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!
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.
Let me start my answer with a little bit of background of Reiki terminology.
It appears that the term Reiki “master” came into use in the late 1930s from Mrs. Takata, a Japanese American, who learned Reiki from Chujiro Hayashi (one of the prominent students of Mikao Usui, the founder of Reiki).
Reiki is a Japanese healing art, and Reiki terms had to be translated from Japanese into English as Reiki was introduced to the Western world. So the original Japanese term for Reiki “Master” was actually Reiki “Shihan”.
The word “Shihan” is probably best translated into English as “teacher” (also “master”, but used in the same connotation). The term “Shihan” is not exclusive to Reiki, and it is widely used in the Japanese martial arts as an honorific term for an expert instructor or a “master teacher”.
The term “Master” in English has many other meanings and may not convey the true sense of the original word “Shihan”. Over time, it has been used more and more loosely in many Reiki styles, becoming probably the most commonly utilized term when referring to a Reiki practitioner who may or may not be a Reiki teacher.
Now back to the question.
Reiki Shihan (vaguely translated as “Reiki Master”) is a real title that is used for someone who has completed the teacher’s level of Reiki training. So yes, it is a degree of Reiki training; however, it is not a university degree, if that's what you are asking.
As far as the term “Grandmaster”, it appears to be a vague translation of the Japanese “Dai-Shihan” (someone who is considered to be an expert teacher and who can teach more advanced levels of Reiki). Of note, there are very few actual real Dai-Shihans (“Grandmasters”) in the world. For example, in the traditional Japanese Jikiden Reiki style, as of today (2017), there are fewer than two dozen teachers of that level of training and expertise (Dai-Shihans) total in the world.
So to summarize, Reiki Dai-Shihan (loosely translated as the “Grandmaster”) is a real level or degree of Reiki training and expertise, but it is not a university degree.
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).