Author and Reiki Master Frank Arjava Petter talks to Punya about the impact his books have had in the Reiki world.
Arjava, your first book Reiki Fire, published in 1997, created quite a stir in the world of Reiki. What exactly did you disclose in your book?
I had moved to Japan in 1989 and had accidentally come across both historical and practical information about Reiki that was not known outside of a small circle of Japanese practitioners. So this is what I wrote about, quite naively. I had expected champagne corks to pop in all Reiki practitioners’ homes because written documents had been discovered and made available to the public for the first time in Western Reiki history.
What happened after the publication of Reiki Fire?
Three days after the book came out in Germany, I received threats from the then biggest Reiki organization in the US. They threatened to sue me if the book wasn’t taken off the market immediately. They accused me of having broken certain “secret Japanese laws” and when my publisher asked me to get an affidavit from my (Japanese) lawyer, the lawyer wrote that those laws were so secret that even a Japanese lawyer did not know them. So that was that.
Why was your book such a threat?
It is common that the history and practice of a spiritual path is altered by the descendants or followers of the founder of a spiritual school (sounds familiar?) to suit their personal needs – and this is what I had exposed.
Did you write the book to put history straight or was it your intention to shake the ground in the Reiki world?
I had not done it for the sake of exposing. I was deeply convinced that the international Reiki Community would have wanted to know the truth – unfortunately I had to find out that not many people were interested in knowing the truth. They preferred fairy tales. I should have known better…
Osho tells us that the truth of our own inner predicament is the ridiculous struggle with ourselves. We hang the enlightenment carrot in front of our own nose and strive to reach it – by definition an impossible task. He tells us that we are free, but we don’t want to hear the truth and neither listen to him nor any of the other enlightened ones! It seems to be the same story on all levels: it is more comfortable to live in delusion…
Have you been physically threatened by anyone?
There were concerns about my physical safety during the first public lectures in 1997, but nothing ever happened, except for verbal attacks.
For many years my reputation was slandered, money was collected to sue me, and people were sent to Japan to discredit me – without having any effect. I heard that when students asked their teachers about my books they were told to burn them. This back-fired in places like Germany, due to our Nazi history, and had the reverse effect; people became interested.
Except for some nasty phone calls and letters I was left in relative peace. One of my publishers had their windows broken after my books had come out, and very recently there was a concerted cyber-attack on some of my organizers and me, which left our websites, databases and email addresses corrupted. Last year, one of my organizers had her home broken into and all her Reiki materials (manuals for training courses and certificates) were stolen; but to my knowledge no physical violence against people ever occurred.
It seems to be a common thread in my life that people either love me or hate my guts (sometimes beginning on one side of the spectrum and then ending on the other!); it would be too easy to give the sole responsibility for this to others. I must somehow be asking for it…
How did you come to know Reiki in the first place?
From childhood I was in love with Japan. As a teenager I had the dream to go to a Zen Monastery and close the doors behind me forever. Luckily I ended up in Poona in 1979, at age 18, but still a string of Japanese girlfriends took on the role of ego-destroying Zen masters. I finally made it to Japan in 1989 with my then partner Chetna, and together we started a language school that evolved into a therapy center.
Four years later, on one of my trips to Germany, I learned Reiki from my brother Raj. By that time I was fluent in Japanese and knew the culture of my adopted country quite well, so a large part of the Reiki teaching, as well as its history, did not make sense to me. Japanese spirituality is very different from New Age thought. Perhaps this is because part of Japanese culture has been molded by Buddhism. Contrary to other Eastern religions, who claim that the world is maya – illusion – and the only thing that is real is the self or atman, Buddha is said to have taught that the world is real and the only thing that does not exist is the ego. Ego is seen as a mental construct that needs to be identified, understood and discarded. In Western thought we seem to misunderstand ego as the negative aspects of our psyche, but in Japan it is seen as the whole nine yards: I am, I like, I love, I… It is an illusion and therefore is neither encouraged nor fed or supported. Osho explains that in The Heart Sutra, lecture 1, with such clarity that it turned my life upside down.
