Edited by Maril Blanchard
As discussed in a previous article, The System of Reiki is a Spiritual Practice, the system helps you to rediscover your true nature. Your practice is facilitated (or hindered) by the state of your energy system. In fact, in most traditional spiritual practices, deep awareness of your energy system is synonymous with enlightenment and evolution from an ordinary human being into a yogi, buddha, or immortal one.
However, there is much confusion about this matter. There are many different energy systems competing for your attention — hara, tanden, chakras, etc. And even within a specific energy system, there may be different teachings upon which to focus — there are three energy centres, five, six, seven, even nine.
So, which is the ‘right’ energetic system to help you deepen your awareness? And how can it be employed to benefit your spiritual practice?
As we explore answers to these questions, let’s first agree that one energetic system isn’t better than another. Think of it this way — at the physical level each person looks different from others. One has blue eyes; another has green eyes. One person is tall; another is short. Nobody looks exactly the same! And one particular look isn’t better than another!
This is also true at the energetic level. Everyone’s energetic system is different, determined by their unique combination of cultural heritage, parental heritage, upbringing, and spiritual development. Basically, people are drawn to the energetic system teaching that most resonates with their own energetic system.
If you are drawn to a particular energetic system, you may try to better understand it (and yourself) by attending a course or studying books. But, that type of understanding is not the result of your own personal experiences, since your understanding is usually based solely on another person’s perceptions.
Consider this: A student of the International House of Reiki recently told of her experience practising a technique designed to strengthen her connection with the hara, the energy centre located just below the navel. After six months of daily practise she announced, “Wow, I am really starting to feel a connection to the hara. What I had felt before was nothing compared to this, but I also understand that this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
So, let’s also agree to this: If anything within this article resonates with you, then find a teacher who can guide you in the practices that allow you to embody deep awareness and understanding of your energetic system. Don’t just read these words and think that you understand!
Setting a Foundation
Although there are numerous energetic systems, some with striking differences, most share a common foundation.
Within an energetic system are channels that distribute energy throughout your physical and energetic body. These channels do not hold a physical structure, as do blood vessels or bones. And, due to this lack of a physical structure, they are not usually seen by the casual observer. For this reason, it’s important that you keep an open mind about these energy channels — they may be like the water within which the fish swim…essential to the life of the fish, but not seen or known by most.
Although these energy channels don’t have a physical structure, they do have an energetic structure. Wherever the energy channels intersect, there are concentrated points of energy that either enable the open and fluid movement of energy along the different channels, or block that movement. Imagine the energy channels as highways and the concentrated energy points as roundabouts in a highway system. If either the highway or roundabout is congested, vehicles will either slow down or even stop moving.
If your energy channels or concentration points become congested, due to anger, worry, fear, or other inner/outer elements in your life, then you face the possibility of illness. Given that, it’s of the utmost importance to keep these channels and points open, clear, and vibrant.
But, how do you do that? First, you need to recognize that the energy moves because of your mind or, in other words, your mind moves the energy. You can see the connection between energy and mind with this example: If you see a friend walking in front of you and you want to tap her on the shoulder, you first need to have the intent (mind) to take the action (tap her shoulder) before your energy initiates the movement of your hand and arm. If your friend is sensitive enough, she might even turn around before you tap her shoulder because she feels your energy in motion.
Because energy is moved by the mind, it can move in different ways, depending on where you focus your mind or what you visualize. Given this, most spiritual traditions include practices to ‘train’ the mind to focus in a way that enables it to keep the energy channels and points open, clear, and vibrant.
At this point, let’s shift into a discussion about some teachings from Japan, China, India and Tibet.
Japanese Energetic Systems
In Japanese teachings, there are energy concentration points (seishin suchu ichi) residing within your physical body. The most important and well-known is the hara, which is located approximately three finger widths beneath your navel. Often translated as belly, centre, or mind, the hara is considered a gateway for realizing your full potential or true nature.
It should be noted that hara is sometimes referred to as tanden (point below the navel) or seika tanden (pit of the stomach). And, depending on the tradition, there can be more than one energy concentration point. For example, within some Japanese esoteric traditions, there are three tanden:
- Lower tanden (ka tanden), located below the navel
- Middle tanden (chu tanden) located in the middle of the chest
- Upper tanden (sho tanden) located in the forehead
We call these three centres the Three Diamonds.
