Throughout humankind’s history of healing therapies such as therapeutic touch and their often attendant eastern mystical practices such as reiki, charismatic individuals have contributed to the numerous paths of alternative and complementary healing modalities.
Mikao Usui wrote a manual of his teachings on reiki in 1920. In April of 1922 he opened his first seat of learning in Harajuku, Tokyo. His teachings inspired the senior population who experienced those teachings as a return to their older spiritual practices.
Reiki is a healing art evolved from eastern visions of what our self-healing universe is and how it functions. Today in the West we grow master teachers who, like their patients and students, rushed up the ranks through an instant reiki system of weekend seminars offering little if any foundation in eastern thinking and who are continuing to churn the master-making machinery.
Is reiki a valid complementary healing modality? Yes. Are there honest serious master teachers? Yes. However, qualified reiki masters are rare and the responsibility of learning to navigate the legitimate reiki path belongs to the student.
Background knowledge in eastern disciplines and concepts is a prerequisite for both a genuine master teacher and serious students wishing to achieve a deep committed reiki practice. Truly qualified master teachers accomplish an all encompassing change in their world view and a student calling upon a solid background in eastern philosophical and spiritual learning is more likely to recognize this alternative quality in a prospective master teacher.
Attaining a stage of authentic personal change in any eastern discipline along the path demands that a seeker prepare for a 5 to 10 year journey of intense intellectual study and another 5 to 10 years of actual practice; approximately twenty years of mental, emotional and spiritual practice precedes an actual change in awareness – and changing one’s awareness, the perspectives that guide one’s life, is the first step along the reiki path.
Because a strong historical case can be made that modern reiki is a rediscovery by Mikao Usui of an ancient Tibetan practice known as medicine buddha, I will sketch a few medicine buddha basics seeking a credible foundation from an eastern viewpoint speaking to contemporary reiki practice.
Tibetan medicine is rooted in India’s Buddhist system taught as early as the sixth century BCE. From the Buddhist mind-set, physical disease is a dynamic energetic manifestation of mental, social and spiritual disorder.
Buddhism is a directed contemplative or meditation practice on the universal level of correct living and involves tapping into mental, social and spiritual healing energy as it peels away layers hidden behind the diseased physical manifestation. Essentially, these are the identical attitudes taught in today’s genuine reiki practice.
Within this Indian Buddhist foundation, the Tibetans broadened their healing practices adding various treatments and medications. The Tibetan Buddhists created a healing system called medicine buddha. Spiritual contemplation, meditation, intuitive mystical healing methods – including hands-on energy manipulation – meld as a healing system based on Buddhist precepts of right perception and right action. Health in a self-healing universe is a harmonious balance between humankind’s integral relationship connecting our physical, mental, spiritual and natural worlds as various manifestations of one energy. The intent of medicine buddha practice is to harmoniously manifest one’s natural energetic potential.
Healing through medicine buddha takes place via a series of empowerment designed to awaken on the conscious level the deeper innate healing energy that resides within. Practicing medicine buddha meditation and receiving empowerment from a qualified Buddhist meditation master go hand in hand for both healer and patient. In modern reiki, the reiki master imparts empowerment to the patient or student or fellow healer in levels called attunements. Attunements open the subject to their innate energy potential in stages.
Barely scratching the surface we have sketched a case for the historical development of today’s reiki by visiting the sixth century Buddhist teachings of the Tibetan medicine buddha:
1. Medicine buddha involves a laying-on of hands similar to reiki.
2. The ability to perform medicine buddha healing is transmitted to the student through an empowerment similar to a reiki attunement given by the teacher.
3. The views and attitudes of medicine buddha practice closely parallel the system now known as reiki.
The weekend reiki seminar:
Reiki is composed of 2 Japanese characters. The top character, rei, is defined as spirit. The bottom character, ki, is defined as energy. It is fair to say that the term reiki means spirit energy or life force. However, if I contemplate these words in the western sense I cannot grasp their true meanings. It is imperative for the western reiki student to understand that they are embarking on a journey to a place in our comprehension where we come into direct contact with, and are changed by, the dynamics of language.
