationally. I don’t follow any superstitious rituals…”
Then, Nandan told his Master that I was a journalist. Suddenly the colour of his master’s face changed. I guess he scolded Nandan in a low voice. He suddenly turned to me and said: “I don’t cheat anybody. I believe Reiki is true. I don’t compel people to pay me. I don’t charge them. I just accept whatever they give…”
I understood his fear – it was a time when the businesses of investigative journalism and pen-cameras were flourishing. He might have thought I would trap him and broadcast his story.
I laughed and said: “Sir – I am not here to expose you. I know there are millions of frauds all around us who exploit people. There are many of the other faith healing things people commonly believe which also don’t have any physical or energetic validity. My purpose is not to fight with you, but to create awareness in people, my readers. So don’t worry…”
“I have spent a considerable time on learning and teaching Reiki after my retirement…”he said, “it really worked on many people…”
“Sir, a few stories about how it has ‘miraculously’ healed someone is not proof. There are a 1000 more stories of how it didn’t work,” I asked: “Have you been to hospital recently?”
“Yes, I had heart condition, I am on medication…”Master said.
“It is okay you try Reiki on you Sir, but don’t forget to take proper medicines….” I smiled at him and got off.
While we were driving back, Nandan asked me: “Seriously Uday, do you think Reiki is fraud?”
“As per my understanding, Reiki does work with some people as one of the many types of Placebo Treatment. If you think it works, then it might work. Many studies show placebos to work. But I have not come across any scientific study shows that Reiki is more powerful than a placebo.”
“Then why didn’t it work on you as a placebo?”
“Placebo works only with mind-induced illness, that too if you believe in it. I had real pain in my hand; it was not a psychological one, so Reiki didn’t work with me…Did you know the ultimate head of global faith healer religion had to resign his Holy See because of illness. Why didn’t he try his power of faith healing on himself?”
“Uday, what’s your observation of Reiki?”
“I am not an expert. But the concept of energy they propagate is sheer rubbish. (See Positive Energy http://udaypai.in/?p=784) Can you identify this energy, demonstrate its existence, show some tangible effect of its presence, make some kind of measurement, and demonstrate a means of controlling it? No. Without establishing this basic starting point, how can Reiki go forward as science?”
– Reiki has undergone several vigorous and fair tests and all have proved that it has no more affect than a placebo. Science has repeatedly shown that faith healing is just a placebo. Science finds the truth, not anecdotes or people’s beliefs. So, scientists say, Reiki is utterly ridiculous concept.
– David H. Gorski and Steven Novella have co-authored a paper calling for the end of clinical trials of “highly implausible treatment,” such as Reiki. The authors believe that testing for this “pseudoscience” is a waste of already tight medical budgets and only “serves to lend legitimacy to otherwise dubious practices.” It’s also proven that giving placebos such as Reiki to cancer patients does more harm than good. The two largest scientific reviews of Reiki, published in International Journal of Clinical Practice and in November 2009 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, reveal that Reiki is not an effective treatment for any condition.
“So, it is not a proven idea”
“It is an unproven practice based on discredited ideas about the human body, and those who practice it are often looking to make money at the expense of those in need. There may be good people who practice it. Reiki is not an outright scam; the practitioners seem to believe in what they are doing. The scary thing is that some fanatics might use these placebo-treatments as a true alternative to effective therapies.”
“Lots and lots of people believe in its healing power. Many diseases can be cured…”Nandan said.
“Then why don’t Reiki folks want to be seen as healthcare providers and subjected to licensing and oversight? If your master is a healer, he shouldn’t be afraid to be licensed. If you can manipulate energies for good, who says you can’t also do it for ill? But that’s not the idea behind Reiki”
“Then what’s it?”
“For most of the practioners, Reiki is a business – a multi-level marketing (MLM) business. It is a pyramid scheme in which the practitioner buys their franchise as a qualification and once they have bought the Master qualification, they are enabled to recover their outlay by enlisting other practitioners into their training scheme….”
“You don’t believe in any sort of faith healing?” Nandan asked.
“No. (See Can Prayer Heal the Sick: http://udaypai.in/?page_id=663). Faith healing just won’t work with normal human body and mind. The logical process of human mind runs something like this: (A) I want magic to exist. (B) I don’t understand quantum. So, (C) Therefore, quantum could mean magic exists. This is the non-sense logic used in all those non-scientific faith healing. If you have any diseases consult a good doctor, get it diagnosed properly and then decide what sort of medical system you want to follow. There are frauds and greedy people in all medicinal systems. So be careful in choosing your doctor. I use English medicines. I also use Ayurveda.”
I do not discourage Reiki believers, but for a different reason. Certainly humans desire touch, and in a touchy frightened world, Reiki is a strange non-touch touch. It is an odd form of intimacy in a socially broken world. We should support such faith healers who practice it as placebo, realizing its limitation and as a service to humanity and not for money. And I do fear that many false medicines victimize people who need help the most. Reiki is better than that.
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