Reiki in Ancient China

Frans Stiene Articles, English Leave a Comment

In this article I want to explore the use of the kanji, the concept of Reiki 靈氣 in ancient China and how it relates to the teachings of Mikao Usui.

As we know, this Dao or Dao-Qi道氣 tends to radiate itself and permeate the whole universe with itself as Jing-Qi 精氣or Ling-Qi 靈氣, “ – Re-figuring St. Thomas’s Concept of Ipsum Esse Subsistens in terms of the Concept of Qi in the Guanzi’s Four Daoist Chapters – John Cheng

靈氣 means Ling Chi, Ling Ch’i or Ling Qi in Chinese. It is a Taoist concept and just like the system of Reiki, is a practice to lay bare our inner great bright light, the Tao.

“Ling Chi is the subtlest and most highly refined of all the energies in the human system and the product of the most advanced stages of practice, whereby the ordinary energies of the body are transformed into pure spiritual vitality.” – Chi Gung – Harnessing the Power of the Universe by Daniel Reid.

I really like this statement by Daniel Read that Ling Chi 靈氣 is the “most highly and refined of all energies in the human system”. Here he is pointing out that it is first of all inside of us, just as Mikao Usui pointed out that Reiki is first of all inside of us. Both noted that we have to practice to transform our ordinary energies into pure spiritual vitality, in Mikao Usui’s case, Reiki 靈氣. The ordinary energies of anger and worry are transmuted into the energy of pure compassion through chanting the precepts, meditation practices, hands on/off healing, internalizing the symbols and mantras – all of our practices within the system of Reiki.

“That being said, let us look at what Ling is. Ling is considered an expression of the more evolved aspects of spirit when it functions in the realm of manifestation. It is said that Ling Shen (靈神) – ‘magical spirit manifest through human mind’ –produces Ling Qi (靈氣), the ‘expressed energy of the Ling’. This Qi then results in the production of Siddhi which may manifest within a practitioner. ” – A Comprehensive Guide to Daoist Nei Gong by Damo Mitchell.

Damo Mitchel points out that Ling Qi 靈氣 is a product – expression of Ling Shen, magical spirit manifested through the human mind. Of course when our mind lets go of anger and worry, we can manifest Ling Qi 靈氣. Again, Mikao Usui pointed this out too: we can clearly see that within the precepts, which are all about the mind. But we also can see that the mind is really important for that expression of Reiki in the mantras. (Hon Sha Ze Sho Nen 本者是正念 translates as: My Original nature is Right Mind.

Damo Mitchel goes further to say that this Qi results in the production of siddhi; siddhi is the accomplishment of perfect realization of our spiritual practice. Thus 靈氣 helps us to accomplish realization. It supports us through the transformation in our body and mind so that we can lay bare our True Self, our great bright light.

….the Transmutation of Vapor into Spiritual Energy, or ling-ch’i [靈氣]. The mundane breath is transformed into Spiritual Energy. Ling-ch’i [ 靈氣] is formless and can be channeled to the internal organs and all parts of the body. When the body is filled with this energy, the state is known as the Five Vapors Gathering at the Origin.” – Cultivating Stillness a Taoist Manual for Transforming Body and Mind – translated with an introduction by Eva Wong. (Cultivating Stillness was written 220-589 C.E.)

The ancient manual of Cultivating Stillness also points out that we are transforming our energy into 靈氣 and that we can channel this to the internal organs and all parts of our body. Through this transformation, our whole body will be filled with ling-chi’i 靈氣. Mikao Usui taught us the meditation practice of hatsurei-ho, which literally translates as a “method to emit our hidden inconceivable spiritual ability.” Thus hatsurei-ho, this specific meditation practice, parallels what Cultivating Stillness describes as well.

