The traditional Japanese system of Reiki uses several symbols and mantras in its teachings and ongoing practices. These symbols and mantras are tools that help you deepen your understanding of and directly experience your true nature.
However, some of these symbols are not actually symbols. They are kanji, a Japanese system for writing words and ideas. Since these kanji are frequently displayed in Japanese temples, on Japanese statues, and in Japanese martial art schools, they are not exclusive to the system of Reiki.
One of these kanji is Dai Kômyô, which is taught within Shinipden level III. Why is this kanji-symbol taught within the system of Reiki? And, how is it used within other Japanese spiritual traditions?
“Usui Sensei taught Shinpiden students one on one and he showed them the kanji dai kômyô, which indicated the consciousness of a Shinpiden practitioner.” – Hiroshi Doi Spain 2015 seminar
Interpreting the Dai Kômyô Kanji
To answer these questions, let’s begin by translating the kanji of Dai Kômyô:
Literally, the three kanji that comprise Dai Kômyô can be translated as:
Dai — large, great, big
Komyo — hope, glory, bright future
Ko — ray or light
Myo — bright, light, spell, mantra
Thus, a few ways that Dai Kômyô can be translated are:
- Great light spell
- Great light mantra
- Great bright light
The usual English translation is Great Bright Light. However, within certain esoteric Japanese spiritual traditions, these kanji represent the title for a 23-syllable Sanskrit mantra, in which case Dai Kômyô is sometimes written as Dai Kômyô Shingon and translated as Great Light Spell or Great Light Mantra.
In other Japanese esoteric traditions, Dai Kômyô is linked with Dainchi Nyorai, the Cosmic Buddha. According to the late Dento Dai Ajari Ryuko Oda of the Kyoasan School of Shingon Buddhism, Dainichi Nyorai personifies the essential nature of the universe and symbolizes the wisdom and compassion that allows you to realize the true nature of your mind. Within these traditions, Dai Kômyô is understood as a symbolic representation of the universe’s essence and our true nature.
Going Deeper: Esoteric Interpretations of the Dai Kômyô Kanji
When looking closely at the kanji of Dai Kômyô, you can discover many different layers.
As previously noted, the Dai kanji can be translated as great, large, or big. But, in some Japanese esoteric schools, this kanji also represents the five elements (Jp. goshiki) of earth, water, fire, air and space. Within these traditions, everything that exists is made up of the five elements.
Among several Buddhist schools, a sixth element is often added to the five — the element of mind or consciousness. In these traditions, Dainchi Nyorai (Cosmic Buddha) is often portrayed with his hands in the Chiken-in mudra, the mudra of the six elements — earth, water, fire, air, space, and mind or consciousness. It is through the mind element that you understand the true nature of the other five elements; it is the lens through which you experience things you ordinarily consider to be outside yourself.
Dai can also be interpreted as a human being standing tall and being great.
Superficially, the Kô kanji means light or ray. At a much deeper level, it represents your innate light, your true nature. This innate light has enormous healing potential, not only for you, but also for others. This is the light and wisdom of non-duality.
To understand how this light functions, it may be useful to consider the light of the sun. The sun’s rays shine on everything equally, without judgment. To accept the rays of the sun, you only need to stand in the sunlight. This is how the innate light of your true nature works — it shines everywhere; all you need do is stand in its light.
This kanji also stands for a fire on an altar, where the fire symbolizes purification. It is only through purification that you can re-discover the light within yourself.
Subhakarasimha states this in his Commentary on the Mahavairocana Sutra about why Mahavairocana (Dainichi Nyorai) is called the Great Light:
It eliminates darkness and illuminates all things;
It enables the fulfilment of all works;
It is the light which is neither created nor destroyed.
The third kanji, Myô, is actually made up of two separate kanji. The kanji on the left represents the sun, while the kanji on the right represent the moon. In many Japanese esoteric teachings, the sun represents the female aspect of wisdom (Jp. chie), while the moon represents the male aspect of compassion (Jp. jihi) and/or method (Jp. hoben). Both these qualities emerge as a result of a deepening your spiritual practice.
Wisdom and compassion/method are not separate entities, but intertwined with each other. One cannot exist without the other. When the sun and moon are together in the night sky it is very bright; this brightness is also symbolic for clarity in your mind.
In the Holy Fudo Myo-o Secret Darani Sutra it states:
The great Boddhisatvas wear on their heads a jewelled crown of the Five Wisdoms as well as that wisdom which is like the sun and moon and illuminates the various dark recesses of the mind.