The Western Reiki teaching, that most of us had received at the time, was filled with ways to improve your “self” and offered techniques to manipulate existence in our favor. There was no breathing technique (which is the basic prerequisite for a happy life), no meditation and very little emphasis on compassion. All the vital parts of Eastern philosophy were missing. I liked Reiki but did not take the philosophy seriously; it seemed too childish. The teaching, as well as the history, had a Christian character that was highly unlikely considering that only one percent of the population in Japan is Christian. Chetna, who had learned Reiki from me, kept telling me, “This system has been made up by a Westerner; it is so logical. We don’t think like that.”
Back in Japan, Chetna and I started teaching Reiki. One day one of my Japanese students asked me if there was a good Reiki book in German that his publisher could buy the rights off and publish in Japan. I talked to Raj who knew the situation better than me. He told me that there was nothing available that he found suitable and suggested I write a book myself. I liked the idea, also as our forester great-grandfather was a well-known writer and one of the heroes in our family history. I loved writing, so why not? – and I began writing the same day.
A few years earlier, the Austrian painter and astrologer Prasthan (who had been one of the ashram healers in the 70’s) had done my astrological chart and encouraged me to write. He told me that I would make a living out of writing one day. I took up my old hobby of writing poetry again and later wrote an extensive curriculum for teaching German and English as a second language. He coached me through this, always encouraging me to go ahead. “Good,” he said when I showed him something, “but that’s not it.” I trusted him and, within five years, writing had become part of my daily discipline.
That’s when the Reiki book project presented itself and the research started. At first my research was done in a rather funky, amateurish way – I learned how to do proper research in the process of writing the next few books. But soon enough I realized that I wanted to put the history and practice of this wonderful discipline right, so that not only my students but a wider audience could get all the benefits from my discoveries.
Why was it so important for you to investigate the history of Reiki?
Doubt, and the passion to go to the bottom of things. I have an inquisitive nature and want to understand how my own inner world and the world around me ticks. When something I am passionate about does not sit right with me, I start investigating.
From your newly found perspective, can you tell us what Reiki is?
Reiki is pure Japanese spirituality. It was conceived after a spiritual experience and taught by Mikao Usui (Usui Sensei) at the beginning of the 20th century. The word Reiki is made up of two Chinese characters which mean Soul Energy. In Reiki it is believed that body, mind and soul (which are seen as our three bodies) are one and that we can access either one through any of the others. For practical reasons mostly the body is being touched in order to heal all three bodies, giving the impression that Reiki is bodywork; however, it is much more than that… The aim of Reiki is to help us realize that we are already what we are longing for.
Japanese Shinto believes that every human being has been equipped with a soul given by the gods. They plant the seed of that soul in the center of an embryo’s brain – around the third or fourth month of pregnancy. The soul connects every human being directly to Source via an invisible channel and the cosmic energy flows through this channel. Because of education and the development of the ego this channel clogs up more and more until the energy merely trickles through. The result is an unhappy, disconnected human being, lost in suffering and confusion.
The basic Reiki objective is to remind us of this connection to Source and when this connection is re-activated during an initiation (Reiju), the juices flow freely again and we are full of smiles!
Reiki is not some magic that the great Reiki Master gives to the ignorant student, but a gentle reminder, a good-morning kiss of our inherent wealth and enlightenment.
During your investigation how Reiki is taught in Japan you found many techniques that you brought to the West through seminars and by publishing further books.
When Reiki was brought to the West by one of Usui Sensei’s students, Hayashi Sensei, and was taught to non-Japanese students, a whole new Reiki language had to be created. The Japanese spiritual concepts, that Reiki is based upon, were not known abroad and there was no adequate translation for them. Therefore Reiki turned into a New Age hotchpotch – out of misunderstanding and lack of knowledge of Japanese culture and spirituality.
I have been striving to reintroduce these concepts and to bring the proper perspective and original techniques back into Reiki. Only when this is done, the art of Reiki can be practiced according to its original intention and become enlightened action again. Reiki, Zen and meditation are not seen as a road to enlightenment but are understood as enlightened action. When you sit you don’t sit with the aim of enlightenment, but the sitting is enlightenment. Enlightenment is a choice that you can make in each and every moment of life. You can act unenlightened, egoistically, or you can act from a perspective of working for the betterment of mankind and planet Earth. You know when you are acting from an egoistic motive; you know when you are violating others or yourself. It is not difficult to see!
