Reiki Facts & Myths With Nicholas Pearson

Image Credit: Dinis Tolipov | Standard License

Nicholas Pearson has been immersed in all aspects of the mineral kingdom– from magick and metaphysics to science and industry– for more than 20 years. He began teaching crystal workshops in high school, later studying mineral science at Stetson University while pursuing a degree in music. He worked for several years at the Gillespie Museum, home to the largest mineral collection in the southern United States. A certified teacher and practitioner of Usui Reiki Ryoho, he teaches crystal and Reiki classes throughout the United States. Nicholas currently has three books in print: The Seven Archetypal StonesCrystals for Karmic Healing, and Crystal Healing for the Heart, and Foundations of Reiki Ryoho. Stay tuned for a compendium of crystal magick due on shelves next summer. He lives in Orlando, Florida with his partner (and photographer extraordinaire), Steven.

I really enjoyed interviewing Nicholas last time on crystals and magick so much that I asked him to come back and discuss Reiki with me. Nicholas is one of the most intelligent and well-researched guys I’ve come across. Talking with him is not only delightful but always informative.

For those who may be unfamiliar, what exactly is Reiki?
Reiki today refers two related concepts: a specific type of energy/life force (Reiki), and the healing system that utilizes this spiritual energy (Reiki Ryoho). What we simply call Reiki in the Western world is properly called Shin Shin Kaizen Usui Reiki Ryoho, or just Usui Reiki Ryoho for short. The name of the practice means “Usui’s Reiki healing method for improving heart-mind and body.” Reiki Ryoho emerged in 1922 in Japan as a result of the spiritual studies and ascetic practices of Usui Mikao (1865-1926). Reiki is one of the most widely practiced healing systems, stress reductions techniques, and spiritual practice around the world, with more than 1.5 million practitioners worldwide.


How does Reiki differ from other forms of energy healing, what makes it unique?
Reiki as a healing system is unique in several ways. For starters, the ability to practice Reiki is attained through a sacred ritual called a reiju, or “initiation” (nowadays also called an attunement, empowerment, ignition, placement, transformation, transmission, etc.). Once granted, this ability never dissipates. Reiki also never depletes the energy of the practitioner, as the energy of Reiki itself is received passively from the Universe. Reiki never causes harm, and it never has any contraindications (though one should exercise caution and common sense in all healing arts).


Reiki is usually translated as “Universal Life Force”. Is this an accurate translation?
The word Reiki is traditionally written as 靈氣 in Japan (or 霊気 in modern Japanese). “Universal life force” is a more accurate translation of the ki (氣) in Reiki; it is synonymous with terms like chi, prana, and others that describe the animating forces within us. Rei (靈) is both subtle and complex. It can mean any of the following words: ghost, ancestor, soul, spirit, elf, bier, intelligent, bright, effective, numinous, miraculous, mysterious… Thus, Reiki is a nebulous term. The most accurate translations are “soul energy” or “miraculous energy.” Reiki is simultaneously the most fundamental and the most rarefied type of energy in the cosmos; it is the essence of which our souls are woven. This is what makes Reiki Ryoho such a potent and effective healing system.


Your book Foundations of Reiki Ryoho: A Manual of Shoden and Okuden was recently released, what are Shoden and Okuden and what do they mean?
The terms shoden and okuden are the names for the first two levels of Reiki, respectively. Shoden means “entrance teachings” or “beginner’s teachings;” it is the open door experiencing the gift of Reiki. Okuden means “inner teachings,” and refers to the deeper aspects of Reiki, including the shurushi (symbols) and jumon (formula or mantra). The third degree or Reiki Master degree is called shinpiden: the mystery teachings.


There’s been conflicting stories and myths about Usui’s religious and spiritual beliefs. I’ve read that he was a Christian Minister, that he was a buddhist, that he discovered Reiki through Tibet. Have you discovered anything concrete about this topic?
It is hard to believe that so many myths about the system of Reiki and its founder have propagated in less than 100 years since its discovery. Thanks to the linguistic, cultural, and geographic divides there will always be gaps in Reiki history, but said gaps are narrowing with each passing year. In Foundations of Reiki Ryoho I devoted a lot of the book to addressing the history, focusing on as much evidence-based research as possible. It is a proven fact that Usui was raised both Shinto (the native religion of Japan) and Pure Land (or Jodo Shu) Buddhist. His memorial stone also indicates that he dedicated his life to studying many other topics, including Christianity, Taoism, divination, incantation and magick, philosophy, more.

Many people may be surprised to learn that Usui wasn’t actually seeking a healing system, either. Though the popular Reiki myths portray him as attempting to recreate the healing used by Christ and Buddha, Usui was actually working toward attaining anshin ritsumei, or enlightenment. He climbed Mt. Kurama on the advice of a teacher that suggested he “try to die once” in order to attain enlightenment. Reiki Ryoho was a divine accident that rode as a passenger with the inner peace of enlightenment.


So, how did Usui come up with the symbols, the myth I was taught was that he was seeking out healing method when he went to Mt. Kurama and received them in meditation. Is this accurate?
Truthfully, these symbols were carefully constructed by Usui to act as catalysts for his students. Although they have therapeutic applications, the deeper meanings of the symbols points toward the real goal of Reiki—attaining anshin ritsumei. A careful study of Japanese religion, spirituality, and culture reveals the origins of these symbols. One is gleaned from Shinto, another from Buddhism. The third is an original construction that owes its format to a Taoist tradition of talismanic writing. Though these symbols are derived from older, more religious source material, Usui simplified their forms so they were appropriate for people of all walks of life, irrespective of one’s religious or spiritual orientation.


