Reiki is an alternative healing technique, science and art with its origins in Japanese Zen philosophy and medical practice. The word “Reiki” is actually a compound word with many different layers of meaning, encompassing the richness and mystery of the art. The roots of this word are “rei” and “ki.” “Rei” encompasses a wide range of meanings, including companion, command, cool or cold, custom, dictation, order, precedent, soul or ghost, an expression of gratitude and zero.
Therefore, we may more simply say that rei is the expression and use of divine power and harmony within oneself. “Ki” refers to the life force or energy which animates every person, tree, plant and natural thing on the planet and which defies easy description or categorization. However, the word “ki” also means chest or container, spirit, skill, and something that is undiluted or pure. Thus rei and ki are similar to one another, but are not and must not be treated as the same, as rei flows from the divine and ki is the expression of that in the practitioner.
Therefore, Reiki is much more complex than simply one thing, but encompasses a variety of different things all at once. The practice of Reiki takes into account all of these things in varying degrees, although certain masters may agree or disagree with some of these usages.
Reiki is constantly evolving and changing, but the basics remain largely the same. In this art, the practitioner uses one’s own life force, or ki, to stimulate that of the other person by invoking the various powers of “rei” and marrying them to each other.This may be done through the laying on of hands, which is the most widely known version in use today, through energy transference at a distance, or as an adjunct to other healing arts such as acupuncture and acupressure.
The History of Reiki
The historical origins of Reiki in Japan are largely unknown before the early 1900s, largely because Reiki senseis, or masters, seem to have taught only individuals or small groups of students. However, techniques and concepts that bear a striking resemblance to the concepts of Reiki as we understand them today have been studied by diverse groups within Japan and other countries for thousands of years. These appear to have originally begun life as meditative side effects, but were soon learned for their own sake rather than as an interesting offshoot or happy of accident of trying to attain something else.
While stories vary on exactly how and why this happened, the story of modern Reiki begins with a doctor and lay Buddhist, Mikao Usui (1865-1926), who had studied and traveled extensively in Europe and China. In 1922, Usui went to fast and meditate on Mt. Kurama, a holy mountain near Kyoto, Japan.
Sources disagree as to why he did so, but agree that after several days or weeks of prayer, meditation and fasting, Usui found himself near death. However, instead of dying, he suddenly felt revitalized and invigorated in a way that simply would not normally be considered possible for someone suffering from acute starvation, exhaustion and dehydration. According to him, the secrets of what later became known as Reiki were revealed to him during this ordeal.
Such revelations were routinely kept secret, passed down only to one’s family or a small, select group of friends, students or disciples. Usui opened the first Reiki academy and broke tradition by allowing anyone who wished to learn the secrets he had been made privy to during his sojourn on the mountain. Usui died in 1926, mourned by his disciples and revered today as the first sensei of a tradition practiced by an estimated 5 million people worldwide.
Hayawao Takata is credited with introducing Reiki to the West in 1937, when she left her native Japan for Hawaii. However, her “authoritative” version of how Reiki began and her habit of charging what were considered at the time astronomical fees to pass on the art to others drew a great deal of derision and skepticism, as did her steadfast refusal to permit students to record or take any notes of her tutelage. Nevertheless, Takata’s teachings continued to find favor with others, particularly in the West, and a “critical mass” of students emerged to go on to become Reiki senseis in their own right.
The Concepts of Reiki
Many people understand Reiki to be nothing more than a form of faith healing. In actuality, this is not a fair or accurate characterization, as it takes only one narrow and limited facet of the art into account. Understanding this art begins with this simple but beautiful quote from Sensei Usui: “First the mind must be healed, then the body must be made sound. If the mind is healthy, conforming to a path of integrity, then the body becomes sturdy of its own accord.” Usui codified the Five Principles, which today remain the backbone of modern Reiki practice. These are:
“Just for today:
1. I will not be angry.
2. I will not worry.
3. I will be grateful.
4. I will do my work honestly.
5. I will be kind to others.”
The Five Principles are often, but not always, recited in the form of a chant or prayer at the beginning and/or end of the day, or at some other appropriate time according to the practitioner’s whim. These principles allow the practitioner to retain clear focus and remember why they do what they do, making them more attuned to their own spirits and thus better able to minister to the spirits of others.
In addition, there are five symbols, which are key to the art and practice. These symbols are:
Cho Ku Ray, the Power symbol
This symbol, reminiscent of a musical note with an outward-extending spiral and the top bar facing to the left, is widely considered the universal symbol of Reiki. It symbolizes the union of the divine and the physical and may be used to cleanse a person or an area, to bless food and drink and to seal in active healing energies after a treatment. The symbol may be reversed to gather power or heal oneself.