The sun and moon kanji that comprise the myô kanji thus give the Dai Kômyô a much deeper meaning than simply Great Light Mantra or Great Bright Light. The sun and moon combined together into one symbol represent the union of absolute truth (Jp. kutai) and relative truth (Jp. ketai).
In the Mahayana Buddhist traditions, kutai is the truth of emptiness, while ketai is the truth of temporariness. The union of kutai and ketai is the truth of the middle way (Jp. chutai), which is the truth that all things are dependently originated, neither arising nor ceasing.
The three truths of ketai, kutai, and chetai are central concepts to Tendai Buddhist teachings and practices. In fact, through deepening meditation practices, Tendai practitioners can directly experience a unification of the three truths in a single mind (Jp. enyu no sangan). This state of mind is called the three truths of wisdom in a single mind (Jp. isshin sanchi).
Putting all this together, the true meaning of Dai Kômyô is really a spiritual experience of your own true nature.
Going Even Deeper: Esoteric Interpretations of the Symbol of Dai Kômyô
In certain Japanese esoteric traditions, it’s common to recite just the title of a mantra or sutra, rather than the entire text. This is based on the view that the title embodies the whole. For example, in Nichiren Buddhism, there is a practice whereby one chants the title of the Lotus Sutra (Jp. Hoke-kyo), which is Namu Myoho-Renge-Kyho.
This type of practice also applies to Dai Kômyô. However, in this case the Great Light Mantra is not the Dai Kômyô mantra used within the system of Reiki. Instead, Dai Kômyô (sometimes called Dai Kômyô Shingon) is the title of a specific 23-syllable Sanskrit mantra:
On abokya beiroshanō makabodara mani handoma jimbara harabaritaya un
When chanted, the practitioner often visualises the 23 syllables as a wheel. (For an image of the “Great Light Mantra” syllable wheel, go to http://www.visiblemantra.org/mantraoflight.html.)
The essential characteristic of this practice is purification — you call upon the Great Purifying Light of the universe in order to remember your own inner Great Bright Light and experience complete unification with the universe.
According to Dr. Henny van Der Veere, a Shingon priest who teaches at the Centre of Japanese Studies of the University of Leiden in Holland, this mantra was originally non-sectarian and only later included within different Japanese esoteric teachings. Today, however, Dai Kômyô is utilized in Tendai, Mikkyo, Shingon, Shinto and Shugendo. (For a brief description of these esoteric traditions, please go to the end of this article.)
For example, in the esoteric Japanese Buddhist path known as Shugen Mikkyo (a form of Shugendo) there are two ways this mantra is used. The first is where you recite the mantra to overcome inner obstructions such as worry, fear, or attachments. The second is where you recite the mantra 100 or 1000 times in order to ‘guide” the soul of a dead person. Through this latter practice (Jp.eko gongyo shiki), you are able to transfer merit to others.
Dai Kômyô is also used in a text of the Mikkyo tradition of Tendai called komyo ku. This is practised in juhachi-do, a traditional Mikkyo style that is common to all esoteric ritual patterns. In the komyo ku, you merge with the ‘Light Wisdom’ of the Original Buddha Nature (Dainichi Nyorai). This manifests as the pure light of your radiant self; a natural energetic force.
In Shingon Buddhism, the Great Light Mantra is chanted for purification of past actions, either for yourself or others. In Mark Unno’s book Shingon Refractions: Myoe and the Mantra of Light it states:
The Sutra of the Mantra of Light of the Baptism of Vairocana of the Unfailing Rope Snare says:
If sentient beings attain this baptism and mantra anywhere so that it reaches their ears just two, three, or seven time, then all evil hindrances will be eliminated.
If one sits before the stricken for one, two, or three days and intones this mantra one thousand and eighty times every day with a full voice, then the hindrances of illnesses from past karma will be destroyed.
Myoe used the mantra in several ways: in the complex rituals of a deity yoga, through which the mystic powers of the buddhas and bodhisattvas entered into the practitioner; in funeral rites; in the preparation of sand for alleviating karmic suffering, both physical and mental, in this life and the next; and in simple recitations as part of the daily monastic regimen of Kozanji where Myoe served as abbot.
In many Japanese martial arts (Jp. budō), a specific mantra — Shikin Haramitsu Dai Kômyô — is used at the start end and of each practice session. It is said that this mantra reflects both Buddhist and Shinto perspectives and is derived from an 8th century Buddhist prayer. There are many ways to translate this mantra. One way is this: “If your whole heart has perfected the six perfections then you will realize enlightenment.” These perfection’s are the six paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism: generosity, ethical behaviour, patience, perseverance, concentration, and wisdom.
