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Book Review: Blowing the Whistle on Yoga, Tai Chi and Reiki

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One need not turn to new age traditions to seek inner peace, and doing so may bring spiritual risks, writes Br Max Sculley. Photo:
One need not turn to new age traditions to seek inner peace, and doing so may bring spiritual risks, writes Br Max Sculley. Photo:

By Wanda Skowronska

In recent years, many new age practices such as yoga, tai chi and reiki have found their way into western society as popular methods of “relaxation.”

In his new book, Blowing the Whistle on Yoga, Tai Chi and Reiki, Max Sculley, a De La Salle Brother, has written what Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart refers to as a “timely” and “invaluable insight” into the background of these practices.

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This reworking of a previous book includes more detail on what is termed “Christian meditation,” which is not what it purports to be. For while it is understandable that people seek peace, as Archbishop Porteous points out, some are innocently drawn to darker realities.

Br Sculley explains in an engaging way the problems common to many new age practices, particularly associated with altered states of consciousness. These are not just breezy comfortable inner states.

For example, the mantras given to yoga initiates to attain this altered state of consciousness (ASC) are often names of false deities such as Brahman and Kundalini and the innocent practitioner has no idea what he or she is saying.

The purpose of all forms of yoga is a type of spiritual awakening—the release of a dormant spiritual energy, called the “Kundalini awakening,” unleashing the coiled serpent at the base of the spine.

The repetition of the mantra invites Brahman and any number of Hindu gods to enter the mantrist in order to speed up the “enlightenment.” It has dangerous other sides—the death of the ego and the will, and surrender to Hindu gods. Christians might ask whether this is all as benevolent as it is presented to be.

Some Catholics, like the ex-Benedictine Bede Griffiths, tried to combine Hindu yoga with Christianity in the 1950s and delved into Transcendental Meditation (TM), popularised by Maharishi Yogi, and taken straight out of Hindu yoga.

The utter simplicity attracted people; again, the recitation of mantras seemed relaxing, and was transported to the west as a “scientific technique for realisation.” But was it purely scientific?

Br Sculley explains the practice arose from the Hindu Vedantic tradition, and is deeply steeped in it and is at odds with Christian faith and belief. Engaging in TM or its offshoot, “Centering Prayer,” the person aspires to an altered state of consciousness, to be in contact with “true self” which is allegedly God, hence realising one’s own divinity—what Br Sculley terms “a sad misinterpretation of Catholic spiritual books.”

Blowing the Whistle on Yoga, Tai Chi and Reiki cover: Divine Mercy Publications
Blowing the Whistle on Yoga, Tai Chi and Reiki cover: Divine Mercy Publications

In On Some Aspects of Christian Meditation, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger advised caution, saying such meditation can become confused and fall into a mind-emptying, eastern technique of meditation. True Christian meditation never empties the mind but focuses on God’s goodness and grace.

Another new age practice is reiki—a laying on of hands to heal others. This is big business, with 200,000 reiki masters in western countries. The idea behind it is to tap into some universal divine energy, known as “ki” regarded as the source, a supreme god much in the same way Taoists regard Wu Chi and Hindus regard Brahman (prana)—as a god.

This is a monist view (everything is “god”) and opens people to some dangerous spiritual influences. Br Scully recounts the story of Ruth and her involvement with reiki. She said she was told that there were spirits attached to reiki and that she could call on them and receive her own personal Reiki, harnessing of power on demand.

She adds that “through my spirit I developed a real clairvoyance.” Neither demanding healing through a technique, nor clairvoyance, sound Christian. It took Ruth a while to extricate herself from this, but she finally did.

Tai chi, regarded as the gentlest of the martial arts, is also big business which has infiltrated many places, even religious clubs, as a gentle form of “exercise.” But again, look into it, and it is clear it has the aim of promoting movement while emptying the mind, producing an altered state of consciousness.

The purpose is to harmonise the “chi,” also central in kung fu, in both body and spirit, tapping into universal godlike energy, producing inner enlightenment (divinity) and inner peace.

Br Scully tells the story of Tony, who went through tai chi and became a kung fu champion. Of “chi” he says: “I understood it to be the god within, the root of my power.”

This power can break bricks, and he experienced an inner heat transfer from base of spine to the crown of the head, similarly to yogic kundalini. Tony also escaped and turned to Christ.

Br Sculley has produced a superb outline, in this immensely readable book. He summarises the common core beliefs pervading yoga, tai chi, reiki and transcendental meditation: monism, oantheism, belief in an impersonal energy as supreme creator, karma, reincarnation, and salvation by technique as a path to self-divinisation.

Christians can get taken in and often fail to detect the masked “poisons of occultic meditation and idolatry” which can taste sweet but can destroy a person.

He has plenty of interesting stories of people coming out of new gge practices who have a great hunger for God. And for those who miss the movements of yoga—there is a Christian version called “Praise Moves,” readily available on DVD!

Br Sculley’s new book is a wonderful, readable, engaging account and should become the go-to book for all those confused about the realities of new age practices and a resource for RE classes.

One need not to turn to yoga, reiki, tai chi or transcendental meditation to seek inner peace. Christianity already has an immensely rich heritage here, which is always open to be rediscovered and deepened.

Brother Max Sculley DL.S . Blowing the Whistle on Yoga, Tai Chi and Reiki (Melbourne: Divine Mercy Publications, 2023) Can be ordered from: Divine Mercy Publications: 03 9830 4386. [email protected]

Wanda Skowronska is a Catholic psychologist and author living and working mainly in Sydney.

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