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by Michael Braunstein

In the Oriental healing arts, the Japanese use the word ki to describe the universal life energy that flows through all living things, including us. Though earlier systems, notably Tibetan, use the word chi, they are describing the same thing.
Reiki is truly the rediscovery of a lost healing art. Dr. Mikao Usui is credited with bringing reiki to our awareness in the late 1800’s after it had been “lost” for millennia. Usui received his doctorate in theology from the University of Chicago. In studying miraculous healings, he uncovered a system of archetypal sounds and symbols dating to 5000 years B.C. in Tibet. Over a period of 20 plus years, he documented this healing system.
Though the hands are used in reiki, it is not massage. Rather, the hands of the practitioner are placed passively on or simply near the body of the client. By using her own ki or energy, the practitioner aids the client by stimulating the healing nature of theirs.
Reiki absolutely cannot be learned from a book. It can only be handed down from a Master Teacher to a student. It is respected in the Eastern cultures as a particularly powerful form of healing and is gaining tremendous popularity in the USA..

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The healing art formerly known as…

Back in 1993, a musician born in Minneapolis named Prince Rogers Nelson and going by the stage mononym “Prince” dropped his name and went by an unpronounceable symbol:
Reactions were radical and ran from ridicule to raves. Prince kept the symbol as his moniker until 2000 and then reverted to the conventional. But no one should really have been shocked. Symbols are a basic form of human and cosmic communication.

Archetypes or symbols have been used since mankind first put charcoal or rock to a stone wall. Ancient symbols decorate the oldest of archeological findings. Earlier than Egyptian hieroglyphs, petroglyphs and carvings demonstrated a form of basic communication used by primitive man. Many of those symbols persist. In their origins, all were believed to have mystical powers.
The yin/yang symbol common to Eastern philosophy is used in everyday graphics, even advertising. The swirling figure eight of infinity, the serpentine course of the labyrinth and the Celtic cross are symbols still in use that date back thousands of years.

Reiki, an increasingly popular form of alternative therapy, has its modern-day beginnings based on a series of healing symbols rediscovered by Dr. Mikao Usui nearly 100 years ago. The four symbols that are passed on from reiki master to student are kept secret in honor of their power. They are a combination of Sanskrit Buddhist symbology and classic Japanese kanji, the shapes that are used to form Japanese words.

Usui, was born in Japan in 1865. He was a child prodigy, entering a Buddhist monastery at age four. He studied esoteric spiritual and medical practices as a child, including kiko, the Japanese variation of what the Chinese call qi gong. He finished his education by traveling to Europe and China. He eventually earned a doctorate of theology from Chicago University.
Usui had a well-rounded basis in the sciences and his work extended into mystical and spiritual realms. Returning to Tokyo, Usui began a career as a government employee and made a number of important contacts in the Health Ministry. Usui was also a member of the Rei Jyutu Ka; a metaphysical group dedicated to developing psychic abilities.
In 1914, Usui felt restless and returned to the Buddhist temple of his childhood to further his monastic studies. During this time, he had a revelation and the complete idea of reiki was revealed to him. At the monastery he discovered the symbols that would be the means of communicating with ki, the Japanese idea of the infinite life energy that is commonly known in many different cultures by many different names.

