Make Like the Maharishi

I’m still bubbling with gratitude that Leslie Kaminoff called to invite me to the Breathing Project for a presentation by Philip Goldberg, author of American Veda.

Reiki healingPhil led us on a delightful sprint (for me down Memory Lane), visiting teachers and books — such as Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna and Autobiography of a Yogi — that had illumined my spiritual yearning when I was just about the age of the rest of the audience.

Two days later, Phil and I traded stories over Eggs Benedict at San Ambroeus in the West Village. By then I’d read enough of American Veda to admire his journalistic perspective. Spirituality and journalism are not an easy mix, and it takes spiritual maturity to give a balanced overview.

That the book is such a comfortable read — both instructive and fun — is a testament to both the writer’s skill and to the truth of what he documents: the extent to which American culture has been affected by Indian spirituality, starting in the 1800s.

Spirituality, science and methodology

American Veda turns again and again to the theme of spirituality and science, a theme of particular interest to Reiki practitioners, yoga enthusiasts, and spiritual seekers who are also critical thinkers. Whereas spirituality and journalism are antithetical, spirituality and science definitely are not.

The Indian spiritual teachers who found a large following in the United States — Swami Vivekananda, Paramanhansa Yogananda, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, etc. — all reached out to scientists (as does His Holiness the Dalai Lama, originally from Tibet and currently in residence in exile in Dharamasala, India).

Their message is clear: spirituality and science are compatible. (Religion is another matter entirely. Its affinity for science depends on religious dogma and how that dogma is interpreted by a particular sect.)

The Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement set out to quickly make meditation a household word, and succeeded. American Veda outlines and documents the process. This sentence from page 163 is particularly instructive:

He [Maharishi] trained his representatives to make logical presentations in language suitable for their audiences, and he equipped them with a methodical procedure for imparting meditation instructions.

Speaking to people in language relevant to them is Communication 101.

It’s not just a matter of eschewing jargon. Relevant language makes connections that have immediate meaning to the listener.

For example, people today often live less-than-joyful, spiritually isolated, stressful lives. Thanks to TM, most of us know that meditation is a simple, non-dogmatic practice to connect more deeply to ourselves and counter the daily onslaught of stress. People are ripe to know that Reiki is another option, and a practice that many find even easier than meditation.

Practice, not just preaching

The passage above continues, noting that methodical instructions ensured that meditation “would be practiced, not just preached.”

Using a method to teach meditation is not unlike imparting a simple protocol that beginning Reiki students can take home and practice with confidence, and practice for life.

It’s true that the Maharishi had celebrities like the Beatles, Mia Farrow, and popular talk show host Merv Griffin to catch the public’s attention.

It’s also true that, thanks to TM, when Reiki practice is presented in a straightforward manner, it is not as far from today’s culture as meditation was when TM came to the US.

And ironically, given the current celebrity obsession and the glut of media that feeds it, what celebrities do today likely has less impact on mass awareness than it did 40 years ago..

We don’t need celebrities to walk the path mapped out by those who have succeeded before us. And the more of us who walk and communicate that path, the more Reiki practice reaches the mainstream public.


The Mainstreaming Reiki webinar recordings help refine your communication of various aspects of Reiki practice. You can download them and listen at your convenience.

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9 thoughts on “Make Like the Maharishi”

  1. Thank you Pamela and Suneil for your mention about Vipassana meditation practice.

    I have been contemplating registering for a 10-day Vipassana retreat in the fall. I took a moment to read the Vipassana code that is expected of each student to follow. The code clearly states that all forms of prayer, worship, etc. to be suspended during the course, including all other meditation, spiritual and healing practices. Their reasoning is not to condemn these practices but to give a fair trial to the technique of Vipassana in its purity. In reading through this section I had a funny reaction deep inside which led me to question why I need to stop a practice that I benefit greatly from, hence I reached out to Pamela and she directed me to this post.

    I am not looking to choose a path, but to enhance and go deeper with the one that I am currently on which has been strongly influenced by daily Reiki practice over the past four years.

    I feel I need to give further thought to the Vipassana meditation retreat and in due time will know what will be right for me.

