Review: Reiki and the Healing Buddha – Maureen J. Kelly

reikihealingbuddhaReiki and the Healing Buddha – Maureen J. Kelly
Full Circle, 2001, 206pp, 8176210323.

It’s rare to find a book that as soon as I see it I want it. It’s even rarer to find a book that as soon as I see it and realize how horrible it will be I want it, but I’m a masochist and this book didn’t disappoint in this respect. The basic premise of this fairy tale book is that Reiki is actually an ancient Buddhist form of healing, and if you connect all the pieces you can realize that. The author leads us through her exploration of different traits of the Healing Buddha and his practice, and Reiki, and how they link in her mind.

So where to start with this book? First let’s tackle the title. “Reiki and the Healing Buddha,” the healing Buddha refers to Sangay Menla, or Bhaishajya Guru, also known as the Medicine Buddha. The cover of the text has a picture of Chenrezig on it though, a completely different figure. Why? Frankly I think it suits how much the author knows about both Buddhism and Reiki, but let’s build that case.

The author thanks Mikao Usui (founder of Reiki) for “rediscovering Reiki, for bringing it out of the Buddhist monastery” (iii) which would imply Reiki wasn’t created by Usui-sensei, and that Buddhists were hiding it all this time. What a fun fantasy. Strange that there are no Buddhist texts or teachings that match the idea of Reiki as energy healing. Also it makes perfect sense for monks, being the horrible people that they are, to keep the secrets of health to themselves, let everyone else suffer is the motto of the Buddhist monks, right?

“Because Reiki comes from Buddhism…”(11) at this point in the book she’s made no case that Reiki has anything to do with Buddhism, you’re just supposed to trust her, but the way she creates evidence would be frightening if it weren’t hilarious. Some may just be translations and traditions, like her chart of the Buddhas and their colours and directions being wrong (14), but others is just made up. “The Reiki Master symbol can be found within the first two vows made by the Healing Buddha” (23) which she later explains that when the Medicine Buddha says “I have been born into the world” (26) it really means being initiated with the “Reiki Master symbol” (27), because that’s not a stretch, and being born is too obvious. She constantly tries to link ideas, but can never support, and rarely explains. For instance she takes four of the eight symbols in the ashtamangala, decides they are the real important ones, and that they secretly represent the four Reiki symbols (50). She very briefly explains it later, but it is literally less than one sentence for each connection (77). She explains the idea of paying for Reiki (which the insistence on it purely a Western thing) comes from the Healing Buddha sutra that says people won’t understand the Medicine Buddha’s teaching unless they pay for it (193). Admittedly it’s been a while since I read that, but I don’t remember that, and it seems not to be the right attitude. I guess it’s let everyone else suffer, unless they can afford my hourly rate?

Her knowledge of Buddhism is flawed, she makes reference to the Earth Goddess in Buddhism (who is the same as Sekhmet, Isis, Mary, Hera, and so on (31)), and that Chenrezig became Tara because there wasn’t a female Bodhisattva (32) which if you know the stories of Tara’s first vow is more insulting to women than anything. Since she believes Reiki is Buddhist she recommends the readers just go out and get Buddhist initiations (34/35) because it’s not like it’s a religion and you should take it seriously, and it’s not like these initiations have vows you have to obey for the rest of your life and should be thought out and prepared for. Her sources and translations are just as odd as everything else, according to her in the sutra of the Healing Buddha untimely death is caused by “illness treated by hoodoo.” (38) It’s a little known fact that the ancient Buddhists of India hated hoodoo, totally true.

