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New and Improved? : The Processes of Globalisation on Spiritual Practices; Illustrated by The Global Spread of Reiki.

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New and Improved? : The processes of globalisation on spiritual practices; illustrated by the global spread of Reiki.

The processes of globalisation create an open market place for trade, but globalisation is also an exchange of cultures, of ideas and practices. Spiritual practices and rituals are one of the ways in which a culture reproduces itself and as such, is subject to hegemonic forces which act to alter the existing form.

It has been said that Globalisation may be regarded as a threat to regionalized spiritual practices because there is a tendency to standardise them in an Americanised form, which is primarily Christian.

One of the under explored aspects of the Internet is the cultural effects created by the exchange of spiritual ideas and practices online. As more people gain access to the World Wide Web, the diversity of spiritual information available increases exponentially. Exotic cultural practices, once only available to the privileged few who could afford to travel to exotic locations, is now available to millions of people across the globe, at the touch of a button.

Gone are the days when spiritual practices are linked to a specific geographical area, with religions linked intimately to the histories and cultures of respective nations and ethnic groups. Spiritual rituals are undergoing a deterritorialisation, aided by new media. It has been suggested that the activities of individual religious groups will be increasingly characteristic of free competition on a global scale.

Religion has always been a globalising phenomenon, with missionaries and pilgrims travelling to spread their version of the Ð''Word' to the unenlightened. According to Peter Beyer, "In the context of globalisation, all religions are increasingly under pressure to see themselves as universal in principle, whether historically they have or not." Religions that have travelled across the globe have been spread, throughout history, by a network of the Ð''Faithful' leaving their home community, forming new communities as they travel, preaching and teaching their messages and rituals to their converts. Now these networks may be built and maintained electronically. As the printing press made the bible and religious texts available to the masses rather than just the clergy, so the Internet has given people the means to access spiritual information from other cultures and regions. With the creation of cyberspace, it is no longer necessary for the zealous to leave the comfort of their homes to spread their message. Virtual networks, it could be argued, are usurping the role of travelling missionaries in spreading rituals across the globe, at an unprecedented speed.

However, this leaves their teaching available to the multitude, which may not have undergone the strict protocols required for spiritual devotion within most sects. Here the spiritual messages and/or practices are open to adaptation and corruption from the receiver of the information. Changes to rituals that previously may have occurred over generations may now occur in a few years as new forms are adopted and spread via the Internet. Individuals now have the potential to access a variety of information from several global sources, to pick and mix which ones they choose, creating a personalised spiritual package. This "user-oriented" religious market creates a situation in which each individual, in response to his or her personal values and sensibilities, considers, selects, and tries out those elements which he finds most attractive and suitable. If they so choose, they are then able to Ð''create' and market their own product on the information superhighway; generating their own spiritual Ð''brand name'.

Inoue states that "Ð'...the globalization of religion can be understood as a process of realignment in this global religious situation, a process which involves the following three facets: First, it implies the inevitable transformation of individual religious organizations; second, it can be expected that new characteristics will be produced in the contents of doctrines, rituals, and practices; and third, globalization will be accompanied by changes in the human beings supporting religions, particularly in their intellectual perspectives."

Inoue theorises that the most likely aspect of change is a combination of various elements from different streams, a phenomenon which described as "neo-syncretism." The Ð''neo' aspect is in relation to the unique features of syncretism produced by the scope and speed of electronic media, such as the Internet.

I believe this process of globalisation, leading to a diversion from an original form can be witnessed in the spread of a form of spiritual healing, Reiki. Reiki was devised in Japan, and from there spread into the western world. I will illustrate how, from its roots in 19th century Japan, Reiki has been transformed, assuming new characteristics and rituals, as it has circumnavigated the globe.

There are advocates of Reiki who claim it originated in Tibet, with some claiming its roots as being a relic from Atlantis. This, in my opinion, serves to remove Ð''ownership' of this system from the Japanese, leaving the route clear for a Ð''global ownership'. Once a global ownership is implied, then the way is open for modification and adaptation.

From 1641, all Europeans except the Dutch had been expelled from Japan; no Japanese were allowed to leave the country. Christianity was declared illegal and all Japanese were forced to register at Shinto temples. Those Japanese who refused to renounce Christianity were executed. This ban on Christianity was not lifted until 1873.

Japan then underwent a period of industrialization, transforming itself from a feudal society into an industrialized nation within a period of 30-40 years. Many of the older generations clung to traditional cultural practices as a means to maintain ontological security in the face of these sudden cultural changes, attempting to stave off the encroaching American culture.

Reiki was developed by Mikao Usui. Usui was born in 1865 in Japan, and was raised during a time when Japanese society and culture was going through a period of rapid change. He died in 1926. His family was Tendai Buddhists, and as a child he entered a monastery.

The roots of Reiki are in Tendai Buddhism and Shintoism, with Tendai Buddhism providing the spiritual teachings, and Shintoism contributing methods of controlling and working with energies. Usui had a background in kiko (energy cultivation) and Yagyu Shinkage Ryu, which is a martial art associated with Zen. He also underwent some Zen training for three years. All these elements



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