Kotodama and Jumon
Copyright © 2002-3 James Deacon
now claimed by some people that Usui Sensei taught level II (Okuden)
Reiki students the practice of kotodama [- a
discipline originating within the Shinto religion] - which involves
[amongst other practices] the intoning of sacred sounds -both sylables
and individual vowel-sounds.
The term: kotodama itself, translates at a
simplistic level, as: "Word Spirit" and refers to a Spiritual state or
feeling induced by beautiful 'word-sounds' when correctly intoned.
(More fully, kotodama encompasses the notion that
good can be brought about as a result of correctly-intoned beautiful
'word-sounds' and evil brought about by ugly 'word-sounds' - or by
beautiful 'word-sounds' incorrectly-pronounced.)
Kotodama is inseparably bound up with
the concept of kotomuke ['soothing speech that
brings peace'] and kotoage [the practice of speaking
boldly in the presence of the Kami (numinous
beings), seeking to invoke the magical power of words]
is essentially a Shinto-derived practice, Japanese Mikkyo Buddhism has
its own equivalent practice known as jumon or shingon.
In essence, both kotodama and jumon /
shingon practices are centered around concepts of the Sacred
Power of speech and the intentional, ritual use of
vocalisation/intonation - both as a means of approaching the divine
& of manifesting desired effects on the level of more mundane
historically originating within the realms of Shinto, modern-day kotodama
practice and theory have been influenced and moulded to a certain
extent by Mikkyo jumon / shingon
practice and theory.
Non-exclusiveness has long been a typical feature of Japanese Religion,
with Shinto and Buddhism readily borrowing philosophical ideas and
ritual practice from each other. This is something which has been going
on since the 8th century A.D. and the emergence of the syncretic
doctrine known as: 'Ryobu Shinto'. Also known as:'Honji Suijaku', this
doctrine essentially equated Buddhist Deities (i.e. Buddhas &
Boddhisatvas) with Shinto Kami Spirit-Beings and led, over time, to
increasing levels of overlap, blending and synthesis of Buddhist and
Shinto ideas and practices to such an extent that it is often
impossible to say which practices or philosophical ideas truly belong
to which faith.
[The term jumon properly refers to a mystical
incantation - or a magic spell]
Buddhist-derived practice of jumon or shingon
(Sanskrit equivalent: mantra) is commonly utilised in conjunction with nenriki
(visualisation of symbols, mandalas, etc) and ketsu-in
- also known as in-zou or shu-in
- (mudras - special ritual gestures formed by knotting the fingers is
various complex patterns) - these three together comprising a
synergistic discipline of far more wideranging and profound practical
and mystical application than the specific element of Shinto-based kotodama
practice which is now being taught as a part of
some styles of Reiki..
From a Mikkyo-centred point of view, the Reiki practitioner's
intoning/repetition of CKR, SHK, HSZSN, DKM, (either silently or out
loud) whether in meditation or in giving Reiki treatments, is a prime
example of jumon in action. The Reiki shirushi
(symbols) themselves can on one level be equated with nenriki,
and there have also been accounts of Usui Sensei apparently teaching
specific gestures or finger-positions - ketsu-in.
triple-discipline of jumon, nenriki
and ketsu-in is generally referred to as: sammitsu
[or: san-himitsu] meaning: "The Three Secrets" or
"The Three Mysteries", and it is through the study and practice of this
discipline that the adherents of 'mainstream' Mikkyo Buddhism seek to
awaken direct experience of Enlightenment.
However, in the hands of more 'avant-garde' practitioners of Mikkyo -
various groups such as the Senin, Gyoja,
and Shugenja / Yamabushi
mountain warrior-ascetics, the discipline of sammitsu
became not just a path to enlightenment, but also a means of
developing, focussing and empowering 'special' abilities - from
enhanced physical co-ordination, to control of pain, to powers of
exorcism and healing, to increased intuititive and psychic sensitivity,
to the induction of shamanic-like visionary states.
the most famous outgrowth of sammitsu is the kuji-in
[or:kuji-no-in], which involves the fukushu
(repitition) of the sacred nine-word jumon:
"Rin-Pyo-To-Sha-Kai-Jin-Retsu-Zai-Zen" combined with the performance of
nine accompanying ketsu-in, and relevant nenriki
When practiced with the proper breathing patterns and in the proper
meditative state, the kuji-in is considered a very
potent technique & has traditionally been used by mystics,
warriors, priests, healers and shamanic practitioners alike; in fact it
is at the very core of Japanese Mystical, Magical, and Shamanic
One of the most famous modern-day exponents of
the art of kotodama was Morihei Ueshiba - founder
of the Spiritual Martial Art: Aikido.
in adult life a follower of the Oomoto-kyo religious sect, devoted many
years to the study and practice of kotodama, over
time formulating his own version of the discipline which he
incorporated into the Aikido system.