In the mid 19th century, several new religions (Jp. shinshūkyō) emerged in Japan, including Tenrikyo, Kurozumikyo, Oomoto kyo, Johrei, and the Soka Gakkai. Many of them utilised the Dai Kômyô for spiritual development and insight.
Within the Johrei tradition, Mokichi Okada (1882-1955) taught people about the divine light of Johrei, which is not only a healing practice but also a way of life. On many Johrei shrines, there is a scroll with the kanji of Dai Kômyô Shin Shin. This kanji of Dai Kômyô was used as a focus tool for healing and spiritual development. Before he started Johrei, Okada was involved in the spiritual teachings of Oomoto Kyo, which is said to have also used Dai Kômyô.
Many of these new religions also took elements of Shugendo to aid them in their teachings and practices, and it is in Shugendo that you also find the Dai Kômyô. Professor Miyake Hitoshi, states in his article Religious Rituals in Shugendo, “It can also be said that shugendo provided the central model for the religious activities of many of the “new” religions (e.g sectarian Shinto) that proliferated from the latter part of the nineteenth century and continue today.”
Bringing It Together: Dai Kômyô and the Traditional System of Reiki
As noted above, in esoteric traditions the fundamental essence of Dai Kômyô is its refining, cleansing quality. Within the traditional system of Reiki, Dai Kômyô is a centuries old tool that makes an enlightened state of being accessible to modern practitioners.
Working with Dai Kômyô, you consciously and repeatedly open yourself to the Great Bright Light of primordial, original enlightenment so as to eventually experience your own transformation into that Great Bright Light.
This enlightened state is also represented by the precepts taught within the system of Reiki — do not worry, do not anger, be humble, be honest in your work and be compassionate to yourself and others. The precepts provide you with an intellectual, conceptual description of the enlightened state of mind, the Great Bright Light. However, it is only through the practice of Dai Kômyô that you can fully embody the precepts. Therefore, both are necessary to the system of Reiki as a spiritual practice.
In closing, may you enjoy the deep journey that is taught within the traditional Japanese system of Reiki.
Postscript: A One-Minute Overview of Japanese Esoteric Traditions
To better understand the difference and similarities of some of the Japanese esoteric teachings, Rév. Kûban Jakkôin provides the following information.
Tendai is based on Vajrayana and Mahayana Buddhist teachings. Saicho brought the teaching from China at the beginning of the Heian period, 1100 years ago. Their main text is the Lotus Sutra and their main temple is Enrykuji temple at Mt Hiei, Northeast of Kyoto. Several Buddhist schools stem from Tendai, including Pure Land and Nichiren.
Shingon, a form of Vajrayana Buddhism of the True Word, was brought by Kukai from China at the beginning of the Hiean period, 1100 years ago. The Shingon doctrine is based on the Mahavairocana sutra (Jp. Dainchi kyo) and the tantra of Sanmitsu-yuga, the Yoga of Triple Mysteries (the union between mantra [speech], mudra [action] and mandala [mind]). Unlike Tendai, Shingon was not a birth ground for other Buddhist sects. However, different Shingon sects were established after Kukai’s dead, including New Shingon (shin-shingon) of Buzan-ha, and Chizan-ha (started by the monk Kakuban). The Old Shingon (kogi-shingon) tradition is practiced inside the Koya san, Daigoji, Daikakuji, & Toji temples in Kyoto.
Shugendo is a set of vigorous practices for developing Siddhi (inner power). It was founded in Japan, 1300 years ago, by Enno Gyoja. As a tantric-based mountain practice that mixes Daoism and Shintoism (shamanism), it views the mountain as the perfect three-dimensional womb and diamond mandala of Dainchi Nyorai (the Cosmic Buddha). According to Miyake Hitoshi, in his book Shugendo: Essays on the Structure of Japanese Folk Religion:
At the beginning of the world there existed a state of undifferentiated chaos resembling a chicken egg, but it was filled with the sacred letter “A” of Dainichi Nyorai. Soon there separated from this both heaven and earth, and also the cosmic dual forces, yin and yang. Through the union of heaven and earth all things were born and, through the interaction of the cosmic dual forces, humans came into being.
Shugendo involves many prolonged ascetic practices that take place in natural settings over a period of 21, 100, or even 1000 days. Some Shugendo sects follow either Tendai or Shingon traditions.
