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Spirituality and Healing the Body, Mind, and Spirit through the Laying of Hands—A Study of Reiki Practitioners
Todd Jay Leonard

Hirosaki Gakuin University, Japan
Just for today, do not worry;

Just for today, do not anger;

Honor your parents, teachers, and elders;

Earn your living honestly;

Show gratitude to every living thing

-Mikao Usui
In today’s modern world, medical technology has made great strides in treating, and even curing, a variety of imbalances and ailments of the human body. Working alongside the scientific and medical communities, as a complement to modern medicine, is a growing movement that focuses on a natural method of healing using a “laying of hands” technique on clients as an alternative to traditional and mainstream medicine. This healing method is widely and simply known as “Reiki.” It is practiced by “practitioners” who have been empowered by a Reiki Master-Teacher through a series of “attunements.”

Reiki practitioners—those who offer healing through this energy source—are quick to point out that it is not a religion. At the very least, however, it could be categorized as a form of “spirituality” in that the Reiki energy is believed to be a part of a higher power or realm, coming from a divine source which some people refer to as God; the Creator; the Almighty; a Supreme Being; Great Spirit; or Infinite Intelligence.

Reiki is regarded as the Universal Life Force Energy that is present in all living and non-living things. The Chinese call it ch’i; the Japanese call it ki; and Hindus call it prana. (Barnett and Chambers, 1) It is a part of the divine-source energy that assists in healing and giving those who receive it a sense of equilibrium and well-being.
Reiki is a gentle, powerful, hands-on healing technique. It is based on a specific energy attunement process in which ancient mantras and symbols are used to amplify the flow of life force energy and to open up the inner healing channel. …Reiki revitalizes body, mind, and soul, relieves pain and stress, and helps in many conditions, always supporting the natural healing process. (Honnervogt [a], 12)
The technique for harnessing this energy is ancient, originating in records of cosmology and philosophy delineated in Tibetan Buddhist sutras (Müller and Günther, 13). The particular method that is the focus of this research study is called Usui Shiki Ryoho in Japanese (known as “The Usui System of Natural Healing” in English). This system of healing is a holistic therapy which supports the effectiveness of traditional and complementary treatments. As mentioned earlier, it is not categorized as a religion, as it does not have a creed or doctrine.

Reiki energy is a smart energy that automatically goes to the area in the body that needs healing. The Reiki treatment is a non-invasive healing method that offers those who receive it relaxation, peace of mind—and in many cases—a physical, mental or emotional healing, relieving pre-existing conditions.

Reiki is different from other healing methods and forms of bodywork in that the practitioner has been attuned with “empowerments” which serve to fine-tune the physical and etheric bodies to a higher vibratory level. Through the attunement process, a person’s energy centers are opened up and aligned to allow the person to channel the life force energy more ably and in greater amounts.

A Reiki practitioner is attuned by a Reiki Master-Teacher who is able to impart into the person’s aura the symbols used in Reiki. Practitioners can be attuned to Level I (allowing them to give treatments to themselves and others); Level II (enabling them to send Reiki to someone in a distance healing); Level III-a (being attuned with the Master symbol); and Level III-b (empowering them to teach and attune others to Reiki, becoming a “Master-Teacher”).

The Reiki practitioner channels this Reiki energy through their hands to the recipient. Never does the recipient have to remove any clothing. The therapy is non-intrusive, merely a “laying of hands.” There is no manipulation of the body or deep tissue massage involved in a Reiki treatment. The practitioner is not a healer in the true sense of the word, but only a “channel,” acting as a vehicle for the healing Reiki energy to pass through his/her body and hands. The recipient draws the needed energy offered from the channel (Reiki practitioner).

Anyone can offer another magnetic energy by laying his/her hands upon the other person. The difference, however, between someone who has not been attuned to the Reiki energy, and one who has, is the tremendous amount of energy transferred to the person. A Reiki graduate’s hands are much hotter and the energy is more noticeable from a Reiki practitioner.

