Going Overseas: Reiki Beyond Japan

The third webinar in Dr. Justin Stein’s 2020 series on the history of Reiki examined the beginnings of Reiki’s movement beyond Japan, including the nature of Takata’s training, how Reiki spread in Hawaii, and what changes occurred in that process. Dr. Stein is a well-known Reiki scholar and has researched and written extensively on Reiki and the cultural context in which it arose. This blog is a summary of Dr. Stein’s third webinar, posted with permission.

Hayashi Reiki Kenkyukai

In 1938, there were 4-5,000 members in Hayashi’s Reiki organization in Japan. The headquarters were in Tokyo, with branches in Kyoto, Nagoya, Daishoji, Chichibu, Sendai Morioka, and Aomori. There were 13 teachers (shihan), and there may have been additional assistant teachers (shihan-kaku) certified to teach level 1 only (shoden).

In looking at how Hayashi-trained practitioners conducted sessions, we have a few sources. One is an article by Matsui Shoo, a student of Hayashi. From this source, it appears that practitioners sometimes treated with one hand at a time, or even just a few fingers. Treatments were often quite long, and might involve multiple practitioners. Especially for serious illness, treatments might be given every day for several days. Matsui recounts treating a woman who seemed near death for six consecutive days, 7-8 hours per day. In a testimonial, a Reiki recipient describes an initial session of 2-3 hours, conducted by Matsui and 2 assistants.

Sessions were generally given with the recipients lying down, on futons or mats. Hayashi’s treatment manual describes sets of hand positions for treating particular conditions; his manual is similar to the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai’s handbook. Some describe recipients disrobing and receiving treatment under a quilt, but there are also indications that recipients were treated while clothed.

We have access to brief notes that Takata took during her Reiki 1 class with Hayashi. She writes that “in order to concentrate” the Reiki, the practitioner “must purify one’s thought…and to let the energy come out from within.” These concepts are very consistent with Buddhist theories of emanation of healing energy being linked to moral development. She adds that the energy is stored in the abdomen “about 2 inches below the navel,” which is consistent with Japanese Buddhist beliefs about the energy body.

Mrs. Takata writes to “sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, concentrate on your thoughts and relax, close your hand together and wait for the sign. Kindly and gently apply the hand starting from [either the heart or the head – writing not legible] downward.” This echoes a practice that Usui apparently taught, of sitting in Gassho (hands in prayer position), purifying one’s thoughts, and then waiting for a sign to begin treatment.

Mrs. Takata mentions, “the patient could be diagnosed just by the touch of hand,” which is apparently a reference to “byosen” – indications of the location of the source of disease by sensing energetic stimuli in the hands. She also addresses the mindset of the recipient. “The patient…must first purify one’s thoughts, feel comfortable and [have] a desire to get well…Gratitude is a great cure for the mind.” This emphasis on gratitude is consistent with the Reiki precepts.

Usui’s teaching system was apparently gradual, with various ranks and with practical examinations given to determine advancement, similar to a martial arts school. There were 3 main levels—shoden, okuden, and shinpiden—with sublevels in each. Hayashi seems to have had a similar system, although probably not as graduated. Classes were apparently 4-5 days long, with daily reiju (attunements). Hayashi may have taught the first two levels together under certain circumstances. Some students apprenticed at his clinics; during her initial training with Hayashi, Takata was a clinic apprentice.

Reiki in Hawaii

After her initial training, Takata returned to Hawaii in 1936. She treated clients in the afternoons and evenings, perhaps after her work day. She seems to have charged a fee for her treatments, but also offered free clinics. She was apparently teaching, perhaps only Reiki 1 as a shihan-kaku (assistant teacher). She returned to Japan in 1937 for further training. Takata seems to have been among the top students of Hayashi. She lived in Hayashi’s home, and traditionally in Japan, this would be the case if she were in the inner circle.

