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Usui Reiki Energy Healing

When East Meets West: Reiki Energy Healing Methods Evolve and Flourish

Published in Pathways Magazine, Spring 2024, beginning on page 13

BY ANNIE LARSON


To understand the gentle healing energy of Reiki as both a complementary and alternative medicine and a spiritual practice, it’s helpful to explore eastern traditions and western changes to Reiki lineages. There is a rich, largely oral history that has made its way from East to West, passed down from teacher to teacher. Between Mikao Usui’s discovery of Reiki over 100 years ago to the latest offering of Holy Fire® Reiki by William Lee Rand, a modern authority and prominent teacher of the Reiki System of Healing, the practice has grown and transformed.

 

The delineation of such growth is shaped by eastern traditions and influenced by western culture, which creates confusion and controversy over the very nature of what Reiki is and how to practice it. Certainly, many other Reiki Master Teachers, like William, have contributed to the proliferation and changes to Reiki. Though, if not for William, who studied, researched, traveled, and wrote about the origins of Reiki in Japan, and who created several forms of it, Reiki may have slipped into obscurity.

 

This was my realization when I met William this past summer at a conference in upstate New York where he was teaching. William was a conference speaker who looked out of place in his blue Hawaiian shirt, faded jeans, and a green baseball cap against the backdrop of the hippie vibe of the old Sufi camp, where other attendees donned flowing peasant skirts, harem pants, and kimonos while attending the several Yoga, healing, and metaphysical sessions being held. During lunch I introduced myself to this lanky older gentleman with a scruffy white beard and mustache, though I was not in his seminar, and he invited me to join him. This encounter began a week of meals and conversations about the convoluted history and mysterious roots of the founder of Japanese Reiki, as well as William’s own 25-year journey to become a leader in the Reiki healing community — a title he would reject — all in the true spirit of sharing Reiki knowledge.

 

History of Usui Reiki

The origins of Reiki as a connection to a channel of healing are credited to Mikao Usui on Mount Kurama, Kyoto, Japan, in 1922. At age 56, Usui Sensei underwent shugyo — an austere daily training, or in his specific case, a 21-day inner peace meditation — under an Osugi (cedar tree) until he had his revelation about a channel, or method of natural healing, that addresses the whole person on the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual levels.

 

Reiki is a Japanese word made up of two kanjis, rei and ki that means “spiritual energy”. This idea of spiritual energy comes from Shintoism, which was the state-sponsored belief that elevated the emperor as a divine being (a kami) until the end of WWII. According to the United Religions Initiative:

 

The followers of Shintoism believe spiritual powers exist in the natural world. They believe spirits called “kami” live in natural places such as in animals, plants, stones, mountains, rivers, people and even the dead.

 

Mikao Usui, to distinguish the Kanji Reiki from his method of healing, added the word Ryoho (treatment, or method). His first school was so-named “Reiki Ryoho Gakkai”, which translates to the “Spiritual Energy Healing Method School”, which opened in Tokyo within a month of Usui Sensei’s Reiki enlightenment.

 

To become Reiki practitioners, students attend a certification class, as taught by a Shihan (master teacher), where they receive an initiation, called a reiju (attunement), and the accompanying training to conduct chiryo (treatment). This process connects them to channel Reiki energy for healing. Students receive instruction in three degrees or levels: Shoden, Okuden, and Shinpiden.  The third degree is the master level, hence the title “Reiki Master”. A Reiki Master Teacher is one who has trained to teach others in giving attunements and conducting classes.

 

Enter Hawayo Takata

 Before his death in 1926, Usui Sensei attuned and taught sixteen other Reiki Master Teachers; of those,  Chujiro Hayashi was the last to be attuned. Because Hayashi Sensei was a doctor, Usui Sensei encouraged him to open his own practice. He called it “Hayashi Reiki Kenkyukai” (institute). Hayashi Sensei attuned and taught Hawayo Takata. 

