Is Reiki Bullshit? The Critique on Reiki in the West

After folks watched the above video, they reached the conclusion that I hate reiki (and one commenter even arrived at the far-fetched conclusion that I hate America and/or American values).

Guys, I think reiki is awesome. I told you: I love it, but love it the way I love a day at the spa or how pampering it feels to get my hair done by a professional. If you think that means I’m devaluing reiki, then you have no idea how much I value a day at the spa or getting my hair done.

Reiki as it is peddled and sold in the United States is fine in its own right, but I would assert that it’s a misrepresentation to call it “traditional” and then attach it to Eastern mysticism. It’s a modernized, Westernized version of Eastern mysticism. As it is now presented, it is certainly not “traditional” Eastern mysticism. At best, and that’s presuming the entire mythology and alleged history of reiki’s origins is true, it’s modern Japanese mysticism that, even while in Japan, got blended with Christian mysticism.

Before posting that video opinion piece, I did my homework. I took reiki certification courses in person and also online. I read a stack of books on reiki by renowned reiki masters. I visited Kyoto and talked to native practitioners of esoteric Buddhism there to see what they thought of this whole reiki racket. I’ve gotten dozens of reiki sessions from a wide and diverse swath of reiki masters.

Between reiki attunement with the sigil crafting of the words “Big Bright Light” as the super-secret code (no, really, for real–that’s the big secret reiki sigil sign in Kanji: it says “Big Bright Light” and yes, it sounds as goofy in my native language as it does to you in English) and every reiki practitioner I went to trying to get me to either book 100 more $100 reiki sessions with them to 100% cure all my medical problems to getting me to become their student and train in reiki, and get certified after a series of classes that would cost me upward of $500, if you’re telling me to trust my intuition, then I’m telling you that all sorts of fire bells and red alarms were sounding off in my intuition.

As someone who practices modalities of esoteric Buddhism and Taoism, my view of reiki is that it is a superficial understanding of Eastern mysticism, culling from its surface to produce a collage of oversimplified meditation techniques, hand mudras, and sigil-crafting churned through a sausage grinder, then stuffed into the casing that is the laying on of hands, a Christian doctrine, served with a side of watered down occult explanations of the craft.

Then there are the books on reiki that read like variations on that other book, The Secret. There are all the desperate claims of scientific basis, proven through an incoherent incantation of science-sounding mumbo jumbo that I decided to take a concerted effort to dissect and understand, even at times consulting my physicist father who has an academic background in quantum physics, and nope, nothing added up to any of us.

Here’s one thing I do agree with what reiki masters say about the art: studying reiki doesn’t endow you with newfound powers or abilities; it reveals powers and abilities you’ve always had within you.

Okay. There we go. Finally. Common ground.

I absolutely unequivocally agree with that, though just in a less New Agey way.

True masters of reiki working and practicing the art in the western world at the moment, who are legit effective at this craft, have always been good at it. Maybe they didn’t have the sense of personal validation to be confident enough to fully exercise that innate talent. Maybe they just needed that Dumbo’s feather that is reiki certification to get them started. Their gift at energy healing has nothing whatsoever to do with reiki. Reiki was just some convenient vehicle that revealed their talents.

Yes, you can cultivate stronger attunement over the progress of time and dedication, and of course you can improve yourself in the art. But that’s something you’re doing on your own, through the work you’re doing on your own, with or without that reiki certification course.

So to these true masters of energy healing, I say to you save your money and instead, summon from within you the confidence to master your craft. If that founder Usui guy didn’t need to pay anyone a small fortune to master the art, then why do you? S’all I’m asking you to ponder.

Am I saying that everything out of the contemporary reiki world is fraudulent? No. In fact, the reiki community is filled with deeply compassionate, well-meaning, loving, and thoughtful healers, true healers. (Though to that I’d also say that they’re healers with or without learning reiki and definitely with or without reiki certification.) But there’s still no denying that some of what’s going on in reiki is designed specifically for profiteering and is more marketing ploy than it is any form of mysticism, eastern or western based.

The problem is reiki has become a million dollar keyword. If I call myself a practitioner of energy healing, no one knows what that means. If I use more obscure and specific terminology of energy healing modalities that are actually rooted in East Asian mystical or martial traditions, still no one really knows what I’m talking about. But the word “reiki” sells, and it sells well to a core target market that’s out there.

