A Frank Discussion About Reiki

Even seventy-five years after Usui Reiki’s* introduction to the West, there remains quite a bit of confusion, many myths and misunderstandings, and even a bit of willful obfuscation concerning the nature of reiki (universal energy) and the origin of Reiki practice. An important part of being a Reiki practitioner in the West is, still to this day, education and correction of misinformation concerning some common myths.

Myth #1: Reiki is an ancient practice originating in Tibet/Egypt/India/China/etc.

Truth: This myth and its many variations have been promoted for quite some time for a few different reasons. While it is true that many different types and modalities of energy healing work have existed since ancient times, undoubtedly from long before the dawn of history, Reiki itself is a relatively modern practice. Some have branded any number of ancient and modern practices as "Reiki," but the word is not correctly utilized as a general term for all energy work. Some have done this somewhat innocently for brevity's sake and some have done this a bit deceptively in order to co-brand other practices as a way of coattailing on Reiki's upsurge in popularity and name recognition. Energy work is a very diverse field of healing, much of which has great value, but all energy work is not Reiki.

The true origins of Reiki are only further obfuscated by the fact that Hawayo Takata (the woman who originally brought the practice to the West in 1937 after studying with Chuujuro Hayashi, one of Usui’s direct students), spread some distortions about the founder of Reiki, Mikao Usui. She reported that he was a Christian monk and that he had degrees from the University of Chicago and Doshisha University in Kyoto. This was done primarily to legitimize the practice for Westerners by giving Usui-sensei university credentials and because of anti-Japanese prejudice during World War II that had resulted in an outright ban in the United States of any Eastern healing practices, including acupuncture. Mrs. Takata was more or less the sole source of information and instruction in the West concerning Reiki practice from 1937 until her death in the 1980s and she maintained a very tight grip on the information that was being disseminated. The truth came out soon after her passing.

No two accounts of Usui’s teachings agree exactly on every detail of translation or history, but all concur that the Reiki Ryoho healing system was founded by Mikao Usui in the early 1920s. Usui-sensei was born in 1865 in a small village in Japan. His early years were spent in Japan, Europe, America and China, many times living in abject poverty that pushed him to work very hard to strengthen his body and mind. On the twenty-first day of a fast during a pilgrimage on Mount Kurama, Japan, he felt a great surge of reiki pooling above his head and Reiki Ryoho healing was instantaneously revealed to him.

Usui-sensei tried using the energy both on himself and on his family members and found it to be very successful. He decided that it would be much better to share this power widely with a lot of people in the world rather than to keep it exclusively for his family members. He moved to Tokyo, Japan, in 1922 and established the first Reiki center for healing. One year later, in the great Tokyo earthquake and ensuing fire, it was reported that Reiki cured and saved innumerable people in that catastrophe.

MYTH #2: Reiki utilizes the energy of the practitioner in order to heal the client.

TRUTH: This common misconception has caused a lot of difficulties for Reiki practitioners in the West. In fact, one of the most beautiful and practical aspects of Reiki is that the energy is passing through the practitioner and not from the practitioner. The practitioner simply places his or her hands on or slightly above the fully-clothed recipient to allow reiki to flow where it is needed for healing in the mind, body, emotions or spirit.

As a youth, Mikao Usui studied kiko (a Japanese form of qigong). Kiko and qigong are health and healing disciplines based on the development and use of life energy. The young Usui found that these healing methods required the practitioner to build up and then deplete his own life energy when giving treatments and he was dissatisfied with this. He wondered if it were possible to do healing work without depleting one’s own energy.

Many years later on Mount Kurama he found his answer. Reiki utilizes universal energy and not the practitioner's energy. In this manner, both the practitioner and the client benefit from the reiki flow and the practitioner is not drained of energy in practice. The practitioner opens him or herself to spiritual purity and becomes a pure channel for divine energy.

MYTH #3: Reiki practitioners receive their ability from their teacher. 

TRUTH: Reiki is universally sourced and is already everywhere all the time. Anybody can utilize reiki. Place your hands very lightly (no more pressure than the weight of a nickel) on your own head with the fingertips at the top of your crown and your palms along the sides of your head. Hold them there for a few minutes as you relax, breathe deeply and raise your awareness to a point about sixteen inches above the top of your head. You will most likely feel a tingling or floating feeling emanating from your palms and entering your head. This is reiki energy. Anybody can alleviate some pain from most common headaches in this manner.

