Hands on Healing

Frans StieneArticles, English 18 Comments

hands on healing

Edited by Maril Blanchard

Today’s article focuses on a single question: What is hands on healing, as practiced within the traditional Japanese system of Reiki?

Throughout the article, we will be quoting Yanagi Sōetsu (1889 – 1961), a Japanese philosopher who, in the late 1920s, founded the folk craft movement (Jp. Mingei) in Japan. We believe that he cogently expresses a philosophy that underlies many traditional Japanese practices — such as tea ceremony, flower arranging , martial arts, and meditation — and is deeply embedded in everyday Japanese life.

In turn, becoming familiar with this underlying philosophy will help us gain a clearer idea of critical influences on Mikao Usui (1865 – 1926) and his teachings.

No Mind

Let us begin our exploration with the following quote.

First put aside the desire to judge immediately: acquire the habit of just looking. Second, do not treat the object as an object for the intellect. Third, just be ready to receive, passively without interposing yourself. If you can void your mind of all intellectualization, like a clear mirror that simply reflects, all the better. This nonconceptualization — the Zen state of mushin (“no mind”) — may seem to represent a negative attitude, but from it springs the true ability to contact things directly and positively.

Yanagi Sōetsu is saying that, from a traditional Japanese perspective, our mind needs to be like a mirror reflecting the entire universe, without conceptualization, without judgment. It is only in that state of mushin or no mind that we can connect with and know the world. He illustrates this perspective with the following story.

Once there were three people who took a walk in the country. They happened to see a man standing on a hill. One of them said, “I guess he is standing on a hill to search for lost cattle.” “No”, the second said, “I think he is trying to find a friend who has wandered off somewhere.” Whereas the third said, “No, he is simply enjoying the summer breeze.” As there was no definite conclusion, they went up the hill and asked him. “Are you searching for strayed cattle?” “No,” he replied. “Are you looking for a friend?” “No,” again. “Are you enjoying the cool breeze?” “I am just standing” was the answer.

Each of the three observers ‘saw’ the man based on what they judged to be important — cattle, friend, and summer breeze. By imposing their perspective on their seeing, they could not just see a man who was just standing.

How might this apply to hands on healing? Let’s apply Sōetsu’s story to this question: Three people see a practitioner performing a hands on healing session. The first person says that the practitioner is giving Reiki to the client. The second person says, no, she is looking for byosen so that she knows which symbol to use. The third one states that she is taking away negative energy from the client. As each had a different idea about what the practitioner was doing, they decided to ask her. “Are you giving Reiki to your client?” No, she replied. “Are you looking for byosen so you know which symbol to use?” No, she replied again. Then you must be taking out negative energy? No, I just Be with my client.

When we just Be with our client, which of course is not that easy, we are like a mirror, completely clear with no need to make a judgment that the client doesn’t have any Reiki so we need to give it to him.

No need to make a judgment about what kind of byosan we might feel and then use a symbol or not. No need to make a judgment about what is negative and positive energy. From a traditional Japanese perspective, we could say that we are just Being.

This idea of just Being is reflected in the fifth precept within the system of Reiki: be compassionate to yourself and others. The root meaning of compassion is to be able or willing to endure with (com = with; passion = from the Latin patī, which is to suffer, endure, allow, or submit). In other words, to be compassionate is to just be, in the moment, without judgment.

Not Two

But, how can a hands on healing session be compassionate, in the moment, without judgment? Again, Yanagi Sōetsu can provide valuable insight into this question. He states, “So long as the man who strikes the drum and the drum that is struck are two different beings, true music can never be born.”

In other words, as long as there are two — drummer and drum, observer and observed, practitioner and client — there will be a separation that prevents the emergence of true music, seeing, or hands on healing. Sōetsu further explains this idea, with the following statements.

We human beings are accustomed to thinking, “I am now painting a picture”, or “I am now weaving a cloth.” According to Buddhism, however, such phrases express a dualistic relationship from which no true picture or cloth can result. Buddhism says that the root of the dualism is the word “I” and that it must vanish, until the stage where “picture draws picture” or “cloth weaves cloth” is reached. In one of the Buddhist scriptures is the phrase “Buddha with Buddha,” which may be taken to mean “from Buddha to Buddha,” and that in turn means that all true actions take place between Buddha and Buddha. Instead of man turning to Buddha or Buddha to man, Buddha turns to Buddha, all distinction or opposition between Buddha and man having disappeared. Put in another way, one may say that “the thing turns to the things itself”.

When we first start performing hands on healing sessions, we often think: I am doing a treatment, I am performing a hands on session, I am healing someone.