Her Reiki understanding is just as bad, but it’s typical for what you’d see from a practitioner of a Takata-lineage of Reiki. What surprises me is she’s somewhat aware of the history and process, but ignores it. She mentions how there are twelve hand positions, but some teach twenty-seven or more, and they may not be part of the original system of Reiki. (They weren’t, they were added in by Hayashi because some students were too “dull” to sense where Reiki needed to be) Despite this, she still explains that these twelve are really and truly representations of the Twelve Yaksha generals (51) despite the fact that there weren’t in the original system or created by Usui-sensei (sorry, “rediscovered”). (Sidenote: “Rediscovered” irks me throughout the book, nowhere does she make a case for Reiki being a pre-existent tradition, so it cannot be rediscovered. It can be Buddhist inspired (and it was to a degree, but not how she thinks) but that doesn’t make it a “rediscovery” any more than my version of my mom’s vanilla cake is a “rediscovery” of what cake is.) She mentions there is no proof that Usui-sensai studied at Chicago University, or headed a Christian school in Japan (147) (he did neither) but then goes on to explain that he studied at Chicago University and headed a Christian school in Japan (149) because she likes that story, creatively ignoring of facts, even after she discredits them. She also claims that once you reach the “third degree” you have to pick a higher being “similar to or the same as Angels” (129) to work with, and idea so removed and alien from Reiki it boggles me, but hey it supports her idea to connect it to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas so why not?

She has gems of logic like “The Power symbol is the only Reiki symbol which does not come from a written language which may mean that it is older than most written languages” (84) which is another hilarious jump in logic. It’s not a word, so obviously it’s pre-text, that’s right, Reiki now goes back to before writing existed. Or that the “Mental/Emotional symbol” is actually Long A from the Gupta Alphabet (96), but if you know your symbols, go look at the alphabet, see if you agree. She also spends a surprising amount of time analyzing clockwise and counter-clockwise symbols and how horrible clockwise is to our bodies (86) unfortunately for her the original symbol she’s talking about was clockwise, somewhere in Takata’s lineage it got reversed. Or that because Manjushri’s text was translated into Chinese (from Pali/Sanskrit) in the third century, it makes sense that he was linked to the Japanese tradition at the time (114), if you understand that, please let me know.

It’s not just Buddhism and Reiki she gets wrong, but reality. “It is my belief that the Rei of Reiki is one of the rays of the light spectrum which has yet to be discovered by scientists.” (6) It’s energy sure, but she lists the entire Electromagnetic Spectrum, and apparently Reiki is hiding beyond the edges somewhere, making it weaker that AM radio, or more powerful Cosmic Rays. Scientizing the occult is one thing, but bad scientizing is horrid. It’s worse, for “scientists have found that memories of things learned by a parent can be passed on to a child through the memories contained in genes.” (104) Which is another fun fantasy. “In quantum physics it is said that quantum waves can go both forward and backward in time” (122) because her science wasn’t bad enough yet. She calls the Mesopotamian religion one of “Light/Life” (13) which means she’s never read anything about it.

All of this bad research and horrible synthesis is made worse by the self-description of “being a very practical, feet on the ground, type of person” (129) who just assumes everything is a sign of ancient Reiki. What gets me is I could have agreed with some parts of her synthesis if she talked about it in terms of personal experience, of unsubstantiated personal gnosis, or personal symbolism. By trying way way too hard to pretend to be well researched and historical, whatever value she put forth in this book was ruined. While I picked this book up not expecting anything good, it was horrible to a degree I didn’t expect, and even for that perverse pleasure I don’t recommend this text be bought by anyone.

If I were to sum up her logic and argument in a simple image it would be this:

reikialien

4 Responses to Review: Reiki and the Healing Buddha – Maureen J. Kelly

  1. Yes, you are indeed the Bodhisattva of occult masochism. We needed one. #howtopanabookhard

  2. Shaynin says:

    Typically, the publisher decides what’s going to be on the cover based on what they think will sell and the author doesn’t get a vote at all. If you really hate the cover of an otherwise good book, complain to the publisher and not the author.

    I have two competing headcanons for this cover. One is that a single individual handled the publishing of the book from deciding it was good enough to buy, to picking the cover, and really did think the Chenrezig image was perfect. The other is that the person who chose the cover realized how bad a decision the buyer made and chose the wrong figure in hopes of warning people away. I have no idea if either is realistic, but it amuses me to pretend.

    • Kalagni says:

      So what you’re saying, to sum it up, is both the editor/publisher and the author are utterly clueless, and I can rant against both?

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