Reiki is historically linked to one of the worst earthquakes Japan has suffered, prior to the one that struck on March 11, 2011. It happened in September of 1923, measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale. It’s known as Kantō daishinsai and well over 100,000 deaths were reported. Its power and intensity moved the 121-ton Great Buddha statue at Kamakura, located 60 km away from the epicenter, forward almost two feet. The disaster was exacerbated by embers from lunchtime cooking on charcoal stoves, which spread fires rapidly through wooden buildings.

Because Kantō is the largest plain in Japan, it is densely populated and includes the large metropolises of Tokyo and Yokohama. Prior to this disaster, the founder of Reiki, Usui Sensei, was teaching his methods by himself, quietly in his dojo. As they say, ‘necessity is the mother of invention.’ According to one source:

It was due to this earthquake…that Reiki and Usui Sensei became well-known in Japan…Until 1923 Usui Sensei was the only teacher of the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai, his association that he incorporated in 1922. When faced with the incomprehensible devastation, he decided to change his ways: He gave eight of his senior students the Shihan (teacher) status, and taught them how to teach Reiki…Over the next year or so, they initiated thousands of people and…gave several hundred thousand treatments.

I really want to focus on the love and respect Japanese people have for the Earth and Nature. Before I do, here’s an excerpt from Usui’s Memorial Stone which was erected a year after his passing. Let’s also remember how perfectly Reiki blends with helping animals and plants, and enhances our food and water.

In September of the 12th year (1923 A.D.) there was a great earthquake and a conflagration broke out. Everywhere there were groans of pains from the wounded. Sensei, feeling pity for them, went out every morning to go around the town, and he cured and saved an innumerable number of people. This is just a broad outline of his relief activities during such an emergency. (Translated by Inamoto Hyakuten.)

Japan has produced a number of spiritual traditions and art forms. Almost all are either nature-based, or show a great reverence for nature. There’s a profound understanding of the inextricable link humans have to the natural world we live in. A complete accounting of the earthquake to hit Japan a few days ago hasn’t even begun. It was followed by a devastating tsunami, and the threat of nuclear radiation from ongoing repercussions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

I hope my focus on the Earth and Nature in this post serves as a reminder to all of us to come into balance once again with the natural world. My heart-mind goes out to Japan in compassion, and in thanks for the great beauty it has given to human culture.

Shintoism is Japan’s native spirituality. It’s heavily nature-based and “was the communal response of the ancient immigrant dwellers of Japan to the stunning natural environment in which they found themselves.” (Stuart D.B. Picken)

Here’s a modernized excerpt by the same author of The Litany of Earth:

Leader — Think of how human beings first experienced earth bringing forth her fruits

Think of how earth was conceived of as a mother and revered for fertility, her abundant gifts, and her ability to nurture and support life

Think of the season’s as they flow by, the yellow and green of spring in all its newness and freshness

Think of mystery of the seed, how life is contained within it, and its creative growth

All — Our senses have been dulled and dimmed, and we see earth not as the environment of our life, but as a tool to be used

Our senses are blind to its mystery and meaning

Our senses need the purification that will enable us to see nature as our teacher and guide

Motohisa Yamakage who was born in 1925 and raised in a Shintoist family writes:

We [Japanese people] have felt that plants and animals, as well as mountains and rivers, have lived with us and have been deeply connected to us. This love and reverence toward nature is a quality that should be reinstalled in our hearts, if we want mankind and earth to survive the ecological crisis that has resulted from excessive materialism.

Recently some scientists, notably the British geophysicist James Lovelock, have rediscovered the notion of “Gaia.” In this view the natural environment of earth is not seen just as a mechanical system, but more than that, as a highly organic network created by complex relationships and subtle connections between all forms of life. Life has therefore neither passively adapted itself to the earth’s environment, nor been created by chance. Every life form, every creature has influenced the environment and helped to shape it. It has interacted with and depended upon all the creatures as a part of a harmonious cycle of creation. The world of nature is ultimately self-regulating and self-renewing, preserving its own order or homeostasis, restoring the planet’s balance much like the immune system of an individual organism.  We can therefore think of the earth as if it were a single organism, or the sum total of all living organisms: a self-regulating, self-rejuvenating biosphere.

Of late and we have heard extensive use of the word “co-existence.” This means that no creature can operate without regard for fellow-creatures. It can only exist and survive in a state of balance with other living organisms.  Nature is the constant interplay of living organisms. It is the continuous search for and restoration balance.

These perceptions of organic nature are identical to those that the Japanese have entertained and cherished deeply since ancient times. The islanders blessed with a rich natural world recognized intuitively that even plants and trees speak and that human beings could not live without mountains and rivers. In Japan’s past there was no thought of conquering nature or of unilaterally exploiting it.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the play of Nature in Zen spirituality is with some poetry by Zen masters. If interested you can look up individual teachers to learn more.

All sentient beings are essentially Buddhas.
As with water and ice, there is no ice without water;
apart from sentient beings, there are no Buddhas.
Not knowing how close the truth is,
we seek it far away
—what a pity!
Hakuin Ekaku Zenji

Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken.
Although its light is wide and great,
The moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide.
The whole moon and the entire sky
Are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass.

When all thoughts
Are exhausted
I slip into the woods
And gather
A pile of shepherd’s purse.

Like the little stream
Making its way
Through the mossy crevices
I, too, quietly
Turn clear and transparent.

This is a woefully inadequate sampling. Search for “zen poetry’ or “zen haiku’ to get a full flavor.

Motohisa Yamagake writes, “Japanese Buddhist sayings, such as ‘mountains, rivers, plants, and trees will all become Buddha,’ or ‘the shape of the mountain and the sound of the valley stream are also the manifestations of Buddha’ are expressions, in Buddhist fashion, of this Japanese spiritual sense of nature.”

I’ll end with a thought by Thich Nhat Hanh who’s teaching today and while being a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and master, is prolific and receives worldwide recognition:

The situation the Earth is in today has been created by unmindful production and unmindful consumption. We consume to forget our worries and our anxieties. Tranquillizing ourselves with over-consumption is not the way.

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Japan, Reiki, Zen, Shinto and Earthquakes

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