The three treasures are also known as the three flowers, the three jewels, or the three herbs. They are ching (generative energy), ch’i (vital energy or vapor) and shen (spiritual energy, or ling-ch’i [靈氣]). These three energies were originally uncontaminated when we were in our mother’s womb. In their pure form they are “original generative energy,” “original vapor,” and “original spirit.” When we breathe earthly air, engage in sexual activity, think and become attached to things in the world, ch’i, ching, and shen become impure, thus losing their Earlier Heaven quality. The aim of the internal alchemical process is to gather and recover these three energies, refine them, and transform them to the original state. The process of refinement is labeled the gathering of the three flowers (or herbs) in the cauldron, the cauldron being the crucible where the refinement takes place.

The stove is the generator and the cauldron is the crucible where the refinement of the three energies takes place. In the purification of the three treasures, the lower tan-t’ien is the stove.” – – Cultivating Stillness a Taoist Manual for Transforming Body and Mind – translated with an introduction by Eva Wong. (Cultivating Stillness was written 220-589 C.E.)

Again we see that to really lay bare our ling-ch’i 靈氣- our Reiki 靈氣 – we need to practice. We can’t just think, talk, or write about it. We need to sit on our butt and meditate, so that the transformation can take place, remembering what we have lost, recovering what we have lost. What have we lost? Our True Self, our great bright light which emanates 靈氣. Or in Usui’s words, we have lost how to be compassionate because we have focused on our anger and worry. And the first point of call, as Cultivating Stillness and Mikao Usui both point out, is the hara – tan-t’ien – just below our navel. Mikao Usui placed specific meditation practices in his system like joshin kokyu ho and seishin toitsu in which we focus our mind and breath/energy on the hara – tan-t’ien. 

This concept of getting distracted by our anger and worry and practicing to regain our spiritual energy/essence ling ch’i – Reiki 靈氣 is clearly visible in the ancient text of Nei-Ye內業 which was written around 350-300 BCE. Nei-Ye stands for Inner Cultivation and was written in verses. In one verse it clearly describes the concept of anger and worry and 靈氣.

Below is the original Chinese text of this specific verse:

凡人之生也,必以其歡,憂則失紀,怒則失端,憂悲喜怒,道乃無處,愛慾靜之,遇亂正之。勿引勿推,福將自歸。彼道自來,可藉與謀。靜則得之,躁則失之,靈氣在心,一來一逝。其細無內,其大無外,所以失之,以躁為害,心能執靜,道將自定。得道之人,理丞而屯泄,匈中無敗。節欲之道,萬物不害。

Here is the translation as found in Anthology of Daoist Texts Selections of Key Scriptures, Commentaries, and Other Historical Documents.

The lives of all people. Must have happiness. When anxious, they lose their reason; When angry, they lose their direction. (If people are hindered by) anxiety, grief, euphoria, and anger, Dao is then without any (empty) place to abide. Attachment and lust: quiet them; Encountering confusion, correct it. Do not pull, do not push. Then good fortune will approach and naturally return. This Dao of (allowing good fortune to) approach spontaneously. Can be relied on by following this strategy: If tranquil, you will attain it; If agitated, you will lose it; The magical energy-breath (ling qi)within the heart-mind: For a moment it draws near, and the next it disperses. So thin, there is nothing inside of it; So wide, there is nothing outside of it. The reason you lose it. Is that agitation obstructs it. If the heart-mind can remain quiet, Dao will approach and (ling qi will) naturally affix itself. People who attain Dao. Are aided by its principles, which fill and flow through them. Within the breast, they are not defeated (by pleasure, anger, sadness, or worry). Applying the dao of restraining the desires (of the five senses), The myriad things do not harm them.” (See two more translations from different sources of this text at the end of this article.)

For me, I can clearly see Mikao Usui’s teachings within this verse. And again we can see that ling qi 靈氣 is within the mind, just like Mikao Usui pointed out, and that the reason we are not aware of this ling qi is that we are distracted by anger and worry. Hence we need to practice the meditation practices which Mikao Usui put in his teachings so that we can calm our mind, with no agitation. We need to practice so that we can reach a state of emptiness, pure tranquility, Right Mind, a state of not being distracted by the five senses.

By looking at these ancient Chinese practices and how the Taoists saw the concept of ling qi 靈氣 we can see how this interlaces with Mikao Usui’s teachings. We should of course not forget that Taoism also was integrated within Japanese spiritual practices, such as Onmyōdō and Shugendō.