In other Japanese traditions, the palm of the hand, the tongue, and the heart are the energy concentration points. In Mikkyo (secret teachings), there are five energy concentration points, which are presented here in their traditional order: heart, forehead, throat, crown, and abdomen. In the goma (fire ritual), there are 19 energy concentration points.
Despite the varying number and names for the energy concentration points, many traditional Japanese arts (judo and ikebana) as well as most Japanese spiritual teachings incorporate practices designed to stimulate the energy (ki) within these points. For example, in Shugendo, the three energy concentration points of the lower tanden, middle tanden and upper tanden, are used in the waterfall practice (Takishugyo). In the Tendai tradition’s Lotus Womb meditation, a practitioner sprinkles water on the three energy concentration points of head, heart, and belly; these concentration points respectively represent the dharma, lotus, and vajya. And, within the traditional system of Reiki, the energy concentration points of belly (earth) and head (heaven) are unified as heart (oneness).
In addition to the energy concentration points, there are energy channels (keiraku), which is often translated into English as meridian. However, kei means to pass through, while raku means net or web. Thus, a more accurate and richer translation of keiraku is a net or web of pathways. Imagine a spider web. What happens when you touch just one thread in the web? The entire web vibrates. This is the underlying principle of keiraku — stimulate any energy concentration point or channel and you affect all the points and channels.
As noted above, traditional Japanese spiritual practices are designed to stimulate ki within various energy concentration points. The keiraku amplifies the effect of that stimulated ki, causing it to reverberate throughout you. By engaging in traditional practices — such as breath, visualization, symbols, mantras, and so on — you stimulate your energy, which in turn clears any obstructions in the energy points or channels. Once the energy points and channels are clear, you can realize your true nature (Jp. Honrainomenboku).
Chinese Energetic Systems
In Chinese teachings, the most important energy concentration point is the dantian, which means red field or cinnabar field. There are three dantien:
- The xia dantian (lower cinnabar field) is located just below the navel and is associated with earth energy and the body’s physical elements.
- The zhong dantian (middle cinnabar field) is located in the middle of the chest and is associated with the heart and humankind.
- The shang dantian (upper cinnabar field) is located in the head area and is associated with heavenly energy and the mind.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the spiritual development of a practitioner depends on the clearness, brightness and strength of the three dantian. By unifying the three dantian, the practitioner becomes an immortal. In ancient Daoist teaching, the practitioner realizes that he or she is a golden body.
Chinese teachings also recognize another energy concentration point, the lao gong, which is located in the palm of the hand. The lao gong is used in martial arts and qi gong to emit or radiate qi (energy).
And, of course, there are the shùxué, energy concentration points commonly known as acupuncture points.
In addition to the various energy concentration points, there are several energy channels (jingluo). Jingluo is comprised of two words: jing (pass through) and luo (net or web), and is similar to the Japanese concept of keiraku. Within the daoist qi gong tradition, the jingluo and the three dantian are interrelated — the clearer your three dantian, the clearer the jingluo becomes.
Recently a Chinese acupuncturist, who is teaching in China, said that if acupuncture schools only teach the modern way of performing acupuncture then acupuncture is dead. That is because a traditional acupuncturist is also practicing Daoism, clearing their dantian and jingluo, going deeper into their own true nature. As a result, they can clearly see the meridians and acupuncture points in themselves and each individual. Since each individual is different, their seeing lets them know where there is energy blockage and where to put the needles.
Indian Energetic Systems
One of the best-known traditions of India is yoga, which means to yoke or join together. For example, Hatha Yoga is a set of practices to join together the sun (ha) and the moon (tha), which will awaken the coiled energy (kundalini) and allow it to flow throughout the body. The energy, whether coiled or flowing, is called prana, which literally means breath.
In several Hindu practices, there are 72,000 energy channels (nadis) and specific regions where these nadis form a knot (granthi). There are three granthi within the energy body: pelvic region (brahma granthi), heart region (vishnu granthi) and head region (rudra granthi). These knots need to be untied through spiritual practices and the energy channels harmonized, if you are to realize your full potential, your true nature. Two such spiritual practices are breathing techniques (pranayama) and word, sound, syllable repetitions (mantrayana).
And, of course, there are the chakras (energy wheels). As with many traditional teachings, there are a different number of chakras, depending on the teaching and teacher. Swami Maheshwarananda says there are eight main chakras, while other traditions say there are five, six, or seven chakras. Some yogic teachings also say that the chakras correspond to the five elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space.