How did the Japanese Reiki teachers feel about you making investigations and spreading the techniques to the West?
For reasons unknown to me, some of the traditional Reiki people took a liking to me and freely shared historical documents and photos which I then published. This culminated in 2000 when I met and fell in love with Chiyoko Yamaguchi, a then 79-year old Reiki teacher who took me under her tutelage. After her death in 2003, her son Tadao took over her Reiki association and some years later he asked me to be the vice president of the Jikiden Reiki Institute Kyoto, which by now has more than 25,000 students. I am still blown away by this honor and take on my position with humility and love.
Please talk about the secrecy in Japan of which I read in your books; it is something we do not know much about in the West. In what other matters did you find the same secrecy?
The secrecy about Reiki and other (not only) spiritual matters in Japan is multi-facetted.
First, there are literally hundreds of small, medium and large religious groups outside of mainstream Buddhism and Shintoism. When some of these groups became too big and popular the government arrested their leaders and incarcerated them to avoid public uprisings. Many of these groups practiced healing and were (still are) worried about suppression from the government. Healing was outlawed in Japan in 1945 and can only be practiced by professional medical practitioners in public, even today. Therefore all groups that practice healing have to do so in secrecy – within their group, or else try to receive religious status from the government and then practice faith healing (the Japanese constitution allows religious freedom).
The second reason for ‘secrecy’ is practical; in Reiki it is believed that no one should receive only parts of the teaching because a fragment alone is not useful and may be misinterpreted. Imagine cutting up a picture into a thousand pieces and giving someone only a single piece. Those who have an honest desire to learn Reiki should be taught and instructed properly by a capable and certified teacher. The Reiki teaching is one organic whole that is made up of practical aspects, its history, Japanese philosophy and Reiju (initiation, literally ‘giving or granting the soul’, usually mistranslated as attunement).
But there is another aspect which we might take for secrecy. In Japanese society, which is incredibly structured, communication between two parties that do not know each other (yet), must always go through a mediator, someone who knows both of them already. Only once they are properly introduced to each other, they can talk or meet.
In my opinion this has a cultural background. In Japanese society there are two groups: the so-called in-group (uchi) and the so called out-group (soto). Whatever happens in the in-group stays with the members of that group and is not shared with outsiders.
Historically, for hundreds of years Japan was divided into countless dukedoms which fought each other violently. The only way to ensure safety was by forming small coherent groups which kept whatever they did to themselves. Whether the group is a family, a company, an English school, a tennis club or traditional Japanese art, the whole Japanese society is structured in this manner. It has nothing to do with Reiki in particular.
You have published ten books so far. Would you like to say something about them?
In order not to bore you, I will not talk about all the books – you can find the list on my author’s facebook page (FrankArjavaPetter). But a few words I will say. As research deepened, more and more information became available. Each time I wanted to retire from Reiki, because of the politics involved, a Japanese Reiki teacher dropped something new on my doorstep and the new original documents I received made me decide to write ‘one last book’. This has meanwhile become a standing joke between me and my publisher. The third book, the Usui Handbook, became a bestseller and has been translated in 22 languages. It sold over 150,000 copies worldwide and created the opportunity for me to teach all over the world. Nowadays, because of the internet, book sales have plummeted, but the word has gone out…
How have your books generally been received?
In the first few years it was difficult. The book reviews of my first three books were devastating, and it took me a few years to learn the art of not-reading-reviews! The voices of those who did not like what I had to say were much louder than those with positive feedback. This has changed meanwhile because the overpowering evidence that has been presented is unshakeable and has been accepted by now. The last book that is available in English is This is Reiki. In my opinion it is the best and the most comprehensive book on the subject. The last book I wrote, One with Reiki, has already been published in Germany and is in the process of being translated and published in English. This book is an in-depth study of the spiritual, cultural, religious and sociological roots of Reiki in Japan. Once we understand where Reiki comes from, suddenly all makes sense.
What have your books provoked and changed in the ‘Reiki world order’?
