Reiki was developed in Japan, and originally was passed on from teacher to student in oral tradition. It is no surprise that once it was introduced to the Western world via Hawaii, that many aspects of Reiki practice have continued to develop based on mis-translation and misunderstanding of various aspects the Japanese language and culture.
With much already 'lost in translation', another layer of miscommunication is added when Reiki practitioners try to explain Reiki to anyone with a scientific background. I hope this post will help clarify and prevent some of the common misunderstandings and miscommunications.
WHAT IS REIKI?
First things first, the word "Reiki" ( 靈氣 ) is an ancient Japanese word that has a combination of meanings that can roughly be explained as the "spiritual power of the universe" or the "universal life force energy" or "mystical energy of the cosmos" to name a few. There is a lot more meaning imbedded in the word "Reiki" than the literal translation, which is "spirit energy". As you can see, the literal translation certainly does not convey the full meaning of the word. This is not uncommon with Kanji (the Japanese hieroglyphs that have been adopted from the Chinese language).
In the Western world, we can be quite literal, and we can easily misunderstand the meanings behind the Japanese words. We have to make an effort not only to know the translation of the word 靈氣("Reiki"), but also to take the time to comprehend the meaning. For most Reiki practitioners, it would be something that one knows and feels, but something that might be hard to explain. It is that force of nature that connects everything, something that is a part of all of us and of the universe, flowing and shifting, unseen to the naked eye.
THE REIKI METHOD
In the 1920s Mikao Usui, the founder of Reiki, has developed a treatment method utilizing the Reiki energy (靈氣). He called it Shin-Shin Kaizen Usui Reiki Ryoho or 心身改善臼井靈氣療法 - "Usui treatment method for improvement of body and mind".
Over the years, the name of this treatment method has been simplified to just "Reiki" or "Usui Reiki". With that alteration we've lost the deeper meaning of the technique that Mikao Usui has developed.
The method was focusing on improvement of the body and mind using the existing energy of the universe, and by skipping half of the method title, we might be missing something important. We all have Reiki, it is a part of us and of the universe, and it naturally flows and permeates everything in the world. We are not 'giving' our energy to our Reiki clients, or removing 'bad energy' - we simply learn to facilitate the natural flow that helps bring the client to a more natural state of being on a physical and mental/emotional levels. When we know that what we are practicing is not simply "Reiki", but "Shin-Shin Kaizen Usui Reiki Ryoho" it reminds us of that.
IS IT REALLY 1, 2, 3?
In addition to dropping the official name of the Reiki method, we have also made another significant shift away from the original Reiki teaching by relabeling the Reiki levels. In the West, we approach things in a mathematical manner. That's why most people are familiar with Reiki 1, Reiki 2, Reiki 3, which is a very Western way of looking at the stages of learning.
When Mikao Usui taught Reiki, he called the levels "Shoden", "Okuden", and "Shinpiden", which reflected the nature and meaning of each training level, connecting the students to Reiki in a deeper, more intuitive way. In the Japanese culture, it is the meaning that counts, not the number in the teaching sequence.
So what do Shoden, Okuden and Shinpiden stand for?
The "den" part (傳) in Shoden, Okuden and Shinpiden means "propagate" or "transmit" as in "teaching". "Sho" (初) in "shoden" means "first time" or "beginner". "Oku" (奥) in "Okuden" means "inner", "inside". "Shinpi" in "Shinpiden" is comprised of two Kanji "神" which means "divinity", "spirit", "gods", and "秘" which means "hidden", "secret", "mystery".
So putting it all together, we uncover the true meanings of the Reiki levels that go beyond the literal translation:
Beautiful, isn't it?
LOOK AT ME! I AM MASTER!
Another very common misunderstanding that arose from the literal translation from Japanese is the concept of "Reiki Master". In Mikao Usui's time, when someone completed the Shinpiden level, that person became a "Shihan" (師範).
The meaning of the word "Shihan" literally means a "teacher" or "expert master instructor". "師" is "teacher/instructor/master" and "範" is "example/model", so overall, the idea is that a Shihan is an expert teacher, who also sets an example for his or her students, not only an expert in his field. Shihan is someone who shares a traditional teaching and who is a role model for others.