Regardless of the number of chakras, each of the traditional teachings indicate that when all your chakras and nadis are completely open and connected without interruption, then you can call yourself a true yogi.
As a side note, Sri Mahaprabhuji once commented about the modern misconception that a kundalini experience can harm the practitioner. “Kundalini is the divine mother. A true mother never causes harm or does anything bad to her children.” And, Swami Maheshwarananda states that the kundalini is not to blame but the stupidity of the practitioner or an incorrect technique.
Tibetan Energetic Systems
In Tibetan practices, the subtle flow of energy is called rlung (pronounced lung), which means breath. Often a specific image — a horse whose rider is your mind — is used to describe rlung. If the rider (mind) is calm, so too is the horse (rlung). And, if rlung is calm, so too is your mind.
This rlung, or subtle energy, flows through rtsa (channels) within your body. The rsta are connected to various rsta’khor (channel wheels). Depending on the Tibetan Buddhist teaching or practice, there are four, five, or six rtsa’khor. For example, the guhyasamaja teachings use different sets of rtsa’khor for different practices. One practice uses four rtsa’khor, which are associated with the four elements (earth, water, air, and four specific deities) and the four centers (navel, heart, throat, and crown).
In more esoteric Tibetan practices, there are also two thig le (drops), one white and one red. The white thig le, which is located at the crown of your head, is associated with seminal fluid, your father’s essence. The red thig le, which is located four finger widths below your navel, is associated with blood, your mother’s essence. To realize your own enlightenment, the two drops must meet at the heart. Tulku Urgen states “the experience is like the meeting of the sky and earth.”
Several Tibetan traditions teach that the rlung, rtsa, rtsa’khor, and thig le arise because people do not live with clarity about the emptiness and interconnection of all things. This arising produces both similarities and differences in people, as explained by Khenchen Palden Sherab, in his book The Buddhist Path: A Practical Guide from the Nyingma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
In all human beings, the three major channels and the four chakras are basically structured in the same way. However, the minor channels are formed differently in different people. Because of differences in the minor channels, people have different personalities, different ways of talking and acting, and different experiences.
As you can see, there are many different ways of interpreting the energy system. And even within each tradition’s teachings, there are differences. One is not better than the other, since each has the same aim — realising your true nature.
Yet, despite all the differences, there are also similarities. For example, each teaches that clearing/unifying the energy of the head, heart, and below the navel is essential for rediscovering your true nature. With that clearing/unifying, you gain clarity of the emptiness and interconnection of all things. You realize that you, and everything else, are the light. You are non-dual, One.
There are many more energy channels and concentration points then discussed in this article; it would require a book to discuss them all.
Japanese energy systems
Japanese Yoga: The Way of Dynamic Meditation – H.E Davey
Shingon: Japanese Esoteric Buddhism (Shingon Masters Series) – Taiko Yamasaki
Shugendo: Essays on the Structure of Japanese Folk Religion (Michigan Monograph Series in Japanese Studies)
Tantric Art and Meditation – Michael Saso
Chinese energy systems
Chinese medical Qigong therapy: A comprehensive clinical guide – Prof. J. Allan Johnson
Qigong for Treating Common Ailments: The Essential Guide to Self Healing – Xu, Xiangcai
The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing – Kenneth S. Cohen
QiGong Master, My Life and secret Teachings – Robert Peng
Hindu energy systems
Ayurveda: Life, Health, and Longevity – Robert E. Svoboda
The Hidden Power in Humans: Chakras and Kundalin – Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda
The Wisdom of Healing: A Natural Mind Body Program for Optimal Wellness – David Simons
Tibetan energy systems
Kindness, Clarity, and Insight – Dalai Lama
Paths and Grounds of Guhyasamaja According to Arya Nagarjuna – Yangchen Gawai Lodoe
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying: The Spiritual Classic & International Bestseller – Sogyal Rinpoche
The Treasury of Knowledge, Book 1: Book One: Myriad Worlds – Jamgon Kongtrul
The Buddhist Path: A Practical Guide from the Nyingma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism – Khenchen Palden Sherab
Bronwen and Frans Stiene are the co-founders of the International House of Reiki and co-authors of The Reiki Sourcebook, The Japanese Art of Reiki, Your Reiki Treatment, The A-Z of Reiki Pocketbook and the Reiki Techniques Card Deck. Bronwen and Frans teach in the USA, Europe and Australia. Visit the Courses page to find a course near you.