Mikkyo, which means secret or deep understanding of Buddhist teachings, consists of three teachings:
- Tômitsu (pure esoteric teachings), the secret teaching of Shingon Buddhism.
- Taimitsu (Tendai esoteric teachings), the secret teachings of Tendai Buddhism (divided into Sanmon mikkyo at the Enryakuji temple and Jimon mikkyo at the Onjoji/Miedera temple).
- Zômitsu (mixed esoteric teachings), the secret teaching of Shugen Buddhism.
Thanks to the following people for their contributions to this article:
Rebecca Holton, Rev. Kûban Jakkôin, Dr. Henny van Der Veere, Rev. Jion Prosser, Maril Blanchard
Suggested Reading List:
Abe, Ryuichi. The Weaving of Mantra. Columbia University Press, 2000.
Groner, Paul. Saicho : The Establishment of the Japanese Tendai School. University of Hawaii Press, 2000.
Ryogen and Mount Hiei: Japanese Tendai in the Tenth Century (Studies in East Asian Buddhism). University of Hawaii Press, 2002.
Hakeda, Yoshito S. Kukai and His Major Works: Kukai: Major Works. Columbia University Press, 1972.
Hitoshi, Miyake. The Mandala of the Mountain: Shugendo and Folk Religion. Keio University Press, 2005.
Shugendo: Essays on the Structure of Japanese Folk Religion (Michigan Monograph Series in Japanese Studies). Michigan Monograph Series in Japanese Studies. 2001.
Religious Ritual in Shugendo. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 1989.
Kiyota, Minoru. Shingon Buddhism: Theory and Practice. Buddhist Books International, 1978.
Oda, Ryuko. Kaji : Empowerment and Healing in Esoteric Buddhism. Kinkeizan Shinjo-in Mitsumonkai Publishing, 1992.
Saunders, E.Dale. Kaji : Empowerment and Healing in Esoteric Buddhism. Princeton University Press, 1960.
Saso, Michael. Tantric Art and Meditation. University of Hawaii Press, 1990.
Stone, Jacqueline I. Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism. University of Hawaii Press, 1999.
Swanson, Paul L. Foundations of T’Ien-T’Ai Philosophy: The Flowering of the Two Truths Theory in Chinese Buddhism (Nanzan Studies in Religion and Culture). Asian Humanities Press, 1995.
Mo-ho chih-kuan. Kosei Publishing, 1999.
Tanabe, George J. Jr. Religions of Japan in Practice . Princeton University Press, 1999.
Unno, Mark. Shingon Refractions: Myoe and the Mantra of Light. Wisdom Publications, 2004.
Yamasaki, Taiko. Shingon: Japanese Esoteric Buddhism (Shingon Masters Series). Shambhala Publications, 1998.
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.
Wow, guys! Thanks for pulling together such a wealth of information for all of us! I know I’ll be returning to this post many times to take in all the nuances and layers. Blessings!
Glad to see you like it.
Great article Frans!
What a wonderful gift this article is! So much information that affects intellectually, emotionally and spiritually! As a Shinpiden student I find this an especially wonderful treasure – although I have been focusing my chanting on CHR – I find that Dai Kômyô has risen up at certain times, in certain situations (a lot in nature and with animals). I am being chanted, not the other way around – very cool!
Thank you again for this.
Yet another great article! Thank you for sharing!
The system of Reiki (like our True Nature) has so many layers – thank you for removing many of them. The Great Bright Light shines brighter in us all because of it!
Excellent article! Thank you.
VERY good article. Some excellant pieces of info!
Thank you for sharing this wonderful article Frans.
Thank you for this! What a wonderful explanation! I am saving it to read again, and again, and again!
Blessings of love, Olga
I am struck by the centuries old desire for purification. It is encouraging to remember that I am among many throngs over different ages who believes in this possibility. In our current times of polarities in politics, crashes in the economy there is comfort in knowing or thinking that these are all aspects of the whole seeking purification in sometimes unconscious ways. The Dai Ko Myo is remarkable. Somewhere I vaguely remember hearing that the Mikkyo kanji in the Reiki symbol evokes the shamanic virgins whose healing powers were profound. Have you heard this anyone?
This is a fantastic piece! There is so much information. Will have to sit with it for a bit and then re-read it again and again. Thanks for always helping to peel back layers and layers of the practice. The suggested reading list is amazing too! Thanks!
Fascinating. Dense with information (or is that my poor brain? :-D).
