Mikao Usui, Reiki and Kurama Yama – An Interview with Don Alexander
By Oliver Klatt
Oliver Klatt: How is your personal relationship to Mikao Usui, the founder of the Usui System of Reiki?
Don Alexander: On first experiencing Reiki, in 1983, I was more interested in the ‘experience’ of Reiki than in its Founder. It was later during the Summer of 1985 when I received my Reiki Attunements (Initiation) that I heard the story of Mikao Usui and his experience, during a period of intense ascetic practice on a mountain in Japan, of ‘mysterious Sanskrit symbols’.
Now my interest in the Founder grew to be even more important to me than my already deep interest in the Energy which is Reiki. Many years earlier I had also meditated in forests and on mountains, and faced the possibility of imminent death. Many questions jumped up in my head: “What was Usui doing on Kurama Yama? What was his practice? What were the mysterious Sanskrit Symbols which had to be kept so secret from the uninitiated?”
Five months later, on Christmas Eve 1985, I was initiated into 2nd Degree Reiki and received 3 symbols. Well, that was a surprise – I didn’t recognize any of the symbols as being Sanskrit. Now I was doubly interested!
It was at this point that I began meditating and ‘connecting’ with Usui sensei in the stillness and silence within. I asked him to teach me, and in 1987 I started to study as a Reiki Master. Six months later, as a Reiki Master, I had developed a great trust in Reiki and a deep reverence for Mikao Usui – but still had no idea as to the origins or nature of the Sankrit Symbols. I ‘asked’ Usui sensei for further guidance, and the following year, having been mysteriously invited to France, my questions were answered ...
Oliver: So ... what did you find out in France then?
Don: I don’t speak French well and had few friends in France. I was unknown, so why was I invited to teach Reiki there in 1988/89?
Well, it was my request to Mikao Usui for more specialized knowledge of the ancient Sanskrit Symbols that ‘miraculously’ took me there. One of my 2nd-Degree students, French but raised as a child in wartime Japan was, later in his life, a Yoga teacher with many years’ experience in India. He showed me a rare book illustrating the ancient Siddham Sanskrit letters and symbols used in esoteric practices in both India and Japan. Ever thankful to Usui sensei I began teaching just enough of this profound knowledge to 2nd-Degree Reiki graduates to help them gain deep insights into our Reiki Symbols. The work and insights continue ...
Oliver: As I know, you have been on Mount Kurama several times. How was it there? How did you feel there? Can you describe the atmosphere?
Don: I was most fortunate in having Peter Mascher as my travelling companion to Kurama Yama as we are both adventurous. We explored far further afield than the well-known tourist trail up the front and down the back of the mountain. We wanted to know if Kuramayama might still be a place conducive to intensive practice even today. Ascending a neighbouring mountain and traversing a narrow ridge between the two, we experienced vibrating currents of air and high levels of energy from the wind striking the steep slopes, with just enough of a ‘hint’ of isolation making it possible to imagine the remoteness of the mountain as it was in Mikao Usui’s time before the Kurama Railway line from Kyoto was built. But in the present time, for intensive 21-Day; 90-Day or 1,000-Day retreats other, more remote and less-visited mountains would, we felt, be more suited to such a life-and-death struggle with one’s inner demons and bodily vulnerability.
But in the darkness of very early morning and late evening, long after the last bus had left Kibune for Kurama Station, it was possible to stretch the imagination back 90 years to stand under the same stars and trees, enveloped in the same silence, which had been the companions of Usui Sensei as he gave birth to what we now know as Reiki.
Thanks to the kindness and guidance of Hyakuten Inamoto, a Reiki Master and friend who lives in Kyoto, Peter and I experienced a 24-hour fast and all-night meditation under the stars on Mount Kurama. It was Wesak (Japanese: Hanamatsuri) – the Full Moon day in the month of either April or May which is celebrated as the anniversary of the Birthday, Enlightenment Day and Final Passing Day of Gautama Buddha.
On Kuramayama it is the custom, after daytime and evening celebrations, including an impressive Fire Ceremony (Goma), for most people to return home leaving a smaller number to sit meditating till morning on the ground in the cool mountain air. For us, a rare privilege and a token ‘Shugyo’ dedicated to the practice of Mikao Usui.
Oliver: I have heard of ‘Shugyo’ for the first time many years ago, in the context of Aikido. I understand it as a concept or practice of “polishing the spirit” or “forging the spirit”. What means ‘Shugyo’ for you?
Don: That’s an interesting question: ‘polishing’ and ‘forging’. When we polish something we use appropriate materials and repetitive rubbing or buffing either to make a rough surface smooth – as in polishing a diamond or other precious stone, or to remove corrosion or other surface blemish – as in polishing a rusted metal surface or a mirror so that or reflection can be seen more clearly, more distinctly.
To forge, we take a rough piece of metal and by heating it, beating it, rapidly cooling it and repeating the process over and over until we have achieved or end result – as in forging a horseshoe, a knife or a sword, the metal is ‘tortured’ and ‘beaten’ until it attains the perfect form and displays the masterful qualities required.
Similarly in the sphere of spiritual endeavour, as one Master put it: on the Path of Dharma we don’t torture the body, we torture our old habitual tendencies. We polish and forge our mind and heart through discipline until they become bright, clear and ‘fit-for-purpose’ meaning light, agile, sharp and capable of cutting through the illusions and misunderstandings which we use to cover our inner light and truth.
Now to the word ‘SHUGYO’: Shu + gyó. Japanese Kanji represent Ideas which can be translated in several different ways depending upon context. ‘Shu’ can have the meaning of ‘repeated action’ as in ‘polishing’ and ‘forging’. While ‘Gyó’ can have the meaning of ‘diligent striving’ and ‘working strenuously’. Taken together, in a spiritual context, Shugyo can mean: ‘the diligent practice of austerities’, and refers to ‘ascetic practice’ which can take many forms.
Oliver: Another Japanese word ist "Shinpiden", that is used for the Reiki master level. Can you say something about the meaning of "Shinpiden", its concept ... and your experiences with "being a Reiki master"?
Don: The Japanese word “Shinpiden” can be translated as: "The Level or Degree of the Mysteries of the Heart". Just for the purpose of this answer I’ll make a distinction between Mind and Heart (although ultimately no such distinction really exists). Our Mind knows the World by thinking about it, by perceiving this aspect or that and reaching conclusions as to how things are and how the World relates to me – and how I relate to the World. Most importantly it sees sickness and limitation as being real. The Heart, once free of all attraction and resistance, knows with an immediacy which requires no thought. The Heart can know Truth in a way that the analytical Mind cannot. It is our Heart which can know the World just as it is free from the misunderstandings that weave themselves into the thoughts and beliefs about our experience of sickness etc.
It is my understanding that the ‘Degree of the Inner Mysteries of the Heart’ is intended to lead us toward this state in which the Heart finally stands utterly innocent and indescribably free. And, specifically within the context of Usui Reiki, the function of the master is to initiate the progress to freedom through healing, and ultimately becoming Whole.
Oliver: Don, one last question: If it would be possible for you to meet with Usui personally, what would you ask him, if you had just one question?
Don: I’d ask for his blessing!