Sei Hei Ki, the Mind/Emotion symbol
This symbol, which looks like the head of a man in profile facing to the viewer’s left, denotes the mind and emotions. It also symbolizes unity with the divine and the key to the universe. It may be used in any application where mental and emotional health and stability are more important than tending to physical ailments, such as healing the emotional damage from past traumas, mental illness and overcoming addictions.
Hon Sha Ze Sho Nen, the Distance symbol
Consisting of four different kanji-script characters, this symbol means “The Divine in Me greets The Divine in You to promote Harmony and Peace.” Notice the similarity to the Hindu greeting “Namaste,” which means much the same thing. This symbol is used for distant attunement and to promote healing across wide spans of space and time.
Tam-a-ra-sha, the Balancing symbol
This symbol, reminiscent of a sand dollar, is intended to balance energies and unblock chakras. It also helps alleviate or remove physcial pain when drawn over an injury or sore point.
Dai Ko Myo, the Master symbol
Only Reiki masters may use this symbol, which is used to heal and stimulate the soul and the intuitive or psychic processes.
These symbols may be used or activated in a number of ways, such as drawing them on or over the subject of a healing, visualization, chanting or writing the name several times, or through other methods as appropriate. Perfection is not required and precision not necessary, as it is the intent that matters.
The Practice of Reiki
Understanding the base philosophical underpinnings and primary symbols, we now turn our attention to the actual practice of the art. Reiki may be “targeted” and tailored to one specific area of the body using specific hand movements and contact points; as a whole body method of healing; or as a healing where no touch need occur. How these are done and under what circumstances depends largely upon the power and ability of the practitioner and the level of comfort and trust the recipient feels toward the practitioner. In all cases, the underlying idea is to let one’s ki move freely through the other and eliminate blockages in the chakras and energy transfer lines of one’s body. While this art may not be appropriate treatment for serious or acute ailments such as burns or broken bones, it often helps with headaches, bruises and sore muscles. It can be used in tandem with Western medicine to promote faster healing, however, so it should not be dismissed altogether.
Reiki and Western medicine are often most successful when used together, but each case, person and injury is somewhat different, making this claim a difficult one to refute or verify except through anecdotal evidence. A reputable practitioner will never suggest you ignore a healthcare provider’s advice, and ideally would work together with the healthcare provider. This is because a course of treatment for chronic or severe ailments may need to be altered, amended or discontinued once the practitioner has done their work.
Reiki can also be used within one’s self as a meditative guide and art, promoting balance and overall health for the practitioner as well as for others. Before one attempts to practice Reiki, one should first be attuned by a master. Some masters insist on multiple attunements or even prolonged courses of study to take students through the various levels of Reiki and hence to the master level, while other masters find certain students tend to have a natural gift and can adapt far more readily to the combination of divine and personal energy. Because of this core difference, everyone who studies this art progresses through it at their own pace and demonstrates a different level of talent and ability.
One popular use of the art is to combine it with other healing or meditative techniques, giving the user the most benefit from multiple systems. While this does not apply in every case or with every person, it is generally very difficult to find a situation where if the art is applied properly it will conflict with one’s religious beliefs, personal philosophies, moral code or the efficacy of the other treatment. Indeed, much like with conventional Western medicine, other holistic treatment methods may be used in tandem with Reiki with few or no ill or adverse effects on the recipient. Therefore, the art may be used with acupuncture, acupressure, crystal therapy, Kundalini yoga and other such arts, to name only a few.
The beginning and end of the practice of Reiki is always in the mind and spirit. The physical benefits one reaps are mere trifles compared to the comfort and peace of feeling and knowing oneself to be an ineluctable part of the Divine, present in all things and at all times. This engenders a sense of peace and tranquility which in turn relaxes the body and enables the life force to flow more smoothly and with less resistance through the body. Thus we see that the physical benefits of Reiki, potent and surprising as they are, are nothing more than a side effect of the process of aligning one’s heart and soul with the will of the Divine and the ebb and flow of the universe.
While one cannot be made a Reiki practitioner simply by reading an article, one can certainly begin to incorporate the principles and practices of the art into one’s daily life and routines. Try assimilating these images and concepts into your daily life for a week or two. Take rigorous note of the results and how you feel before, during and after a session. You may very well find you are more peaceful, open with the people around you, more serene in your own soul and better able to deal with the stresses of your daily life because of Reiki!