Reiki, Buddhism, & Sectarianism

VeritasIn light of the sometimes funny (“G’DAYKI”) sometimes unfortunate (Jikiden slandering) Reiki sectarian-isms I’ve noticed throughout the years and especially lately, I’d like to share an interesting observation.

My studies and practice in “Buddhism” and “Reiki” I’ve noticed a parallel progression and development of views and doctrines. Essentially, with regard to Reiki, many views (doctrines?) evolve and change (as do all things) and fiefdoms of personal truth emerge. The fiefdoms then fight and are defended as if there’s a competition and these views are absolute and mutually exclusive. With regard to Buddhism, we can see a remarkably similar evolution.

For example, in the overall Buddhist tradition, many views that began in what is known as “Early Buddhism” roughly split into what we know today as Hinayana* (lesser vehicle), Mahayana (greater vehicle), and Vajrayana (diamond vehicle) Buddhism. In my observation, in less than 100 years, the general modern understanding of Usui Reiki Ryoho can be said to have evolved and split in a similar way; from a palm-healing modality, to universal energy, and finally culminating in a deep and fully fledged spiritual practice.

Before I go any further I believe it is very important to remember a few things.

First off, Reiki is not a religion; it’s a spiritual healing method. From what I personally read at the Usui’s memorial, the term Reiho (靈法) is used quite often; Reiho means “spiritual method”. This is not an accident considering the social and political era Mikao Usui lived in.

Second, the era in which Mikao Usui lived and shared his Reiki method was an interesting time where medicine wasn’t firmly held by evidence-based science and spiritual thoughts were policed by the state. Many spiritual movements were passed off as medicine-like. In a way it’s a bit of an inverse situation today where I live (USA) where medical science is strictly regulated in comparison to the freedom of spiritual thoughts and claims we can make today. As such, many healing methods are passed off as spiritual practice.

Anyhow, on to the comparison:

Usui-Hayashi-Takata Reiki – Reading the letter of the “law”.

ReikiOriginalThe “earliest” or “original” Usui-Hayashi-Takata Reiki method has much in common with the Hinayana Buddhist tradition. Hinayana means lesser/smaller vehicle. The most prominent surviving Hinayana Buddhist school is the Theravada tradition – the school of the elders. Hinayana is what I’d call “old school” where tradition is very important and rules are enforced.

The following statements can be said to apply to both the “Usui-Hayashi-Takata Reiki method” and the Theravada Buddhist tradition:

  • Closest and most historically verifiable lineage
  • Majority of schools acknowledge the authenticity of this root lineage
  • Originally organized around a select few individuals (mendicant monks and nuns /22 $10,000 paying students) despite the actions, words, intentions of the founder (open to all)
  • Held in esteem by purists / traditionalists as the only “real” truth/method/approach
  • Viewed as insufficient or with distain by modernists as too narrow and somehow lacking a wider scope (palm-healing vs. anshin-ritsumei / arhat vs. bodhisattva)

Post-Takata / Modern Reiki – Reading the spirit of the “law”.

ReikiModern-02The “Modern Reiki” most of us started with (chakras, channeling, crystals, etc.) is basically Mahayana. Mahayana means greater vehicle. Mahayana Buddhism has the “greatest number” of followers and has the widest diversity of views and approaches in Buddhism by far. Where there may not be hard and fast rules like Hinayana, there are definitely prominent paradigms and approaches.

As before, the following statements can be said to apply to both the “Post-Takata / Modern Reiki method” and the Mahayana Buddhist tradition:

  • The “greater vehicle” is the “school” with the most adherents by far
  • Acknowledges the roots of founding school (Hinayana / Usui-Hayashi-Takata) but extrapolates the theory and practice (Chan, Seon, Zen / crystals, holy-fire, kotodama)
  • Barriers to entry are removed or significantly lowered / open to all (lots of lay-practitioners / $10,000 no longer necessary)
  • Celebrated for its universal, all-inclusive nature but hard to “pin-down” or understand because everything is permissible
  • Viewed with distain by “old” traditionalists and “new” traditionalists as “not traditional”, “too New Age” or “not credible”

“Traditional Japanese Reiki” – Reading between the lines.

