“The Japanese feel that hara can help not only your everyday life, but that it can be a way to attain the ultimate enlightenment.” – The Art and the Way of Hara by Seigen Yamaoka
The Japanese word hara 腹 has many meanings: abdomen, mind, courage, one’s true intention or motive, centre, true centre of a person, the proper seat of the mind, true mind.
“The mere fact that these words are frequently used in Japanese society should not be taken to indicate that all citizens of modern Japan possess a deep or innate understanding of ki and hara.” – The Japanese Way of The Artist by H.E Davey
There are some wonderful sentences in the Japanese culture which symbolize the different meanings of hara:
Hara ga tatsu – to be angry
Hara wo waru – a heart to heart talk
Hara ga dekite iru – having a calm mind even in times of emergency
Hara ga chii-sai – narrow-minded
Hara ga suwaru – to be mentally stable and unshakable
Hara o kimeru – to make one’s mind up
Hara ga futoi – to be courageous – a large heart
As we can see, the word hara means not just abdomen but much much more. This is why it is such an integral part of Mikao Usui’s teachings.
Let’s look at the precepts:
Do not anger
Do not worry
Be true to your way and your being
Show compassion to yourself and others
First of all, to practice the system of Reiki we need to make up our mind, hara o kimeru, to start to practice. Then we need to slowly let go of our anger so that we will find composure and not be angry all the time, hara ga tatsu. Then we start to let go of our worry and we become calm in all situations, hara ga dekite iru. To be grateful we need to open our mind and find tolerance, so we have to let go of our narrow mindedness, hara ga chii-sai. When we are true to our way and our being we need to be mentally stable, hara ga suwaru. And to show compassion to ourselves and others we need to have a large heart, hara ga futoi.
Thus the more we embody the precepts in our daily life, the more we become a person of hara, a person who embodies stability in their daily life.
“The general description of a person of hara is someone with courage, will power, strength, determination, character, integrity, honesty, and patience. Such a person is also known as a person with a “big hara”. That is, they are generous, compassionate, and understanding.” – The Art and the Way of Hara by Seigen Yamaoka
Doesn’t what Seigen Yamaoka states represent a person who has embodied the precepts? Of course. This is why we can see the concept of hara very clearly within the precepts.
When we look at the meditation practices taught within the Japanese Reiki traditions we see a practice called joshin kokyu ho. This practice focuses on the hara, breathing deeply into the hara so that the practitioner can become more stable and centred. But for this meditation to really have any benefit we have to keep doing it again and again and again so that we can rediscover our hara, our centre.
“It takes time, concentration, patience and endurance to meditate. Many give up before achieving any results. Because this practice is so relaxing, we may stop at this point in the meditative process and do it only for the purpose of relaxation. But you must persist in order to be introduced to the hara.” – The Art and the Way of Hara by Seigen Yamaoka
When we look at the mantras taught within the system of Reiki, we can also see the hara in there. To be able to chant mantras correctly from a Japanese spiritual perspective, we need to chant them from the hara. This deep kind of chanting creates a resonance which moves through our whole being from our centre, our hara. Through this prolonged chanting we can embody the precepts more and more in our daily life, so that again we can become a person of hara.
“Since we chant these words with energy from the abdomen, it naturally creates the repetition of deep breathing from the belly…Through this breathing, the power in the physical body is increased;” – The Essence of Shinto – Japan’s Spiritual Heart by Motohisha Yamakage
This deep kind of chanting from the hara is used in all major Japanese spiritual teachings, from Shinto to Shugendo to Tendai Buddhism, and to Mikao Usui’s teachings. The main purpose of this deep hara chanting, in all teachings, is so that we may remember our true self.
Even when we look at the symbols within the system of Reiki we can see the hara in there. For example the first symbol, when visualised, goes inwards. Why does it go inward? By going inward, we are able to rediscover our hara, our centre, so that we can be centred in our daily life. In doing this, going inward to your centre, you slowly start to embody the symbol, as traditionally you would use the symbols for internal meditations to rediscover your true self. For this, the true self, is the centre of the universal flow of divine consciousness.
“In other words, we must never allow ourselves to forget the concept of chushin, our centre. All things are controlled by the stability and the quality of their center, the place where their being is born. We may call this place the life force, or kannagara, the universal flow of divine consciousness. Whatever you wish to call it, it is the force that comes from our hara” – a teaching from Morihei Ueshiba the founder of Aikido from the book Principles of Aikido by Mitsugi Saotome.
And when we look at the reiju/attunement/initiation, we can see the hara in there also, as the essence of reiju is really a process of interconnectedness of true mind to true mind, of hara to hara.
But here comes the interesting part…the physical aspect of the hara is just a signpost; in the deeper levels of our practice we also need to let go of the hara. Takuan Soho, a famous Zen master (1573-1645), taught that focusing on the hara applies to a person under training but that a person who goes deep into their personal practice lets go of resting their mind on the hara. Thus the focus on our hara is merely a stepping stone! But we don’t throw away the stepping stone too quickly else we sink, we sink into the sea of anger and worry, of not being grateful, not being true to our way and our being, and not being compassionate to ourselves and others. So be careful…check in with a good, qualified teacher who knows about the hara through their own personal dedicated practice before you throw away the stepping stone of physically focusing on the hara as you meditate.
“The final point to be made about meditation is that although hara plays an important part, you can become attached to it, in which case hara becomes a crutch and a hindrance. In final analysis, you must become free even of hara.” – The Art and the Way of Hara by Seigen Yamaoka
Even Mrs Takata, who brought the system of Reiki to the west from Japan, pointed to the hara.
Excerpt from Mrs. Takata’s diary Dec 10th 1935:
“Meaning of “Reiki” Energy within oneself, when concentrated and applied to patient, will cure all ailments – it is nature’s greatest cure, which requires no drugs. It helps in all respects, human and animal life.
In order to concentrate, one must purify one’s thoughts in words and in thoughts and to meditate to let the “energy” come out from within. It lies in the bottom of the stomach about 2 inches below the navel. Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, concentrate on your thoughts and relax…”
But due to the modernisation in Japan, like in most countries, we see that lots of teachings are losing this ancient hara practice and focus. But even if we live in a modern time, we still can pick up these old tried and true teachings which have already brought so much benefit to many people around the world.
“One of the major casualties of the Japanese language’s rapid and ongoing evolution is the diminishing use of body-related phrases — a phenomenon that reflects how Japanese people’s once-visceral connection between their bodies and minds is these days rapidly attenuating.” – The Japan Times (oldest English daily newspaper in Japan)
So sit on your meditation pillow and practice the ancient Japanese practice of hara as Mikao Usui pointed out within his teachings, so that we each can become a person of hara and embody the precepts in our daily life. For it is through this personal practice, an embodiment of hara, that the world can become a better place, a place of healing and compassion.
Based in Holland, Frans Stiene teaches in North America, Europe, UK, Australia and Asia.
Frans is also the author of Reiki Insights, it is the continuation of his previous book The Inner Heart of Reiki, taking your personal practice and understanding of the system of Reiki yet another step deeper.