Hayashi travelled to Hawaii, arriving in October of 1937. From then until February 1938, he and Takata travelled throughout Hawaii teaching Reiki. This period was a continuation of her apprenticeship. Their classes seemed to have varied from 3 days to 5 days, with some of the five-day classes involving 2 hours of instruction per day. Class size was approximately 20 students, mostly women. They were taught in Japanese, and there were very few students who were not of Japanese origin. After Hayashi’s Hawaii trip, Mrs. Takata was apparently considered a fully-trained teacher by Hayashi, who gave her a certificate to that effect. Takata then regularly taught Reiki 1 and Reiki 2, mostly in Buddhist meeting spaces. She also ran a Reiki clinic.

Changes

Reiki practice apparently changed somewhat in the process of coming to Hawaii. It is difficult to discern exactly which changes Hayashi made prior to this period, which occurred during Hayashi’s time in Hawaii, and which Takata made afterwards.

That being said, overall, Takata’s way of practicing and teaching Reiki was quite similar to Japanese practice, particularly at first. Her early students were taught to use byosen (sensations in the hands) to determine the location of the cause of disease. They gave long treatments for no specific fee. Distance treatments were given by placing fingertips on a person’s photograph.

Some of her early students later criticized Takata for establishing a set fee for hour-long treatments. It is worth noting that Japanese cultural norms about reciprocity would likely have resulted in Japanese recipients paying practitioners a reasonable fee without the practitioners asking directly. Perhaps Takata discovered that the same reciprocity did not apply with non-Japanese or bicultural recipients. It is also worth noting that we have no information about Hayashi’s payment structure for Reiki sessions.

Takata had studied massage and naturopathy, and these apparently influenced her practice. She made nutritional recommendations, and also employed a stroke alongside the spine plus massage of feet and lower legs. However, it may be significant that a stroke alongside the spine is taught in at least one Reiki lineage that descended from Hayashi but not Takata.

At some point, recitation of poetry and the precepts in Hawaiian Reiki classes ceased. Perhaps we should note that these features might have been the most obviously Japanese elements of Reiki, and we are dealing here with Hawaii prior to and during the second world war. Takata advertised her classes prior to Pearl Harbor, but not afterwards. She also disbanded her Reiki clinics when the United States entered the war.

Takata taught in 3 levels. She reestablished a firm separation between first degree and second degree, which Hayashi apparently sometimes taught together. We don’t know why she made this change, but it might have been to make first degree more financially accessible.

Upcoming Webinars

Dr. Stein’s fifth and last webinar is on Sunday September 27: Unsolved Reiki Mysteries. All proceeds benefit the non-profit Reiki Centers of America and will be dedicated to the English translation of an important Reiki book. For more information, see https://reikicentersofamerica.org/reiki-webinar-series/

Stay tuned for my upcoming blog summarizing Dr. Stein’s fourth webinar Coming to North America: One Woman’s Mission to Spread Reiki. This lecture examines Takata’s teaching of Reiki in the mainland United States.

Teaching Reiki in the Pandemic

When the Coronavirus arrived, I considered my situation and how I could continue to offer services to my clients and students. Energy work can be performed remotely, and so I was lucky to be able to continue working with many of my clients. I was able to meet virtually with my Reiki class graduates, so that they could continue to receive support from me and each other.

But teaching Reiki was another story. I didn’t know how well it would work to teach virtually. The group experience is so important to learning Reiki, as is the connection with the teacher. We perform attunements in Reiki classes, which involve working with the student’s energy body to create a deeper connection to sources of universal light. Could I effectively do all of this from a distance, virtually? And what would the best format be?

Luckily, I had a couple of friends who wanted to learn Reiki 1, and they were willing to try a virtual class. I sat down and planned my curriculum. I decided to teach 5 two-hour sessions, over 2-3 weeks, with practice and a bit of reading between sessions.

I was delighted to discover that the online format worked beautifully. The attunements seemed to function just the same at a distance as in-person — perhaps because I have many years of experience with distance healing. Although we missed each other’s physical presence, and we missed practicing with each other in-person, students practiced between sessions on themselves and their loved ones. From what students told me, as well as what I was able to feel emanating from them, it was clear that the attunements held. Their Reiki was strong and effective!

Based on this initial experience, I began to offer regular Reiki 1 and Reiki 2 classes virtually. At this point I have graduated quite a few people from online small-group classes. I hear from them regularly about how they are practicing Reiki and are helping themselves and others.

