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!
P.S.: I am using the word "Reiki" referring to both Reiki energy (靈氣 - REI-KI) as well as the Reiki technique developed by Mikao Usui (心身改善臼井靈氣療法 - SHIN SHIN KAIZEN USUI REIKI RYOHO ) You can easily understand which "Reiki" I refer to based on the context.
Reiki is a Japanese healing art. A Reiki “Master” is a translation from the Japanese word Reiki “Shihan”. Shihan means a respected expert teacher, “master instructor” (of either a martial art or a healing art, such as Reiki).
Just as in other Japanese healing traditions, it took a long time to become a teacher, and one had to practice the healing art as a Reiki practitioner/healer first. Once someone became a Reiki Shihan, that person could not only give Reiki treatments, but also teach Reiki. So to answer your question, a Reiki Master (in the traditional meaning of this word) is a Reiki healer, who is also a Reiki teacher.
In the West, the translation “Master” has shifted from the concept of Shihan “master instructor” as a “teacher” to that of “master” as an “expert”. Many Reiki practitioners today refer to themselves as Reiki “masters”, whether or not they teach Reiki, which is technically incorrect. Also some Reiki teachers only teach Reiki and do not give any Reiki treatments. Both have become commonplace, shifting away from the original tradition.
Regardless of the semantics, all Reiki Masters can offer Reiki sessions, and therefore can be referred to as Reiki healers.
Dr. Maria Danilychev, MD is a hospice doctor, clinical research physician, and a Jikiden Reiki Shihan (master/teacher).