Since this month kicks off a flurry of Reiki-related events, I wanted to explore the deeper meaning of the character rei in Reiki. There’s a lot packed into a handful of lines, and it points toward some of the deeper meanings of the system of Reiki.
The word rei (靈), also pronounced tama and hi/bi in Japanese, has truly ancient roots. The earliest uses for this character are found in early Chinese texts, nearly 5,000 years ago. The character has been used to refer to a wide range of meanings, from the human soul to gods, ancestors, spirits, and other numinous forces. The charcter rei is sometimes said to depict a shaman’s prayer for rain, though it carries the connotation of the creative force that descends from the heavens, too. The diagram above illustrates the three characters (at the right) that are compiled to produce character rei. The consist of the words for “rain,” “container” or “vessel,” and “shaman.” Together it illustrates the power of the shaman who is empowered to become the empty vessel to receive the blessings of the celestial or otherworldly realms.
Encoded within these three root words is the trinity of heaven-earth-humanity that is at the heart of many esoteric and shamanic cosmologies, particularly in Japan–though also extant in Taoism, too. The character for “rain” at the top of the kanji rei describes the highest plane, the abode of the gods, and the essence of the cosmic and divine. The character that means “shaman,” found at the bottom of rei, contains a stylized version of the word for earth (土). This connects to the terra firma beneath our feat, grounding the nebulous and mystical amidst the everyday. Between the two is a container in which the forces of heaven and earth meet: the human body.
Within us, the dual powers of heaven and earth create something special. In Japanese we might call it shinki (心氣), meaning “heart energy,” or even simply the soul or tama (靈) itself. This union of celestial and terrestrial exists within us, and it is at the core of the system of Reiki, the literal heart of our practice.
In Usui Reiki Ryoho, or Usui’s Reiki Healing Method, we become that empty vessel in which the forces of heaven and earth unite to offer healing, light, and transformation to ourselves and our loved ones, clients, or the world at large. Over the course of all three degrees of the system of Reiki we learn additional techniques for tapping into this reserve of sacred power, a holy phenomenon that nudges closer to a lasting state of inner peace.
If you’d like to learn more about the inner workings of Reiki and experience the union of heaven and earth within you, I’d love to see you at one of my upcoming Reiki events. You can also read more in my seminal Reiki book, Foundations of Reiki Ryoho: A Manual of Shoden and Okuden.