It’s so interesting practicing Reiki, which is such a simple system, but then seeing how many nuances, layers, and different ways of viewing/being/understanding can come up, inspired by the rich context of centuries of traditions that preceded Usui’s streamlined but unlimited approach. We walk the energetic and philosophical paths carved by so many before us.
Much appreciated, thank you.
“Usui’s streamlined but unlimited approach.” Thank you, Alice! What a beautiful way of putting it.
Please allow me to express gratitude for the greatest gift in learning Reiki – the setting my foot on a never ending path of spiritual development and a continual opening of my heart chakra. Searching decades ago for a greater understanding of the precepts led me to the heart of Mahayana Buddhism and the Way of the Bodhisattva. I am grateful to all the teachers who have come my way in ancient and new texts and this includes you Franz and Bronwen Steine.
I just wrote some training material for my Shinpiden students about this symbol and I am delighted that I can add to the 4th symbol imagery the sun/moon.
Thank you Frans for sharing such wisdom in a simple manner!
I really enjoyed this indepth explanation of the Dai Ko Myo. It served to affirm some things I had learned in my own readings.
I was also struck by the notion that it is used for the transmission of merit in some cases. I think this is an interesting way of looking at the attunements. They are, in a sense, a transmission of merit that opens the receiver to the Light of Being in a new way.
Thanks for this article.
Thanks for the wonderful feedback.
For me the DKM (Great Bright Light) is nothing other then Reiki (spiritual Energy) and the precepts.
When realizing the Great Bright Light we rediscover that we are Reiki and that everything else is Reiki as well. This in turn will bring us in a state of no more anger and worry and in a state of being humble, honest and compassionate.
So for me they DKM, precepts and the word Reiki are different ways of describing the same thing.
Frans, I see/experience it the same way. DKM (Great Bright Light) and The Precepts and Reiki are the same.
I heard once that the older version of the Japanese flag was based on the realization of Dai Kômyô. http://tinyurl.com/3fng6za
Just read this poem from Huang Po in which he is describing the Great Bright Light state of mind:
Buddhas and living beings participate in the same pure and unique mind.
There is no separation concerning this mind.
Since time immemorial this mind has never been created or destroyed;
it is neither green nor yellow;
it has neither form nor aspect;
it is neither being nor non-being;
it is neither old or new;
neither short nor long;
neither big nor small.
It transcends all intellectual categories,
all words and expressions,
all signs and marks,
all comparisons and discriminations.
It is what it is;
If one tries to conceive it, one loses it.
Unlimited like space,
It has no boundaries and cannot be measured.
This mind is unity and thusness.
It is Buddha.
Wonderful quote from Saicho – The Establishment of the Japanese Tendai School by Paul Groner:
“The precepts provide the moral basis for meditation, meditation provides basis for wisdom and wisdom leads to liberation.”
For me this feels the same as within the system of Reiki, we first learn the precepts, they are the foundation, the base for all the other 4 elements (meditating on the symbols/mantras, meditations like joshin kokyu ho, the reiju/attunement and hands on healing on yourself and others).
The other elements are all meditation forms which provide the base for wisdom. We can see the wisdom and compassion symbolized by the sun and moon kanji of the DKM “symbol” in level III. Thus by going deeper into the system of Reiki and one day work on a very deep level with the DKM, eventually becoming the DKM (great bright light) we attain liberation.
Here is a cute video of the great light mantra and as you can see the kanji of “ko myo” are used to describe this particular mantra.
Thought you might also find these links interesting.
Links for kanji of Myo:
“vidyā, knowledge. ming means bright, clear, enlightenment, intp. by 智慧 or 聰明 wisdom, wise; to understand. It represents Buddha-wisdom and its revelation; also the manifestation of a Buddha’s light or effulgence; it is a term for 眞言 because the ‘true word’ can destroy the obscurity of illusion; the ‘manifestation’ of the power of the object of worship; it means also dhāraṇīs or mantras of mystic wisdom.”
As you can see Myo also means mantra, so the kanji of DKM can also be read as Great Light Mantra.
According to the Dictionary of Japanese Buddhist Terms, Myo is an abbreviation of Myoshu.
In the same dictionary we can see this: Myoshu – Sanskrit Vidya, a spell.
By looking at the kani of these tools within the system of Reiki we can get a much deeper understanding of what the tool represents.
This would be a read for the life time for me..thanks for sharing so much wealth with everyone
Here is another interesting point to contemplate about the DKM.
DKM means the great bright light which is our true self, this means our true mind is the source of illumination and illumination itself.