The "Shihan" title carries a lot of responsibility without an ego attached to it. This goes significantly beyond the common perception of the Reiki Master being a "Reiki expert" who may or may not be teaching Reiki.
FILLING IN THE GAPS
There have been many other aspects of Reiki practice and teaching that were too hard to translate, or to replicate (without being able to write them down in class). Many were difficult to understand because of the vast differences between the Western mindset and the Japanese culture.
Often times, in order to fill some of those gaps in understanding, Reiki teachers in the West had to come up with their own Reiki concepts and Reiki symbols that were more 'palatable' to their students. It is not surprising, considering that Reiki is deeply rooted in the language and culture that is foreign to us. It is also possible that the simplicity of Reiki may have lead to changes created by those Reiki teachers who felt that it was too simple in its original form and that by adding complexity they were adding value.
These mistranslations, additions, and misunderstandings range from minor to significant, and I am not going to cover all of them here. You may learn about some of them during your Reiki training. Regardless of any of the changes that may have taken place over the years, Reiki remains a beautiful mind-body healing art, and regardless where you learn it, I am certain that you will feel that.
Language and cultural barriers can certainly lead to misunderstanding of the Reiki teaching, but there is also another element that adds to the confusion surrounding Reiki. There is strong dividing force between the world of Reiki and the world of science, and it often leads to many miscommunications between the Reiki practitioners, their clients and the medical professionals.
SPEAKING THE LANGUAGE OF SCIENCE?
In Reiki, we use many terms that are often the same words that are used by scientists and medical doctors; however, it is critical to understand that although the words are the same, the meaning behind them is often different. By having this understanding as Reiki practitioners, not only we can avoid provoking the 'eye rolling' that we encounter once in a while from the medical professionals or people who are not familiar with Reiki, but we can also heal the communication gap that feeds the Reiki skeptics.
Here are some examples of the words, that we should use in a mindful way:
SO WHAT'S NEXT?
Reiki teaching is spreading rapidly, and with so many schools and styles of Reiki around many people go for the quickest and the easiest option to learn it. Some of us only use Reiki on ourselves, others on friends and family, many have found the path in Reiki and do it full time.
I strongly believe that as practitioners and teachers we have the responsibility to continue learning more, uncovering what we may have missed in our original training, developing ourselves on a mind-body and soul levels, and whenever possible connecting to the origins of Usui Reiki Ryoho, uncovering the treasures that may have been lost in translation over the years. When we grow, we have a positive impact on others around us, and on the world. We can develop as individuals and as a Reiki community with joy and gratitude.
In conclusion, I'd like to thank everyone I've learned from, my teachers, my clients, and my students. I feel grateful for the challenges I've faced as a doctor who practices Reiki - the challenge of learning to understand the non-scientific language of Reiki and the challenge of facing the negative perceptions of my physician-colleagues who view the path I am taking (practicing Medicine and practicing and teaching Reiki) as a 'strange' one at best. These challenges have helped me grow and have helped me develop a deeper understanding of Reiki, of myself, and of allopathic medicine.
I am grateful for my unique position of being able to be a "translator" between the two worlds of western medical science and of Reiki, the special Japanese holistic method for improvement of body and mind.
Thank you for being a part of my journey and allowing me to be a part of yours!
I am sure that there are as many opinions about this subject as there are Reiki practitioners, but I hope that among the recommendations you will find the books that resonate with you the most.
1. Consider starting your Reiki journey with Frank Arjava Petter’s “This is Reiki”. This book will not only give you the historical background of Reiki (which is essential for true understanding of this healing art), but it will also give you practical information about how to use Reiki as a holistic mind-body healing art:
2. After that, I would suggest taking a Reiki seminar, so that you can learn Reiki firsthand and not just through reading. Trust me, Reiki is amazing, and in-person Reiki training is an unforgettable experience.