To sum it all up, we have to transmute our worry and anger, as pointed out within the Reiki precepts. Wehave to transmute our worry and anger into pure compassion and the essence of this compassion is in reality Reiki 靈氣. But of course that is easier said than done and therefore Mikao Usui put meditation practices within his system to help us still our confused mind. This in turn will enable us to shine the light of our True Self – Reiki 靈氣 forward in all we do. Within the whole text of the Reiki precepts we see that Mikao Usui also wrote: shinshin kaizen心身改善 – improve your mind/body. Thus he was pointing out the improvement of our mind and body through the transformation of our mundane energy into Reiki 靈氣 in our mind and body. This all looks very simple but it is not that easy. There are many hidden layers within these texts and Mikao Usui’s teachings and you need to find a qualified teacher to help guide you through this process of transformation. Only a teacher who has walked/is walking this path themselves can guide you through these inner teachings.

Gradually, the golden xin 金心of a sage becomes, then, an immense qi reservoir氣淵of Jing-Qi 精氣or Ling-Qi靈氣.” – – Re-figurating St. Thomas’s Concept of Ipsum Esse Subsistens in terms of the Concept of Qi in the Guanzi’s Four Daoist Chapters – John Cheng

Here are two additional translations of the verse containing Ling Chi – Reiki 靈氣 from the Nei-Ye.

It is ever so that man’s life is certain to depend on his being content. Through sorrow he loses his guiding thread; through anger he loses his beginnings. In sorrow and melancholy, joy and anger. The Way can find no resting place. Love and desires – quiet them. Stupidity and confusion – rectify them. Do not pull. Do not push. Happiness will naturally be restored. That the Way will naturally comes. Is something you can count on and plan for. If you are quiescent, you will obtain it. If you move hastily, you will lose it. The spiritual force [ling chi] within the mind, sometimes arrives and sometimes departs. So fine that nothing can exist within it; so large that nothing can exist beyond it. The reason we lose it is because haste is harmful. When the mind is able to retain a state of quiescence, The Way will naturally become stable. For the man who comprehends the Way, The lines (of his face) effuse (a sense of harmony) and his hair exudes it. Within his breast there is nothing corrupt. Since he practices this method of moderating desires, nothing ever can cause him harm.” – Guanzi: Political, Economic, and Philosophical Essays from Early China Edited and translated by W. Allyn RickettAlways : at the birth of people –They certainly have joy. When they are worried, then they lose these tenets. When they are angry, then they lose the source. Where there is worry, grief, love, anger, Then Dao does not dwell. Love and desire : still them. Foolishness and confusion : properly align them. When you do not pull and do not push, Good fortune will naturally return to you:That Dao will naturally arrive, Which you can rely on and consult with. When you are still, then you attain it, When you are impatient, then you lose it. This potent Qi in your mind: One moment it arrives, one moment it departs. It is so tiny there is nothing inside it, It is so great there is nothing outside it. The reason that you lose it. Is because impatience causes harm. When the mind can maintain stillness, Dao will naturally settle there. For people who attain Dao : Regulation supports it and it will not dissipate easily, So that the center in their breast does not fail them. When following the Dao of restraining desire, The ten thousand creatures do not cause harm.” – Study of Inner Cultivation translated by Bruce R. Linnell

And a further note about the word Ling Chi: even though the word Reiki – Ling Chi existed in China in 350-300 BCE, that does not mean that Mikao Usui’s system comes from ancient China.

Yes “Ling Chi” was used in a similar context as “Reiki”, to indicate our essence, and also how our mind and internal energy work. But Mikao Usui’s system is unique to Mikao Usui. When creating his system to help us realize our true self, he borrowed specific practices from Japanese esoteric teachings. There are indeed very similar practices around in Japan, as most of teachers of the times borrowed from the same esoteric traditions. But the way they put them together is different and that is why Mikao Usui’s system is unique to Mikao Usui.

So as we practice Mikao Usui’s system of Reiki, we can let go of/transmute our anger and worry. We can regain our “guiding thread,” our true self.

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