Reiki and Tibet - fact or fiction?
In countless ways, Reiki and Tibet seem to be linked, if we read widely enough. Many will say that this linking is only a misguided enhancing of the story of Reiki. However, Usui supposedly studied the various sutras [holy scriptures] of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism. He was a Tendai Buddhist himself (never a Christian, as Takata's history of Reiki suggests). The sutras that he read are a well-known central part of that religion. This branch of Buddhism believes that enlightenment can occur in a "lightning flash" of awareness, called satori in Zen Buddhism. It seems quite clear that Usui was primarily seeking personal enlightenment when he rediscovered the healing system which he called Reiki. As a Tendai Buddhist, he was aware that Tendai was a sect which could trace its roots back through China to Tibet, and that the Vajrayana sutras were part of his extended spiritual tradition. Some say that once he became an adult, he converted to Shingon Buddhism, a more fundamentally tantric sect, closer in tradition and practice to Vajrayana Buddhism. In any case, Usui knew that Tibetan traditions did much with attunement and symbols in its practice, as well as putting a great deal of emphasis on the particular teacher and lineage. As in Reiki, the direct mystical knowledge of universal energy comes from master to student through attunement [empowerment, shaktipat, wong]. We do know that Usui had to have read the Lotus Sutra, the Mahavairocana Sutra, Kalachakraindriya Sutra, and the Diamond Sutra. The contents of these sutras is now available on the web for anyone to see. It is certainly true that the energy system known as Reiki [as a named system] started with Usui, even though he was inspired by what he had learned from his study of Buddhist religion and culture. This prepared him for the rediscovery of the hands-on healing method which he called "Reiki".
In addition, he was exposed to exoteric [for the general public] and esoteric [limited to a small number of the initiated] Tibetan Buddhism. The Six Yogas of Naropa, the use of various mudras [symbolic hand shapings], mandalas or yantras [pictures of the perfection or the universe], mantras [spiritual words or sounds repeated] and asanas [spiritual body positions], and the gTumo practice [developing personal inner heat]. Another name for Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism is Tantric Buddhism.
Tantric Buddhism in Tibet believes that enlightenment [nirvana, satori] are only achievable to a human through the acceptance and use of the body and one's natural qualities and abilities. They believe that enlightenment and the universal are immanent in everyday life [in the same way that Zen Buddhists believe. This gives rise to the natural valuing of the body and to healing disciplines. [Note: the word "Tantric" has been vastly misunderstood in the United States as having only to do with sexual ecstasy. Nothing could be further from the truth. "Tantric" refers primarily to doctrines of using bodily positions, sounds , gestures, and exercises to achieve enlightenment. This requires long study and practice under a proper teacher.]
In Mahayana Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism, practices tend to help the practitioner escape desire and intent, helping one be free of the body to focus on spiritual matters. In Tantric, or Vajrayana Buddhism [Tibetan Buddhism], one's physical self is also one's spiritual self [the two seen as inseparable as long as one is a human being], and intent, desire and sensation may be "doorways to enlightenment". Spirit and body are seen as interpenetrating, and the balance [Yin and Yang, Yab/Yum] of an all inclusive non-duality, are considered important in preparing oneself for spiritual growth, as well as for healing.
A teacher has a lineage and must convey to the student by empowerment, the energies and understandings need for the next step in personal growth. First, exoteric Tibetan Buddhism is studied, with all of its prohibitions and required rituals. Then, for certain special students, esoteric Tibetan Buddhism is next, turning many previous prohibitions into rituals, and discarding many rituals as no longer needed during ritual exercises. In addition, Usui must have read about the BonPo shamanistic practices in Tibet and the use of special symbols and practices by both the Bonpo and by Tibetan Buddhists.
It is clear that Usui had studied all of this and knew that a healing system was only a part of what he was looking for. It seems that his prime goal was a system of enlightenment, in which healing was a necessary part. He mentions in his communications that there were certain parts of what he had learned that could never be taught, at least not to anyone but a very small number of selected students. He suggested that his country and culture was not ready then, nor in the foreseeable future, for some of the practices which he had learned. His own writings show that he also did not want a rigid lineage created from him for his healing system, or any organization created in his name.
If we go to the primary documents which he studied, we can identify elements of practice and belief to which he referred. The influence of Tibet in Reiki through Usui's studies is quite clear. What is not yet clear is to what degree he re-discovered an ancient Tibetan healing system, or that he created a new healing system based upon his understandings of Tibetan Buddhism Tibetan medicine, BonPo shamanism, and Asian wellness practices, some from Chinese Taoism. What he obviously studied and was exposed to differs from the kind of Reiki which has been taught the the United States. This dilemma will persist for the foreseeable future, as Traditional Usui Reiki Masters try to understand what Reiki really is, and how it developed. Certainly, there will be much of what Usui learned that cannot ever by fully utilized in our culture or in the practice of Reiki. However, we can gain a sensitive understanding of the probable roots of Reiki in thought and practice from a study of the likely Tibetan roots.