While the term "Reiki" is used to describe both the system of healing & spiritual development developed by Mikao Usui, and the therapeutic "phenomenon" at the heart of the system, it is this latter - the "Reiki" itself, rather than the system - that I wish to focus on here.
When it comes to the matter of a definition of Reiki, a commonly held view amongst Reiki practitioners, it seems, is: "don"t think too much about it - Reiki is experiential - just do it.." - and of course, in one sense, this is true.
But, on the other hand, as the Shakyamuni Buddha is credited with saying: "With our thoughts we shape our reality".
So too, I would venture to suggest: "With our thoughts we shape our Reiki..."
Takata-Sensei"s Explanation of Reiki:
When asked what "Reiki" meant, Takata-Sensei frequently gave a very simplistic answer, along the lines of: Rei means "Universal", and Ki means "Energy".
[Yet it has been said on more than one occasion that this particular explanation was something that only came to prominence, probably during the latter 60"s, to fit a more generalised "frame of reference" of the people drawn to her as potential students]
However, in attempting to transmit a deeper understanding of the meaning of Reiki to her students, Takata-Sensei spoke of Reiki as:
"...a universal force from the Great Divine Spirit"
"...a cosmic energy to heal the ill..."*
and yet more specifically, as:
" It is not associated with any visible material being.", she said of it, "It"s an unseen spiritual power that radiates vibration and lifts one into harmony. This power is incomprehensible to man, yet every single living being is receiving its blessings..."
[This interpretation of Reiki as: "God Power" has lead many to the conclusion that, in giving the "simplistic" interpretation: "...Rei means "Universal", and Ki means "Energy"...", Takata Sensei was actually using "Universal" in the sense that many mystics have used it, i.e.: as being a contraction of: "the Universal" - an alternative (and intentionally less religious) term for "the Divine", " the Numinous" or "God"".]
The usual way in which Reiki Teachers tend to explain Reiki to new students, is to opt for the simplistic approach [generally a very good place to start] - the "Rei" part of the name being translated as "Universal" (though some do explain that in essence, it refers, more properly, to something Spiritual or Sacred, and can mean "Soul"), and "Ki", translated simply as "Life-Force Energy" (though a few mention that it also implies "Spiritedness", "Feelings", or the effect of energy in action.)
Some Reiki Teachers, seeking a middle ground between, on the one hand, the more ""Newtonian" / "scientific" concept of "Reiki as Energy", and on the other, the more "Spiritual" concept of "Reiki as the Power of God", express Reiki as: "Spiritually-influenced (or "Spiritually-guided") Life-Force Energy"; or even as "Charismatic Healing Radiance".
Others, seeking to play down the (I personally feel, undue) emphasis on the concept of "Reiki as Energy", without necessarily using terminology implying "Things of the Spirit", prefer to speak of Reiki as an "Experiential Phenomenon".
"Reiki" - in common Japanese usage:
In many modern Japanese-English dictionaries, the term Reiki, (written using the modern style kanji-pair) is given (in common usage) as meaning: "Aura".
"Reiki" can also refer to the "Holy Atmosphere" one experiences at a Shrine, Temple Holy Mountain, or other sacred site.
And of latter years, probably due to the re-surgence of interest in the modality and its growing popularity - "Reiki" (written using the "traditional" or "old style" kanji-pair) is beginning to appear in some modern Japanese-English dictionaries to denote the "Healing Method".
The Reiki Kanji themselves:
As a general guide, the meaning of a kanji-pair is derived from a synthesis of meanings of the individual kanji making up that pair; and so, the meaning of "Reiki" is ultimately derived from meanings attributed to the individual kanji: "Rei" & "Ki".
NOTE: We should always remember that the "romanised" five-letter word: "Reiki" is simply a transliteration of the Japanese, and just as in English where (for example) the words "rite", "write" and "right" all have the same sound, so too in Japanese there are often many words that sound the same, yet are written in different kanji - and have very different meanings.
As distinct from "Reiki" i.e. the spiritual/therapeutic "phenomenon" associated with Usui-Sensei, there are also several other, un-connected, written forms of the double-syllable: "rei-ki", each having their own distinct meanings - including: sacred ground or sacred precincts; established rule; cold, chill, cold weather, cold wave, cold air; & (electrical) excitation.
Here, obviously, we are concerned solely with the "Rei" and "Ki" kanji as used to denote "Reiki" - the spiritual/therapeutic "phenomenon".
As is the nature of kanji in general, the kanji "Rei" & "Ki" can have many levels of meaning.