But, as we go deeper into the practices within the system of Reiki, we let go of this kind of thinking. We let go of the idea that our client is unwell, sick, needs healing. We let go of the notion that we are the practitioner and they are the client. We let go of the concept that we are doing something to someone. In short, we begin to embody the Okuden Level II symbol/mantra HSZSN, which in essence means: I am right mind.

But what does “right mind” mean? It means that when we perform a hands on session we don’t see any difference between giver and receiver, practitioner and client. As we become more open, in the moment, and without judgment, we see the hands on session as “Reiki with Reiki” and “True Self with True Self.”

As our ‘right mind’ ripens, we begin to embody the Shinpiden Level III symbol/mantra DKM, which symbolizes non-duality. Think about this: As our hands touch another person, that other person is also touching our hands. A hands on session is not a one-way transaction, from practitioner to client. Who is the giver and who is the receiver when the interaction is True Self with True Self?

That non-dual, no-mind mind is reflected in the precepts. It is only when we let go of the “I” that there is no more “I” who gets angry, worried, and fearful. There is no more “I” who gets in the way of being humble, honest, and compassionate. Yanagi Sōetsu offers further insight into becoming this non-dual, no-mind mind. He states,

To see the whole directly means to see before thinking, without time
for analysis or discrimination. If we look at things with our
thoughts, we see only a portion, and if we use intellect before we see
understanding is superficial. More can be learned through the power of seeing the whole directly then through intellection.

In order to give free play to intuition, one must not permit anything to intervene between one’s self and the object. When that happens, one’s self and the object remain separated to the end and intuition can have but a limited sphere to work in, revealing only a partial view of the object. Only after one’s self has been reduced to nothing can intuition wield its unrestricted power, for only then is the opposition between that which sees and that which is seen dissipated. 
The viewer is not restrained by subjectivity nor does the viewed and in objectivity; the subject is itself the object, and the object is itself the subject. When intuition is at work, the object is never objectified; or, in Buddhist phraseology, seeing intuitively means entering the sphere of Non-Duality.

Within the system of Reiki, traditional practitioners utilize all five elements of the system — meditation, precepts, symbols, mantras, hands on healing, and reiju/attunement/initiation — as part of their own spiritual practice for letting go of I and ego. As their practices deepen, so too does their awareness. As their awareness deepens and they embody the inner and secret teachings within those practices, then true intuition can emerge. They can see the whole, directly, compassionately, in the moment, and without judgment.

You might ask yourself: why doesn’t my teacher teach hands on healing in the traditional Japanese way? Let’s look at one last quote from Yanagi Sōetsu, which may offer insight into your question:

Since the Meji Restoration, the overwhelming influx of Western ideas has had such an effect that today the mass of the people neither know nor wish to know their inheritance as Japanese. They regard everything from the West as new and progressive and everything traditional as retrogressive. West as new and progressive and everything traditional as retrogressive. Emulation is one thing, and this blind imitation in the belief that something new is being achieved is misguided because the only true, and at the same time new, things can grow from Japanese roots. Truth is both old and new.

Comments 18

  1. Avatar of Elly

    This is beautiful, Frans. Thank you. When I first learned Reiki, I was told that while doing hands-on healing, it was important to try to get “impressions” in order to assist the client. But by engaging my mind, I felt I was creating a barrier between myself and the body I was touching in love, a distraction, so I quickly stopped thinking and simply put my hands down in love. As you say, then there was no distinction between us, only an opportunity for both of us to fully be present in that space, a merging. In a world in which we hold our individuality to be so essential, so defining, this is a very rare gift and one that I cherish.

  2. Avatar of Candice
  3. Avatar of Linda

    Wonderful article – on extremely rare occasions, when I am able to not mentally get in my own way while doing hands on, I have lost the sense of actually feeling the physical separation between my hands and the client’s body.  Everything just melts together and it is a sublime moment until the wow factor kicks in and distracts me!

  4. Avatar of Kelly McDermott-Burns
  5. Avatar of Frans Stiene

    Hi All,
    Glad you like this article.
    I think it is important to look at the Japanese philosophy to see what Usui-san was teaching. When we do this we come to some interesting discoveries.

    Yesterday I was flicking through Zen Mind Beginners Mind by Shunryu Suzuki and read these quotes below.  In these quotes we can see the same kind of statements as Yanagi Sōetsu. I think it is very important that we look at the Japanese philosophy and these kind of teachers so that we get a clearer idea of the system of Reiki.

    “If you discriminate too much, you limit yourself.”

    “Good and bad are only in your mind. So we should not say, ‘“This is good,” or “This is bad.” …
    If you think, “This is bad,” it will create some confusion for you. So in the real of pure religion there is no confusion of time and space, or good or bad.”

