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How Important is the Fourth Symbol (DKM) in Reiki?

Yes, I know – this is can be hot topic for people.

I wade into this discussion because there are some very passionate views on the subject. On one hand there are the pro-DKM folks and on the other non-believers.

Frank Arjava Petter has been providing valuable insights into the world of Reiki for many years, through his workshops, books and newsletters. He first learned a Western style of Reiki in 1993 and started studying a Traditional style of Reiki (Jikiden) with Chiyoko Yamaguchi in 1998.

While this DKM controversy has been brewing for some time it was his latest newsletter from January 2012, volume 34 that really got people fired up.

Question 6: Do you use the Reiki Master symbol in traditional Reiki?

Answer: In traditional Reiki this symbol does not exist and there is no need for a “master symbol” because the title “master” is not used. What is used instead is the title “Shihan”, which means teacher/instructor and has strictly technical connotations. The so- called master symbol is and was neither used by the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai, nor in the Hayashi Reiki Institute. I showed the symbol to one of the six Shihans of the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai, Ogawa Sensei in 1995, and he had never seen it. Later on Chiyoko Sensei confirmed the same. Hayashi Sensei did not teach it. It is possible that the master symbol was introduced to Reiki by Iris Ishikuro Sensei, a cousin of Takata Sensei who was a member of the Johre fellowship. Originally the symbol is a Zen Buddhist term and is widely used in Japanese spirituality, but as I said earlier it has no relevance in Reiki.

However, on Mr. Petter’s website Reiki Dharma English page (link no longer active) – under the Frequently Asked Questions, he addresses the question of “How many Reiki symbols are used in Japan?” With the response being – the three symbols of the second degree. The master symbol is apparently used sparingly.

I would have to think that the Reiki Dharma website (2000-2010) specifically the FAQ page hasn’t been updated to reflect his view of January 2012. Note: this is an observation not a critique.

My first exposure to the DKM question was in a workshop with Hiroshi Doi the founder of Gendai Reiki. Mr. Doi was fortunate to make the acquaintance of Mrs. Koyama a member of the Usui Reiki Gakkai. Few of us in the West were aware that this society even existed as they are very private and seldom admit outsiders. Through his association with the Gakkai, Doi-san was able discuss Reiki with then President Mrs. Koyama and senior practitioners. It was during one of these discussions that DKM was mentioned. The Gakkai said they were not aware of this symbol or its mantra and therefore didn’t use it.

The shock and gasps coming from the Western attendees at this workshop was auditable. How is it possible that the Gakkai wouldn’t know the Master symbol? Were the senior members of the Gakkai even Masters at all? Doi-san introduced the concept of DKM as a state of mind or even a state of being – it begs the question “how on earth does one attain enlightenment?”

At this same workshop Doi-san introduced to us the concept of symbols just being training wheels – that once we truly understood the nature of these vibrational signatures we would no longer feel the need to either draw them or alternately say them. Radical thoughts indeed!

I came home from this workshop and shared these views with my Reiki colleagues and students. Some were open to these novel concepts while others found the concepts so foreign that it was not possible for them to make sense of any of it.

As a Westerner, I don’t know much about Japanese culture or know many Japanese folks to ask them about these things. In my mind as Usui-sensei was well versed in a variety of energy therapies and religious practices, it would be natural for him to be able to connect with the energetic signature of Enlightenment. We are told that it was because of this connection that Reiki itself came into being. When Usui-sensei started teaching Reiki to others some students may have been able to connect to the energy of Enlightenment quite easily while others with a more analytical mind found it harder. For my way of thinking creating symbols and mantras gave the minds of these students something to ‘do’ while doing nothing.

Rightly or wrongly, these thoughts felt quite logical. But I have now discovered they are a little off the mark.

