Entering the Moment, Entering the Universe

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When my brother Terry was twelve years old, he began an apprenticeship with my dad, an apprenticeship in plastering. When Terry was in his fifties, I asked him to do some plastering in my house. He obliged. At this stage, he’d been plastering for forty years.

Watching him plaster the wall was like watching someone do T’ai Chi, and I asked myself: Is this his meditation practice? I’d been meditating for about seven years, and knew the look: the soft shine in his eyes, the half-smile on his lips, his face glowing – the look of simple joy. Terry, wall, the flow of hands, tools, and plaster, all formed a totality, a time of pure being. So, was this his meditation practice or was meditation something else?

Prior to this, I had been meditating with the Western Buddhist Order. My teacher’s teacher Sangharakshita had described T’ai Chi, yoga, dance, and painting as indirect methods of meditation, as indirectly working on the mind, whereas meditation proper was directly working on the mind. I was sure that Terry, and practitioners of other arts, achieved meditative states, but if I’d have asked Terry whether he was meditating, I’m sure he would have said no, just plastering a wall.

In direct methods of meditation,  you set about to deliberately change, transform, improve, and refine the functioning of the mind. However, meditation is not simply just mechanical technique: like Terry’s plastering, it becomes an art.

On one hand, Terry was not meditating; on the other, he was.

One way around this puzzle is to reflect on the state achieved: a state of absorption. When we are meditating, we become absorbed in the object of concentration. This absorption arises naturally from following a meditation technique, but it may also follow from any of the indirect methods, such as dance or painting or plastering.

One Buddhist meditation technique for cultivating absorption is the Anna Panna Satti—or awareness (Satti) of ingoing breath (Anna) and outgoing breath (Panna), usually translated as the Mindfulness of Breathing. Bringing our awareness or attention to an object, observing how we are distracted from it, and figuring out how to sabotage the distracting tendency.

Another absorption technique in Buddhism is the Metta Bhavana—or cultivation/development (Bhavana) of loving kindness (Metta). Bhavana also means becoming, so becoming loving kindness. This technique also has an object of concentration, our emotional response, and the aim is to strengthen our warm, positive emotional responsiveness.

For over twenty years I’ve been practicing Zen meditation. I was drawn to it because of its sublime simplicity: one practice covers everything. The essence of this style of meditation is simply the art of being present. Somehow we know that to be present is enough, so we give ourselves fully to the practice of being present.

Perhaps Zen meditation best falls into the category of indirect methods, but there is something direct about it too—the effort to be present. This can lead to absorption and to insight. But in Soto Zen (the Zen school in which I teach), even insight is not the point. When you are fully you, fully present, everything has been set right, you have found your place, you have entered the universe, the universe has entered you. There is nowhere else.

It is wonderful to come to this awareness…and with it, I’d say yes: Terry was meditating.


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Ingen is a Soto Zen priest and teacher in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, having received ordination and dharma transmission (2000 and 2009) from Zoketsu Norman Fischer. He was Shuso at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in 2002 with then Abbess Zenkei Blanche Hartman. Ingen has been practicing Buddhism for over 25 years and lived in community for about 14 years. He has led sesshin and retreats in England, Sweden, Italy, Ireland and California, and is a member of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association of America. He now lives in his home temple, ‘Ingen-ji‘, in Co. Clare, Ireland. 

The Real History of Reiki

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Around a century ago, a Japanese Buddhist monk named Mikao Usui founded the Reiki system of natural healing. He began to teach students. His students taught their students, and then those students taught their students. Two women, Barb Hay and Lia Ricci, taught me. And now, through this blog, I teach you. This is our lineage.

However, within this lineage, there is also a paradox. While it is certainly beautiful and fitting to honor our founder, Usui, we must also balance that honoring with an acknowledgement of the deeper truth of our practice.

Usui did not “invent” Reiki. He did not start it nor begin it. Rather, what this gentle monk did was remember Reiki. What he did was remember a force that transcends space and time.

Usui did not “invent” Reiki. Rather, what this gentle monk did was
remember Reiki.

The power to heal with the hands is a natural human birthright. It has existed as long as human beings have been. If we study the histories of indigenous cultures everywhere, we find equivalent systems of hands-on healing across languages and borders.

The power to awaken with light is also a natural human birthright. If we peer into the varied religious and spiritual traditions of humanity, we will find belief in a universal life force energy. The concept is ubiquitous, inescapable. Just as the notion of “God” seems to be everywhere, so too is life energy. There are a thousand names for it. In China, it is chi; in India, prana; in America, it is known as the holy spirit. High in the Andes mountains, the Quechua people invoke ushai energy during healing ceremonies, and in Mongolia, hiimori is the intuitive and powerful “windhorse energy” that uplifts and animates all beings.

No, Usui certainly did not invent anything new. It would be more accurate to say, rather, that he remembered an ancient wisdom. He helped uncover what our modern culture forgot. He remembered what is most important: He remembered we are light.

Life force energy is light. It is energetic particles vibrating at high frequencies—and the higher the frequency, the stronger the light. With more light comes more harmony, more ease, more intuition, more joy, more compassion, more creativity, more bliss.

When we are new to Reiki practice, the story of Usui is a beautiful and necessary story to learn. We need to honor him. Eventually, though, we come to see Usui’s story as the story of us all. The story of every soul.

Eventually, we come to see Usui’s story as the story of us all. The story of
every soul.

We—all of us—have an innate craving to learn, grow, and heal. We journey onto this planet in order to fulfill that destiny. Whether through Reiki or through other practices, we begin to tap into the cosmic, Universal force that opens our hearts and strengthens our natural intuitions. We break out of man-made limitation, and move into the realm of universal love. And we stop relying on the rational brain to run our lives. We step back, and channel the life force through us, for our own wellbeing and for the wellbeing of all.

Reiki was not really invented in the early 1900s. It was not really invented in Japan. It is not really a system that can be traced and tracked with clocks and calendars. No. Reiki defies all of our mental comprehensions.

The real history of Reiki is that it has no history. It is timeless. Eternal.

As we practice, we learn to honor our human stories…bow to them…yet we also learn to move beyond them, recognizing that the story is simply a seed. It shall blossom, in time, to so much more.