Unlimited Life Force Usui had studied the esoteric healing arts for most all of his life. He found that the practitioner was often drained energetically when finished. Usui wondered why. He reasoned that if life force were infinite, the healer should be able to tap into it and help the patient while remaining undepleted himself. This internal questioning led Usui to his own mystical revelation. Usui felt the life force energy and began using it to help and heal others.
In the beginning, the healing art of reiki existed only as a mystical ability that Usui had experienced and began to use. In the tradition of the Master/Student relationship, Usui began training others. One student, named Chujiro Hayashi, became an initiate. He learned directly from Usui, eventually opening a clinic in Tokyo. Hayashi became a Master and the leader of the reiki tradition. He introduced the specific hand placements involved with reiki and the regimented idea of initiation by a Master. He also began the idea of three levels of study and accomplishment. It was from his ideas in formalizing reiki instruction that we get today’s notations of first, second and third degree level reiki masters.
A first-level practitioner is one who has received reiki instruction and healing from a Master. First level recognizes that the practitioner has experienced reiki and learned to attune to the ki energy. The first three symbols, kept secret until the teaching Master ordains the student to be prepared, are taught to the student and become the esoteric link to the universal life force, ki. From that point on, the ki energy itself will help guide the practitioner’s learning. A first-level reiki practitioner can use the therapy to give full body treatments to himself and to others.
In second-level reiki, the practitioner learns more about using the sounds and symbols to greater understanding of the reiki practice. These are used in advanced reiki work and for absentee healing.
Third level reiki teaches the practitioner to use the ki energy to teach others at level one. In third level teaching, the student is taught the fourth and final symbol. It is intended to help the practitioner increase personal growth and awareness.

American woman - from a grass shack to the floor of the House
In the 1930s, an American woman born of Japanese immigrants living in a grass shack on the island of Kauai traveled to Japan. Hawayo Takata was ill and when she arrived in Tokyo the situation worsened to the extent that she was hospitalized. A large abdominal tumor was found and an operation scheduled. She never had the surgery. Instead, a mystical experience led her to Dr. Hayashi’s clinic. She was healed through reiki and within a few years, became the 13th and final initiate of the Grand Master Hayashi.
In 1938, Takata became a Grand Master herself and before her death, initiated 22 more. She is credited with bringing reiki to the United States.
Since the 1970s, reiki has grown in acceptance. Takata died in 1980 but her legacy of teaching and initiation has expanded.
Yale University School of Nursing and George Washington University Medical School are just two of the dozens of teaching facilities now offering classes in reiki. The Yale University brochure describes reiki as “an ancient, gentle, hands-on energy healing art that health care givers can incorporate easily into their medical practice. [It] stimulates the body’s homeostatic response, encouraging a return to wellness.”

On June 10, 1999, speaking before Congress to thank them for funding studies of “Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Women’s Cancers” at George Washington University, Susan Silver noted that there is a need to investigate “unproven” therapies, while differentiating them from “disproven” therapies. Reiki is one of the therapies Silver described as providing documented proof of relief for cancer patients in the care of George Washington University’s Center for Integrative Medicine.
People have reported that reiki has been effective in varying degrees in helping people with cancer. So-called “hard science” hasn’t proven that reiki cures cancer. No one is willing to, or should, claim that it does. But remember, the standard treatments of radiation and chemotherapy usually fail too.
If the idea of reiki as a healing therapy seems mystical and spiritual it is because it is mystical and spiritual. Reiki uses a form of energy that is unseen and unheard. Even the most devoted practitioner would be hard-pressed to describe it in Western terms. It is beyond the ken of the Western mind. That doesn’t mean it does not work. As with other forms of energy, our science is lagging in the ability to measure ki. However, as Einstein said, “Not all things that count can be counted.”

100 years ago, science couldn’t measure infrared energy. Now you use it every day to change the channel on your TV. Just over 50 years ago, people struggled with the concept of voices and pictures coming out of a box after being broadcast through the air as invisible, inaudible, tasteless, touchless radio waves. In time, maybe mundane Western science will measure ki. Maybe not. Maybe it doesn’t matter to those who have been helped by it.

Be well.

Heartland Healing examines various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information, not as medical advice. It is not an endorsement of any particular therapy or practitioner.


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Michael Braunstein is Executive Director of Heartland Healing and certified by the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners in clinical hypnotherapy. He graduated from the Los Angeles Hypnotism Training Institute and was an instructor at the UCLA Extension University for 11 years.

Heartland Healing is devoted to the examination of various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information and not as medical advice. It is not meant as an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or by Heartland Healing Center, Inc.

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