3. If you wish to read a little more before signing up for your Reiki training, then consider reading the “Light on the Origins of Reiki” by Tadao Yamaguchi. It will parallel some of what you’ve learned in the first book, and will also offer additional insights into how Reiki was (and still is) maintained in Japan in its original tradition:
4. After learning Reiki, you may find “The Hayashi Reiki Manual” very helpful. I would not suggest reading this book before your Reiki training, since it is important to first understand why we are doing what we are doing as Reiki practitioners, and only then to learn some extra details of the “how”. This book is a great practical guide:
5. Finally, look into reading “Reiki and Japan” by Masaki Nishina. This book was just recently published, and it offers an authentic perspective on the development of Reiki in Japan. It will also help your understanding of whether the Reiki style you’ve learned is more westernized or more traditional Japanese. The only reason I am suggesting to wait until after your training to read it, is because there are many references to concepts that might not makes sense to you until you complete your Reiki training. This is a great book that offers insights that will help you make sense of many cultural aspects that have influenced the practice of Reiki:
Reiki is a mind-body healing method developed by Mikao Usui sensei in the 1920s in Japan.
In spite of various historical events and obstacles, the traditional Japanese way of Reiki practice and teaching has been preserved in Japan in the Yamaguchi family, through the Hayashi-sensei lineage (Mikao Usui -> Chujiro Hayashi -> Chiyoko Yamaguchi -> Tadao Yamaguchi). Reiki in this lineage has been directly passed on from teacher to student, and it is known as Jikiden Reiki (“directly taught”), with the Jikiden Reiki Institute in Kyoto, Japan, carefully maintaining the tradition.
The origins of the other Reiki styles also stem from the Hayashi-sensei lineage, which was brought to Hawaii (Mikao Usui -> Chujiro Hayashi -> Hawayo Takata -> her students), eventually giving rise to various ‘westernized’ styles of Reiki.
If you are interested in learning Reiki, I would highly recommend going to the source and learning Reiki the way it was originally practiced. The only place that exists in the world today that teaches Reiki in its traditional form, is the Jikiden Reiki Institute in Kyoto, Japan. I would highly recommend learning directly from Tadao Yamaguchi sensei, the president of the Institute. Tadao sensei not only teaches Reiki in Kyoto, but he also travels around the world, sharing his unique knowledge of Reiki in its original form. If you are not able to join Tadao sensei's Reiki seminar, consider taking a class from a Jikiden Reiki Certified Teacher.
There are numerous Reiki styles that exist today, and of course, you can learn any style of Reiki from any teacher, but please keep in mind, that all of the Reiki styles (other than Jikiden Reiki) have been passed on outside Japan, changing overtime, with new forms created through various modifications, by adding concepts from other healing modalities, and by simply being invented by different Reiki practitioners.
In part, this has happened simply because a lot has been literally lost in translation, as Reiki was first popularized in the United States, from where it eventually spread to the world. Overtime, more and more bits and pieces of this traditional Japanese healing art have become naturally ‘watered down’ to adjust to the western mindset, making it perhaps more comprehensible to westerners, but unfortunately less authentic.
A good example of that is the different levels of training that exist in various Reiki styles. In most westernized Reiki forms, you will see the levels of training numbered (such as Level 1, Level 2, etc.). This is not the Japanese way. Traditionally, each of the levels of Reiki training had a name with a specific meaning, not just a basic number. This is just an example, but there many other parts of the actual Reiki training that have also been simplified and adjusted, pushing many Reiki styles further and further away from the traditional healing art created by Mikao Usui sensei.
Some Reiki teachers even offer online Reiki courses. You can certainly learn history of Reiki and certain Reiki concepts online, but there is absolutely no way to learn Reiki without being a part of a class.
Regardless of which Reiki style you choose, Reiki is Reiki. You will be able to know that it is something very special as soon as you start applying what you’ve learned.
Jikiden Reiki happens to be the purest, most traditional form that you can find, since it was literally preserved unmodified in Japan, without any external influences, and without any concepts being lost or dropped because of the language barrier. Other styles of Reiki that haven’t ventured too far from the original, may also be great to learn.