There are advantages to teaching and learning in this format. I am able to include students from across the country. I am able to include students with transportation challenges, with time constraints, or with disabilities that make a standard full-day format impossible. I can offer the class at a very reasonable rate because I don’t have to pay for room rental. Teaching across 2-3 weeks with practice between allows excellent, relevant questions to emerge. Students finish class with a strong understanding of Reiki and with a self-treatment routine already established.

Most importantly, students learn a powerful method for stress management, vitalizing the system, and boosting immunity — with 100% safety.

When the pandemic is over and we return to some degree of normality, I will joyfully return to teaching Reiki in person. And I will also continue my virtual Reiki classes, because now I can reach people who I couldn’t reach before.

Reiki is a gift of the Light. It has transformed my life. I am so grateful to Reiki and to the teachers who have come before me. There are those who say that Reiki should only be taught in-person, that teaching virtually is inappropriate and a distortion of Reiki. I respect their opinion. But one of my teachers wisely taught me that Reiki manifests differently through all of us, and that I need to be open to how it manifests through me.

We need the grace of Reiki now more than ever. We need peace in the midst of turmoil. Here I am, doing my best to interpret how Reiki wants to move through me, doing my best to share Mikao Usui’s beautiful gift with all those who want to receive it — including those who do not feel safe receiving it in person. I am here for anyone ready to bring themselves and others into the calming light.

The Roots of Reiki

The second webinar in Dr. Justin Stein’s 2020 series on the history of Reiki examined various spiritual therapies that arose in Japan during the period when Reiki was founded. Dr. Stein is a well-known Reiki scholar and has researched and written extensively on Reiki and its cultural context in which it arose. What follows is a brief summary of Dr. Stein’s second webinar, posted with permission.

Spiritual Therapies in Usui’s Time

According to Dr. Stein, in 1919-1920, Japan experienced epidemics of the Spanish flu, cholera, and tuberculosis. These were diseases that the medical science of the time could not adequately address, thus sparking interest in other healing options. At the same time, there were educated people in Japan who were interested in spiritual development but were not committed to a religion. These conditions led to the growth of what Dr. Stein labels “spiritual therapies.”

At the time, these techniques were known as reijutsu (spiritual arts or extraordinary therapies) and/or seishin ryoho (psycho-spiritual therapies). Reijutsu might include meditation techniques, healing methods, spiritualistic practices (i.e. channeling or spirit communication), and psychic activities (i.e. clairvoyance). In contemporary Japan, seishin ryoho refers to psychotherapy. In the early 20th century, it might have included a variety of practices such as breathing methods, positive affirmations, and hands-on healing, with the intention of healing the kokoro (heart-mind) and/or the seishin (spirit).

In both reijutsu and seishin ryoho, healing the mind and spirit was thought to also heal the body. Practitioners drew a distinction between their healing methods and religion, although they did borrow practices from religion, such as meditation and initiation. During this time in Japan, there were also many new and hybrid religions.

Influences

Dr. Stein explained that Usui Sensei was an enthusiastic reader and scholar, interested in a variety of topics, including spiritual practices. He was likely influenced by various people who were active prior to the development of his own method. These include Tamari Kizo, a theorist who wrote books about spiritual energy. He described a vital force that he called reiki. Spiritual practitioners during the period of 1910-1930 frequently referred to his work.

Tanaka Morihei founded a spiritual healing method known as Taireido. He is said to have gained healing abilities after a period of meditation on a mountaintop. Yogi Ramacharaka (William Walker Atkinson), was an American who combined principles of yoga and western spiritualism into a method of Prana Therapy. This method included transmitting energy through the hands, breath, and eyes; scanning techniques; distance techniques; a stroke down the back to assist circulation; self-healing; and breathing practices to cultivate prana (ki). Suzuki Bizan apparently influenced Usui’s ideas about how to maintain a healthy heart-mind; he published a book in 1914 that used a set of statements very similar to Usui’s Reiki precepts.

