Over the past ten years, the world of Western Reiki has undergone rapid change. In fact, not since Iris Ishikuro disobeyed Mrs Takata by making the Master Level commonly available has anything of the like happened (Mrs Takata had decreed US $10,000 to be the going rate for the course, thus putting it out of most people's reach).
While there are several plausible reasons for this change – the advent of the Web, a growing number of teachers etc. – the principal cause is almost certainly the rediscovery of Reiki's Japanese heritage. This has led many practitioners to question much that was previously taken as 'gospel', and delve more deeply into a practice they soon learnt was not just a healing system, but also a way of life.
The Problem with Western Reiki
The Reiki almost everyone practices in the West was passed on – in one way or another – from Mrs Takata (a student of Dr Hayashi who, in turn, was a student of Mikao Usui, the founder of Reiki). Her style of Reiki has proven a great success and helped millions of people around the world. This is indisputable.
But is it true to Usui's original system of Reiki? And, more importantly, is it as effective as what Usui originally taught?
The answer, I believe, is 'no', and the reason is that Mrs Takata focused too much on the healing component of Reiki. For her Reiki was – at least primarily – a hands-on healing technique; while for Mikao Usui it was something much grander: a path to Enlightenment.
Before I elaborate on this point, it should be noted that the difference in emphasis is not surprising given the way Mrs Takata and Mikao Usui found Reiki. Mikao Usui arrived at Reiki after a life of meditation, martial arts and (Tendai) Buddhism; Mrs Takata found it after she sought a solution to several life threatening health problems. As a result, Usui saw Reiki in the context of Buddhism (and hence, Enlightenment); and Mrs Takata saw Reiki in the context of healing. It is therefore only to be expected that the way they taught Reiki differed substantially.
The Five Building Blocks of Reiki
Reiki, as taught by Usui, consisted of five principal parts:
• Mantras and Symbols
• Traditional meditation techniques
• Reiki precepts
All five parts are seen to work symbiotically together: one part strengthening the other in a bid – ultimately – to find Enlightenment.
In Western Reiki (as taught by Mrs Takata) many of the five components are either lost or greatly weakened. They all exist, sure, but the emphasis – as we have explained – is on the healing. Everything else is useful only insomuch as it helps this.
The Quest for Enlightenment
Since Reiki, for Usui, was not principally about healing (in fact, he only bothered teaching hands on healing in the last few years of his life!), then it is worth examining how it fits in with the goal of Enlightenment . In particular, it is useful to re-examine the five building blocks of Reiki to see how traditional Usui Reiki differs in emphasis from that handed down by Mrs Takata.
The attunements are for the most part used in a similar way in both Western and Japanese Reiki. Their purpose is to connect the aspiring practitioner to Reiki energy. The principal difference is that in Japanese Reiki the attunements (reiju) are not a one off thing. Rather, they are performed over and over again to help maintain one's connection to the Reiki energy.
In fact, in Usui's time, it was even common practice to perform reijus each time Reiki practitioners met as a group.
As we have already said, healing for Usui was not so much an end in itself as a path to Enlightenment. Through healing you entered into a deep meditative state that led to a closer connection with the true Self.
That is not to say that the healing component wasn't valued. After all, Usui himself spent much time healing people (sometimes even doing so for days on end – for instance after the 1923 Tokyo earthquake). The point is simply that healing was of secondary importance. It was the spiritual state of an individual that truly mattered. Not surprisingly, Japanese healing sessions tend to be much more intuitive as a result, since the emphasis on the meditative element makes them less 'heady' than their Western equivalent.
As a rule, there are no set positions, with a practitioner moving intuitively from one place to the next (unlike the method Mrs Takata taught which involves students using a set of fixed hand positions).
Mantras and Symbols
In Western Reiki, the mantras and symbols are primarily used to strengthen healing. If the practitioner feels that more energy is needed on a certain part of a patient's body, for instance, the Power Symbol can be drawn to intensify the Reiki energy. The mantras and symbols are generally used together – the mantras being repeated after the symbols are drawn.
In Japanese Reiki the symbols have a role of lesser importance. Indeed, the best way to describe them – according to Frans Stiene – would be something like 'training wheels'. While a beginner practitioner has a less reliable (or weaker) connection to the Reiki energy they will be used; but as soon as the practitioner has learnt to embody the energy of the symbols they will be let go of.
Furthermore, the symbols are used more for the practitioner's sake than the client's. They are not drawn on the client so that he or she can receive 'more energy'. Rather, they are drawn by the practitioner so that she, herself, can better embody their energy.
Another key difference between the two Reiki systems is that in Japanese Reiki the mantras are often used on their own. They are generally chanted with the aim of strengthening certain energy centers (for instance the CKR mantra – that is pronounced slightly differently to normal – bolsters the hara, or second chakra).
Students will spend months – maybe even years – chanting these mantras, working their way from one to the next only when their teacher deems them ready for the next one.
Traditional Meditation Techniques
As a rule, traditional Western Reiki neglects meditation practice. Sometimes meditation techniques involving the visualization of the Reiki symbols are taught, and students are usually encouraged to be in a meditative state when practicing Reiki; but systematic meditation is seldom part of Western Reiki.
For Usui, on the contrary, meditation was a genuine cornerstone upon which Reiki developed. Using particular meditation techniques – in particular breathing into the hara – students learnt to focus their mind, strengthen their energy and merge with the true Self.
Since Reiki – as we have said – was for Usui a path to Enlightenment, then moving more deeply within oneself was the most important thing one could do. As such, it is hardly surprising that Usui taught meditation for many years before teaching the healing component of Reiki.
Healing the body is great, for sure; but healing the mind (through meditation) is more important still.
The Reiki precepts are taught in both Western and Japanese Reiki and, to some extent, are important to both. The main difference between the two systems is how they are used.
While in Western Reiki the precepts are often understood on an intellectual level, Japanese Reiki aims to understand them in a more intuitive, non-rational way. Practitioners meditate on them, trying to understand with the 'gut', not the head. In this way, it is hoped, they can more fully embody the principles (in both actions and spirit).
When the principles are understood with the head alone, students will generally find that they do not greatly influence their actions.
Due to the multiple developmental influences on Western Reiki – for instance, Indian, Tibetan and Egyptian to name just a few – it is impossible to make any statements that are valid for all of its forms. That said, it is nevertheless true that on the whole, Japanese Reiki is principally a path to Enlightenment, while Western Reiki is a path to healing. This, it could be argued, is the main difference between the two systems. (Note: This discussion should be seen as a general one. In other words, as accurate as it will often prove to be, many Reiki practitioners and systems will not conform to the 'norm'.)
Jeremy O'Carroll is a traditional Usui / Shamballa Reiki Master. He has studied Reiki in India, Thailand and Australia and is a registered Master Teacher at the ARC (Australian Reiki Connection). He is the founder of the Om Reiki Centre in Daylesford (Victoria), Australia. If you wish to contact him, visit the Om Reiki Centre website at http://www.om-reiki.com.au