    “The true purpose is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes.”

    “Our activity is shadowed by some preconceived idea.”

    “When we do something with a quite simple, clear mind, we have no notion or shadow, and our activity is strong and straightforward. But when we do something with a complicated mind, in relation to other things or people, or society, our activity becomes very complex.”

    “Relative mind is the mind which sets itself in relation to other things, thus limiting itself.”

  6. Avatar of Colin Powell

    Another excellent article, Frans!

    Do you have any sources for your Yanagi Sōetsu quotes, such as a book where we can read more?

    For me also, practising Reiki in a state of emptiness, or boundless oneness, where the boundaries of practitioner and client dissolve is something I seek to achieve eventually (the occasional glimpses of this state spur me on in my practice but, as you say, such practice is not easy.

    However, most of us learn our Reiki practice in a more exoteric way, as taught by Mikao Usui to Chujiro Hayashi, to Hawayo Takata or Chiyoko Yamaguchi. I see nothing wrong with this approach and do not view it as being of lesser value than a more esoteric approach, which you seem to imply. Many people (practitioners and clients) benefit daily from this approach. I think it is important to learn about the elements of Reiki in an exoteric way first so that it makes it easier to practice for the majority of people. If it was not for the exoteric approach many people would not be drawn to Reiki practice at all.

    If students continue to practice what they have been taught and do not become stuck in a dualistic or dogmatic approach then, over time, the deeper layers of Reiki practice are revealed for the student to pursue, if they wish. Articles such as this one provide valuable information and a reminder that those deeper levels of practice are available for exploration when the student is ready.

    Here is a quote from Lao-tzu that you may like:
    “…if the mind goes anywhere, the spirit is there in a state of arousal; if you return it to emptiness, that will extinguish compulsive activity, so it can be at rest.”

    Thank you and see you soon! 🙂

  7. Avatar of Frans Stiene

    Hi Colin,

    The philosophy expressed in this article is a general traditional Japanese philosophy. In Japan, this kind of philosophy is integrated in pottery, tea ceremonies, art, flower arrangement, you name it.

    There is another great book which discusses these kind of traditional ideas and how they are integrated in traditional Japanese culture:

    Living the Japanese Arts and Ways by H.E. Davey.

    The article reflects the traditional versus a modern way of thinking. It is not saying that one is better then the other, just a different way. Different people will be attracted to different teachings, some like a more traditional approach while others might like a more modern approach.

    I personally believe that many people now start to practice the system of Reiki because of the internal approach. We always ask at the beginning of each course why the students are there and what they want to get out of it, 9 out of 10 people will answer for personal self development and that through this they can become a vehicle for helping others. The world has opened up in recent years and many people are interested in a solid spiritual practice.

    “A recent survey by Germany’s Der Spiegel revealed that Germans like the Dalai Lama more than their native-born Pope Benedict XVI; the biggest Buddhist monastery outside of Asia is in France, and Tibetan Buddhism is doubling its numbers faster than any other religion in Australia and the U.S.A. “
    From: http://alivemindcinema.com/crazywisdom/index.php?story=story110918-095420

    Due to this kind of awareness more and more people are attracted to the system of Reiki as an internal spiritual practice. And they start to realize that if you want to help others to heal themselves, you first need to heal yourself.

    To read more about Soetsu Yanagi, you can read: The Unknown Craftsman – A Japanese Insight into Beauty or The Way of Tea

  8. Avatar of Sundar Kadayam

    Another awesome article, Frans.  I love the quotes you’ve included from Yanagi Sōetsu.  I also love how this article provides a framework using which to understand the evolving hands-on healing practice that many practitioners undoubtedly are experiencing. Thank you.

  9. Avatar of Elly

    I love Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. But I love Shunryu Suzuki Roshi’s Not Always So, which I know you’ve recommended in the past, even more. Jakusho Kwong Roshi’s No Beginning, No End is also excellent. But the best of them all in my opinion is Kosho Uchiyama Roshi’s Opening the Hand of Thought. Whata revelation!

  10. Avatar of Mallory Smith
  11. Avatar of Candice

    I have both the mentioned books by Shunryu Suzuki and love them. Thank you Elly for mentioning other things for me to read! 