 

Takata Sensei was born in 1900 on the territory of Hawaii. After the premature death of her husband in 1930, she left with her two children from Hawaii for Japan to seek treatment for several illnesses. While in the hospital, she heard about Reiki. Under the care of Reiki Master Chujiro Hayashi Sensei, she recovered and stayed to learn his practice of Reiki. In February 1938, Hayashi Sensei initiated Takata Sensei as a Reiki Master, the first woman to hold that title.

 

Hawayo Takata shrouded the origins and history of Reiki when she migrated from Japan back to Hawaii in the late 1930s. Reiki changed to accommodate western beliefs and customs. Takata Sensei wrote much in her diaries, lectures, and letters that have no basis or history in eastern Reiki as channeled by Usui Sensei. She confused many aspects of Reiki, including associating it with Christianity and even inferring Usui Sensei was a Christian minister giving Sunday sermons! Usui Sensei was Shinto but raised in Buddhism. Reiki symbols revealed to him on Mount Kurama are found in the “Lotus Sutra”, a venerated text in Mahayana Buddhism. Usui Sensei remained adamant that Reiki never be associated with any sect — religious or otherwise.

 

Upon Takata Sensei’s return to Hawaii, she began training others; she kept the information secretive and exclusive by charging up to $10,000 for training. She told students all the Reiki Masters in Japan died in World War II. Many died. Many schools of Reiki went underground. Eastern Reiki practitioners, the 2,000 students directly attuned by Usui Sensei, rejected all other Reiki practitioners and referred to all other forms as Western Reiki.

 

Takata Sensei’s Reiki classes defined a western style of Reiki that sped up the attunement process and streamlined training. Her version deviated from its Japanese origins by simplifying Reiki teachings, using treatments she found most effective, standardizing hand positions, and emphasizing symbols — that many thought she changed — whereas Usui Sensei required students to receive repeated Reiki attunements and to spend more time in practice to help develop their intuition. Usui Sensei attuned students when the Reiki Master Teacher considered them ready; it took a couple of years to achieve the level of Reiki Master with Usui Sensei.

 

Takata Sensei must have felt pressure to change Reiki practices because of American attitudes towards people of Japanese descent, like her, in pre- and post-Pearl Harbor. Although the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) had not yet become a state, they had been a U.S. Territory since 1898 and had western influences. In 1942, after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed an executive order to incarcerate people of Japanese descent. These tumultuous times may have contributed to the reasons that she didn’t use written training materials as Reiki became strictly passed down from teacher to student orally, much like in the Yoga tradition before Patanjali wrote the “Yoga Sutras”.

 

Mind you, Takata Sensei had received a written manual from Hayashi Sensei, and Usui Sensei had some written materials. She required her students to burn the symbols they had drawn during training at the end of each class. At one point, she painted over the word Reiki from her advertising shingle in Hilo, Hawaii, and opted for Hawaii Health Studio, Nerve, Gland, and Shortwave Treatments. 

 

Takata Sensei called her method of healing “Usui Shiki Ryoho”, which means “Usui System of Natural Healing”. She attuned twenty-two Reiki Masters; and she treated, trained, and initiated others for the next 42 years until her death in 1980. Her granddaughter, Phyllis Lei Furumoto, who passed away in 2019, would further codify her method of Reiki as a healing practice for personal development and spiritual discipline in a mystic order. Present day, Reiki students decide when they should attend a Reiki class and when to achieve the next Reiki degree. 

 

Reiki and the CAM Classification

Within current conventional medicine, Reiki is viewed as a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Alternative medicine became popular following the counterculture movement of the 1960s as a reaction to: societal attitudes changing towards chemical use and side effects in pharmaceuticals; sensitivity to other cultures’ more natural healing practices, like Ayurveda in India and Acupuncture in China; and desperation by patients when western medicine fails.