[It should perhaps be pointed out that, aged 7, Ueshiba was sent to
Jizodera: a Shingon temple in Wakayama prefecture, where he studied
Shingon Scriptures (as well as the Confucian classics), and it is
likely that this immersion in Shingon Mikkyo doctrine at such a
formative period in his life, would have influenced his later
understanding and evolution of the kotodama art.]
At the core of the Ueshiba kotodama system lies
the intonation of the nuclear syllable is SU.
SU is representative of the absolute center of the material realm - the
very core of existence - the beginning of all things. It is the essence
of that which existed at the precise moment of the creation of the
Other primary syllables include:
signifying the affirmative: 'yes', is so', 'something'
signifying the negative: 'no', 'is not', 'nothing'.
signifying: 'moving up' - is voiced centered in the throat &
O - signifying: 'moving down' - is voiced centered near the heart.
U - signifying: 'returning to self' - is voiced deep in the hara
E - signifying: 'branching out' - is voiced in a way so as to be felt
I - signifying: ..'the
life force' - is voiced so that it vibrates powerfully &
outwards from the body.
In the practice of kotadama, (and also, in the
practice of jumon,) correct pronounciation of the
syllables is of great importance, and, in both the Ueshiba kotodama
practice and the kotodama
practice which, it is now being claimed, was employed by Usui Sensei,
the vowel-sounds have identical pronunciation:
A - vocalised as the a in 'father'
O - vocalised as the o in 'comb'
U - vocalised as the u in 'blue'
E - vocalised as the e in 'pen' (i.e. 'eh' - though some pronounce it
closer to: 'ay')
I - vocalised as the ee in 'sleep'
Beyond the vowel-sounds, the following are the primary syllable-sounds
apparently utilised in the 'Usui' form of kotodama:
KU as in
KI as in 'see'
HO, KO, YO - each as in 'blow'
NE - 'Neh' (- though some pronounce it closer to: 'Nay')
ZE - 'Zeh' (- some pronounce it closer to: 'Zay')
it is currently being taught that Usui Sensei applied kotodama
principles to produce a vocal alternative to the familiar 'names' of
the four Reiki Symbols:
a ze ho ne
ah zeh hoe neh
sha ze shô
The theory is that these kotodama
'word-sounds' may be substituted for the symbols across the broad
spectrum of their potential usage - e.g. in Reiki 'treatments', denju,
reiju, and meditation, etc.
the reduction of words to primal phonemes in this way is a somewhat simplistic
application of kotodama principle.
[Kotodama is a much more inclusive and broadranging discipline -
involving many elements beyond the intonation of
sacred phonemes or vowel-sounds.]
Such simplistic application of kotodama principle
to the Reiki symbols is perhaps something one would expect to be
devised by individuals only barely familiar with the discipline, rather
than by someone as obviously well-versed in such matters as Usui-sensei?
In fact, I am of the growing belief that the elements of kotodama now
being taught in relation to Reiki have actually been borrowed from the
oversimplified examples of kotodama practice presented on several
Aikido websites (- where the info is simply intended as an introducton
to the principles of the discipline for new
General instructions for practice of the element
of kotodama focussing on the intonation of phonemes
the traditional Japanese zazen posture (- or on an
upright chair, with back straight, feet flat on the ground) - with
hands either palms down, resting on your thighs, or in the formal gassho
your attention in your hara, at the area known as seiki
tanden (a couple of inches below the navel).
and still the mind.
on the moment - there is ONLY the moment.
breath smoothly, steadily and easily in through the nose, then vocalise
the phoneme as you
breathe out through the mouth.
In a low
and deeply resonant voice, intone each phoneme
slowly, strongly - with total concentration and
unity of body, mind and spirit.
each syllable: each 'word-sound' distinctly, separately - do
not run or slur them together. Let each 'word-sound' fill your whole
body - vibrating throughout every molecule - every atom.
of the resonance extending out throughout your aura into the very air