A Brief History of Reiki
Reiki was rediscovered by Dr. Mikao Usui1 who is believed to have read the original sutras in Sanskrit, translating them into Japanese. Still, the secret to how the healing took place eluded him until he experienced a 21-day fast and meditation on a sacred mountain called Kurama-yama,2 in his native Japan. On the last day of his meditation and fast, a speeding ball of light appeared in the sky and rushed toward him; he decided to allow the light to penetrate his being, wherein he experienced profound spiritual enlightenment. The ancient symbols appeared to him in clear bubbles hovering in the air; he memorized each one and how it was to be used in the attunement process of the healing system.

Usui-sensei quickly left the mountain to make his way back to the Buddhist monastery where he was living. As he hurriedly ran, he stubbed his toenail, causing it to bleed profusely. He intuitively placed his hand over the toe and the bleeding ceased. This is considered by Reiki adherents to be the first healing miracle associated with Reiki.

As he descended the mountain, Usui-sensei came upon a roadside restaurant. He ordered rice, vegetables, and hot tea. The proprietor could see he had been fasting on the mountain and insisted Usui-sensei wait for him to prepare a softer food made of rice gruel so as not to overwhelm his digestive system (having not eaten solid food for three weeks). Usui-sensei insisted upon eating the cold, leftover rice. He ate it and had no ill effect from doing so. This is considered to be the second miracle associated with Reiki.

As the proprietor’s granddaughter was serving the food to Usui-sensei, he noticed she was wearing a white cloth around her head and jaw. Realizing she was suffering from a toothache, he put his hands on her cheeks, and nearly instantly, the pain was gone. He had healed her toothache with his healing touch. This is considered to be the third miracle associated with Reiki.

Figure 1.

Dr. Mikao Usui

Upon arriving at the monastery, he learned that the head-monk was bedridden from an acute case of arthritis. He immediately healed the monk, experiencing the fourth miracle of Reiki.

This story of the four Reiki miracles has been passed down through the ages from Reiki Master-Teachers to their students. Nearly all of the versions are basically the same concerning Usui-sensei’s fast, enlightenment of the Reiki symbols, and four miracles. However, other aspects of Usui–sensei’s original motivation to rediscover the ancient healing technique are disputed.

The traditional Reiki story begins in the mid-1800s with Mikao Usui, who was principal of Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, and also a Christian minister. Asked by his students to be shown the method by which Jesus did healing, Usui began a ten-year quest to find and learn the skill. When Christian authorities in Japan told him that this healing was not talked about, much less known, Usui sought the information through Buddhism. There are striking resemblances between the life of Buddha in India (Gautama Siddhartha, 620-543 BCE) and the life of the historical Jesus. Usui was told by Buddhist monks that the ancient spiritual healing methods had been lost, and that the only way to approach them was by entering the Buddhist teachings, the Path to Enlightenment.
Mikao Usui then traveled to the United States, where he lived for seven years. When he received no further answers from Christians there, he entered the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is said to have received his Doctor of Theology degree there, where he studied comparative religions and philosophies. He also learned to read Sanskrit, the ancient scholarly language of India and Tibet. Usui still found no answers in his quest to learn the methods of healing. There is no further mention of Mikao Usui as a Christian or minister, but only as a Buddhist, who after his return to Japan, resided in a Zen monastery. (Stein, 9)
Several Reiki researchers have meticulously researched this story, only to find that Mikao Usui is not listed as ever having been involved with Doshisha University—as a teacher, researcher, minister, or student; nor can university archivists at the University of Chicago find any information connecting him to their institution (Stein, 9; Petter [a], 18)

It is now believed by a growing number within the Reiki movement that the “Christian connection” was most likely included later when it was being exported to the West. (Stein, 9; Petter [a], 18) It was perhaps felt by later Reiki adherents that an aspect related to the Western-Christian tradition was needed in order for such a healing therapy to be accepted by the general public. By connecting the healing energy to Jesus, who was also a healer, and by portraying Usui-sensei as a Christian minister in search of a basic Christian belief and truth, would make it more appealing to fundamental and mainstream Christians who tend to dismiss categorically any belief that is not explicitly rooted in Christianity.

Figure 2.

A Shinto shrine on Mount Kuramayama.