 

Reiki falls under the category of Energy Medicine. It works with the Bioenergy field, also known as an aura, and is used to treat various ailments; Reiki practitioners work with the Bioenergy field, considered the starting point of dis-ease. Some Reiki Master Teachers taught specific Reiki protocols for each ailment. For example, when practitioners channel Reiki to activate the immune system, it releases the buildup of toxins in our organs, joints, and lymph nodes. This helps bring the body back into balance.

 

In the 1990s, the United States government began funding research on CAM, most notably through The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In the U.S., and as the classification suggests, Reiki serves as an addition to or complement of traditional modern medicine. Practitioners use Reiki alongside standard medical treatments, even though it is not a part of traditional biomedicine. Reiki practitioners, mostly, lack medical training or licenses to provide diagnoses or treatment programs. As for complementary use, according to Kaiser Permanente:

 

People use Reiki to decrease pain, ease muscle tension, speed healing, and improve sleep. Reiki is sometimes used to help people who suffer from pain or discomfort from cancer or other diseases. But Reiki is not used as a treatment for cancer or any other disease. Some people who’ve had chemotherapy treatment said they felt better and had less nausea after having a Reiki session. Research is ongoing to determine any benefits of Reiki.

 

In my Reiki healing practice, clients have extolled the virtues and effects that Reiki has had on them, such as healing chronic urinary tract infections, relieving chronic pain from endometriosis, easing nausea from chemotherapy treatments, and finding ease from anxiety and stress. Reiki affects each person differently, so one should experience a Reiki session for oneself.

 

Current Applications

Further changes to Reiki have come from western laws around physical touch. When I attuned to Reiki in the mid-1990s, it was a “hands-on” healing practice with the client fully clothed. Now, with laws delineating who can and cannot touch, Reiki is channeled by hovering hands over a fully clothed client.

 

According to the Professional Wellness Alliance:

In the past few years, state regulatory boards have been ramping up their enforcement of laws relating to massage and “license to touch.” Unlicensed Reiki healers are particularly vulnerable to this, especially if your state lumps Reiki into “massage”.

 

Channeling Reiki distantly is another hands-off approach, where clients receive Reiki energy remotely from the comfort of their homes. This became immensely popular during the pandemic when in person sessions were not possible.

 

After Takata Sensei’s death, over 30 new types of Reiki have been practiced, including three types from William. William was the first to drop the exorbitant fees Takata Sensei charged, reveal confidential teachings, rebuke the idea of a Reiki Grand Master, and challenge the very nature of how one attunes and becomes a Reiki Master. (William was once offered a chance to meet “an old woman who does healing,” while he was studying with Kahunas in Hawaii in 1977. Thinking he would upset the Kahunas, he declined to meet her — the old woman was Takata Sensei! He told me he later met and studied with Takata Sensei’s granddaughter in the 1980s.) His final rendition is Holy Fire® Reiki.

 

His actions, like Takata Sensei, stimulated the continued widespread proliferation of Reiki. Most students of Reiki have both Takata Sensei and William in their lineage. I am honored to have met with William, who modestly and generously shared his stories with me.

 

As we honor our Reiki lineage and become trustees of those traditions given during reiju, we connect to Usui Sensei’s teachings, many of which are not detailed enough nor verifiable to be certain of his specific training. Regardless, the spirit of Reiki continues as an organic living energy, flexible and capable of change. And as the inscription on Usui Sensei’s memorial stone at the Saihoji cemetery in Tokyo suggests, perhaps Reiki will heal the world and its inhabitants.

 

 

 

Annie Larson, a psychic medium and Reiki Master Teacher, is a sought-after speaker, reader, teacher, and healer featured on TV, radio, podcasts, magazines, and newspapers, including the Washington Post. She meets clients in-person in her office in Sterling, Virginia, via phone, and online. She offers Reiki sessions, certifications classes, and hosts immersive Reiki certification retreats to explore healing abilities. Learn more at www.MediumAnnieLarson.com.

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