If you are curious about the differences between Jikiden Reiki vs. Western Reiki, consider reading “Reiki and Japan”, a great book by Masaki Nishina, who is both a Western and a Jikiden Reiki Master. (The book may make more sense after you learn Reiki, since there are some references that may not be clear to a non-practitioner.)
What's the difference between Usui and Jikiden Reiki? Should I learn Jikiden Reiki if I am already an Usui Reiki Master?
Since Mikao Usui created his Reiki method, all styles of Reiki ultimately have Usui-sensei as a part of their lineage. That however, does not mean that all Reiki styles are the same.
What makes Jikiden Reiki different is that Jikiden Reiki has remained preserved in Japan in its original tradition for all these years. It was passed on directly and unmodified from Dr. Hayashi, one of Usui-sensei's students, to Chiyoko Yamaguchi, who later on, established the Jikiden Reiki Institute in Japan, which is dedicated to preserving the original Reiki tradition. Dr. Hayashi also taught Reiki to Mrs. Takata in Hawaii, and it was Mrs. Takata's students and their students, who decades later developed new Reiki styles, including Usui Reiki.
Naturally, because of language and cultural differences, Reiki has changed quite a bit outside of Japan. Many concepts have been added and removed overtime. So the main difference between Usui Reiki and Jikiden Reiki is essentially that Usui Reiki is more westernized and Jikiden Reiki is more traditional and more Japanese. There are lots of other differences, such as the symbols used in each style, the actual Reiki techniques, and so on.
When comparing Jikiden and Usui Reiki styles, it is important to remember that there is no right or wrong way, but the two are just different.
I am often asked by Usui Reiki Masters about Jikiden Reiki. Many of them are wondering about why would someone, who is already a Reiki Master of Usui Reiki would want to take a Reiki class in a different style. Well, there are two ways of looking at it. Of course there is no need to take a class if you have no interest in it. On the other hand, if you are curious about the Japanese Reiki tradition, preserved virtually unmodified from the original way Usui sensei used to practice it, then you may find Jikiden Reiki very informative and interesting. If you are interested in learning techniques that have disappeared in all westernized schools of Reiki, then Jikiden Reiki training may be of interest to you.
In general, I think that learning something new is never a bad thing :) (only if you are drawn to it, of course). So if learning Jikiden Reiki sounds like a waste to you, then I would not recommend investing you energy, time, and money into it. If learning Jikiden Reiki sounds exciting, then I would certainly recommend taking the class and learning Reiki in its original tradition.
Reiki (靈氣)is a Japanese word for “universal life force energy”. The literal translation of the word “Rei” is “soul”/“spirit”. “Ki” means life force energy, which is a very common concept in many Asian cultures.
The original Reiki healing method was developed by Mikao Usui sensei in the 1920s in Japan, and he called it “Shin Shin Kaizen Usui Reiki Ryoho”, which means “Usui Reiki treatment method for body and mind”. Mikao Usui unknowingly connected with the Reiki energy as he was searching for enlightenment. He discovered that laying hands on a problem area of one’s body had a healing effect, and he started helping others using his newfound ability. Eventually, he also developed a way to teach Reiki to others, by helping them tap into the Reiki healing ability. Mikao Usui passed away in 1926, but through Dr. Hayashi, who was one of Usui sensei’s students, Reiki came to America (Hawaii), and eventually spread to the world. Since then, many new Reiki styles have been created, but most, if not all, have the same underlying concept of tapping into the universal life force energy and laying on hands to allow the natural internal self-healing process.
I’d like to clarify, that Reiki “energy” is not a scientific concept. Also from a scientific and medical perspective laying on hands should not have any beneficial effect beyond a placebo, or feeling comforted perhaps. However, I have to tell you that from my own decade-long scientific observation of Reiki helping patients in hospice, and later on through personally utilizing the Reiki method that I have learned from the Jikiden Reiki Institute in Japan, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that Reiki can have a profound positive effect on a person’s physical, emotional and spiritual state, all of which go far beyond the potential placebo effect.
Dr. Maria Danilychev, MD is a hospice doctor, clinical research physician, and a Jikiden Reiki Shihan (master/teacher).