Learning to use everyday western terms in an eastern sense, to conceptualize in a reiki style, is key to understanding how reiki healing succeeds. Without this knowledge of the difference between eastern and western concepts of energy or life force, we can be given the tools of the energy healing profession but will not possess the ability to take instruction on utilizing them; the nomenclature, esoteric symbols, meditation instruction and information arriving through meditation practice will be misinterpreted.
After our 3 day reiki seminar we will frame our certificates and open our notebooks; although, we will encounter symbols and meditation instructions through our western conceptions of what the eastern symbols and instructions are offering us. The symbols, mantras and instructions communicate aspects of life force energy in the reiki sense, in the eastern sense – but we have no idea what that means.
How do western students of eastern thought begin to fathom our familiar language in a new and unfamiliar way? The answer lies in the question; we begin understanding as beginners. We learn to see the world as if looking at it for the first time. To heal using energy one must grasp energy intuitively. My first yogic teacher, eden ahbez, taught that the world’s true path to healing is revealed through nature. The historical Gotama Buddha understood this truth. One day he was asked the meaning of his great teaching. He answered by holding up a flower.
The reiki student sees a flower; the reiki healer also sees the flower, however, the reiki healer sees the entire universe in a single flower. The genuine reiki healer grasps one universal energy through a long-practiced holistic vision. If we wish to think in an eastern sense, we would not call the flower a flower. We must perceive its true energy and think, “Moon, sun, rain, cold, warmth, light, photons, soil,worm castings, nutrients, cells, molecules, atoms, electrons, protons and neutrons,” and we can take this list back to the moment preceding the big bang if we so desire, because one who understands energy knows that the flower was never planted on the earth. It grows out of the earth, all that is the earth. The earth is not only an orbiting planet, but also a dynamic integral piece of the universe; which universe is born of infinity. Since there is no word that can describe infinity, the answer to “What do you call a flower?” is simply that you do not!
Gotama Buddha’s students, Ananda and Kashyapa, looked at the flower in silence and not a word passed between them. Although, being pragmatic, understanding that words are here to stay and we will continue using them, in the East one might say, “A flower is not a flower, then again, it is a flower.” This is also a reminder that the genuine reiki healer lives simultaneously in two worlds, the esoteric and exoteric, the mystical and mundane, the metaphysical and physical. The truth of each world is to be found in the midst of the other.
Energy is a single quality offering itself through innumerable variations on a dynamic theme – one energy, many manifestations! Thus, we embark on the journey of seeing energy through fresh wholistic eyes, beginner’s eyes.
Energy is one and many. Energy is whole and this means we are an expression of energy, and not only our physical bodies, but our mental and emotional selves. These bodies also are referred to as energy bodies. Remember, one energy, many manifestations. When reiki healers offer healing, they heal the whole individual. Often, this extends to the individual’s outer environment: family, friends, the workplace, living space, etc. We are whole as the flower is whole; while its roots touch the earth its petals touch the sky.
Saying that energy is dynamic means that energy is potential. If energy is potential – a dynamic force – what direction is it moving in? As expressions of energy, how can we hope to heal ourselves if we have no notion of where we have been, how we arrived at this time and place or where we are going?
When a reiki master feels energy, the master senses a direction. From the seed to the flower, the flower to the field, the field to the forest and beyond to infinity – energy moves from the simple to the complex. Arleta Soares, reiki master of the Usui and Karuna reiki systems, and a healer of deep insight and considerable power, teaches that healing with reiki is a peeling of the onion from the obvious manifestation of the disease to the multiple levels and often complex roots of that disease. Reiki heals in the same direction that energy moves, from the simple to the complex. Reiki heals using energy as energy uses itself, as an expression of the whole.
