The Reiki Precepts: the Gokai, or Reiki principles
Mikao Usui gave his Reiki students a series of ‘precepts’ to follow. The Concise Oxford Dictionary (9th Edition) defines a precept as (1) a command, a rule of conduct, and (2) a moral instruction, and they are an important part of Buddhist practice. We know that Mikao Usui was a Tendai Buddhist, and so precepts would have been an important part of his spiritual life. Lay followers of Buddhism generally undertake to follow (at least one of) five precepts, which are given in the form of promises to oneself: “I will (try) to…”. Here are the five Buddhist precepts:
- To refrain from harming living creatures (killing).
- To refrain from taking that which is not freely given (stealing).
- To refrain from sexual misconduct.
- To refrain from incorrect speech (lying, harsh language, slander, idle chit-chat).
- To refrain from intoxicants which lead to loss of mindfulness.
So precepts are a list of guidelines for living your life. They are not framed in terms of “thou shalt not…” as in the Judaeo-Christian tradition but rather are a set of ideals to work towards, recommendations about thought and behaviour that you should follow as much as you can.
The origin of Mikao Usui’s precepts
Mikao Usui gave his students a special set of precepts to follow (now referred to as “the Reiki Precepts”) and there has been a lot of speculation about where these precepts came from. It has been claimed that they originated in a book that was published in Usui’s time, and it has been suggested that they are based on the edicts of Mutsuhito, the Meiji Emperor. Certainly it seems that many Tendai and Zen teachers were in Usui’s time passing on principles similar to those of Mikao Usui.
But now we know that Usui’s precepts (the Reiki principles) were his wording of an earlier set of precepts that have been traced back to the early 9th century, precepts that were used in a Tendai sect of Shugendo with which Usui Sensei was in contact. These precepts were a way of addressing aspects of the Buddhist eight-fold path in a simplified form, and they are the very ‘hub’ of the whole system.
Here is a copy of the precepts in Japanese calligraphy:
These are Mikao Usui’s precepts: the Gokai
Here is the full wording of Mikao Usui’s precepts. The actual precepts start at “just for today” and end with “be compassionate…”:
The secret of inviting happiness through many blessings
The spiritual medicine for all illness
For today only: Do not anger; Do not worry
Be honest in your work
Be compassionate to yourself and others
Do gassho every morning and evening
Keep in your mind and recite
The founder, Usui Mikao
The phrase “many blessings” may refer to Reiju, receiving many Reiju empowerments.
The phrase “Be honest in your work” really means “be honest in your dealings with other people”.
You may find that some versions of the precepts include an extra item: “honour your parents, elders and teachers”. This is not original and seems to have been added by Mrs Takata to make the “list of rules to live by” more acceptable to her (largely) Christian American audience.
Incidentally, you may find some commentators saying that negative affirmations are not a good idea: such things are said to be more effective when framed in positive terms. What we have presented to us in the precepts is just a quirk of translation from Japanese to English: the precepts are actually a recommendation that we exist in the moment in a state where we are free from anger and worry, a ‘worry-free, anger-free’ state. So you could interpret the instructions as, “just for today I am worry-free”, or “just for today I am content”.
The importance of the Reiki precepts
These Reiki ‘precepts’ are Mikao Usui’s guidelines for living and are perhaps the most important part of his system. They were the baseline, the foundation of his teachings, and it was said that as much spiritual development would come through following the precepts as would come through carrying out any of the energy work.
In ‘Gakkai practice the Reiki principles would be chanted three times by his students at their weekly training sessions, and every day, towards the end of their Hatsu Rei Ho. It was said within the ‘Gakkai that if a student wanted to progress on their spiritual path, they needed to:
- Receive Reiju empowerments on a regular basis
- Practice Hatsu Rei Ho
- Live the Reiki principles as part of their lives: they would live their lives in accordance with these principles
For me, Mikao Usui’s precepts represent both some of the beneficial effects that Reiki can produce in your life if you work with the energy regularly, and they represent a set of principles that we need to follow to enhance our journey of self-healing and self-development with Reiki.
The Reiki precepts are important.
Author: Taggart King