    1. Hello Kandi,

      Congratulations on your considering to join the Vipassana course. If it helps, you may be interested in knowing that many Vipassana lineages have been passed down unbroken (or so it is claimed) from the time of the Buddha down to the current traditional teachers. From what I have read and heard, it is mainly the teaching in the line of Shri SN Goenka that is opposed to the practice of Reiki (one of their objections is that since it alleviates pain, it interferes with the natural flow of things, and hence, insight does not develop as it would have had Reiki not been brought into the equation). You might want to try sitting with Burmese or Vietnamese lineages (two options I would consider are Jack Kornfield and Thich Nhat Hanh – it is not Vipassana, strictly speaking, but the technique involved is essentially the same – mindfulness). Other options could be to consider Shikan-taza sitting at a local Zendo, or Dzogchen at a Vajrayana centre – as far as I understand, all of these techniques are essentially the same as Vipassana, in that they involve bringing keen mindfulness to bear on the body and mind. When learnt from traditional teachers, both Zazen and Dzogchen are pure practices passed on from Master to student in an unbroken flow of conscious blessings.

      1. Kandi, since there is a Tibetan Buddhist community at Emory University in Atlanta, you could likely find good Dzoghen meditation training and sangha (community) close to home.

  2. Pamela, reading about the communication aspects of Reiki and Yoga, I always feel that I should consistently question my assumptions about my audience and how to pitch my presentation accordingly. In one way, living in India is a blessing – I do not have to explain a lot of things in a very analytical way because the concepts are either very familiar (notions of omnipresent consciousness are commonplace, even if their experience is not) or at least assumed to be true. The challenge I face more often is the disconnect between the concepts people hold and what their everyday experience tells them to be true (one example of a concept/experience dichotomy that I often see: concept – “The sages talk about the same one, non-dual Truth in different ways”. experience – “Of course my sadhana is better and higher and more mysterious and more demanding and more powerful than the others”). I often see a lot of students who are spiritually hungry: to help them integrate Reiki with their daily practices, and guide them along the path of practice so that their practice and the vision of the precepts start converging, is the version of communication challenges that I face in my personal teaching practice.

    1. Suneil, why don’t you allow people’s practice to address the challenge you articulate as “the disconnect between the concepts people hold and what their everyday experience tells them to be true?”

      Isn’t it the path of practice itself that diminishes that distance?

      Reiki masters often want to shorten the distance artificially from the outside, but this is not how we effectively mentor people. Everyone has to find his or her own way, and a mentor can be more effective waiting until someone both asks for and is actually open to receiving guidance, and even then to practice restraint.

      1. I agree with your observation, Pamela – I have often pushed myself very hard against imagined blocks, only to find that I am pushing against myself, or trying to make plants grow faster by pulling them from above the ground. Now that I think of it, I project this same pattern on my students too. I will be more mindful of my motivations and actions in the future.

        On another note, Pamela, I was talking to a couple of Reiki masters (who are also close personal friends) about their experiences in and opinion about Vipassana, the Buddhist insight meditation technique. As taught in India by Satya Narayan Goenka, the organizers actively discourage the retreat attendees from using Reiki, saying they can attend one ten-day retreat without practicing Reiki healing at all, and at the end of the retreat they must choose between Reiki and Vipassana, and practise one to the lifelong exclusion of the other. The Vipassana people say it is dangerous to practise Reiki and Vipassana together, and might lead to severe psychological imbalances.

        My question is, does this ring true for you, or anybody who reads this comment? All my friends told me they continue to practise both Reiki and Vipassana without any unpleasant side effects. Do any other lineages of Vipassana also advise against Reiki? The Lamas that I studied with never said anything about Reiki being dangerous for my psychological health if I did it together with any Vajrayana practice, nor did the Kriya Yoga organisation in India, YSS

      2. I know of no contraindications to Reiki practice, medical or otherwise.

        I have been aware for some years that at least one group that teaches Vipassana requires students to stop practicing Reiki, and that is their choice to make. I view it rather like the anti-Reiki statement of the American Catholic Bishops, in that the people who made this decision were ill informed of what Reiki practice truly is. Looking on the internet or listening to some practitioners speak about Reiki practice, I can understand how that might happen.

        This is why I encourage practitioners to practice, observe, contemplate, repeat — and to be mindful and discerning in the way they communicate Reiki practice. It is so easily misrepresented to appear magical.

        And then there is the reality that some practitioners refer to practices as Reiki even though those practices have not come from Reiki founder Mikao Usui. These practices are sometimes invasive subtle energy practices which do not carry the safety of Usui-based Reiki practice. Perhaps this group came across that kind of practitioner and understandably generalized their experience to all Reiki practice in an attempt to maintain the integrity of their own practice and the safety of their students.

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