All the glossy goo and practice, the reiki symbols, the air-doodling, breathing, hands on head thing in reiki has never been what brought about healing. All that is part of the gimmick that triggers the placebo. That’s what I was referring to in the video about modern American reiki being a placebo. The whole performance of reiki (even the exotification of it as a form of traditional Asian healing art–how the purported Asian-ness is giving it legitimacy, which is a whole cobweb of stereotypes to unpack) is a placebo trigger, but I acknowledge it to be a very powerful and effective one.

Yet I also acknowledge that the principle of energy healing and energy transfer for healing is not mere placebo. It’s just not something you can achieve from obtaining a $500 certificate of reiki mastery and not something you gain immediate access to over one weekend retreat because of some mysterious and automatic download. It’s not something you suddenly become attuned to because some California hippy or Midwest housewife said so. The principles behind reiki is basically a form of witchcraft 101. Get a little snobbier and the argument might be made that it’s fluffy bunny witchcraft.

The business model that reiki has adopted does need to be scrutinized. I did not cherry-pick reiki practitioners so that I can prove my preconceived point. I did not ask them gotcha questions. I’m not even going to name names. I don’t like the recurring spewing of statistics that I don’t even know come from where that claim 95% success rate in healing. Oh, and then the 5% who don’t get healed–well, it was their fault that reiki didn’t heal them. That’s what they tell others and tell themselves. Those clients weren’t open-minded, or ready to receive the healing, or they have negative karma they must work through first and the reason they can’t heal is because, basically (this is for sure what gets implied), they’re bad people. A lot of passive-aggressive victim-blaming runs rampant among reiki masters as a way to absolve themselves of any need to self-examine why maybe sometimes, reiki doesn’t work.

Also, why do you have to try so hard to prove it’s scientific? And why the emphasis on it being ancient Japanese mysticism? How much of the purported history of reiki can even be proven? Already there are a lot of serious holes in the story and pieces of fact that don’t add up. And don’t even get me started on some of the American marketing materials I’ve seen using the Simplified Chinese characters for reiki instead of Kanji.

Again, I don’t think the esoteric principles behind reiki is bullshit. In fact, I actively practice them and have drunk that Kool-Aid to the bottom of the barrel a long time ago. I absolutely believe in faith healing, the laying on of hands, and the concepts of Qi energy or life force transfer governing reiki. I just think this monstrosity of a thing called certified reiki we see in the modern world and the claims that it’s a fast-track to omnipotent healing power wrapped up in a questionable business model– is bullshit.

17 thoughts on “Is Reiki Bullshit? The Critique on Reiki in the West

  1. Adalbert Sarrazin

    Do I sense a similar business model as the one you denounce in american feng shui ?
    The schools or institutes that offer certification for professional feng shui consultants do also ask for thousands of dollars in courses or materials. Just the price of their tool of choice, the luo pan, is prohibitive and compares to a modern precision theodolite, even if the luo pan is essentially a magnetic compass (often of mediocre quality) beefed-up with a correspondance table. Often students are pressed ̶ “You’ll look much more professional !!” ̶ to buy the school’s westernised luo pan for 1 or 2 thousands dollars… which makes me wonder : what is the manufacturing cost of these things ?
    I concede that maybe american feng shui does not present the Ponzi structure of american reiki, but the certification processes seem fishy anyway : chinese mysticism wrapped in a western new-age discourse, wrapped in a modern business model, targetting the gullible hoping for a little bit of magic and a better shot at life.


    1. For anyone who wants a luo pan and doesn’t want to spend an arm, a leg, and sell their firstborn just to buy one, I say print out this image file (it should be mathematically precise via angles, but honestly not sure how it translates as a JPG file):

      Then just place any compass on top of it. Or hell, the free compass app on your phone. Voila. Luopan. (Although just to be fair, I’ve found the compass app on smartphones to not always be accurate….)

      I never actually went under cover or tried to go through feng shui certification courses here in the West to comment from a place of actual knowledge. Once I do that, happy to comment from a place of actual knowledge and as someone who has done her homework. ❤

      In the meantime, I personally am way into feng shui, and do feng shui consultations professionally. I always try to teach feng shui during the consultation so they don't have to hire me again, and you should only need to hire me once and afterward, be able to do feng shui for yourself. ❤


  2. Lillian “Lila” Hampsmier

    I read this article out of curiosity and felt a tad disappointed that you felt this way about reiki. But as I continued to read I understood exactly what you are talking about with reiki. I think it has become a marketing and money play. I am a Master Reiki Practitioner. I love reiki. I believe it is very relaxing and that relaxation can help reduce stress and help the body heal. I was always taught that it is not guaranteed to cure. I fully agreed to this disclaimer due to being in the medical field as a registered nurse. I was never taught and never found any actual statistics about reiki being effective. I hoped that one day a study could be done to scientifically prove the health benefits of reiki to the medical world. (Currently Healing Touch takes the lead on energy healing in the medical world).

