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The Trouble with the Truth

Master Usui Mikao, 8/15/1865 - 3/9/1926

The trouble with the truth.. is that it's not always the truth. In researching for my new Reiki manuals, which I began before I started Holy Fire in August of 2017, I discovered some information about the origins of Reiki. I had followed the tradition of teaching what my teacher in the Reiki lineage taught, using materials passed down to me. But taking Holy Fire Reiki changed all of that.

I had decided to re-write and adapt the manuals to my students, using the materials and writing in my own style. The materials were obscure, from a Reiki manual from the 1980s. Little did I know, when I began taking a new lineage, how much my views would change. When I revised the materials in 2016, I had never questioned them.

I had never researched, read Wikipedia, or used any other sources. I assumed that what I had learned from three Reiki teachers was accurate. But it turned out that many of the materials weren't sourced or attributed to anyone, and if I wanted to write my own and copyright it, I needed accurate information.

The problem with this, is that Reiki is a Japanese practice. Much of Master Usui's ideas, ideals, and ways of practicing are still somewhat secret, kept that way by the Gakkai in Japan, an organization that he founded to keep the practice of Reiki alive. His memorial stone has a full story about his life and what he accomplished, but I have begun to question if even this is a way to steer people away from the secrets that have been kept for so long.

Enlightenment is a process, and the 95 year old story of Master Usui’s enlightenment has been embellished and changed through oral tradition. Mrs. Takata added elements to it like history of Master Usui studying theology at the University of Chicago. Even his memorial stone says that he studied in Europe and the West, and then ran into some bad luck (it does not elaborate). However, other sources I have read say that he never left Japan during his lifetime.

I decided to ask my cousin to help me find sources for my manuals, who lives in Japan, and is married to a Japanese woman. She has helped me translate the Japanese kanji (characters or radicals) in the past and I hoped to make some sense of the different accounts I was reading. He sent me a site for my students that teaches brush strokes for writing, and it led me to Japanese Wiki.

I should pause here and discuss Japanese culture. The Japanese place large emphasis on the collective good, not the individual. They are a reserved culture, and are not demonstrative or loud, or boisterous. Meeting my cousin's in-laws at their wedding showed me that this is true, they were very reserved, did not smile (that is not a custom in the East), and barely spoke during the reception, even when we spoke to them.

This is normal, culturally appropriate behavior for Japanese people. So the lack of accurate materials started to make sense. When you read Japanese Wiki, Usui's ancestors play a large role in his biography. Honoring ancestors is part of the culture. He is mentioned not by himself, but alongside Master Hayashi, his first successor. Mrs. Takata, a Westerner, is not mentioned at all, one Japanese site even says that much of what she said is a lie.

In order to fully understand Reiki, one has to look at it and its history from a purely Japanese, and not Western, perspective. Traditional Reiki in Japan is not the same as the Reiki taught in the West by Mrs. Takata. She came to Japan from Hawaii and was healed by Reiki. She studied under Master Hayashi, learned Reiki from around 1936-1939, and transitioned in 1980. It can't be emphasized enough that she never met Usui.

When she returned to Hawaii (her parents and sister-in-law lived in Japan), she brought Reiki with her. This was right before the beginning of the second world war and strained relationships with Japan. She worried throughout the war and beyond that Reiki would not be accepted in the West, so she added elements and took some away. She actively discouraged her students from researching beyond what she taught them.

She added the story about the University of Chicago, believing that Americans would be more accepting if Master Usui was a doctor of theology and understood Christianity. She even wrote the Reiki precepts with the prefixes Thou Shalt, like the 10 commandments. She altered the hand positions to cover the whole body, so that the whole thing would be treated, versus focusing on one ailment at a time, which was the way Usui practiced.

I wondered what Master Usui would have thought about all of this. What I have come to understand is that the two systems of Reiki are simply not the same. They don't have the same feel or the same intention. When I started to learn Reiki Ryoho (Mrs. Takata's is Shiki Ryoho, and is the first one I learned), the character of the energy was different. Reiki Ryoho is peaceful and calm, whereas Shiki Ryoho's story focuses on miraculous healings.

