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- Facts, Fiction or 'Japanese Whispers'?
Copyright © 2008 James Deacon

Probably most people have now heard the often-repeated story of how, supposedly, in the beginning Usui-sensei did not teach the use of symbols to his students - that the symbols were something he added to the system later in it's development, in order - it is suggested - to help students feel and differentiate between certain aspects of the 'energy'.

Of course the story could be true. [And this would be a very short article.]

However, it has on occasion been suggested that this story is simply a modern fiction - an attempt at creating a piece of 'supporting testimony' intended to lend weight to the views held by some within the Reiki Community who would wish to eradicate use of the symbols from the discipline entirely.
Usually the thinking is expressed something along the lines of "Well, if the symbols weren't part of the original system they can't be that important - can't really be all that relevant -can they? So lets just ditch 'em!"
[- and, I feel, comments to this effect are probably often followed by the silent thought: "Afterall, I never could quite get the hang of remembering how to draw them complicated little ****ers!]

Strangely, several of those people in the pro-"ditch the symbols" camp, also claim that Reiki has its origins strongly rooted in Esoteric (Mikkyo) Buddhist practice. [It would seem such people are completely oblivious as to the essential and empowering role of symbols (to effect both 'this-worldly' and 'other-worldly' healing and transformation) within the Mikkyo traditions...!]

So, the story that the symbols were something Usui-sensei added to the system later in it's development: Truth? Fiction?

There is of course another option - that the story has its basis in some sort of fact, yet due to a mild case of 'Chinese Whispers' (or in this instance 'Japanese Whispers' !) it has become ever so slightly confused on its journey down through the years to us.

What if the original story - the fact behind the whispers - rather than stating that the symbols were something only introduced to the system later in it's development, simply actually spoke of how the symbols were something only introduced to the student at a later stage in their development?

We often hear how, in Takata-sensei's day, the symbols were considered something to be kept secret.[1]

However, it may be more correct to say that rather than it being just a matter of simply not letting non Level 2 Reiki folk see the symbols - it was a case that even
the very fact that there were symbols at all was to be kept secret.

Not only were the symbols not shown to, or even discussed with, Level 1 students, the very existence of symbols was not even mentioned.

While the symbols were obviously used by Takata-sensei as part of the Reiki initiations (though, of course, not all symbols were used in every level initiation), it was not until Level 2 that the symbols, their form and usage, were introduced to the student as part of their training.

It may well be that the primary reason for wanting to keep the symbols (/their very existence), secret from those doing Level 1 training, was to keep the student's focus 'in the present moment'; rather than fueling their curiosity, imagination, and impatience to move on to 'higher' things - when they had not yet even learnt and integrated the basics of what the system had to offer at the earliest stages of training

Likewise, the Level 2 student, having been introduced to the three symbols at that level, was not informed about the fourth symbol.

It was only on being accepted as a level 3 [2] student that the existence of this final symbol was revealed.

Jump back now to the 1920's...

From several different sources, there have been several somewhat different accounts as to the level-structure within Usui-sensei's system in the early years.

However, we know from the Question and Answer section of the Usui Reiki Ryoho Hikkei, that Usui-sensei divided training into three (main [3]) tiers or levels: Shoden, Okuden, and Shinpiden

And while some of the developmental and therapeutic practices taught at each of these levels may not have survived intact - essentially, this training structure was very similar to the "Level 1, Level 2, Master Level" structure most of us in the West are familiar with via Takata-sensei's teachings.

It is said that Usui-sensei's students numbered somewhere in the region of two thousand, with the greater majority of these being Shoden level.

Far fewer would have received training at Okuden; and we are told, less than 20 received Shinpiden level - i.e. became Teachers.

As we have seen, in Takata-sensei's day, even the very existence of the symbols was kept secret from Level 1 students; and it is fair to assume that it would have been no different with Usui-sensei's Shoden level students.

In discussing their training and practice amongst themselves, or - should they be tempted to - in sharing information about the system with family, friends or even outsiders, there would be no knowledge of symbols - only mindfulness in applying 'hands that bring healing'.

As far as these Shoden level students would be aware, there were no symbols used in this therapeutic art.

Likewise, those students who had reached the next stage in their development - the Okuden level - would only be aware of there being three symbols - would not have even heard of there being a fourth.


Which leads to the question - the sources who claim that "originally there were no symbols in Reiki"
- is it simply that their information comes (however indirectly) from students who never progressed beyond Shoden level training?

And for that matter - the sources who more recently have begun to claim that "there were only ever three symbols in Reiki, not four"
- is it simply that their information comes (however indirectly) from students who never progressed beyond Okuden level training?




While the four Usui symbols are considered by many of us to be Sacred (or at least, of sacred significance), ever since two of the symbols were first revealed in a Reiki book: 'The Challenge To Teach Reiki' by A.J. MacKenzie Clay, (published in 1992), the belief in the need to keep them secret is no longer generally considered relevant.

Or as Takata-sensei had called it [on the certificates she issued] the 'Advanced' level.

Though it would seem that these levels may have themselves been divided into a number of subsections at different periods over the short few years during which Usui-sensei taught his system


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