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Kotodama and Jumon

Copyright 2002-3 James Deacon

It is 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]

While kotodama 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 reality.

Although 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]

The 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.

The 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.

Possibly 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 visualisation.

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 practice.

Ueshiba Kotodama

One of the most famous modern-day exponents of the art of kotodama was Morihei Ueshiba - founder of the Spiritual Martial Art: Aikido.

Ueshiba, 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 Universe.

Other primary syllables include:

YU - signifying the affirmative: 'yes', is so', 'something'

MU - signifying the negative: 'no', 'is not', 'nothing'.

and the vowel-sounds: A-O-U-E-I:

A - signifying: 'moving up' - is voiced centered in the throat & mouth.
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 radiating out
.....................throughout the body.
I - signifying: ..'the life force' - is voiced so that it vibrates powerfully &
.....................eminates/projects outwards from the body.

'Usui' Kotodama

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 'you'
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 seems 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:

Kotodama: Pronunciation:   Symbol:
ho ku ei hoe koo eh-ee   Choku rei
ei ei ki eh-ee eh-ee kee   Sei heiki
Ho a ze ho ne hoe ah zeh hoe neh   Hon sha ze sh nen
a-i ku yo ah-ee koo yoe   Dai k my

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.

However, 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 students)

General instructions for practice of the element of kotodama focussing on the intonation of phonemes (sound-syllables)
or vowel-sounds:

Sit in 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 position.

Focus your attention in your hara, at the area known as seiki tanden (a couple of inches below the navel).

Clear and still the mind.

Focus on the moment - there is ONLY the moment.

Draw the 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.

Pronounce 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.

Be aware of the resonance extending out throughout your aura into the very air about you....




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