People often ask me if Reiki is a religion. This is not only a valid question, but also a very important one.
Since the question comes up so often, I thought I’d write an article about it.
Dear friends, Reiki is not a religion. However, it is most definitely yes a spiritual path.
And what is the difference between religion and a spiritual path, you ask?
Let me tell you a story. I was raised in a strict religious family. My grandfather was the pastor of our Presbyterian church and my mother the director of the choir. I was sent to strict Christian schools from preschool all the way through high school.
One word that aptly summarizes my upbringing is: oppressive. Religion was my life, and religion was all there was, but religion rarely brought me any comfort. In fact, religion usually brought me the opposite. Religion usually presented me with endless opportunities to judge and hate myself. The God I was offered by my grandfather and school teachers was a stern God, a God full of anger, jealousy, and even vengeance.
Though I couldn’t have articulated it in this way back then, the God I was offered in my childhood was not inspiring. In fact, he was not even particularly loving. The God I was taught was, actually, kind of a jerk!
In my experience, religion is about fearing and trying to appease some big, powerful entity outside of ourselves. Some sort of bearded wise man in the sky. Supposedly, that entity is more awesome than we are—in comparison, we humans are supposedly mostly rubbish: flawed, sinful, innately corrupt. We are bad. God is good. Or so goes the logic.
As I was growing up, I was taught that I should do good deeds in order to receive later reward, in heaven, after the death of my body. I was also taught that the resources of the planet all “belonged” to me and other humans. I was taught humanity was the center of all life. I was taught that animals had no souls and that the most important kind of creature that existed on the planet was human beings: those who had rightful “dominion” over all other creatures. I was taught that anything that deviated from heterosexual monogamy was evil, and I was taught that women who used their voices too much were suspect. I was taught that it was “of the devil” to read tarot cards, have sex outside of marriage, or adore nature.
In the traditional, conservative, monotheistic religions (especially the Abrahamic religions), there tends to be a kind of moral superiority: our way is the “best” way; our way is the “only” way. And these religions compete with each other for dominance: this ranges from heated debate to the bloodiest of wars and genocide.
In my experience, traditional religion can be categorized as the philosophical mode of the old paradigm. It is simply the limited human mind trying to comprehend something as numinous as the Universe. It is the old way. It is the darkness, groping toward the light.
While traditional religion requires us to defer to an outside force, to a kind of stern cosmic parental figure, spirituality on the other hand asks us to take responsibility for our own lives. There is nothing on the outside that will lead us to salvation or guide us to peace. There is no savior but ourselves. Everything, every single thing we need for our journey is located on the inside.
Life is an inside journey.
Spirituality is a way of approaching our life experience with an open, compassionate heart. Spirituality is being curious about and willing to learn the wisdom traditions of other cultures across the globe. Human beings, in their myriad forms, are seen as beautiful expressions of the Divine.
Indeed, spirituality is vastly different from religion.
Spirituality is a way of approaching our daily lives with the wisdom that comes from living in the present moment. We don’t do certain things in order to receive some future reward. No. Life is all about living in the now, with as much love, peace, and compassion as we can muster—and not because we “must” or “should” …but because to live this way feels more wonderful.
On a spiritual path, we are internally guided. There is no bearded father-figure in the sky who passes down commandments we must follow. In fact, if we immerse ourselves in the present moment, if we immerse ourselves in the beauty of this moment of life, we find there is no external “God” at all.
What we find on a spiritual path is extraordinary, revolutionary, truly amazing. We find that we are that which we have been seeking.
There is nothing outside of us to search for. God dwells within. In fact, we are God. God is us.
The practice of Reiki is certainly not a religion. Rather, Reiki is a spiritual path. A way of awakening.
Through Reiki, we feel the energy of life flowing through our hands. We feel that because there is such power in the hands, that there must be infinite power everywhere else, too. Surely Earth is a good place, full of good people. We feel happy to be alive. We feel light.
When new clients come to me and ask, in worried tones, “Is Reiki a religion?” I totally understand their concern. I empathize with their worry. They don’t want to get tangled up in an old system that they’ve worked so hard to break free from. As someone who has spent many years de-conditioning herself from all the Sunday sermons, I have great empathy for those who fear walking back into something that requires trust in what is unseen.
Many of us who have fled religious upbringings have turned to the rational mind, to intellectualism, to the University, to systems of science and logic. That may be the arena that feels safest at that point. However, after awhile, many people begin to feel that something is missing.
Although religion has been, in many ways, quite a harmful force on the planet (the cause of much hatred, vindictiveness, and bloodshed), what religion did do (and does do) well is that it inspires people to open their hearts beyond their limited perceptions. It inspires them to feel deeply. It inspires them to hope, to dream, and to love. This is religion’s power. And many of us who have turned away from religion eventually find ourselves circling back—but, this time, from greater awareness of what it is we are indeed seeking.
When we receive or give a Reiki healing session, what we are seeking is not a “God” outside ourselves, but the God within. What we are seeking is empowerment, self-love, and a sense of magic in our everyday lives.
No, Reiki is not a religion. It is, rather, a very deep, profound spiritual path. A way of waking up.
As more of us wake up on this planet, paths like Reiki will become more and more widespread, as we seek to heal ourselves from the limitations and disappointments of religion, boldly stepping into the power of the present moment, and building a human future that looks nothing like we’ve ever seen before.
That time has indeed come.