The next time I heard of a Master not using DKM was with regard to Mrs. Yamaguchi the co-founder of Jikiden Reiki. At the time the Reiki world on the internet expressed surprise that she didn’t know this symbol or mantra. Some people were very unkind in Reiki chat groups regarding the authenticity of Mrs. Yamaguchi’s lineage and claims. Once again the Reiki world was polarized by this knowledge.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with either having this symbol or not. Being blessed by an attunement or reiju with the embodiment of this spiritual energy will not make me a ‘Master’ – I will not stop being a mortal female human and become an avatar, or gifted spiritual teacher like Buddha or Jesus. Knowing or having the symbol and mantra of DKM is not like a majick wand that will turn toads into princes or lead into gold. This last stage of learning Reiki has been referred to as ‘mystery teaching’ or as Doi-san says “Usui-sensei’s essence of Reiki-ho – Master’s understanding and teaching of Reiki” . [Modern Method of Reiki Healing - Iyashino Gendai Reiki-ho page 36, 1999]

From this sentence the Master in question is Usui-sensei himself and his teachings: the Secret Method for Inviting Happiness. Reiki is the spiritual/physical technique he developed.

Many years ago, in an effort to understand the cultural context of Japan in the 1920's, lead to a scouring of the internet to discover any books on Japanese Buddhism. The book written by Sir Charles Eliot and published in 1935, seemed to be what I was looking for, it was a Western person’s interpretation of Buddhist history and it’s sects in Japan. The book was an interesting read in the sense that it showed Victorian bias, and how Sir Charles didn’t understand why the Japanese did what they did. You may be wondering what this has to do with the DKM question. Lots!

My family ethnic background is English so I will use this as an example. Like Sir Charles, when reading or visiting any culture not my own, my experience is tainted with cultural bias of my heritage and upbringing. In order for me to make sense of something I don’t understand, I view things from a point of reference that I do know. For instance, I was brought up in a Christian household. The concept of God was a deity – an external being – a Heavenly Father who lived in heaven and would judge my deeds (good or bad), and dispatch punishment upon my death. I came to fear God just as I did my birth father, as he too judged my deeds (good or bad) and dished out earthly justice.

If I were to go to Japan or any other non-Christian country, I would take these same religious ideas with me where ever I went. So when I would see a fierce Yaksha demon like the Fudo-Myo or a hungry ghost – I would instantly be afraid and equate it to Christian Hell. When in fact this is not quite true. Fudo-Myo (Acala) is known for using his sword to cut away ‘passion and false knowledge’. This may not sound like much but this ‘Immovable and Wrathful Mantra King’ also symbolizes the true, pure bodhichitta. Bodhichitta is a Buddhist term relating to awakened mind or even - mind of enlightenment – someone who wants to relieve the suffering of others.

In my mind this is what we in the West have done with Reiki, we have infused Usui-sensei’s Japanese Spiritual Healing Art with ideas and concepts not valid in Japanese society. Japanese natives who have a firm grasp on the cultural dynamics of their society feel that having a symbol and/or mantra to express the innate understanding of Enlightenment is very strange. Their understanding of enlightenment started in childhood learning that ‘spirit’ or Kami is in everything, including themselves and cannot be divisible – it’s like the air which surrounds us. In other words every molecule is sacred.

After being a Reiki practitioner and a teacher for some time (17 yrs in 2012), I only now have a rudimentary understand of this view-point. Knowing this information was just that a cognitive mental exercise, now with deeper awareness it has been internalized to a certain degree. Reiki as spirit energy is not something that is outside of ourselves, it is something innate within us.

With a Western mindset a Reiki Master is taught to ‘connect’ students to the Reiki energy – I used to use the garden hose analogy – an external activity which is to stimulate an internal change. What if we were to think of this in another way. What if.. the Reiki Master through the process of performing reiju or an attunement reminds this spirit energy which already exists in each once of us that it can express itself externally? We, the client, student, Reiki Master are already connected – we’ve just forgotten. By remembering, I am in harmony and oneness with the Divine, Source (whatever name you believe in) as a Reiki practitioner my ego is out-of-the-way and I help my client or student remember they are part of this wholeness too.

No longer do I seek the path of enlightenment outside myself, it is an inward journey to connect to a Spirit Essence already within me. Each one of us has this ability to connect, we just have to remember. So to get back to my original question “How important is the Fourth Symbol (DKM) in Reiki”? It is a mnemonic device or tool to seek the answers from within.

Thank you for sharing this journey. :)

Originally posted in Aug 26 2012 - revised in 2023

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