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Shine on. January 4, 2015

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“The good shine like the Himalayas, whose peaks glisten above the rest of the world even when seen from a distance.”

—The Buddha

Seeing this quote again really resonated with me, since my partner Rob and I have been having a “visual cleanse” after a season of Christmas movies by watching Michael Palin’s “Himalaya” travel series. Of course it’s charming to see the various incarnations of Scrooge and “A Christmas Carol,” not to mention the classics from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, but eventually it all gets old and you find yourself longing for something else.

I have never seen such beautiful scenery as in the “Himalaya” series. I can’t imagine going there, high above the world as the Buddha says, which is why I love our DVDs. But I love the thought of going there, or on the ocean, or any other beautiful Neverland.

Lord Buddha is saying that all of us can look like the Himalayas, that even the least likely of us can shine like the Himalayas. It’s not easy to be good, but by practicing Usui Founder’s Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals) every day, we can at least get closer.

Just for today, practice your Reiki Principles.

Don’t get angry. September 24, 2014

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“He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty.”

It was no coincidence that Usui Founder made the first of his Five Reiki Principles “Just for today, don’t get angry.” Given the power that anger has to focus attention, ramp up the ego, get adrenaline going, and charge single-mindedly towards a goal, I’m surprised there isnt a bestselling book, The Anger Diet, taking its place alongside all the paleo and other low-carb diet books. I’m sure staying really angry must burn a lot of calories!

We who follow the Reiki Way are also pursuing a goal, trying to focus our attention. But our goal is to leave the ego behind, the true source of anger. (“How could you/he/they do this to ME?!!!” “I’m going to get you for this!”) Catching ourselves when we start to become angry, and asking why we’re becoming angry, what this anger has to do with anything, what it has to do with us, why we’re wasting our time on it, can help us progress along our Way. It can also help us let go of old, corrosive anger.

As the Buddha so graphically said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” What a word picture! You can just imagine frantically tossing the coal from hand to hand, trying to avoid the pain without dropping the coal, while the other person obliviously goes about his or her business. Obviously, trying to keep the coal in motion becomes a full-time job, leaving no room for anything worthwhile. Ouch!

Language changes, and now, when we think of coal, it’s a mined fuel, not a chunk of red-hot wood from a banked fire that can be used to start another fire. But the phrase “hot potato” survives in our culture, sort of in the sense of the Buddha’s hot coal, an awkward situation or issue, usually related to business or politics, where you want to pass the “potato” instead of getting burned yourself. The phrase passed down to us from agricultural and industrial times, because the humble potato was cheap, filling, and able to retain heat. A worker could be sent to the fields or factory with a potato pulled hot from the coals of the fire, and it would still provide him with a warm, filling meal at lunchtime. But I digress.

Follow Usui Founder and stop anger when it first comes up. Let the Lord Buddha’s burning coal image help you let go of old anger. Free yourself to move forward.

Just for today, don’t get angry.

Rejoice wherever you go. August 17, 2014

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“Those who are selfless rejoice here and rejoice there; they rejoice wherever they go.”

—The Buddha

Just for today, rejoice.

Hit the road. May 7, 2014

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“As the Buddha was fond of saying, the spiritual teacher only points the way; we must do our own travelling.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

This is such a valuable lesson. Spiritual teachers, including Reiki teachers, can set our feet upon the path, but it’s up to us to find our own Reiki Way rather than clinging to our teacher(s) for continual guidance. Usui Founder, himself a Buddhist, was very aware of this, and he sent the students he felt were ready, such as Chujiro Hayashi Sensei, out into the world to find their own Way and transmit it to others, as he himself had done after his momentous satori (enlightenment) experience on Mount Kurama.

There is a beautiful story in the movie “Zen” about how Dogen Zenji, the 13th-century founder of the foremost Zen school, Soto Zen, is asked to come to the rescue of the leader of Japan, who’s suffering from a nervous breakdown because of all the horrible deaths he’s inflicted on his enemies. Dogen agrees, because he, like the lord who asked him, is convinced that all Japan will disintegrate into chaos if this ruler can’t keep his grip on the reigns of rule.

After arriving, Dogen asks the ruler if he can cut up the reflection of the moon in the water outside his castle. Well of course I can, the ruler replies, grabbing his sword and hacking into the water. The image of the moon splits in half. But, even as the ruler is smirking in triumph, the ripples his sword made in the water calm, and the image of the moon reforms, whole and pristine as ever.