Usui-sensei named Reiki by combining two Japanese characters: rei which can mean spirit, soul, or ghost; and ki which can be interpreted as energy, mind, atmosphere, heart, soul, feeling, or mood. (Petter [b], 29) When the two are combined, it can be translated in English as “life-force energy.”

With this new healing energy, Dr. Usui wanted desperately to assist the downtrodden, poor, and destitute beggars of the Kyoto slums. He was discouraged, however, after healing a number of people because they returned to their old ways. He realized then that unless people have some type of personal commitment, like an investment, into their own healing, it was of no use.3

Usui-sensei then set out as a pilgrim, journeying with a torch in daylight—signifying “lighting the way”—offering lectures on his newly rediscovered healing method. This attracted a number of disciples to him, one of which was Chujiro Hayashi,4 a retired naval officer still on reserve status (Stein, 13) Hayashi-sensei eventually received the attunement for Master-Teacher in 1925 and set out to begin his own Reiki healing practice, setting up a clinic in Tokyo. He is attributed with establishing an organized framework for Reiki, including the specific hand positions and levels of attunement that are still used today.

In 1935, a Japanese-American woman, Hawayo Takata,5 was visiting Japan from Hawaii to break the news of her sister’s death to her parents who happened to be in Japan for a year visit (their first trip back since their immigration to the United States some 40 years before). Suffering from a variety of illnesses and chronic conditions, and in need of an operation, Mrs. Takata checked herself into a hospital; as she was being readied for the procedure, a voice not of this world rang out to her “The operation is not necessary.” (Haberly, 19) Heeding this voice, she asked the surgeon if there were any alternative treatments she could pursue. He directed her to Hayashi’s clinic where she was treated and ultimately healed.

Takata lived at the clinic and was completely healed in body, mind and spirit in four months. She asked to be trained in Reiki but at first was refused, not because she was a woman but because she was a foreigner. Hayashi did not want the practice of Reiki healing to leave Japan at that time. Eventually, he relented because of the intervention of the surgeon [who referred her initially]. Hawayo Takata received Reiki I training in spring, 1936. She joined the teams of healers that worked at the clinic, and in 1937 Takata received Reiki II and returned to Hawaii. She had lived in Japan for two years. (Stein, 13)

In 1938, Hayashi-sensei visited Takata in Hawaii, where they lectured about Reiki around the Hawaiian Islands. On February 22, 1938, before departing for Japan, Hayashi-sensei announced that he had attuned Takata to Reiki Level III-a and b, as “Master-Teacher”. (Haberly, 31)

As mentioned earlier, in the beginning, Dr. Usui was discouraged when he offered Reiki to beggars in the slums of Kyoto. He had hoped that by giving them the gift of Reiki, they would go out and make an honest living, bettering their lives in the process. After giving attunements and classes free for some time, he noticed a pattern which emerged where soon the beggars were back on the streets begging. He realized then that without some type of exchange, people would not invest the necessary effort into their own healing or condition. The easiest and most practical way to make sure that people followed it was to charge for it. When people invested in their own healing, they were more apt to continue it.

Hayashi-sensei felt the same, and when Takata-sensei asked if she could teach Reiki for free to those who helped her establish her Reiki Center in Kapaa, Hawaii, he admonished her, saying: “Never teach a Reiki class free. For then, it has no value. The people will not value it enough to use it. You can return your gratitude to them by treating them when they need a treatment.” (Brown, 64) Takata-sensei followed his advice and in order to make sure students were completely dedicated to teaching Reiki, she charged each $10,000 to become attuned to Level III-b, Master-Teacher.

Figure 3.

Chujiro Hayashi

Today, opinion is divided on this point. A number of Reiki Master-Teachers follow the tradition of charging for attunements—some a token amount, others the $10,000 fee. There are other Reiki Masters who charge nothing, maintaining that Reiki, as a universal energy source, should not have a price and should be available to all and anyone who wants to use it and teach it. Purists believe that giving away Reiki for free detracts from the original intention of having the therapy done by only those who are completely committed, maintaining a degree of semblance in how it is taught.6

This triumvirate set of personages in early Reiki—Dr. Mikao Usui, Chujiro Hayashi, and Hawayo Takata—were quite influential, but in different ways. Usui rediscovered the energy therapy, named it, and built up a discipleship of adherents, which included Chujiro Hayashi; Hayashi eventually organized it into a codified therapy, relying on his military background to standardize aspects of the healing technique (like specific hand positions, the various levels of attainment, and the idea of having Reiki given as treatments in a clinical setting); and Takata was largely responsible for keeping Reiki alive during World War II, and in promulgating it into the worldwide phenomenon it is today.