ReikiTraditionalThe “Traditional Japanese Reiki” / “Usui Reiki Ryoho” that’s gaining steam these days seems to fit the third seat, paralleling the development of the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition. Vajrayana means thunderbolt/diamond vehicle and is distinctive for its emphasis on “the absolutely real and indestructible [essence] in a human being” / “True Self” and esoteric practices (rituals, chanting, active meditations, etc). Vajrayana is the new-old; it’s the newest system that claims to oldest origins. Traditionally, Vajarayana is recognized as a subset of Mahayana but with some slight/significant differences, using an eclectic approach where the original teachings are acknowledged and praised, revisionist ideas are acceptable and common, and hidden truths are emphasized, seeking a deeper meaning.

Again, the following statements can be said to apply to both the “Traditional Japanese Reiki method” and the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition:

  • Hardest to trace back to the founder of the system; lineage de-emphasized
  • Heavily pollinated by historical and cultural practices presupposed to have influenced ideas and teachings of the founder
  • Acknowledges the previous branches as valid while also asserting a more complete understanding of the teachings
  • Held in esteem by practitioners as effective, logical, and powerful
  • Viewed with distain by historians and traditionalists as “made-up”, “too complicated”, “not what the founder intended”

You can even see the parallels in the general approach toward “root ideas” such as precepts. For example, nearly all Reiki lineages acknowledge Usui’s 5 daily precepts (Just for today…) and nearly all Buddhist lineages acknowledge the 4 Noble Truths of the historical Buddha. For some Reiki Ryoho lineages, the five precepts are just nice words to think about in class and set aside while for others, Usui’s five precepts are the core, means, and goal of practice.

*Side note, if Reiki isn’t a religion, it’s getting harder by the day to explain why not given the fervor over some of these doctrines details…*

Okay, so why is this worthy of sharing? What’s the point?

Well other than being interesting, I believe such a comparison may help us look at our words, thoughts, and actions; to see the trap of tribalism and to learn how to co-exist. I know I personally held positive and negative opinions on all three approaches at some point in time and foolishly brandished views as superior and/or inferior.

In the recent history of Buddhism where sectarian divides kept practitioners in-fighting and squabbling amongst themselves, these days Theravadan monks can live in Mahayana monasteries, Vajrayana nuns can ordain Theravadan nuns, Mahayana sanghas can host Theravadan bhikkhus,  etc. Thankfully, there’s a sense of being true to your way and simultaneously being part of a greater community without disparaging others in thought, word, or passive-aggressive action.

Reiki Mawashi

Reiki Mawashi

I envy that sort of co-existence and would love to see the same maturity in our great big Reiki family. While I’m sure most of us get along just fine, some of the most prominent names and leaders with the most influence and associated responsibility may not necessarily have the same amount of restraint, asserting “rights” and “wrongs”, “joking” and slandering one another. That sort of clinging and worry feeds itself and does little to spread the healing we all seek, believe in, and talk so highly about.

I also like to point to a long and established tradition like Buddhism in order to illustrate how this sort of branching stuff is very common and almost inevitable. This sort of thing is not limited to Buddha-Dharma, Reiki Ryoho, etc. and can be noticed in everything from the diversity in humans to the diversity in trees.

Due to this diversity, I believe and agree with many prominent teachers that the most important truth is the truth you find through your own investigation and practice. Only by your own efforts do you place your hands for self-treatment, be open to the universe, and polish your inner heart/mind. Only by your own efforts do you really learn, deal, and heal. Considering this, it is my personal intention to do so as much and let my practice speak for itself, so-to-speak.

In the meantime:

May all beings heal and be peace in mind and body.

*Please note the term Hinayana is an offensive categorization to many, as the term infers as sense of inferiority. Historically the term was used in this way until scholars and Buddhist teachers agreed it to be incendiary and unnecessary. However for this text I aim to use it to illustrate another point; how the smaller isn’t necessarily “inferior or worse”. As such, please know no offense is intended.

**The most prominent surviving Hinayana school is the Theravada tradition – the school of the elders.