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- original Usui technique or latter-day 'add-on'?
Copyright 2010 James Deacon

[This article is actually 'part 2' of the article: 'Mantra', 'jumon', & 'kotodama'  and is intended to be read in conjunction with it,
so if you have come to this page from somewhere other than
 'Mantra', 'jumon', & 'kotodama'  please read that article first.]  

It has now been almost a decade since the Reiki community first began hearing how Usui-sensei supposedly taught students the practice of intoning what are commonly (and somewhat erroneously) referred to as “the Reiki Kotodama”.

It was claimed that the intoning of these syllables was a method “used by Usui before he introduced  symbols”, in part at least, as a means of helping some students 'connect with the energies'.

Apparently, so the story goes
,1  those students who were Buddhist were given Buddhist meditation exercises to practice, and followers of Shinto were given the socalled 'kotodama' to work with.

It has also been presented as 'fact' (albeit unsubstantiated) that it was not until some later date Usui-sensei created the familiar jumon-mantras: chokurei, hon sha ze sho nen, etc. - simply by choosing words which contained the 'kotodama' syllable-sounds - and also added a shirushi (symbol) to each jumon (as a visual aid?).

One version of the tale is that the creation of the jumon and shirushi was in order to help students who were having difficulty connecting to the 'energies' (via meditative or 'kotodama' practice?), however another version is that it was as a result of the Naval officers (who had joined Usui-sensei's dojo) refusing to chant the sound-syllables?

Though, as will be discussed later in this article. there is much to suggest that the story of the supposed creation of the jumon and shirushi at a later date, is not correct. That in all likelihood, the jumon and shirushi already existed at an early stage in Usui-sensei's teachings.

Now it must be said that, over the years, several concerns have been raised regarding the 'provenance' of the information concerning the 'Reiki kotodama'.  A major concern is, did the Buddhist nun - who, it is claimed, is the primary source of the information - even exist?

And there have been many aspects of the story - little things - which don't seen to 'sit' quite right:

For example:
If, as stated, Usui-sensei supposedly taught meditative exercises to his Buddhist students and the 'kotodama' practice to his Shinto students, why is it that Usui-sensei's teachings, as shared from the perspective of a clearly Buddhist student (the nun) focus strongly on instruction in the 'kotodama' – a practice supposedly taught not to Buddhist students, but to Shinto ones?

And some people have questioned why the syllable-sounds are referred to as "the Reiki Kotodama" -  when, not only are there problems with the use of the word 'kotodama' here, but, so we are also asked to believe, Usui-sensei's early students (and this would include the supposed source of the 'kotodama' information) were apparently not even aware of the term 'Reiki' in connection with Usui-sensei's teachings?  If this was genuinely something taught by Usui-sensei, why then did the technique not have a proper Japanese descriptive name, in the same way that all the other techniques had?

Then there are further issues - with the actual 'kotodama'- related information itself.

For example it is claimed that Usui-sensei taught 'classical' kotodama theory.

However, amongst the supplemental 'background' kotodama information originally provided by those who suggest this, there are certain details which can be seen to contradict this claim, and point to the material they teach being heavily influenced by (if not actually based on,) 'modern-era' evolutions of kotodama theory, in particular, the expression of the discipline as expounded by the founder of Aikido: Morihei Ueshiba .

This is compounded by the fact that, in order to 'flesh-out' what little information concerning kotodama they received as part of their own training, several of the Reiki practitioners now teaching the 'Reiki kotodama' have, over the years, drawn heavily on the work of modern writers who's understanding of kotodama is also based on Ueshiba's personal approach to the discipline.

Ueshiba began to study kotodama gaku (the science/study of kotodama) with Onisaburo Deguchi (spiritual leader of the Omoto kyo religious movement) about 1919, and over the years evolved his own approach - an approach which, by the time he began teaching Aikido (1940's) was in several ways significantly different from both the 'classical' expression of kotodama theory, and the personalised form as practiced and taught by Deguchi.

The simple fact is that - in what is perhaps a slightly misguided attempt to 'recreate' what Usui-sensei might have taught in relation to kotodama theory - several people are now, perhaps unwittingly, teaching concepts and applications which did not even exist as such during Usui-sensei's lifetime. 

Also, those who teach the 'kotodama', teach the first syllable-sequence as a method of connecting with 'earth' energy' and the second sequence as a method of connecting with 'heaven' energy.

Yet within the 'classical' approach to the discipline of kotodama gaku,2 there already exist practices for connecting with earth (nature) and heaven ”energies “ (or, as they were understood during that era: “kami”)
– and, following kotodama principles, the combination of syllables in each of the two socalled 'kotodama' mentioned, can be seen to possess other, different, influencing properties than those currently assigned to them.