The ruler realizes that Dogen is pointing the way, and begs him to stay and continue to teach him. But Dogen knows his work lies back at his modest monastery far away, so he resists all the ruler’s promises of vast wealth and influence and a huge monastery and goes his way. As he departs, the ruler recites one of Dogen’s own poems, proving that he, too, is ready to do his own travelling.

Did the ruler stay in touch with Dogen? The film doesn’t say, though it shows all of his closest disciples finding their own and varied Ways after his death. Should we stay in touch with our Reiki teachers? Absolutely. Should we find our own Way? Absolutely. Are these things incompatible? Absolutely not. The spiritual teacher sets our feet on the path, but we are the ones who have to walk it.

Just for today, keep walking.

Becoming grounded. April 14, 2014

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“The foot feels the foot when it feels the ground.”

—The Buddha

This is one of my favorite quotes. To me, it says that the foot does not know itself—does not even realize it is there—until it touches the ground. Just as those of us who follow the Reiki Way don’t truly know who we are until, in our practice, we touch the Ground of Being, the All, the union with all things at the most primordial and most cosmic level. Then we realize that separation is the great delusion, “the greatest trick the Devil ever played,” to quote Kaiser Soze in “The Usual Suspects.”

I love going barefoot so my feet can feel the grass or the rug or the wood or the cool stone floor. The sheer physical pleasure of the contact with these surfaces reminds me of this quote, reminds me to carry on with my daily Reiki practices, to continue to try to follow Usui Founder’s Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals) “just for today.”

As I dig my toes into the plush carpet or slide them over the smooth tiles, I think about how we don’t find enlightenment, satori, by floating isolated in our little bubbles, but by engaging with the world. It is when our Reiki toes come in contact with the rest of the world and feel the connection that we move forward.

Just for today, take your shoes off.

Let in the light, let the light out. April 9, 2014

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“Nirvana is not the extinguishing of a candle. It is the extinguishing of the flame because day is come.”

—Rabindranath Tagore

“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

—The Buddha

I love these two quotes about candles, and how they guide us on our Reiki Way. The first reminds me of Usui Founder’s description of Reiki as “a torch in daylight.” Who needs a torch when the light is already here? How much brighter a torch burns in the darkness! In the daylight, it’s hardly visible. And yet, it still burns. Usui Founder reminds us that our work in the world, on ourselves and others, is important, even if it’s barely seen, and that it will remain important until, in the beautiful Christmas prayer of Fra Giovanni, “the day breaks and the shadows flee away.” Then, when the true light breaks fully in our hearts, we can embrace nirvana (enlightenment, satori) and blow our candles out.

The Buddha’s quote about happiness brings to mind Usui Founder’s Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals), which he described as “the secret method for inviting happiness.” The Buddha sums this up by urging us to share, not hoard, our joy. Lord Jesus said much the same when he told the parable about hiding one’s light (candle) under a bushel (basket). The Buddha points out that sharing happiness with others will not diminish our own happiness in any way, even if we share it with thousands, with everyone we meet. It is when we try to store happiness that it slips away.

Just for today, remember that happiness is meant to be shared.

The secret of health. February 22, 2014

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“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, or not to anticipate troubles, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.”

—The Buddha

Mikao Usui, the Founder of Reiki, was raised as a Buddhist and spent time in a Buddhist monastery before the enlightenment experience in which he received Reiki. No doubt he was aware of this saying, and no doubt it inspired him to shape his Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals) to help his followers achieve health of mind and body. He described them as “The secret art of inviting happiness, the miraculous medicine for all diseases.”

At their most basic—and therefore most powerful—these directives are:

Just for today:
Don’t get angry.
Don’t worry.
Be grateful.
Work hard.
Be kind.

These sound simple, but, as any Reiki practitioner knows, are very hard to put into practice for longer than a few minutes at a time. The “secret art” is, as the Buddha says, living fully in the moment. Then it’s easy to practice the Principles, since nothing is making you angry, there’s nothing to worry about, and you can focus your attention on being grateful, working hard, and being kind.

Just for today, be healthy.

Feed your head. February 12, 2014

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“All that we are is the result of what we have thought.”
—The Buddha

And what we think is typically based on what we see, read, hear, and otherwise take in through our senses.

A dear friend recently suggested a novel nightmare cure: Stop watching movies and television and reading fiction for six months. Why? Because “entertainment” as defined by our culture is all about violence and cruelty.

Sri Eknath Easwaran, in Words to Live By, puts it this way:

“Take popular films, many of which glamorize violence. We can pretend this is only entertainment, bearing no relationship to real life, yet every year violent crimes enact with terrible precision episodes from television or movies. In our violent society, how can anyone argue convincingly that witnessing casual cruelty on television does not affect us? We all have a personal stake in not supporting any of the mass media when they give us poisonous food for our eyes, our ears, and our minds.”