My first book shattered many beliefs. For one, spirituality mixed with large amounts of money is a toxic mixture. Reiki practitioners in the West were told that they had to pay 10,000 Dollars if they wanted to become a teacher. In Japan, however, there is no moral connection between Reiki and money. In fact, the founder himself used to give all treatments for free (as I do). The atmosphere between student, teacher and client is mutual respect – and respect is not for sale. Respect needs to be earned and that takes time, patience and trust… When I wrote that, some teachers got very upset – seeing their vested interests at stake.
Also, the fictitious ‘Christian’ character of Reiki has been taken apart in Reiki Fire and the books that followed. In the US it was taught that the founder of Reiki was a Christian priest, but nothing could be further from the truth. When many of my readers complained to their teachers that the history and practice techniques that they had learned from them were not correct ‘the soup began to boil over…’
As more and more historical data came to light, Chetna and I were able to share practical information and later on provide quality training. By now Reiki history and practice have been completely rewritten. Reiki is not a technique but a path to freedom. Now what do we do with this freedom? Be free!
Almost 20 years have passed after the publication of your first book, how have things settled?
The results of my research into the history of Reiki and its practice are so rock-solid that several scholars have used it as the basis for their Ph.D. thesis in comparative religion. Recently, a Japanese University and a museum have asked our cooperation, and through this the research has entered a new phase. For some of my colleagues it may have seemed as if I had a personal agenda with the founders of our Western Reiki traditions but actually I don’t. I am glad that now the research is being taken on by public agencies.
If you look back at your life as a Reiki Master and author, what are the aspects in your character that came out the strongest and have been strengthened? In short, what have you learned about yourself and the world we are living in?
When I became a sannyasin, Osho told me to never believe anything anyone says, including what he says. He suggested that I filter everything I experience through the wisdom of my own heart, and I have been following his advice ever since. Until I began with Reiki in 1992, I was unable to handle conflict very well. When the first clouds would appear, whether in relationships or in day-to-day life, I’d run away, considering myself to be a much better person than everyone else: fighting – I thought – was for idiots. After Reiki Fire was published, I realized that now was the time to stand up for my truth. In Rajneeshpuram, Osho changed my name from Anand Frank to Arjava which means ‘utmost authenticity’, one of the ten pious duties of the Jainas. Standing my ground became such a blessing; doubts have gone with the wind, feelings of guilt have disappeared and left me with a delicious simplicity – a sense of ‘no big deal’.
Would you again write that first book had you known about the consequences?
You cannot imagine what a fun journey this has been. If I had known the consequences, both on a personal and on a practical level beforehand, I would have said, “You have got to be kidding.” Life is so precious, and looking back at how it has disentangled itself, all that is left is love and gratitude.
I think that existence is kind in not letting us know what it has in store for us beforehand. Psychic development on the path alters that a bit, but this usually goes hand in hand with acquiring the strength to take it… It is my experience that a solid spiritual education – like what we receive from Osho – is the key for not losing sight of the real and for being able to act appropriately to what life asks of us.
Back to the present. Where do you live now and what work are you doing?
I live in Eressos on the Greek island of Lesvos where I feel completely free to be myself. The village is small, similar to the village that the comic heroes Asterix and Obelix live in. Some people call Eressos the Sedona of Greece. Incredible rock formations and wild moonscapes bear a stunning resemblance to Rajneeshpuram. Perhaps this is one reason why I love it here. The village is a colorful mixture of locals, expats, sannyasins and lesbians who all live together quite peacefully. I met my wife, Bhakti, here in 2002. We have two kids aged 12 and 8. I travel teaching mostly Reiki about half the year and spend the rest of the time at home with the family.
In Greek island villages sooner or later everyone receives a nickname which sticks to them and sometimes even to their descendants ‘forever’. Because I treat with Reiki the locals who have accidents or any kind of illness, I am known as the ‘German doctor’ or ‘The Wizard’.
Bhakti and I have a small training center, a Reiki Dojo, and in my free time I take care of our organic olive plantation and vegetable garden, write inspirational stories, poetry, and always another Reiki book…
Thank you, Arjava, for giving us this interview.
You are most welcome, Punya!
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