Figure 4.

Hawayo Takata

An Introduction to the Study
The purpose of this study was to determine what religious influence, if any, is present in a Reiki practitioner’s healing work; and if there is a direct link, or relationship, between Reiki as an alternative healing therapy and the practitioner’s spirituality or belief system. As delineated earlier, Reiki is not a religion, strictly speaking, as it has no real creed, code of ethics, or dogma; but, it is spiritually-based because its adherents and practitioners often use prayerful intentions before beginning a treatment and all possess a belief in a higher power which they call upon to access and use the Reiki energy source.

In addition, the study endeavored to learn the religious and/or spiritual backgrounds of the participants of this study, their attitudes toward religion and spiritual-based beliefs, and what role, if any, these play in their Reiki healing work with regards to the actual Reiki treatment when given to a client. A further intention of this study was also to qualify the process and ritual involved in preparing and executing a Reiki treatment.

A number of questions were set forth in a questionnaire7 to postulate these hypotheses. For instance, is a personal ritual (that is spiritual in nature) performed to ready the practitioner, space, or client before the actual treatment? Is the client consulted about the ritual or Reiki treatment before it is given? Is some type of religious or spiritually-based prayer, intention, devotion, and/or invocation rendered before beginning the Reiki treatment? Are other therapies or techniques used to complement the Reiki treatment or is it strictly Reiki that is given without the aid of other tools? How long does a typical treatment last? And how often are self-treatments given, as well as to others?

The results of the study, which are described in the following sections, provide a contemporary overview of how a modern Reiki practitioner’s religious upbringing and spiritual beliefs affect his/her attitude toward Reiki healing. As well, it details the manners and procedures of how Reiki practitioners’ beliefs and spirituality play a role in giving treatments to clients.

Descriptive Analysis of the Participants’ Demographic Data

The study was conducted using Reiki practitioners who either have been attuned to Reiki I, II, III-a and/or III-b. The only criterion was that the participants had to be attuned to some form of Reiki to be eligible to participate in this study. Interestingly, all the subjects (100%) were attuned by a Reiki Master who specialized in the Usui Shiki Ryoho System of Reiki Natural Healing (sometimes referred to as Usui Shiki Ryoho School of Reiki),8 and the overwhelming majority was attuned to Reiki III-b, making them Reiki Master-Teachers (82%). A majority of the subjects were selected through referral, meaning that once a core group of Reiki practitioners was selected through personal contacts, these people then forwarded the questionnaire on to Reiki practitioners that they knew. This type of research data collection is referred to as “snowball sampling.”

In snowball sampling researchers identify a small number of individuals who have the characteristics in which they are interested. These people are then used as informants to identify, or put researchers in touch with, others who qualify for inclusion and these, in turn, identify yet others—hence the term snowball sampling. This method is useful for sampling a population where access is difficult, maybe because it is a sensitive topic or where communication networks are underdeveloped. The task for the researcher is to establish who are the critical or key informants with whom initial contact must be made. (Cohen, et al, 104)

The entire questionnaire was conducted via the Internet.

A decision was made early on to keep the study small in order to extrapolate data in a manageable manner. Although the primary instrument (fieldwork questionnaire) utilized a Likert scale (e.g. “please mark accordingly—strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree”) to some extent, the majority of the questionnaire involved open-ended questions, generating a large amount of research data that needed to be collated and interpreted.

In retrospect, perhaps a survey that encompassed only a rating method (e.g. a checklist—please check the items that pertain to you; or Likert scale) for gathering research might have made it easier to collocate and analyze the data generated, but ultimately it was decided to combine both configurations in the question design in order not to limit the subjects in their responses. Also, I could not assume to know all the possible responses that subjects might be able to provide—which certainly was the case, as many of the respondents mentioned areas and activities I would never have thought to include in a checklist or Likert format. The responses, in general, were thoughtful, lengthy, and rich with detail.