In the western sense, Albert Einstein defined energy as mass times the speed of light squared. This is not a wrong understanding. It’s brilliant! However, it is, by reiki standards, incomplete; it is only a physical measurement. In reiki, we accept this physical measurement yet we learn to intuit a broader measurement – one that changes the linguistic meaning of energy, potential and life force. Einstein, when questioned about his work in physics, showed his spiritual intuition developed during a lifetime of contemplating energy. He answered, “I am only chasing God’s footprints, trying to understand how God works.”
In the eastern sense, when we speak of seeing energy we speak of using the physical flower to see beyond the boundaries of that flower’s obvious presence. This is transcendental vision. To transcend beyond the physical is to realize the metaphysical. If reiki healers are to accomplish their work wholistically and with direction, in accordance with the manner in which energy works, they must meld a basic western understanding of the self-healing physical universe with an eastern understanding of the metaphysical. The genuine reiki healer perceives our universe in transcendental terms.
How does one describe the metaphysical and transcendental universe? Reiki, having its roots in Buddhism, would say the universe is empty. This point is critical. If each element – including the human element – in the universe grows from all that the universe was, is or will become, then each element is a part of every other element and the universe uses itself to transcend itself – one energy, many manifestations!
If each element is a part of every other element then the universe is empty of independent elements such as things and self. Nothing (no-thing) exists in the universe, however, relative and simultaneously to our finite condition everything exists and exists as the universe; a flower is not a flower, then again, it is a flower. It is important to understand on the deepest level that a reiki healer never works on a patient, but always works on the universe, then again, a reiki healer works on a patient.
Healing the universe is not a small responsibility and this article or a 3 day seminar can only disseminate knowledge; it can’t teach wisdom or compassion. Our 3 day seminar will not create a change in awareness unless we have practiced the years of work that precede that moment of change.
The students’ path to healing wisdom:
On the path, a student seeks her teacher. However, the responsibility of accomplishing the groundwork lies with the student. The work we speak of is meditation, and while one usually begins with a period devoted to experimenting with various meditation styles in order to learn the technique of directed contemplation(this period often taking years), the meditation style we are concerned about here is reiki.
Reiki meditation utilizes a system of esoteric archetypal symbols as graphic visuals and mantras, which are spoken sounds.
Earlier we arrived at a point of understanding that the genuine reiki healer uses their practiced intuitive sense of energy’s natural universal characteristics to heal the universe. Any conscious actions – including healing actions – begin with awareness. One must be aware of a disturbance in the patient’s energy field, in the universal energy field, in order to open the patient to healing. To heal the universe one must practice universal awareness. Again, the genuine reiki healer learns and then practices. Learning what defines universal awareness and practicing it is referred to as meditation.
We already know a good-sized chunk about the universe; that it is essentially empty; that nothing (no-thing, including our selves) exists as an independent element in the universe, yet all things exist as the universe. Therefore, you and I are the universe. When we observe the universe, we are the universe observing itself, being aware of itself. If our bodies exist and we are the universe, we are also our bodies. Our bodies are flesh and spirit aspects of the universe in space and time. Here comes the physical-metaphysical pitch; the universe is dynamic, energetic, aware, and being transcendental it possesses the potential to map itself in aspects. Energy creates itself in a fashion enabling it to evolve and be aware of its evolution. This is what we mean when we say, “We are not born into the universe, we are born out of it.” The universe uses itself to create itself and this is what we mean when we say, “The universe is transcendental.”
You and I can’t be expected to heal others and ourselves without understanding where we came from, how we arrived or where we are going. Now, we know the direction of our journey and we must practice.
When we act, when we incorporate symbols and ritual in our lives, the universe is in the process of mapping itself. To the extent that our aspects perform this activity consciously, we become aware of and awaken to the universal map. This infinite energy map is not given to us by any reiki symbol since it is always an innate part of our being a universal aspect. Reiki symbols are part of the great energy play in that they bring to our conscious attention that which is often esoteric and not consciously realized.
Meditating through the use of esoteric symbols and mantras is the process of discovering and practicing universal awareness. Like the words on this page, symbols aid us in reading and conceptualizing the universe. As our awareness grows, so the universe grows; meditation is transcendental in nature; the universe uses itself to transcend itself.