There were also contemporaries who may have influenced Usui. Among these were Takagi Hidesuke, who taught hands-on treatment, meditation, and a set of principles very similar to those used by Usui and by Suzuki Bizan. Yamada Shin’ichi was another contemporary; his prana therapy has much in common with both Usui’s system and the practices of Yogi Ramacharaka.

Overall, Usui Reiki Ryoho shared much with the spiritual healing methods of precursors and contemporaries. Gaining power after fasting on a mountaintop was a frequent feature; various healing methods utilized “gaze, breath, stroking, patting”; meditation techniques that concentrate ki and then distribute it were common; and precepts like Usui’s were taught by at least 2 other spiritual leaders.

Distinctions

There are four characteristics of Usui Reiki Ryoho that were unusual for Japan of that period. Usui did not advertise or write books. He was apparently fairly well-known at the time; we don’t know why he didn’t advertise, but perhaps it wasn’t necessary given his contact with a class of people who provided many in-person referrals. Usui’s use of poetry recitation as a way to cultivate concentration was apparently unique at the time; at least 2 of his students carried this technique forward.

The use of symbols and also initiation procedures were also unusual. These both likely came from mikkyo, Japanese esoteric Buddhism. They may have entered into Usui’s practice through Shugendo, an ascetic religion practiced in the mountains of Japan that derives in great part from esoteric Buddhism. Usui might have had other types of contact with magico-spiritual practices. Other spiritual therapies of Usui’s time used techniques from mikkyo, but not specifically symbols and initiations.

Some have questioned whether or not Usui used symbols, and have suggested that the symbols could be a later invention. However, Dr. Stein explained that there is substantial evidence that Usui did use symbols. The Usui Reiki Gakkai uses symbols, and Usui at various points discusses that distance treatment is part of his Okuden training (second degree). From the information that Dr. Stein has been able to access, it appears that three symbols were presented in Usui’s Okuden training and were taught in a manner similar to the way that Takata taught them.

Dr. Stein concluded by stating that Usui Reiki Ryoho had much in common with other therapies of the time, but was a unique combination of contemporary ideas and traditional Japanese practices.

Upcoming Webinars

Dr. Stein’s next webinar is on Sunday, July 26 at 2:00pm EST. It focuses on Hayashi’s work in Japan and Hawaii in the 1930s and 40s. Subsequent webinars are on August 30 and September 27. All proceeds benefit the non-profit Reiki Centers of America and will be dedicated to the English translation of an important Reiki book. For more information, see https://reikicentersofamerica.org/reiki-webinar-series/

Somehow, Always, My Heart Breaks Open

There are moments when I become acutely aware of suffering. This morning, when I was walking, I came across an injured sparrow. She was lying motionless in the middle of the street, one of her little legs splayed out at an awkward angle. I guessed she had been hit by a car windshield or bumper.

I didn’t want her to be run over or stepped on. Although I knew she might not welcome my touch, I picked her up, holding her between my hands, and went over to a little park by the side of the street. I sat on a flight of stone steps and pondered what to do.

The sparrow lay quietly between my palms, not struggling, not trying to escape, not trying to peck me. Not a good sign. I thought about taking her home and calling to find someone for small bird rehab. But it looked to me like she was beyond rehab. And when I thought about leaving the area, it felt like panic arose from the bird. This little piece of the city was all the world that she had ever known.

I thought maybe someone would come by with a cell phone. I always leave mine at home when I do my morning exercise and meditation. But no one came. I prayed, asking for help for the little bird, and help for me.

The little bird urinated and began to struggle and I let her go. Her poor little wings tried to fly but couldn’t. Her back arched and her legs pumped and she made her way over to the garden area beyond the steps, about a foot from where I was still sitting. She lay there, heaving, clearly in pain and distress. I wondered if I should leave, whether my presence was stressful for her.

But when I imagined leaving, I felt a pull towards her. I didn’t know if it was her or me – my not wanting to leave her to suffer and die alone, or her not wanting to be alone. She was clearly in pain, her body vibrating, eyes shutting and opening.

We sat there for a while. I was motionless, to cause her the least possibility of distress. Other sparrows flew in and fed from the plants nearby. I saw the shell of a little egg in the dirt between me and the bird. This little park seemed to be a center of sparrow life.