    I was always drawn to natural healing even before taking the classes in person. There are a lot of answered questions to the history and maybe that adds to the mystery of it. There really isn’t an explanation as to how reiki heals except that it is through a higher power/universal power. I was so excited when I got my certification in Usui Shiki Ryoho Reiki but then afterwards found out that there are many kinds of reiki and even “made up” ones. But like you said Dr. Usui didn’t need to pay a lot of money to receive his healing ability. Once you learn one form of reiki there are several more that you find out about like Karuna, Holy fire, etc. My logic to learning reiki in the beginning was to get my foot in the door of energy healing because I had no clue where to start. Plus I tried a sample session of reiki and really enjoyed it. I still believe in energy healing but reiki has become a buzzword and a way to scam people. Like you mentioned–there are still reiki healers out there that are good people and good healers.

    I have both the Holistic Tarot Book and the Tao of Craft (this one I still need to read). I look forward to learning more about sigils and metaphysical energy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey Bell, thanks for the article! I agree with you 100%…

    I am a massage therapist learning Reiki, and in doing research for myself I’ve asked many questions, and the answers I’ve received from practioners always felt like faith healing woo BS sprinkled with fairy dust and candy sprinkles.

    And as you said, the obvious pyramid scheme aspect is telling. Reiki is very much a simplication of Eastern Philosophy, similar to the McBadtardisation that occured with yoga and Tantra.

    I am open minded, but become skeptical when given answers to my quesions based on faith. And the idea of instant mastery is incomprehensible to me.

    Mastery in the real world with anything takes time. And labels like that are dangerous, giving practicioners with no real concept of energy flow a possible God Complex. (My opinion, might not be stated so eloquently.)

    Again, great post!
    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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  5. I too am disappointed that you have doubts about Reiki as I am a reiki practitioner and until you actually see how it works personally on individuals you would be amazed at the outcome. Don’t disbelieve until you actually have a treatment yourself


  6. Hit send on accident.. bahahaha anyways . I was offended, and for me, this is not an easy fete, I’m pretty open minded. The statements that bothered me the most were Reiki being a pyramid scheme. Pyramid schemes are created for the top dogs to profit while those brought on underneath do the work; creating a down link chain in which the initial link still receives a percentage of each link that flows down. I don’t see how you could even make a comparison. The reasons for reiki becoming more available, more cost effective, is because of the need to heal our world. Reiki is a gift. Not a power. The second thing that really pissed me off was, what’s your deal with fu**ing HOUSEWIVES!!! I am a almost 44 year old mother of 5 . I’ve raised 4 with my youngest who just turned 15 still home. I am a Military spouse married 20years, together 22. My husband is still active duty Army and a Veteran. He’s served his country in 3 one year tours to Iraq, in 2003, 2007, and 2009 while I, the little ole housewife stayed home maintaining life. Women are the lifeblood of this world! There are no limits to what we as women can do. ( especially a housewife) third issue. Placebo effect. ( girl bye) no let me do it so you can get it. #girlbyee#checkyourfacts#youdontknowish okay. Here’s the thing, I agree I have seen some reiki ads claiming reiki to be the cure for cancer and e.t.c. I don’t condone this. It’s simply negligent. False advertising. I do not do this and for any reiki Master claiming this. Shame on you! For you to say that anything we do is from either the placebo effect, or our own life force energy, I say to you… go fu** yourself!
    Since you’ve seen the hardcore real reiki ( I guess because you are Asian?) I challenge you to go through and spend the 500 dollars and get certified as a Usui Shiki Ryoho Master not online either, through someone who is reputable. And within 6months if you do not feel the difference, I will give you back your money. Do you accept the challenge?


  7. Christopher

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Supposedly, I’m a Reiki 2 practitioner and yet I’ve always doubted it’s reality even when the few folks I’ve worked on claimed amazing healing experiences. You put into words what I’ve suspected all along. Thank you.

    So, how does one find a true Reiki practitioner? Do they even exist? Again, thank you so much for this post and for risking the wrath of the offended. You’ve inspired me to look into Qi Gong.