The survey was actually divided into four different sections. The first section dealt with demographic data; the second section focused on the subjects’ religious and/or spiritual backgrounds; the third section concentrated on the Reiki treatments; and the fourth section allowed the respondents to write freely about any aspect they wished to comment upon that perhaps was not covered specifically within the perimeters of the survey.
Statistics on the Sex and Age of the Participants

The age of the participants ranged from 37 to 63; the mean was 52. Their sex was predominately female (66%) with a smaller percentage being male (34%). Within the female group, the youngest subject was 37 and the oldest was 63 (with a mean of 51.5 years-of-age). Within the male group, the youngest subject was 45 and the oldest was 57 (with a mean of 52.5 years-of-age).

The data is especially telling in that the majority of the subjects were women. This is most likely quite representative of the entire Reiki practitioner population, even though this data is generated from a small, but somewhat random sampling. Generally, women tend to be more attracted to this type of healing technique because of the subtleness of the energy involved. Of course, this type of healing work requires a person to be attuned to the Universal Life Force Energy source, but it also requires one to be comfortable in accessing both male and female based energy, which women seem to be less apprehensive in doing.

Historically, Reiki was predominately administered by men when first introduced by Dr. Usui, with the “Master-Teacher” attunement given to men. Women eventually did break this sex-barrier, but it was still reserved for “Japanese-only.” (Brown, 26; Haberly, 24) Although Mrs. Takata was ethnically Japanese, she was an American citizen, legally, socially and culturally. Initially, she was viewed suspiciously as an outsider—even though she looked Japanese and spoke the language fluently.9 Through the help of a medical surgeon who wrote a personal appeal on her behalf to Hayashi-sensei, Takata-sensei broke this nationality barrier when she convinced him to attune her to the Reiki energy. He was so impressed with her dedication that he eventually attuned her to all three Reiki levels.

In 1938, Hayashi-sensei attuned Takata-sensei with the Master-Teacher attunement; he encouraged her to continue her healing work with Reiki. (Borang, 33; Brown, 39; Haberly, 31) Later, this would have a profound affect on Reiki as a movement. Before Hayashi-sensei went into transition (which he consciously caused by psychically shutting down various major organs of his body) shortly before he was to be re-commissioned as a naval officer to serve in the Pacific War with the United States, he selected Takata-sensei to be the “Grand Master,”10 allowing her to carry on the movement with his blessing. As a former military officer, he knew that Japan was going down a road that would have grave consequences. (Haberly, 41) He instructed Takata-sensei to return to Hawaii and told her where she should go to be safe. (Brown, 59) During and after the war, she was instrumental in spreading Reiki to the West, attuning 22 people (the majority women)11 to the level of Reiki Master-Teacher before passing into transition on December 12, 1980.

The statistics generated in the research for this study show that women still play a key, if not integral role, in utilizing Reiki by giving treatments and in attuning other women to the Reiki energy.

The average age of the participants was higher than anticipated. One prior assumption was that this type of alternative therapy most likely would be embraced by younger people who are seeking spiritual fulfillment through a method that does not involve mainstream or organized religion. The participants all were well into middle age, which suggests that the desire to be a healer in the service of others attracts people of all ages, making Reiki especially attractive to middle-aged people. Also, this may have something to do with the fact that many Reiki Master-Teachers who follow the traditional Usui System of Natural Healing often charge a sizeable amount of money to be attuned to each level, with the final attunement for Master-Teacher costing up to $10,000. Older, more well-established people have more disposable income to invest into this type of pursuit.

As will be delineated later, also, many of the participants had jumped from a variety of religious traditions, seeking a spiritual purpose. Perhaps this, too, is a reason why the participants tended to be older because they had more opportunity to experience mainstream medicine and other spiritual outlets, before deciding to embark upon Reiki as a way to heal and be “spiritual.” Although Reiki is not a belief system, has no dogma, per se, and is not a religion, it does offer practitioners an avenue to explore their own spirituality and beliefs in a higher power or force, whether that is God, or another Supreme Being.

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