I prayed for the bird. I asked Sparrow Spirit to come to her, so she would be comforted. I prayed for all the nature spirits and guardians in the area to come to her, and for the Great Light to shine brightly on her. Having done this, I felt it was time to go. I wished her well and walked away.

There are people who deal with death every day of their lives: doctors, nurses, pastors. This is not my experience. But rather, every day of my life, I deal with suffering. Beneath my palms, palpable, present, overlapping my awareness, is the grief and fear and suffering of my clients. And beneath my palms is the strength of my clients. And within my palms is connection to the Great Light.

I often feel that my heart will break. This morning, I thought that my heart would break as I witnessed the suffering of a precious sparrow. But somehow, always, my heart breaks open. Inside our shared pain is embedded the beauty of life, pure and simple. It is so good to be here, so good to share this planet, so good to breathe, together.

Tomorrow morning, I will go back and look for the little bird’s body. She may have been carried away by a predator or scavenger. But if she is still there, I will bury her, and pray for her good journey.

Especially lately,  it often feels that I – that we – are holding tiny candles in the midst of a moonless night. And indeed, night comes to us all. But I will continue to hold my candle, regardless. Each candle may be small, but many of us are holding strong, and light only comes in one size: infinite.

Is it Accurate to Categorize a Reiki Style as “Japanese” or “Western”?

In late May, I was fortunate to attend the first of a webinar series given by Dr. Justin Stein on the history of Reiki. Dr. Stein is a well-known Reiki scholar and has researched and written extensively on Reiki and the cultural context in which it arose. What follows is a brief summary of Dr. Stein’s first webinar, posted with permission.

East Meets West: Varieties of Reiki Practice

According to Dr. Stein, different styles of Reiki are commonly categorized as “Japanese” or “Western.” However, there are two main problems with this categorization. First, Usui, given his historical context, could not have escaped being influenced by the West, including American Spiritualism. Second, Japanese Reiki styles have developed to some extent in relation to Western Reiki, and therefore have been influenced by it.

Dr. Stein sees all Reiki forms as hybrids of Japanese and Western elements, with the Western content varying substantially between lineages. All styles have much in common: all are seen as promoting healing in a holistic manner, all are based on a natural ability that is awakened by a teacher and deepened through practice, all trace their lineage back to Usui, all are taught in graduated levels, and all are centered around a set of basic principles known as the gyokai or the Reiki precepts.

There are also elements that differ between Reiki styles. Some use meditation and recitation practices, while others do not contain these teachings or do not emphasize them. The exact procedures for awakening Reiki in students vary across time and between styles. The type of touch and hand positions are different, again across time and between styles. In addition, there are variations in symbol usage, anatomical understanding, the role of conscious intention, whether or not spiritual entities such as Buddha or angels are included in practice, and the attitude towards promotion and advertising.

When these differences are looked at across styles, there is very little consistency within the two supposed categories of “Japanese Reiki” and “Western Reiki.” On the other hand, when we look closely at Mrs. Takata’s work, especially keeping in mind her need to reach a Western audience in the mid- to late-1900s, we can see that what she presented was quite similar to Usui’s and Hayashi’s teachings.

Most of the new elements in non-traditional Western Reiki styles occurred after Takata. Some years ago, the late Phyllis Furumoto, Takata’s successor as spiritual lineage bearer of the “Western” Usui Shiki Ryoho style of Reiki, met with members of the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai, widely acknowledged as the most traditional Reiki organization in Japan. The teachers of the Gakkai expressed surprise at the similarities between what Ms. Furumoto learned from Mrs. Takata, and what they had learned from their teachers. And of course, even in the Gakkai, teachings have varied across time due to changes in societal context.

Upcoming Webinars

I found Dr. Stein’s discussion of similarities and differences between Reiki styles to be enlightening, and I am looking forward to his upcoming webinars, which are on June 28, July 26, August 30, and September 27. All proceeds benefit the non-profit Reiki Centers of America and will be dedicated to the English translation of an important Reiki book. For more information, see https://reikicentersofamerica.org/reiki-webinar-series/