An Interview with Chris Marsh
Through contacts in Japan 10 or so years ago, Chris Marsh met some direct students of Mikao Usui and his experiences are often quoted in this regard. Here he talks about this 40 year spiritual journey which has led him from aspiring Methodist minister to shamanic Buddhist teacher. He says that we are all capable of healing the self, but often have simply forgotten how.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST EXPERIENCE OF REIKI?
The first time I studied Reiki, it was out of curiosity. Over the years I’ve had lots of experience of Japanese culture. But the first time I was exposed to Reiki it just wasn’t Japanese. There was an odd bit of Japanese language and reference to Japanese culture, but it felt too complex, it didn’t feel right, it didn’t have that flavour of understated elegance (Shibumi) that is the signature of everything Japanese. I studied Reiki 1 and 2 and Master with one teacher.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST EXPERIENCE OF BUDDHISM?
The roots of my conversion to Buddhism were sown when I was 16 to 17 and went to Japan for the first time. My martial arts teacher there was Buddhist and I found his personality very attractive. At the time, interestingly enough, I saw my own path as something very different. And at 18 I went to university to train as a Methodist minister. While there studying theology I took a course option on comparative religion. Jiyu-Kennett, an Englishwoman who had gone to Japan after the war and become a Zen Buddhist nun was one of the visiting lecturers. She was the first woman leader of a Japanese Zen order. I was bowled over by her. I wanted what she had.
I was also questioning a lot of stuff that I was being taught, having been looking at copies of codices, and gospel documents in Aramaic and Greek. I couldn’t see how what we had been taught had come from what I was reading. It was the take over of Christianity by Roman politics. I decided I didn’t want to be ordained. I finished the BA in Theology and decided to become a Buddhist. 30 years down the road that is where I am now. I’ve mainly studied Zen but have dabbled my toes in lots of Buddhist styles. Theravada Buddhism particularly spoke to me.Â In the last ten years I’ve taken more interest in the Japanese forms of Pure Land, Tendai, Shingon.
YOU MENTIONED YOUR JAPANESE MARTIAL ARTS TEACHER AS A KEY INFLUENCE IN THIS JOURNEY?
Yes. I’ve studied martial arts since I was seven years old in 1959. I joined a Judo club for two years then moved to Kendo and from that to working with live sword. My first teacher was English, but I decided that the only way to go further was to go to Japan, to find someone who could teach me the sword and the way of being a Samurai. So I went to Japan in the 60s as a teenager, on my own. I didn’t speak the language and I didn’t have a teacher. I had to find someone and convince them I was worthy of being taught. I found the teacher and convinced them to teach me by sitting outside their dojo for five days and nights without moving. In the end he capitulated. For the first month I simply swept the floor of the dojo and washed the students’ uniforms. After a month, the teacher then began to teach me. And it was he who sowed the seeds.
Martial arts have had a massive influence on me. It gave me self control. It taught me that the difference between life and death is separated by a split second.Â Martial arts teach you respect and discipline. It teaches you your strengths and weaknesses. You also learn about energy and the mobilisation of energy. You develop the senses that we have other than the obvious ones.
WHAT INFLUENCE HAS BUDDHISM HAD ON YOUR LIFE?
Buddhism helped me to come to come to terms with events in my life in a way that I couldn’t otherwise have done. It has enabled me to deal with the whole process of grief and bereavement in a very calm way. I came to a point where it was not grief or loss; it was being gratitude that those I had lost had been a part of my life.
WHAT ARE YOUR LINEAGES IN REIKI?
There are three I could claim. I could claim Usui and Suzuki san. But this is not a true lineage as she is a woman and there was a limit to what she was taught.
My true spiritual lineage has 16 names in it. Included in it is the person who I have reason to believe taught Usui. It is closer to the source, rather than closer to Usui and it is not a Reiki lineage.
My Western Reiki lineage includes Bethel Phaigh and William Rand.
WHAT HAVE BEEN THE MAJOR POINTS OF YOUR JOURNEY?
Six years ago I had a eureka moment. I was initiated into a form of spiritual practice and it was all in there. I managed to go through the lineage records and found where Usui had been the student of a teacher and suddenly it all made sense.
From then on, I’ve followed this path. It isn’t Reiki. It’s older than Reiki. It has a purity and simplicity that Western Reiki doesn’t have. It isn’t about a three day course and being a master. It’s about learning to master yourself over a number of years. That’s where I am.
Trying to find out about Usui’s life is like chasing shadows. He’s mentioned in only a handful of public documents in Japan. Finding how he got to where he got to has been the work of the last ten years.
DOES IT MATTER WHAT TYPE OF RELIGIOUS PRACTICE USUI FOLLOWED?
I think Usui managed to distil the elements of Tendai and Shingon Buddhism. At the time of Usui and to a certain extent now, sectarianism in Japan meant nothing. You could be Shinto and Buddhist for example. There’s no paradox. You hedge your bets. The differences between Shingon and Tendai are subtle. Shingon is more mystical. Tendai was the state religion; it had more ritualistic trappings. There’s a difference between methods and personalities, that is between Kukai and Saicho. But they both learnt from the same people and studied at the same places.
