The Reiki Precepts

reiki precepts principles gokai

What are precepts?

Mikao Usui gave his 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.

Mikao Usui’s rules to live by

Everyone who has learned Reiki will have, or should have, seen the Reiki precepts – Mikao Usui’s ‘rules to live by’ – and they are available in a variety of different forms in different lineages. Perhaps we should start by reading the text of Usui Sensei’s version:

The secret of inviting happiness through many blessings
The spiritual medicine for all illness

For today only: Do not anger; Do not worry
Be humble
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

A Western set of Reiki precepts

There is actually some difference between the precepts that Mikao Usui was teaching and the precepts that are quoted commonly in the West. For example, some Western 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.

Where did the Reiki precepts come from?

There has been some speculation about where Mikao Usui’s precepts come from.

It has been claimed that they originate in a book that was published in Usui’s time, and it has been claimed that they are based on the edicts of Mutsuhito, the Meiji Emperor.

Certainly it seems that many Tendai and Zen Buddhist teachers were passing on similar principles in Usui Sensei’s time.

But now we know that Usui’s precepts 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.

The precepts were the baseline, the foundation of Usui Sensei’s teachings, and it was thought that individual could achieve as much spiritual development by following the precepts as could be achieved by carrying out all the energy exercises.

Negative affirmations?

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.

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.

Try my ‘releasing exercise’

My main purpose in writing this article is to introduce you to a way of working with the precepts in conjunction with the Reiki energy.

This is something that I have been experimenting with: a way of directly experiencing the effects of a precept in terms of energy flow.

I would like to suggest that you do the following, for a couple of minutes at a time, twice a day, for a month: Sit with your eyes closed and your hands resting in your lap, palms up. You are going to be releasing energy through your hands.

Stage One

Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and your hands resting in your lap, palms up. Take a few long deep breaths and feel yourself becoming peaceful and relaxed. Your mind empties. Say to yourself “I now release all my anger…”; say this three times to yourself if you like. Allow energy to be released through your palms, and be still until the flow of energy subsides. This may take a little while, particularly the first time you try this exercise.

Stage Two

Now say to yourself “I now release all my worry…”; say this three times to yourself if you like. Again allow a flurry of energy to leave your hands and be still until it subsides. Again this may take a little while, particularly the first time you try this exercise.

Alternatively, try carrying out the releasing exercise in time with your breath. Breathe in gently, say to yourself “I now release all my anger…” and then breathe out, allowing your anger to flood out of you on the out breath. Gently breathe in, and repeat.

Over to you

Why not try my releasing exercise for a few days na dsee what difference it makes to you.

And post a message below to let me know how you got on.

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Picture Credit: César

13 thoughts on “The Reiki Precepts

  1. Thank you, Shihan!

    In researching a book about the Gyosei poetry of Emperor Meiji, I was unable to confirm the story that the emperor had “written” the Gokai, but it is certainly in line with their spirit. Then again the emperor composed over 100,000 gyosei, and the Empress Shoken about 30,000.

    Perhaps the confusion arises from the Gakkai’s practice of reciting selections from the Gyosei at their weekly meetings. Someone could easily presume the Emperor had also written the Gokai.

    I look forward to you posts!

    1. Hi Brian, I agree about the Gokai not being written by the Emperor. I understand that they partly derive from a Tendai sect of Shugendo, with the precepts abbreviating originally longer lines: do not worry for fear is a distraction, do not worry worry for all is illusion

    1. Er, it’s a nice thing to do, it can be quite a meditative practice if repeated as a sort of chant. But to get the most out of the precepts, I think you need to ponder each one, how it affects your life, and imagine how you would behave/respond differently in different situations if you were embodying a particular precept. I talk about this practice here:

  2. I read your precepts rehearsal that you pointed out awhile back. I remember thinking how hard it sounded; how much I felt not ready to change enough to really put my all into such rehearsal.
    Now that I am a little further down the line, I can see how essential it is to try to embody the precepts ; the whole point in fact.
    I struggle with imagination and with achieving a meditative state, so that is why I asked about the Japanese. The future pacing technique sounds like a very sensible way forward. I have an awful lot of work to do. The first step is to create the space and time for it.
    Many thanks for your help. I’ll e mail again if it makes a difference.

  3. Thank you, Taggart for all your posts, each one resonating with your Reiki wisdom.
    Your releasing exercise is such a gentle and lovely way to release all that we do not need to carry with us through life, to release all old hurts and resentments to allow love to flourish. On the breath in bring love and light to fill up the spaces opened by the release of the anger and worry, try it and carry on.
    Sometimes the anger and worry can be felt in a particular area, if so, release it from there. So healing and illuminating for the spirit.

  4. Hi Taggart,
    Thanks for another interesting blog. Always appreciated. A few years ago, after doing some small research on the Gokai for my Reiki teaching, I decided to learn to recite it in Japanese. I found You Tube videos where people had arranged the words with music. This made learning the words in Japanese much easier. I now recite three times morning and evening and, over time, the Japanese words and their meaning in English have sort of melded together so that I feel the meaning through the Japanese words. I find this practice helpful as a daily commitment to the Gokai in my life and to my path with Reiki.

  5. This is a great article thank you & I intend to try this releasing method, it’s come at just the right time for me.

    I’ll let you know how I get on.

    Many blessings to you for all of the work you do. I have found your no noncencecspprosch to have been inspirational & of great help in my own personal spiritual path.

    1. Hi Susan, I hope you get on well with the releasing exercise; many people have found it very helpful, and it’s a nice way of using energy to represent something of what the precepts are talking about. I am glad that our approach feels right for you.

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