The incorporation of chakras into reiki seem very strange to me coming out of Japan. Were chakras originally part of Usui’s reiki?
Since chakras are a part of Vedic teachings, they are absent in traditional Reiki in Japan. Instead, three energy centers called the three tanden (consisting of upper, middle, and lower tanden) are used as part of the model for understanding subtle anatomy. The chakras weren’t incorporated into Reiki practice until the mid-1980s, when Baginski and Sharamon’s German-language book Reiki-Universale Lebensenergie was first published. It was published in English one year later as Reiki: Universal Life Energy, and was among the earliest few books devoted to Reiki. Takata never taught about the chakras explicitly, though she did sometimes erroneously refer to the lower tanden as the solar plexus (despite it being closer in location to the second or sacral chakra).


That’s interesting, because the hand placements seem to correlate to the specific chakras. Is this a coincidence?
On the one hand, I think a comprehensive treatment is doing to cover all the chakras, since such a treatment covers the entire body. On the other hand, prescribed hand placements as we think of them today in Reiki are a relatively recent addition. Both Usui and Hayashi offered suggested sequences of positions for treating specific conditions (based on a combination of personal experience and popular medical models in their time), but there was no systemic foundation treatment. Traditionally, Reiki practitioners were always urged to use other methods for effective treatments, such as intuition and sensing byosen, the rhythmic cycles of energy produced by illness, injury, and disharmonious energy.


When I was trained in Reiki, I was taught four Reiki symbols. Since then I’ve seen books and lineages of Reiki that have almost thousands of symbols. How many original symbols were there and where do these other ones come from?
The topic of symbols is a contentious one indeed. In Japan, there are only three symbols—all of them taught in okuden (second-degree training). At some point in the late 1970s a fourth symbol, often referred to as “the master symbol,” was introduced to traditional Western Reiki. Truthfully, this “symbol” is really a mantra composed of three words in Japanese.

Since then, innumerable symbols have been added to various Reiki traditions. Some are culled from spiritual practices the world over, while many have resulted from practitioners’ personal experiences. This in no way invalidates the efficacy of the symbols, but it does call into question whether they really belong in Reiki. There’s nothing wrong with incorporating other techniques that work for your healing, but the fundamental reason that any external practices were tacked onto Usui Reiki Ryoho is largely a result of misunderstanding the cultural context of the original system.


Speaking of lineages, some claim to be more powerful than others or more legit than others. What are your thoughts on this?
The bottom line is that no lineage, no symbol, no attunement is intrinsically better than other. The only thing that makes a better practitioner is practice! The various schools of Reiki are a lot like the many flavors of ice cream in the grocery store; there is a different one available for everyone’s taste. Though there is nothing inherently more or less powerful about one lineage over another, there are some that subvert the facts and history to serve ego-driven purposes; this is a giant red flag. When seeking training in any lineage, Reiki-related or not, look for open-mindedness, understanding of historical and practical considerations, and ethical practices.

It seems there’s so many Reiki Masters around these days. I’ve always found Master to be a strange title for someone who took a few workshops. Where did the title Reiki Master come from?
Prior to Hawayo Takata receiving her certificate from Dr. Hayashi Chujiro, the term Reiki Master simply was not in use. In Japan, Reiki teachers are referred to as shihan, shihan-kaku, or dai-shihan, meaning “instructor,” “assistant instructor,” and “senior instructor” respectively. Hayashi probably did not speak much, if any, English, so it is unlikely that he chose the precise verbiage found on Takata’s notarized Reiki Master certificate; Takata herself probably chose the word master as a translation of shihan.

Interestingly enough, Hayashi-sensei is referred to as “master of Hayashi Reiki Kenkyu[kai]” (meaning “Hayashi Reiki Institute”) in the passenger manifest of the ship that brought him to Hawaii. In this instance, master is probably used in the sense of “headmaster,” meaning that Hayashi was the head of the institute. This is likely the first time anyone was referred to as a Reiki Master in any sense. It is also noteworthy that the original title for the third-degree training is shinpiden, or “mystery teachings.” As Reiki moved into North America, “mystery” became “Mastery,” possibly as a means of de-spiritualizing Reiki in order to make it more mainstream in a time when Japanese spirituality and culture were regarded as suspect in the shadow of WWII.

When it comes to reiki and integrating other modalities with it, do you feel more or less is more efficient for healing?
One of the most beautiful aspects of Reiki is that it is highly malleable; it can be adapted to virtually any circumstance and incorporated into any other practice. I often find myself allowing Reiki to flow when I am engaged in other activities, like teaching or offering gemstone therapy sessions. However, I do like to make a clear distinction in my professional practice, so that my clients understand where Reiki begins and ends. Since the 1980s so many other tools have been thrown into the Reiki mix that it can be difficult to discern what Reiki is and is not by outside parties. I love how supportive and adaptable Reiki is, but I also love that it is a complete system of its own—one that requires no additional help.

Image Credit: Nicola Zalewski | Standard License

Patreon Exclusive Bonus

Clearing & Charging Crystals with Reiki

Nicholas Pearson shares two of the Reiki techniques that he teaches in-person and discusses in his Reiki manual, Foundations of Reiki Ryoho: A Manual of Shoden and Okuden. He shares how to perform Jaki kiri joka hō, which is a method for using Reiki to cleanse or clear an object’s energy and how to charge crystals with Reiki. This is available for Patreon supporters with the tier “In The Know Jackalope” and higher.

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