I know many people who read murder mysteries as “harmless entertainment;” some even read them to relax before bed. (Or how about sadism? Thanks, Fifty Shades of Grey!) But I don’t think that this bizarre numbness to what people are seeing or watching is the worst of it.

As I see it, the worst of this is that the constant barrage of violence-as-entertainment, the murder/forensics shows, “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad,” the video games, the movies, numb us to real-time violence. The news? All that blood? The suicide bombers? The African boy-armies and boy-pirates? Snore. Let’s change the channel and watch something equally violent, but with a better plot and lots of big stars.

I don’t plan to stop watching movies, or reading novels, or even watching television, if I’m at a hotel and can actually access cooking shows like “Chopped” and “Iron Chef,” not an option at home. But for many years now, I have been very careful to screen what passed the gates of my eyes and ears, what fed my thoughts. I cannot tell you how many times people have rebuked me for refusing to see critically acclaimed movies just because of their plot and content. I’m certainly out of step with modern TV programming.

Yes, of course I do succumb to shows and movies on topics that interest me: “Sherlock,” “The Hobbit,” “The Tudors,” “Game of Thrones.” I’ve watched the Hunger Games movies, violent as they are, because author Suzanne Collins wrote the series to highlight how violence-as-entertainment numbed people to real-life injustice and horror. But I try to balance this fare with more wholesome input, be it spiritual books, CDs, and DVDs, or vegetarian cookbooks from around the globe, or travel and history books, or art books, or natural history books, or gardening books, or you name it.

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought.” Reiki people, think about that the next time you make an entertainment choice. Entertainment is never mindless.

Just for today, don’t let violent entertainment in.

The saving grace. December 29, 2013

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“The good shine like the Himalayas, whose peaks glisten above the rest of the world even when seen from a distance.”

—The Buddha

“It is a simple law of human nature that we love the highest…. This is the saving grace of human nature.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

Just for today, look to the peaks.

The opposite. August 20, 2013

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“The Buddha…presented a radical challenge to the way we see the world… What he taught is not different, it is not an alternative, it is the opposite. … A certain value lies in remembering that challenge from time to time.”
—Donald S. Lopez Jr., The Scientific Buddha: His Short and Happy Life

Usui Founder, like other Japanese of Samurai descent, spent time in Buddhist monasteries, living the monastic discipline before returning to the world. He had returned to a Buddhist monastery to try to find answers immediately prior to his enlightenment experience on Mt. Kurama, when Reiki was born. The tools he gave us, especially the Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals) but also the Reiki symbols, help free us to see the world differently.

Suppose we think that going to the latest movie and stuffing ourselves with popcorn, candy and a huge soda while we’re watching it will make us happy. But as we emerge into the parking lot afterward, do we feel happy? Maybe we’re physically unsettled by the relentless violence or the horror theme of the film, or by the giant amounts of nutritionless but calorie- and chemically laden stuff we just put in our mouths. Maybe we’re upset because we just wasted three hours, or we hate ourselves for shoveling in empty calories we didn’t need.

Maybe we decide that a shopping trip to the mall, or a few drinks at a local watering hole while watching the game on their giant TVs, will turn the day around and make us happy. Maybe we enjoyed the movie and junk food. Or maybe we’ve already forgotten the plot and actors and are focused on responding to texts, tweets, and comments on our Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest pages.

How easy it is to fill our time so we never have to think about what we’re doing, or why we’re doing it. To throw things into the depthless hole of our emptiness, our quest for fulfilment, the thing we call happiness. Yet happiness is all around us, happiness is us, if we could only take the time to see it. The Buddha does not tell us that the opposite of being happy because we saw the movie is to be sad because we saw it. The opposite is asking ourselves why we want to see it, if we want to see it, if what we really want is something quite different. If we want to chase illusion and escape or simply be.

Maybe, like Usui Founder, we want to sit quietly in a beautiful place and watch the world drop away. Maybe we want to cook a fragrant and flavorful dinner. Maybe we want to take a nap. Maybe we want to relax into a Reiki healing session. Or maybe we want to see that movie.

Whatever the case, having thought things through changes everything, because it changes our most fundamental perceptions. Once we realize that happiness is not a goal but a state of being, that it is all around us, that we need not “do” anything to achieve it, but merely perceive it, we can let go of our expectations, our frenzied pursuit of pleasure, our desperate need to fill ourselves up. The opposite of our pursuit of happiness, and everything else, is awareness and acceptance.

Just for today, be awake.