    1. Laura

      How does one find a true Reiki Practitioner? Travel to Japan to get a real Reiki session. They don’t do it with all the metaphysical fluff we get over here in the US. No off the body, no symbols, no distance healing. It takes a long time and practice to become a Reiki 2 level practitioner (which is nothing like the Reiki 2 BS we get here).


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  9. Jessy Zapanta

    Oh. My. God/Creator/Source. THANK YOU for writing this, as everyone around me including people invested in “collective liberation” has been gaslit by this industry… which is basically the western spiritual mishmash of appropriated eastern practices industrial complex. I do not need a certification for an innate energy I already have, especially one that will cost thousands of dollars (making it accessible to whom?). As someone who is Filipino, Japanese, AND Chinese who was raised by a Japanese-immigrant grandma, I have a strong bullshit detector for orientalism, neo-colonialism, and spiritual capitalism. I’m glad that I’ve trusted my gut instead of looking outside for “the answer”. I have compassion for folks seeking to support and guide others, as well as for folks looking for support and guidance, but I am also not a fan of myth disguised as truth, racist stereotypes, and multilevel marketing/cults of personality.

    I also wonder, “Reiki” and “ashe/àse” essentially mean the same thing, though one of these words comes from Yoruba/West African spirituality. Could it be that anti-Blackness/an unwillingness to learn about African esoteric/healing/spiritual practices—and its flipside: East Asian fetishization/exoticization—is at least partially to blame for the popularity of reiki and invisibility of anything from the rest of the Global South? 🤨🧐🤔 I wonder.

    In the end, our healing needs to be community-driven rather than individualist, and it needs to be non-hierarchical and dismantle the status quo (which is white supremacist racial capitalism).

    Your whole post is on point. I’m off to view your video now 🙂

    Thank you!


  10. Reiki God :)

    Thank you! Very well said while everyone is busy being completely caught up in these silly, Neo-New Age trends created by dubious mass marketers and profiteers.

    “Modern Reiki” = Spirituality for the dumb and lazy. A perfect reflection of the deep seeded fast food cultural patterns that most are too lazy to de-condition themselves from. Great job in wasting one’s hard earned money to spiritually by-pass when one could just do the same thing for free by simply pretending that they are healers.


    1. Well i had some issues ,once i went to reiki master who claimed that i need to get some sessions
      for 4 days I paid him around $100 per session,after 4 days he said we need to extend it for a week and after a week he said you need to learn reki and need to invest 2000$, you could get more benefits.

      So i felt and realized its more of a money making than helping anyone and decided to quit.
      Just telling additionaly –Most people i saw there including the master were obese and kind of skinny fat.

      I concluded that even if I spent half that money and time on my food and workout just
      for a month.I would have been a lot better so i did that ,got a diet plan and started.
      Happier and better now.
      I dont know much about how reiki works or what it is exactly.
      but if being lazy and sitting all day is a part of it then i would better stay away from it
      and just go for a run on any road and eat the best meal i can manage to get.


  11. Anonymous

    Lol I love this. And I totally agree. Youre giving your honest knowledge. People love to believe that hippies or someone with some long drawn out dilect. Are healers and that u can pay to be taught everything.


  12. Seems like having someone to pay attention to your physical and psychic pain is “healing” having someone listen to your problems and touch your head in a kind and gentle manner makes one feel connected and less isolated which lowers stress and promotes relaxation. All Good. Is there any more to it? I dated a woman who was into energy healing. She had lovely energy very beautiful woman good heart. People loved talking to her because she really loved them in her sessions and people seem starved of love. We spent a year together I paid for everything including her housing, computer, bed, trips to Costa Rica, plane flights, hotels etc. It was blissful. She never gave me a reiki session but did tell me that I made her feel worse than all the trauma she had ever experienced as a child via text simply because I didn’t want to move to SF because I was exhausted and preferred living in nature to recover and was burning through all my cash and wouldn’t be able to support us both in the most expensive place on the planet without sitting in front of a computer all day and commuting in traffic. She got mad that I hadn’t bought her a car… She emigrated a few weeks later with a new guy (hopefully with family money) using the rental deposit I’d paid for her and got married never to be heard from again. I think I got grifted. Reiki seems to be repackaged faith healing catering to one’s need for something mystical in our lives and connection with something beyond the mundane (for hundreds of dollars per session), much like most of the New Age. Buyer beware.


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