China and Inner Asia
Kwantlen Polytechnic University, United States
Since its formulation in 1920s Japan, Usui Reiki Ryōhō, more commonly called simply Reiki, has been intertwined with Buddhism. The founder, Usui Mikao (1865-1926), adapted aspects of esoteric Buddhist practices into his system while insisting Reiki was not a religion. When Reiki came to Hawaii in the 1930s, it was taught in Jōdo Shinshū “churches,” practiced almost
exclusively by Japanese Buddhists, and often understood in light of Buddhist teachings. Hawayo Takata (1900-1980), the Hawaii-born Japanese American woman responsible for Reiki becoming a global phenomenon, eliminated some of Reiki’s more overtly Japanese aspects during the Pacific War, but by the 1970s, she capitalized on White American interest in Zen by overtly attributing Reiki’s origins to that Buddhist denomination. Finally, in recent decades, Reiki practitioners have emphasized continuities between their practice and aspects of Japanese and Tibetan Buddhism, which lend authority to their lineages (while decrying other lineages as overly Westernized and inauthentic). A Tibetan lama, Gangchen Tulku Rinpoche (1941-2020),
even began teaching a form of Buddhist hand healing that he called “the complete method of Reiki.” This paper will examine different ways that Reiki practitioners have used Buddhism as a resource—as a source of rituals, as an institutional sponsor, as a symbolic referent for authentic spirituality—usually while simultaneously distancing themselves and their practices from “religion.” This illustrates how Buddhists and non-Buddhists from Japan, Tibet, and the West conceive of Buddhism as a source of healing and to what degree they believe its fruits are compatible with modern secularism.