A linguist (or for that matter, a good academic Japanese-English Dictionary) will explain that -
"Rei" encapsulates/refers to:
The Divine, the Numinous
A supernatural Being or Spirit
The Spiritual nature
Luminosity of the spirit; the luminosity of a God or Sage
Charisma, charismatic power
Inconceivable spiritual ability
Something Pure, Unpolluted
Something wonderful; a wonder
A shaman, a person or being with spiritual or supernatural powers
A rainmaker, a diviner
"Ki" primarily encapsulates/refers to:
Spirit (in the sense of "Spiritedness")
The generative forces of Heaven & Earth
The material force of the Universe
Steam (the kanji for "ki" implies steam rising from a covered pot of rice cooking over a fire, with the lid of the pot being lifted by the steam.)
The effect/result of energy being expended
Reiki as "Energy" or ...
When we speak of Reiki in terms of "energy", what do we understand by this - many have a perception akin to that of electricity flowing through a wire, to others it may be one of "emoting" or motivating force, yet others still will hold a perception of "Love".
As mentioned, Takata-Sensei also referred to Reiki as "God Power" - something Spiritual or Sacred.
It is commonly expressed that "Reiki has its own Intelligence" - that it is "Spiritually-influenced" or "Spiritually-guided".
Would this not put it more in the category of "Energy-Presence" or "Energy-Sentience"?
Since the latter part of the 19thC, when metaphysical, mystical, and spiritually minded people began to adopt a "more scientific" vocabulary in which to attempt to express their conceptualisations, it has been a common (and often unconscious) practice to substitute terms such as "energy", "energies", "vibrations", etc. for supposedly "less scientific" terms such as Spirit, Spirits, Presences, etc
So just where does "Energy" end and "Spiritual Entity" or "Presence" begin?
Depending on the given context, the word Reiki can be used to suggest a Spirit, an Aura - even, in certain cases, to refer to the influence of a Ghost or Ancestral Spirit.
The manifestation of some form of Numinous Being or Presence is a common concurrence with instances of kantoku (visionary mystical experiences) or satori (lesser-enlightenments) in Japanese Culture.
The following is an extract from the writings of Morihei Ueshiba - the founder of the Spiritual Discipline and Martial Art: Aikido - describing his "satori"-like mystical experience out of which the art of Aikido was created:
"Then in the spring of 1925, if I remember correctly, when I was taking a walk in the garden by myself, I felt that a golden Spirit sprang up from the ground, veiled my body and changed my body into a golden one.
At the same time my mind and body turned into light. I was able to understand the whispering of the birds, and was clearly aware of the mind of God, the Creator of this Universe.."
Now, in the account of Usui-Sensei"s experience on Mt. Kurama, recorded on his monument, it states:
"One day he went to Kurama Yama on a 21-day retreat to fast and meditate. At the end of this time, he suddenly felt a great Reiki over his head and received spiritual insight into the Reiki healing method..."
"...a great Reiki over his head..." - this is usually interpreted as meaning he felt "Reiki energy" but it may in fact be simply stating that he had a kantoku visionary experience of a great (in the sense of "important") Spirit over his head. A vision of, as Takata-Sensei put it "God Power" - the Power of God - what in western terminology we might refer to as the "Holy Spirit" - an "energy" in the sense of a Numinous Being (in the Japanese conceptual view, possibly: a kami, butsu, or bosatsu) rather than "energy" in our Newtonian understanding of the term.
So, while the commonly-held perception of Reiki may well be that of Healing Energy - possibly even "Spiritually-influenced" or "Spiritually-guided" Healing Energy, perhaps it may help to deepen the quality of our connection if we allow ourselves to perceive Reiki - not so much in terms of a "Universal Energy" - as in terms of a "Universal Spiritual Presence" - a "Holy, Healing, Spirit Presence".
In this perception, Reiki as a system can truly be claimed to be a system of Spiritual Healing - a charism - a "Gift of the Spirit".
*It seems that in hearing Takata-sensei speak of Reiki as a "...a universal force from the Great Divine Spirit" and "... a cosmic energy..." , many of her students took this to mean that Reiki - as an "energy" - was something outside of ourselves: something "out there" - beyond us. Something we "channeled", rather than something arising within us. And this is the understanding these students passed on to their own students.
However, this idea of Reiki as being something external is perhaps only part of the truth...
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."
Author Bio :
Deeply involved in ongoing research into the history and development of Reiki, James Deacon has a strong background in 'vital-energy therapy' disciplines - having worked primarily with SHEN®, Therapeutic Touch, Mesmero-Magnetic Healing, Tenchi Seiki Te-Ate, & specific aspects of Qi Gung, prior to undertaking Reiki Master-level Attunement & Training in 1998. He also runs the (non-commercial) web site: James Deacon's REIKI PAGES http://www.aetw.org - a comprehensive Reiki-resource site, with over 300 pages of Reiki & other Energy-Therapies info.