What is Reiki?
To understand Reiki, it is important to understand how the system was developed and evolved into it’s current form.
Birth of Reiki
Reiki (or more properly referred to as Usui Reiki Ryoho, or Usui Reiki Method) is a system of practice developed in the early 1900s by a Japanese Buddhist monk named Mikao Usui. Like many Japanese Buddhists, Mikao Usui was looking for satori (enlightenment) and he focused his practice on anapanasati (mindfulness practice).
The key understanding of the practice is in the term Reiki, which consists of two Japanese kanji. The two characters are most often translated as “Universal Life Force Energy.”This definition, however, does not really define the word “Reiki” properly.
In Usui’s day, the Japanese kanji for “Ki” is the same as the Chinese kanji for “Chi.” In fact today, they are still considered to be synonymous. Ki represents life force energy. All living things have Ki flowing through them. Without Ki, there is no life.
However, in both Chinese and Japanese, there are different types of Ki. We get Ki from the Earth in the form of food (Earth Ki) and from the air through our breath (Heaven Ki). There are many different types of Ki energy, and the word Ki by itself would indicate a “universal” Ki. So why do we need Rei if Ki can be defined as “Universal Life Force.”
“Rei” has many different meanings in Japanese, including spiritual, ghost, supernatural, and cold. Often times when we are translating kanji, it becomes difficult for this reason. But given the nature of the practice, we can easily presume that Usui meant to use the “spiritual” meaning.
So why not just say Reiki is “Spiritual Life Force?” Frankly, a lot of people are afraid of using the word “spiritual” because it often draws many religious connotations. So they replace it with “Universal.”
However, like so many translations, “spiritual” is not an exact translation of Rei in that reference. Rei refers to spiritual force, that which powers all the non-physical. Rei is the essence of life in the non-physical world. Without Rei, there is no non-physical presence.
This gives us an interesting view of the word Reiki. Rei is life in spirit (or non-physical if you prefer), and Ki is life in physical form. When we view the word this way, Reiki is not one thing but a duality, not unlike yin-yang. Two “opposite” forces that work together to create a greater whole.
Reiki Becomes a Healing Art
The most commonly recognized practice of Reiki is “hands-on healing.” In this practice, a Reiki practitioner channels Reiki energy from Source (choose your name) through her body and into a recipient. The Reiki energy balances both the physical and spiritual aspects of the recipient’s energy field putting them in a position to heal themselves.
This practice actually came later in Reiki’s development and was not the focus of Usui’s studies. From the book given out to his students (and copies are still shared today), “I accidentally realized that I have received healing power when I felt the air in a mysterious way during fasting.”
Reiki’s healing abilities came to prominence in 1923 after an earthquake struck Tokyo and Yokohama. Usui and his students went to help, using their Reiki to help those injured in the earthquake. This attracted many new students, including some naval officers, one of whom was Chujiro Hayashi.
Reiki Comes to the West
After Usui died in 1926, many of his students continued to study and work together. The Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai was formed by some of these students. Chujiro Hayashi opened his own Reiki clinic. In 1936, he was visited by Hawayo Takata, a Japanese-American who lived in Hawaii. She had come to Japan on family business and suffered an acute attack of various illnesses. Instead of surgery, Takata was guided to Hayashi’s clinic. After receiving treatment and being cured of all her diseases, she pleaded with Hayashi to study this system.
Takata trained with Hayashi for a year and received the first 2 levels of training. She returned to Hawaii and began practicing Reiki to help others. In 1938, Hayashi travelled to Hawaii and initiated Takata to 3rd degree. Hayashi returned to Japan and in 1940, committed seppuku (ritual suicide) rather than be forced to serve in the war.
Takata continued to practice Reiki and taught students, but she did not teach any the Third Degree (or Master Level) until the 1970’s. From then until her death in 1980, Takata trained 22 Masters, who took on students of their own. Pretty much all Reiki practiced outside of Japan (and much of what is practiced in Japan also) comes from Takata through her students.
The Traditional Reiki Story
The Japanese like many ancient cultures used word of mouth to pass their history and practices down from generation to generation. Unfortunately, this led to a great deal of knowledge and wisdom being watered down and lost. As Reiki was passed down in this manner, our knowledge of the history came from a recorded interview by Hawayo Takata. This is the story that she told.