The Reiki attunements that a student receives from a teacher (also called a Reiki master) during training does not give the practitioner his or her healing ability; it merely fine tunes the innate ability that one already possesses to receive this healing energy. Just as anyone can play the piano by hitting the keys, a trained pianist has more acuity and technical knowledge to produce harmonious sounds. In a similar way, a Reiki practitioner has more experience in surrendering to channel this pure flow. By merely placing his or her hands to make the reiki connection, the practitioner releases personal intentions and lets the hands of the universe take over. The recipient is healing themselves as the healing energy naturally flows where it is needed most.

MYTH #4: Usui Reiki involves contact with spirit guides.

TRUTH: This is a Western addition that was never a part of Mikao Usui's original teachings. During the 1980s, after Mrs. Takata's influence began to wane, the New Age movement in all of its enthusiastic diversity grabbed onto Reiki, removed it from its theological and cultural origin and configured new forms of “reiki” energy work. Many of these forms retained some of Usui’s teachings but added many elements of ancient and modern Western practices.  

Channeling discarnate astral beings as Reiki healing is a thoroughly Western idea. The entire point of Reiki is to use spiritual energy for healing and not astral energy. The astral realm is somewhat of a midway point between the earth realm and the heavenly realm that can become a potentially hazardous and confusing place to involve one's self. There is absolutely no benefit in contacting this realm that cannot be gained more surely by dealing with the universal source directly.

reiki-and-energy webThe beauty of Reiki is in its simplicity. The Reiki practitioner strives to maintain a very high state of purity in his or her life in order to become a clean and clear vessel for the reiki energy. In becoming an empty vessel, so to speak, this divine energy can move through them to help a recipient heal themselves. It is really that simple and beautiful.

MYTH #5: Reiki is a theologically Buddhist practice.
TRUTH: While many hospitals in the West have fully embraced Reiki as a regular part of the Western healing process, the Catholic Church has banned Reiki in all Catholic hospitals worldwide, primarily due to this myth! Although Mikao Usui was raised in a culture where Buddhism was one of the most prevalent religious paths, he himself was not noted to be religious. He did develop a passionate spirituality, due in part to his exposure to various theologies in grade school and during his travels in the West. This was honed by his own experiences attempting to cope with the struggles of survival in his adult poverty.

Perhaps Usui’s philosophy of Reiki is best described as memorialized by his student Usuida in 1927 on sensei’s gravesite monument at Saihoji Temple in Tokyo, Japan:

“Looking back, the main purpose of Reiho was not only to heal diseases, but also to have right mind and healthy body so that people would enjoy and experience happiness in life. Therefore, when it comes to teaching, first let the student understand well the Meiji Emperor's admonitory; then in the morning and in the evening let them chant and have in mind the Five Precepts which are:

First we say, today don't get angry.
Secondly we say, don't worry.
Third we say, be thankful.
Fourth we say, work with diligence.
Fifth we say, be kind to people.

This has been translated in variously nuanced ways and occasionally retooled for Western understanding, but the essence of Reiki ethics is very clearly stated. In some ways it perhaps shows a Buddhist influence in encouraging compassion and calmness, but there is nothing particularly and specifically Buddhist about it. In fact, Reiki does not address theology at all. 

One of the most beautiful aspects of Reiki is that it urges us toward spiritual development in a manner that is not alienating to any particular religious belief system. These five precepts can be found in almost any of the world's major religious texts including the Bible, the Qur'an, the Tao-de Ching, the Upanishads or traditional Native American teachings. Reiki is meant to be a universal healing practice, a direct union with divine energy, accessible equally to all.

*Editor’s note: Mikao Usui’s healing method was known as Usui Reiki Ryoho in Japan, commonly combined as Reiho. While reiki energy existed before Usui, his universal healing method combined spiritual teachings of the Five Precepts with the hands-on channeling of reiki energy. When Usui’s teachings were introduced to the West by Mrs. Takata in 1937, she abbreviated the name to Reiki, which may have led many to forget the spiritual foundation of Usui Reiki Ryoho. Today Reiki has become the accepted Westernized name for this practice, both in mainstream medicine and popular culture.

Marcello Antifonario is a Reiki practitioner, spiritual life coach, numerologist, meditation teacher and metaphysical workshop facilitator. He currently practices Reiki and teaches meditation at Sangha Yoga Collective in Lowell, MA, and can be reached at Marcello@marcelloreiki.com.

Read a full translation of Usui-sensei’s teachings etched into stone courtesy of Energy in Focus Reiki Studio, Sydney, Australia.