    I think with any practice with deep roots in a culture that is not our own we must learn as much as we can about the culture and it’s ways to better understand the beliefs and ways of the founder and their time.  I can only speak of my personal experience and want to say that the more I have learned, read about or experienced Japanese culture (Japanese Ways) from the time of Usui-san the more I have been able to get out of my personal practice of the system of Reiki.
    I do think it is great for any person to practice the system how ever they do, even if it is with a focus of hands on healing. However I think it is much more important to get articles as well written as this out there so people can see that there is so much more to the system than hands on healing as taught within modern classes. Yes eventually people who practice hands on healing as their primary focus will eventually see the spiritual aspects and benefits of the system. It’s articles like these that show us that if we approach the system from a spiritual or Japanese philosophic view we can go so much deeper so much quicker. It’s like one way we are taking the long road up the mountain (modern hands on healing focused practice) versus taking a quicker more direct route to the top of the mountain (Traditional/Classical Japanese focused practice) Both will get us there eventually, however one may get us there quicker.

  12. Avatar of Frans Stiene

    Hi Elly,
    Thanks for the books recommendation. Not Always So is another of my favourites. Haven’t read the other two yet but now I will 🙂

    There are so many great books out there. I love these kind of books because they are, from my view point, from teachers who have a direct experience of what they are talking about and this makes it so interesting and important. These books are not just an intelectual exercise but and expression of their direct experience.

  13. Avatar of Frans Stiene

    Hi Candice,

    I think you are right, if we can teach in a direct way to our students why not do it, why wait. Yes we need to start at the beginning but that doesn’t mean we can not talk about interconnectedness, non-duality, true self, letting go of the “I”, etc. These terms are now well established and if a student doesn’t understand it then you can elaborate.

    I believe that as a student we first need to understand the teachings intellectually and then ,when we start to apply the system, we will hopefully have a direct experience of the intelectual concepts. At this stage the intelectual concepts will deepen as it has been coupled with the direct experience.

    I saw this the other day in class, one lady was struggling to let go, didn’t know how to receive in an open way, so I showed her how she could let go when “receiving” and we discussed this aspect. After that the two students practiced again and the lady said; “now I understand, I have never experienced this kind of depth in hands on healing before because I didn’t now how to let go,” but now she new, she had a directe experience of no giver, no receiver and nothing to give. And once she had experienced it her whole idea of te practice changed.

    An interesting journey indeed, so many layers to discover and I feel I am only scratching the surface.

  14. Avatar of Elly

    Hi Frans! I agree with you about the books, going all the way back to Dogen Zenji, in terms of the Roshis writing from their own experience. What really strikes me in all their works is their sense of humor, how none of them take themselves too seriously, how thier own masters told bawdy jokes and could roar with laughter. This is true humility, setting the ego aside and simply enjoying the ludicrous in life, so different from some American Zendos where the monks take themselves so very, very seriously. Like the Dalai Lama, like Thich Nhat Hanh, the founder of Komyo Reiki, Hyakuten Inamoto, is always laughing. And from what I understand from your own students, especially the wonderful Zaynep whom I was privileged to meet this past August, so are you. This is the sign of the real teacher, the one who truly understands the Way. This is surely also the Way of Usui Founder and Hayashi Sensei. May we all laugh at ourselves and at life and enjoy it even as we deepen our practice and progress on our Way!

  15. Avatar of Frans Stiene

    Hi Elly,
    Great to hear you met up with Zeynep, it must have been at Hyakuten-san’s course?
    So you must have met up with Tony and Jeff as well.
    I like Hyakuten’s sense of humour in his class.

    I was a few years ago at a Tendai conference in San Francisco and there was a western man in robes who sat in kind of meditation the whole day while he was listening to speakers, and over the day he became redder and redder, almost to a stage like he was going to explode from the strenuous effort he needed to be that way.  This way becomes like a too tight guitar string which will snap at any moment, but then again too loose is not good either, middle way – best.
    The funny thing was that at one stage the Japanese calligrapher speaker walked in, who in Japan is seen as a national treasure, he had this bounce in his step a cheeky smile on his face, you could just feel the middle way emanating from him.

  16. Avatar of Frans Stiene

    Here is another wonderful statement made by Rujing:

    Both the bower and the bowed-to
    are empty and serene by nature
    and the way flows freely between them.
    How wondrous!

    From: Enlightenment Unfold – The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Dogen

    Again we see the same idea, as discussed within the article. In reality this reflect not only hands on healing but also the reiju/attunement/initiation.

  17. Avatar of Elly

    What a great quote, Frans! Hyakuten Sensei told us that the Japanese bow so low to literally break the ego. (Er, well, I guess to figuratively break the ego.) Dogen Zenji is such a great example to us all. I especially loved the movie “Zen” based on his journey to enlightenment, which I know you’ve recommended in the past. I loved how he set aside his own enlightenment, set aside his followers’ enlightenment, and continually told them to basically get over themselves and keep sitting zazen. As he knew, as you know, the practice IS the Way.

  18. Avatar of Frans Stiene

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