Mikao Usui rediscovered Reiki in the early 1900s. He was the director of a Religious school in Japan. Ask by a student if he believed the Bible to be literally true, did he believe that Jesus really healed the sick. Mikao Usui said that he believed that the Bible was literally true and yes Jesus did perform miracles. The students asked him how Jesus performed the miracle of healing. Mikao Usui said he did not know how Jesus performed the miracle.
Mikao Usui traveled to the United States and entered the Chicago School of Divinity, where he earned his Doctorate in Theology. However, he did not find the answer to his question, How may you heal the body?
He returned to Japan and entered a Zen monastery. There he studied ancient Buddhist, Sanskrit, and Tibetan texts for many years. Mikao Usui felt like he had failed and expressed his feeling to one of the monks. Zen never says this is the end, instead “everything is a beginning.” Do not give up your quest, because everything known to man can be known again.
Finally, in the original Sanskrit, he found the formula for healing the body in the ancient texts, but he did not have the ability or understanding to use it. So he decided to Fast and Meditate.
He traveled to the holy mountain of Kurama. He climbed the mountain chose the spot for his meditation then gathered 21 stones and piled them before him. Each day he threw one stone down the mountain.
On the final morning just before dawn. Mikao Usui saw a beam of white light coming toward him. His first reaction was to run. However, he decided to stay still. The light entered his third eye and he lost consciousness. He reported that he saw millions of rainbow bubbles and little-known Sanskrit symbols glowing in gold. As he saw each of the symbols he was given the names and uses for each as well as information on how to activate the healing energy. Mikao Usui came down the mountain and experienced what is known as the four miracles.
- Coming down from the mountain he stubbed his toe on a rock and fell to the ground. His toe was bleeding he instinctively grabbed his toe after a few minutes, the bleeding stopped and the pain disappeared.
- Mikao Usui had fasted for 21 days and then ate a very large breakfast without any adverse effects.
- The innkeeper’s granddaughter had a bad toothache for several days. Mikao Usui laid his hands on her face and she immediately felt better.
- Mikao Usui traveled back to a nearby abbey where he studied before the fast. The head abbot was ill and Usui healed him.
Mikao Usui began to practice Reiki in the slums of Kyoto, where he healed the beggars at no cost asking only that they start a new life. He worked for seven years in an asylum treating many illnesses However he found the same people returning who although healed of their physical ailments still chose to live by begging. Mikao Usui was deeply shaken. He realized that he had forgotten something very important in his healing work. To teach gratitude. Following this, he thought out the Reiki principles.
Much of this story was disproved by the discovery of Mikao Usui’s memorial, the research of Frank Petter and William Rand, and the teachings of Hiroshi Doi – a member of the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai and Chris Marsh, Dave King, and Melissa Riggall – all of whom studies with direct students of Mikao Usui.
Just because the story is not completely factual, there are numerous lessons to be learned in it. Reiki students should treat this history as a parable and look for the many lessons in it.
The Reiki Principles
Part of the core of Mikao Usui’s teachings are the Reiki Principles.
The secret art of inviting happiness
The wonderful medicine for all diseases
Just for today
Work with integrity
Be kind to others
Mornings and evenings, sit in gassho position
And repeat these words out loud and in your heart
For the improvement of body and soul, Usui Reiki Ryoho
Mikao Usui, Founder
The Reiki principles are spiritual ideals. By adopting these precepts you will add balance and substance to your life. It is important that you realize that you are not expected to live every moment of your life within the framework of these ideals. As humans, we are all imperfect, and that is why each principle begins with “Just for today.” You can without pressure or stress work on improving yourself daily. If you slip up today, you can always begin again tomorrow. The more you work with the principles, the more you will condition yourself to adopt them as a way of life.
To become more familiar with the Reiki principles it is advisable to read them aloud at least twice a day. You may wish to place a large copy of the ideals in a picture frame. Then you could position the copy in a prominent place where you are sure to see it each day, or if you are going to practice Reiki professionally, place it in your healing room. The Five Reiki principles mean different things to each one of us. Meditation can help to unlock your own perceptions.