How to use Mantras and Symbols in the system of Reiki
In the system of Reiki specific mantras and symbols are utilized to delve deeper into your own true nature. In Japan, the word for ‘symbol’ is shirushi and the word for ‘mantra’ is either jumon or kototama (kotodama). Literally translated, jumon means ‘a sound which invokes a specific cosmic vibration’ while kototama means ‘a word carrying spirit’.
These mantras and symbols are taught in Okuden Reiki Level II and Shinpiden Reiki Level III. Although many modern Reiki schools teach these symbols and mantras as tools for external use, traditionally the Japanese teachings work with them for internal development. The Japanese word ‘Okuden’ actually means ‘inner’ or ‘hidden teachings’, hence the tools taught in the Okuden teachings are employed to find that which is hidden within you; your own true nature. They are seen as keys to unlock your hidden potential, and once you have unlocked it. the tools are no longer required. This, of course, takes many years of dedicated practice and can only be successfully experienced under the qualified guidance of a teacher who has walked the path.
The first two symbols in Okuden are clearly ‘symbols’ in the true sense of the word; a thing that represents, or stands for, something else. They are symbolic of an energy but not the energy themselves. For example, the first symbol relates to Earth Ki (energy) while the second symbol is related to Heavenly Ki.
Some modern Reiki schools claim that the mantra is actually the name of the symbol, but in traditional Japanese teachings this is not the case - specifically with the first two symbols and mantras in Okuden. The first two mantras in Okuden are not the name of the symbol, but a separate device. When working with these symbols and mantras you are tapping into the same energy utilizing either the visual or auditory aspects of these tools. The reason for the development of these separate devices is to cater to the individual student, helping those who are more visually or auditorily inclined. Consider this… you are cold. To remedy this you have the choice to either turn on a heater or pull on a jumper; both will keep your warm. These are two very different devices providing you with the same result; warmth. Some people may prefer not to wear a bulky jumper, feeling more comfortable with heated air, while some love the sensation of a warm, cuddly jumper. It is possible to see that using both methods, the mantra and the symbol, allows many practitioners to work with the system in a way that resonates with them.
Unlike these first two symbols, the third symbol of Okuden and the system’s fourth symbol (which is taught in Shinpiden) are Japanese kanji, and can therefore also be translated. This results in the visual kanji being the same as the auditory mantra, in contrast to the first two symbols of the system. Their translations offer a deeper meaning to the system of Reiki. Another major difference between the first and second, and third and fourth symbols are that the latter connect you, not to a specific energy, but rather to a state of mind. The third symbol helps you to identify with the state of mind of Oneness, or interconnectedness (consider the practice of ‘distant’ healing), while the fourth supports a realization of the enlightened mind.
With all four mantras and symbols the mantra can be used independently of the symbol or together if you so wish. There are a variety of Japanese traditions where mantras and symbols are used together. Shokaku, a Japanese Buddhist priest (1057-1129) who founded the Samboin temple (which later became the head temple of the Tozan branch of the Shugendo sect during the Edo period), wrote in his A-Syllable Visualization Manual (Ajikan Shidai) that you focus on the visual aspect of the ‘A’ while reciting the syllable ‘A’ as well. Ajikan literally means viewing the letter ‘A’ , and is one of the core Mikkyo and Shugendo practices that are still practiced in Japan today.
Looking at mantra and symbol usage in the Mikkyo and Shugendo teachings, you will find that they are internalized first in order to aid you in realizing your state of Oneness with the universe. It is interesting to note that the letter ‘A’ in these Japanese esoteric teachings has a relationship to a deity called Dainichi Nyorai. The mantra taught in Shinpiden traditionally also has this same connection.
Is it possible that Mikao Usui developed his teachings from these traditional practices? The more we look at existing Japanese esoteric teachings, the more we begin to see certain relationships between them and the system of Reiki.
More information on mantras and their visual aspect:
Kototama and Aikido
Video of John Stevens practicing kototama