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The terms Reiki, Reiho, and Reiki Ryoho revisited

Copyright © 2006 James Deacon
[Edited: Feb, 2007]


Usui-sensei did not re-discover 'Reiki' – nor did he create or develop 'Reiki' …

What Usui-sensei did was to create/develop a system of spiritual practice – the primary purpose of which, it seems, was to act as a medium for (incrementally) sharing with others the actual transformative phenomenon he himself had experienced during his now-legendary meditation on Kurama Yama.

Yet he did not call this spiritual practice 'Reiki'

We need to remember that our useage of the word Reiki - to identify the system developed by Usui-sensei - is a very modern, western, mis-application of the term. Likewise, our use of the word as a verb, indicating the actual performance of a treatment.

[Also, the modern understanding of Reiki (i.e the phenomenon itself) as 'energy' may be somewhat different to the understanding Usui-sensei had]

So if Usui-sensei’s spiritual practice was not called ‘Reiki’, what was it called then?

Well, some would have us believe it was called “Usui Teate”, others, “Usui Do”.

However, the only solid source of information we have [and I use the word ‘solid’ in a very literal sense – I refer to the Memorial stone which stands at the side of Usui-sensei’s tomb], disagrees with both these suggestions.

The title of the inscription on the Usui memorial clearly identifies Usui-sensei as the founder of 'Reiho'.

Now while some folk have attempted to make us believe that 'Reiho' was a contraction – a shorthand version - of the phrase 'Reiki Ryoho', it seems this is quite incorrect.

'Reiho' actually refers to a 'Spiritual method' - in this case: Usui's spiritual method: Usui Reiho

Yet, the spiritual practice: this ‘spiritual method’ developed by Usui-sensei - whether it was part of the original intention or not [1] – was also perceived to awaken in the individual, strong therapeutic abilities.

And this therapeutic aspect of the practice (i.e. what we commonly refer to as ‘Reiki’) was identified by the name Usui Reiki Ryoho [2]

or: Usui’s ‘Reiki’ healing method

So, what exactly is ‘Reiki’ (in this context)?

Many people still incorrectly state that 'Reiki' translates as 'universal energy' [3]
- and it must be said that the other common translation: 'Spiritual energy', while perhaps moving far more in the right direction is, it seems, still not quite correct

There are many words in Japanese that may be described as ‘ki-words’ - compound-words formed by adding the familiar ‘ki’ (as in Rei-ki ) to the end of another word. Examples include: genki, inki, and tenki.

Unfortunately, if we attempt to translate such compound-words by simply translating and combining the meanings of the two individual original words, this will not necessarily give us an accurate translation of the compound-word itself.

Let us take, for example, the word tenki - as a stand-alone, ten signifies heaven, or sky. Ki is of course most commonly translated as spirit, energy (or feeling).

So the compound tenki would therefore perhaps mean:
“Heavenly Spirit”?
or maybe
“Heaven Energy” (as opposed to Earth Energy)?

Well actually it simply means: Weather!

Likewise, combining the literal meanings of the two parts of the compound ‘Reiki’ does not really give us a truly accurate understanding of the compound itself.

Ongoing research would suggest that Reiki - as the term is used in the name Usui Reiki Ryoho - more immediately translates simply as ‘spirit’ or 'spiritual'; thus Usui Reiki Ryoho translates most clearly as: Usui's spiritual healing-method

In certain usage, the kanji-pair used to write Reiki can indicate something like 'spiritual essence' or 'spiritual influence'

As the term Reiki is used in the name Usui Reiki Ryoho, there is not necessarily any direct reference to ‘energy’ - in this context, the ki part of the compound would simply seem to speak to the dynamic - the effect of spirit in action.

As stated above, Usui-sensei did not re-discover, or for that matter create or develop, something called 'Reiki' …

Nor did he re-discover or create/invent/develop ‘Reiki Ryoho’…

Simply meaning 'Spiritual Healing (Method)', the term ‘Reiki Ryoho’ had apparently been used by various people in connection with their own particular therapeutic practices.

For example, in 1919, a therapist named M. Kawakami published a book entitled: Reiki Ryoho To Sono Koka (Spiritual Healing & Its Effects); and Fumio Ogawa tells us that a Mr Daiseido Tanaka also practiced his own particular method of ‘Reiki Ryoho’, prior to Usui-sensei developing his Spiritual Healing Method.

Usui-sensei did not invent ‘Reiki Ryoho’. What he actually created was 'Usui Reiki Ryoho'.
It would seem that what he created was named Usui Reiki Ryoho out of a need to differentiate between it and the Reiki Ryoho practiced by other Spiritual Healers of the time. [4]

Apparently there were also other healers who referred to their practice as Shinrei Ryoho and research would seem to suggest that the terms Reiki Ryoho and Shinrei Ryoho are interchangeable expressions. - - the terms Reiki and Shinrei both translating as ‘spiritual’.

The term Reiki also appears in the philosophy of the Omoto Kyo spiritual group (who were particularly influential during the early 20thC) - indicating, not 'energy' per se but rather the energetic-effect of the innermost aspect of the human spirit.

Omoto Kyo talks of the ichirei ['one spirit'] - that spark of the divine that resides in everything living thing in creation.
This ichirei [- the 'rei' here, indicating spirit, is the same rei as in Reiki] – this spiritual essence - is seen to manifest more profoundly in higher lifeforms.
As perceived in human beings, the divine spark is referred to as nao hi - ‘spiritual presence’ or ‘spirit direct (from Kami)’
Nao hi is "... the simplest, purest, innermost aspect of the human spirit, embodying supreme good and ultimate beauty….That which is able to save your body and soul …”
and Reiki can be seen as ‘the manifest effect of Nao hi in action’[5]


[It is also interesting to note that the kanji for nao hi can also be read as choku rei – without any change or loss in meaning…]


[1] In the Reiki Ryoho Hikkei (Treatment Companion/Guide), Usui-sensei is quoted as saying that he did not go in search of special powers

[2] This term is used in the Hikkei

[3] The whole concept of Reiki being understood to refer to "universal/life-force energy" (i.e. in the sense of an energy outside of ourself) seems to really be something quite modern - a Western conceptualisation that was imported into Japan in the 1980's.
In a diary entry dated Dec. 10 1935, Takata-sensei wrote about Reiki being:
"...Energy within oneself " - and also about how we must "...meditate to let the "Energy" come out from within." Concerning the "Energy" she said: "It lies in the bottom of your stomach about 2 in. below the navel."
This would seem to be a very different view of Reiki from that commonly held by many people today...

[4] Again in the Hikkei, Usui-sensei is quoted as saying that he “did not receive this method from anyone else”

[5] Compare with this quote from the Hikkei: "Every living, breathing being possesses the spiritual ability to heal. This is true of plants, animals, fish and insects, but it is humans - the culmination of creation - who possess the greatest power. Our method is a practical manifestation of this power."


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