So it would seem that, if Usui-sensei really did teach what is now referred to as the 'Reiki Kotodama', the original nature and significance of at least some elements of the practice may
have been forgotten, or at least, become confused over time. Though we should perhaps not rule out the possibility of people having intentionally altered certain things out of a need to overlay personalised significance and meaning onto elements of the practice  - something which has happened many, many times, in various areas of the Reiki discipline.

When questions are voiced concerning the authenticity of the 'Reiki-kotodama' material, a common response is that the best thing would be for the person to work with these sound-syllables for a while - experience for themselves if this has an enhancing effect on their Reiki practice – and so, make up their own mind as to the validity of the technique.

Here is a description of one very basic approach to working with the 'kotodama'.3 

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 kotodama as you breathe out through the mouth.

In a low and deeply resonant voice, intone each 'kotodama' slowly, strongly - with total concentration and unity of body, mind and spirit.4

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....

Now it must be said, in following the "try it and see for yourself" advice, most people do indeed notice varying degrees of beneficial, enhancing effect on their 'Reiki flow'.

Yet this does not in any way prove the authenticity of the technique (i.e. as something actually taught by Usui-sensei). It simply goes to effectiveness.

Yes, the technique can have enhancing effects; there is little doubt of this.

However, the same holds true (to varying degrees) for just about every other 
technique which also involves mindful focus, specific breathing, and present-centredness.  

uch techniques have generally been shown to have beneficially enhancing/augmenting effects in relation to the 'Reiki flow'

- yet it would be nave to assume that simply because a given technique is effective, this somehow constitutes proof that it was actually taught by Usui-sensei. 

- and on the other hand, it would also be nave to assume that simply because a given technique was not taught by Usui-sensei, that it can not be effective.

The more we interact with the phenomenon that is Reiki, the more we realise that each person's experience is a unique one.  

The deeper we travel on our journey into Reiki, the further we get from the 'one size fits all' approach that applied at the outset of the journey.  Each practitioner has the potential to evolve in their own unique way, to give their own unique expression to the Reiki phenomenon; and likewise, different individuals may find different approaches and techniques to be more effective in supporting their own personal, unique process of  'unfolding'. 

If a Reiki practitioner finds a technique (or develops a technique of their own) which they genuinely feel has a beneficially enhancing/augmenting effect on their Reiki, then certainly they should work with it; and, if they think it appropriate, share it to others.
Over the years, many people have done this - experimenting with independently-evolved techniques and practices, or  'adopting-in' to their personal Reiki practice various pre-existing elements from other non-Reiki sources - new techniques, approaches, theories, etc. which they genuinely believe help them make a deeper level of connection with the phenomenon that is Reiki

And, as masters, many have then chosen to pass on these newly adopted techniques etc. to their students - as 'tools' which may possibly also prove of value in the students' own journey. 

Unfortunately, while some have clearly explained to their students precisely which practices, etc. are their own 'add-ons', many have not, and so it has all too commonly been the case that such students have been left with the understanding that all of what they have been taught was originally also taught by Mikao Usui.

Now sadly,
it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a less-than-scrupulous teacher might intentionally seek to present a technique as an 'original' one in order to 'hype' the practice, for primarily financial reasons. (Contrary to what some might think, the  world of Reiki is not immune to such things, Reiki initiation and training in no way guarantees the unfolding of integrity...)

However, in some instances, failure on the part of the teacher to clearly identify their own 'add-ons' has simply been a case of them not considering it important - their reasoning is simply one of: "afterall, if a technique works...".

In other instances, certain teachers (somewhat misguidedly, perhaps) might believe that in allowing their students to infer that a particular technique is a 'traditonal' one, they are not really doing any harm - that such inference will actually 
lend weight /validity to the practice in the students' minds.

That it will give the students confidence in the technique,- a confidence which, if lacking, could result in the students perhaps setting up subconscious resistance to the effects of a practice which the teacher genuinely believes could be highly beneficial for the students' Reiki-related growth and development

Now whether or not any of the above scenarios apply to the "Reiki kotodama', we will probably never know for certain.

 Though we can say that, for some individuals at least, this particular practice can be a beneficial one...


Part 3:


1 Although the story has gone through several revisions over the years

2 And also, I believe, within the Deguchi / Omoto Kyo approach 

3 - an approach which is probably as familiar to Aikido practitioners, as it is to Reiki ones:

4 Some teachers now instruct the student to silently 'intone' the syllable-sequences for a few moments before they begin vocalising themThe aim is to have the vocalised sound vibrate in the centre of the mouth, and students may (or may not) be taught to visualise/imagine a small orb of light floating just above the centre of their tongue; it is from within this orb that the sound vibration should occur.

5 And contrary to what some would have us believe, this is not just a 'Western' phenomenon, but  an 'Eastern' one also -  with several Japanese practitioners having 'adopted-in' additional practices from other sources, created new symbols, altered the form, names, and significance of pre-existing symbols, etc. etc...

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