But temple Buddhism is not living Buddhism. True Buddhism is what people experience every day in the teacher student relationship where the teachings are given. The essence of where Reiki came from is in the practice that still continues where Buddhism and Shinto and shamanism meet.
I don’t think that Usui was an extraordinary man. I believe he was an ordinary man who had extraordinary experiences. In the same we don’t become special because we practise Reiki, we’re special anyway.
WHAT, TO YOU, IS THE ESSENCE OF REIKI?
To create balance where there is chaos.
Getting to know yourself is the heart of everything. It’s the heart of Reiki. Ego has no place in Reiki, if there is no stability, calm, peace, then leave.
Of course, when you lift the lid on yourself you can find a can of worms. But you can also find lots of things there that you can change.
WHAT IS THE ESSENCE OF A REIKI PRACTITIONER?
There is a perception that a Reiki practitioner is a healer and I would dispute that. The Reiki practitioner is a facilitator of healing. We can muddle the role of the Reiki practitioner and wilfully misunderstand it.
It is the client who heals themselves in combination with their nature. The Reiki practitioner helps gives permission for this. People are often accustomed to look outside for solutions. Reiki practitioners give them permission to look within and heal the self. We are all capable of healing ourselves. We’ve just forgotten how to do it.
If a practitioner has the attitude you’ve come to me and I’m going to help you make it better’ they create karma.Â None of us has the right to interfere in any one else. Everything we do in life has an effect.
Our job is to be open, to facilitate, to guide, but not to do. When a person messes around with somebody’s energy they can create transference and clients can develop inappropriate attachments.
There’s a really good story about a Zen teacher.
This teacher has a garden in temple. There are monks and students from America. The teacher wanted to move a rock which had been there for 1000s of years. The monks and students tried to move it but had no chance.
The students went away for a break. When they came back the rock had moved. They could see the tracks they rock had taken and asked the teacher how he had done it. His reply was simple: I asked the rock to move.
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ENERGY?
Energy is what makes everything. Bricks, mortar, trees, animals. The whole planet, the power behind creation,.
It’s the driving force and cohesive force behind everything. By all means learn how to use it. Learn from someone who knows how to do it, correctly and safely. When we step into the energetic world, we step into the place where things are created.
WHAT DO YOU TEACH AT THE MOMENT?
Buddhism. Shamanic Buddhism. It’s a tradition that goes back to the roots of Buddhism in Japan and that combines elements of Buddhism and Shinto. It’s hard work and parts of the practice are physically demanding. Quite a lot of the teaching and practice wherever possible is done outside in nature.
The teachings are a direct transmission. Nothing is written and it’s not a step ladder.
This is the opposite. It’s a fluid practice. There are no levels or set hoops. There is an awareness of the relationship between teacher and student. Two students who start at the same time will grow in their own way and at their own speed and their practice will be individual to them and reflective of their individual gifts. It eradicates one-upmanship.
People can be taken a long way out of their comfort zone but it is a huge lesson in awareness, that whatever we do affects our world and our environment. We work with the elements with the Self as the sixth and final element. Everything you do has to be done in a state of awareness.
HOW WOULD YOU RELATE ALL THIS TO REIKI?
I would say that whatever people do in Reiki and in life should be done from a point of compassion. That it is important that don’t mix up the needs of other people with your own desires. The compassionate thing is to sit and listen and create a space in which the person can just be. People can find life a struggle. You just create an environment in which they can be. They can sit and relinquish the pressure that makes life uncomfortable for them. Hopefully they can see what they need to change.
WHAT DO THINK SHOULD BE INCLUDED IN REIKI TRAINING?
An understanding that sometimes not doing anything is the correct action. And the idea that when we give Reiki the only intention should be that the client gets whatever they need and not what we think they need. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
The politics and infighting and sectarianism and protectionism that we see in modern Reiki fills me with sadness. They’re not what it’s all about. There are too many people with a heavy financial, emotional and personal investment in their version of the truth.
Something that really gets to me is the fact that people treat Reiki as something that can be bought and sold.Â Personally I feel it’s immoral to charge money for spiritual training. I don’t think people should be asked to pay for enlightenment. It goes against the ethos. People who treat Reiki and new forms of Reiki as just another business are no better than merchants. To me, they are devoid of all spirituality.
WHAT IS THE MOST EXTRAORDINARY THING YOU HAVE EVER SEEN?
Probably the most important and significant thing was when I was teaching a group and managed to get them to see that when they gave Reiki to someone they didn’t have to physically do anything. That the intention, â€œThat the person get whatever they needâ€ was sufficient.
You do find people who are healers, who are capable of simply impossible physical feats and who can transcend the usual and normal. I feel it’s because they open a gateway within, between themselves and every other living form, and that gateway enables them to perceive things, and take action, in a very different way.