Reiki has spread around the world since it was first introduced to the West back in the mid-twentieth century. However, there seems to be a lot of confusion about what is Reiki and what isn’t Reiki. This confusion can be seen by the hundreds of different “systems” of Reiki that have been developed since the 1980s. Reiki (or more properly referred to as Usui Reiki Ryoho, or Usui Reiki Method) is a system of practice developed in the early 1900’s by a Japanese Buddhist monk named Mikao Usui. Like many Japanese Buddhists, Mikao Usui was looking for satori (enlightnement) and he focused his practice on anapanasati (mindfulness practice).
What is Reiki?
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 may translations, “spiritual” is not a 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
When people ask the question “What is Reiki?”, the most common answer is a healing art. In fact, hands on healing is the most commonly recognized practice of Reiki. 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 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.