I started studying the world in Kindergarten. As a Catholic school student from K-12, we learned about other religions and world cultures. I learned about Japan in fifth grade. Buddhism fascinated me. The peace of the East and the architecture is beautiful. So when I began learning Reiki, the Buddhist Eightfold Path was front and center, it was one of the first things I was reminded of by my reiki guides.

The Reiki precepts aren't Christian, they are evolved from the Buddhist Virtues. Master Usui's bio on Western Wiki had some curious elements. It mentioned the Emperor Meiji, and said that Usui was a big fan. Usui summarized his works into the Reiki Principles, or Gokai. The Buddhist Virtues are a bit more stringent, and prohibit killing, thievery, sexual misconduct, lying, and indulgence in excess. Without a firm understanding of Buddhism, it is easy to see why Western students might be frustrated.

It was also easy to see why Western students could be misled. Taking Reiki out of the context of Japanese culture and Buddhist thought would turn it into a new-age practice, solely focused on energy and healing. Enlightenment in the East is only reached through meditation, over many years. In the West this process is cut short and the years it takes to become a Reiki Master can happen in a weekend.

The Reiki Precepts are a more gentle way of explaining the Five Virtues. They aren't as challenging. I have always found Buddhists to be more fierce than Westerners, even yogis, in their insistence that we withdraw from the excesses of the world and its ability to take us on a sensory ride. This is called Pratyahara in yoga. Meditation is the way out of the turmoil and conflict of the West and toward our inner peace.

Mrs. Takata and Western Reiki, now that I had taken a step back to look at Reiki's origins, looked like a show. She had a big character. Without her Reiki would not have spread all over the Western world and would not be as popular as it is today. I am forever grateful to her for being the lineage holder in the West. But to me, something was missing.

I had become attracted to Vajrayana Buddhism, Taoism, and the Kabbalah since learning Reiki in 2013. I didn't really understand why, except that I felt that it was just an expansion on my Reiki practice. In Master Usui's Wiki biography, Shugendo was mentioned in passing. It looked like it was added on to the article, and didn't appear to be related to anything in it.

Shugendo is Japanese mountain shamanism. It said that it is practiced at Tendai temples, which is where some sources say Usui received his enlightenment on Mount Kurama near Kyoto, during a 21 day Buddhist training. According to Wiki, it is more likely that he did this isyu guo (training) at the Shingon temple mentioned here. I had always wondered if part of Reiki was Shinto, and if Master Usui's ancestors had been a part of him receiving Reiki, which would have been appropriate in Japan.

Here is the passage from Wiki:

"Shugendō evolved during the seventh century from an amalgamation of beliefs, philosophies, doctrines and ritual systems drawn from local folk-religious practices, pre-Buddhist mountain worship, Shinto, Taoism and Vajrayana.

The seventh-century ascetic and mystic En no Gyōja is widely considered as the patriarch of Shugendō, having first organized Shugendō as a doctrine. Shugendō literally means "the path of training and testing" or "the way to spiritual power through discipline."

The Meiji government, which erected a barrier between Shinto and Buddhism, ruled that Shugendō was unacceptable because of its amalgamation of the two religions, and officially forbade it in 1872. With the advent of religious freedom in Japan after World War II, Shugendō was revived.

In modern times, Shugendō is practiced mainly through Tendai and Shingon temples. Some temples include Kimpusen-ji in Yoshino (Tendai), Ideha Shrine in the Three Mountains of Dewa and Daigo-ji in Kyoto (Shingon).

Shugendō practitioners are said to be descendants of the Kōya Hijiri monks of the eighth and ninth centuries."