Symbols and mantras, like the rest of the universe, are energy forms and they work because being aware of them they are able to communicate their energy aspects to our energy aspects – one energy. When this conscious aware communication takes place, the symbols become the universe’s way of perceiving itself. Knowing that in the western sense energy follows conscious thought and in the eastern sense energy is conscious thought, helps us to understand the parts that thought and intention play in healing.
If a patient is in the room with us, we can have a hands-on reiki session. However, because thought is energy – and as genuine reiki healers we have long practiced directed contemplation – we may heal through space and time and reiki often is used in distance healing. This is an important physical-metaphysical point to grasp; because energy is one and whole, space (here or there) and time (now and later) do not exist in reiki healing.
The spirit worlds:
Arriving at an eastern understanding of energy, our universal bodies, thought and universal awareness, it is time to mention the unmentionable – an important point concerning healing style versus culture. The medicine buddha practice was not only mystical in its intuitive style, but also metaphysical in its appeal to the four devas or what today we call the spirit guides. Consulting with spirit guides is the unmentionable element in the reiki healer’s medicine bag. It is often used in secret.
Keeping this part of reiki healing subdued is largely a cultural demand. Were I a Native American Indian speaking of having completed a vision quest and finding my spirit guides, I would be a popular person amongst my peers within my culture. However, being of eastern European ethnicity with flesh the color of day-old oatmeal, if I mention speaking to the spirit guides, many in my culture may ridicule my healing art and myself.
Our mainstream culture is focused through conventional science on that aspect of the world which can be measured in a laboratory, largely ignoring metaphysical perceptions measured by intuitive knowing and trusted through faith in the transcendent. We are taught 6 days a week to live by the table of weights and measures and the table of periodic elements. The seventh day is reserved for broadening one’s faith in the unseen and unmeasured – which for most of us includes God and may also include Christ, saints and perhaps angels. Spirit guides are an historical part of the reiki tradition beginning with the medicine buddha.
Speaking within this tradition, Lama Zopa Rinpoche said, “…You will receive much support, not only from the eight gone to bliss ones but from the four clairvoyant devas. These devas help you diagnose and understand the right method to heal…”
With a slight twist, Thrangu Rinpoche said, “In the vajrayana tradition, we regard the blessing and the power and the qualities of the deities as being innate, as being within one’s own mind.”
After a period of time practicing meditation and learning to read and interpret the universal energy map, many reiki healers discover their psychic abilities, the ability to be aware of subtle forms of energy, to become expert map-readers. The reiki healer uses all energy and will use whatever the universe offers to heal a person, including spirit guides.
Observing this practice through western eyes, we cannot validate using spirit guides, because in the West our science, healing and medicine have become laboratory measuring skills, consideration given only rare acknowledgment of the intuitive arts of healing.
However, if we fully engage in the practice rather than observing from the sidelines, we soon leave behind our laboratories and find ourselves measuring and validating through a functional point of view; if it intuitively feels right and works, use it.
Transformations through reiki practice:
Meditation deepens. Our universal perspectives change. One’s life takes on a different panorama and the genuine reiki practitioner finds his ethics naturally changing. Ethics evolve into a set of rules through which the healer may express compassion and life becomes a meditation on compassion. Compassion is knowledge melded to wisdom and it develops at its own pace. It cannot be forced and must not be confused with kindness. True compassion is kind when it can afford to be and harsh when the occasion calls for such action because true compassion seeks to heal. Compassion is an awareness practice.
Reiki is a healing modality expressive of the highest quality that the universe offers – unity. The reiki healing session is a wave running through our space-time continuum that integrates patient, disease, healer and method: all being equally responsible and actively striving together towards an improved quality of life. The entire event occurs within a framework of consciously recognizable equalized ownership. The buck may not be passed – no one party or element is credited for the healing; reiki is humble. Like all science, medicine and healing modalities East and West, reiki is not a panacea. It is first the study of a learned practice in progress; next a complementary therapy; and always the art of genuine reiki is a journey on the eternal path.