It had always seemed to me that Reiki would not have been solely Buddhist, because the story of Reiki from those 1980s manuals involved Usui's enlightenment through guides who brought him the energy, and taught him the precepts. Again, no one knows which story is true. But if my intuition was correct, and Reiki's origins are partially Shugendo, that would explain the fact that I had been drawn to Vajrayana, Taoism, and had wondered about Shinto, through which Usui's ancestors would have shown him Reiki.

I was also drawn to the Kabbalah, not because of Reiki. My ancestors are Jewish, and I always wondered what had possessed them to convert to Catholicism. My great-grandparents converted almost immediately when they moved to the United States, and arrived in New Orleans. Our Dyer and Osterman ancestors in Texas, however, are some of the most famous Jews in the U.S.

This idea of pretending to be something you are not to avoid persecution, has always stuck with me. Catholicism in my mother's Jewish family was in stark contrast to my father's French Creole family. It always seemed like a show. There was a menorah at my grandfather's house, and a lot of talk about how they "used to be Jewish". (According to my Jewish ancestors, there really is no such thing.. you either have a Jewish bloodline or you don't.)

This idea seemed to be spilling over into my Reiki practice. Was Reiki really what my teachers said it was? Was what is written on the memorial stone really true? I decided to ask Master Usui himself, and I didn't get an answer.

When we are working with spiritual beings including Angels, they have the ability to translate messages into whatever language we need them to. It is not as easy for former humans who haven’t spoken our language, however.

Master Usui, as a Japanese man, would always have Mrs. Takata and Dr. Hayashi there to translate the messages he wanted to give me into English. Up until now, I had always interacted with them as a group.

When I approached them with my question and asked for an answer directly from him, I asked that it be delivered as a feeling or sentience, so that nothing would be lost in translation.

His answer to me was, "this medium isn't wrong". I felt it in my gut. It felt like what he meant was, my quest for truth would lead me wherever it was supposed to lead me, just like his.

I had always felt like he was guiding me, when I was putting my manuals together. The story from that 1980 manual said that he studied Japanese, Chinese, and Tibetan buddhist texts. It hinted that he even studied the Vedas, the ancient Hindu writings, looking for the keys to healing. The stories are all different, each source has a different take. Even Wiki says that sources too close to him wrote the material about him, so it is not reliable.

His next message to me was, "follow the path", and "follow the Way". The Way is an idea in Taoism that to stray to either side would mean that you are indulging in the excesses of the world, and need to focus again on your path to inner peace, in meditation. I was trying not to focus on the drama of the material, just the facts. What I teach comes from what I can gather from the most accurate sources available, but even those do not feel fully reliable.

One of the members of the Gakkai, Hiroshi Doi, came to Canada a few years ago. He taught my ICRT teacher, Patricia Williams. Patricia retired right after teaching my master class, we were the last Reiki masters she taught. H. Doi hesitated for a long time before teaching in the West. She didn't know if or when he would be back to teach, but she was grateful to have been added to his lineage.

The problem with translating Reiki for Western students, is that they don't understand Japanese culture, or Buddhist thought. They like the Dalai Lama (a Tibetan Buddhist), but they don't always rise to his challenges or practice what he teaches, which is kindness to others. I have been fortunate to have relatives in Japan, a teacher whose mother was Japanese, and two students who helped me to understand more about kanji and Japanese culture, one who lived there. I have expanded on this philosophy in my new manuals.

The Buddhist basis for Reiki is a challenge. It is a challenge to open our minds to the simplicity of being kind to others. It is a daily challenge to practice maintaining our inner peace by withdrawing from the conflicts of the world, and to only involve ourselves if it is for the greater good. It is a challenge to meditate on each koan, one at a time. And it is a challenge to practice its admonition to refrain from excesses. This is not an easy path, and it is not supposed to be.

Reiki helps you grow. Whatever its origins, and however Master Usui Mikao discovered it, it is known that he studied and meditated for years, and required the same from his students.

Sometimes I can feel him tapping me on the shoulder, or standing behind me, observing and supporting me while I am teaching. And his message is always, “be kind”.

If you have questions, please email me at

Image courtesy of Japanese Wiki commons

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