Reiki: The Five Precepts (Gokai – 五 戒) – 4th Precept: Actualization

Just for today:
Don’t hold on to anger
Don’t focus on worry
Honor all those who came before
Work hard on self-improvement
Be kind to all living things
– Reiki Center App, Windows Phone

– My shortened mantra of the precepts

It’s been a couple years since the last entry in this series. To be honest, this current post daunted me, and at the time, I put it off as I had a lot of other ideas to write. However, my reiki posts have resonated a lot with followers of this site. There are regularly many who read these posts, and for them, I will continue discussing the last two precepts of Usui-sama’s practice. May this help guide them with their own engagement with the path.

The fourth precept is usually translated as something along the lines of “work hard” or “work diligently”. This has always seemed the clunkiest of the precepts to me. The term “work” seems like an earthy, money-driven concept, or one of bodily toil, rather than commitment to spiritual improvement. In this, I merely observe from my own perspective — outlining my own understanding and associated concepts with the term “work”. It may or may not be lighter or heavier of a concept for you, but I have a sense that there are many who would share my hesitance at this translation.

So what do we make of this? An engaged practice is difficult. It is work in that sense. We could think of this then more as: practice diligently. Ane what brings diligence to a Buddhist practice (recall that Usui was a Tendai monk)? Mindfulness, commitment, continuing to try moment by moment throughout the day without judging yourself for when you come up short. Instead, you merely refocus on the task at hand, when your mind or attention wanders. Thus, we could rephrase this as: practice mindfully with engagement and an open heart.

If we add one more piece of understanding to this, we’ll get to what I mean by “actualization” in my shortened form. Buddhism speaks often of upaya — skillful means. It’s an engagement that fits the situation, responding to it with connection and compassion. This responsiveness does not necessarily fit some greater theoretical technique handed down by a master; rather, it’s a pure presence of being one with the situation. I find this to shed light on the related (in my view) idea of wu wei from Taoism. Wu wei is often translated as inaction, non-action, or not doing. However, in delving into Taoism, it becomes clear that it’s better understood as action that conforms with the natural flow of situations; it’s in this sense that we can get closer to being like water, as Lao Tzu counsels us to do in an early chapter.


“The best are like water” – Lao Tzu (trans. Red Pine)

“Actualization” is a term that I got from a translation of Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō from the famous passage Genjo-koan . I was struck by an enigmatic passage at the end in which a monk explains the nature of wind being everywhere around the world while fanning himself. This is the true koan aspect of this chapter, and I honestly cannot say that I’m certain I understand it still. However, I take from it that the situation at hand is a hot summer’s day, and though in the abstract, the wind is an ongoing thing of the world that will never end and goes everywhere, in the concrete of this moment, the summer heat and still calls for the engaged action of fanning. If we take this metaphorically, our lives come up with moment after moment for awareness, connection, and compassion, but this requires us being present and mindful within each of those moments, not grasping onto any ideology or conceptual system with our heads in the clouds; rather, here, in this moment, we can be open and responsive instead of active (which I think of as controlling events to meet one’s own ego-driven desires). This is what it takes to actualize, and in actualizing, one responds to each moment — this is that diligent practice above.

May this discussion bring you new understanding of the precepts and how to practice them.


Previous Reiki: The Five Precepts Post – 3rd Precept: Gratitude

For those compelled by that connection with wu wei and water from the Tao Te Ching, here is chapter 8 from Red Pine’s translation. Read this with all the ideas of this post in mind; it resonates well with them all:

The best are like water
bringing help to all
without competing
choosing what others avoid
thus they approach the Tao
dwelling with earth
thinking with depth
helping with kindness
speaking with honesty
governing with peace
working with skill
and moving with time
and because they don’t compete
they aren’t maligned


Tao a Day – Verse 8: In Accordance with Nature

The best way to live
is to be like water
For water benefits all things
and goes against none of them
It provides for all people
and even cleanses those places
a man is loath to go
In this way it is just like Tao

Live in accordance with the nature of things:
Build your house on solid ground
Keep your mind still
When giving, be kind
When speaking, be truthful
When ruling, be just
When working, be one-pointed
When acting, remember–timing is everything

One who lives in accordance with nature
does not go against the way of things
He moves in harmony with the present moment
always knowing the truth of just what to do – Trans. Jonathan Star

For comparison:

The best are like water
bringing help to all
without competing
choosing what others avoid
they thus approach the Tao
dwelling with earth
thinking with depth
helping with kindness
speaking with honesty
governing with peace
working with skill
and moving with time
and because they
don’t compete
they aren’t maligned – Trans. Red Pine


Although these two translations have some differences, I think the message is the same. The best way to live is one that flows along with the changes of life being able to adapt with them (“without competing” “in accordance with the nature of things”). Such a way benefits all by moving in accordance with them, rather than fighting against all out of self-interest. Notice, however, that this flexibility, receptivity you might say, does not mean that you don’t act–being dragged along with the flow. Rather, you act with virtue, straightforwardness, and a simplicity of purpose. For instance: “When speaking, be truthful” (“speaking with honesty”). Speech is meant to communicate, that means sharing the truth with others, not holding back and competing by using words to promote your own self-interest through deceit. Thus, speak to speak: speak with honesty. The same follows for the others. Of these two translations, Red Pine worked hard at compiling the most authentic rendition of the text (what we have is based on various copies hundreds of years after the original, which is lost) and translating that quite close to the words (not poetically). As such, I find Jonathan Star’s take of “thinking with depth” and turning it into “Keep your mind still” interesting. This fits well with the entirety of the Tao Te Ching and Taoism’s emphasis on seeing the Tao rather than conceptual thinking. Thought then, should get to the real heart of things, the Tao, which means keeping the mind still from the distractions and divisions of conceptual thought. However, I find the “governing with peace” of Red Pine a bit more interesting than “When ruling, be just”–“justice” is an impossibly difficult concept (just look at the history of philosophy, such as Plato’s “Republic” if you think I’m off). Who can say what justice is? Thinking of this could create endless discourse of conceptual analysis. However, governing with peace is more in line with the intuitive understanding of the Sage, seeing what fits in accordance with the nature of things and moving along with it, as water does.

Our takeaway: Live in accordance with the nature of things, with the flexibility and sustaining nature of water. This opens the way of “doing without doing” – wu wei, which doesn’t mean inaction, rather appropriate action: speaking fully, working fully, etc. It should be pointed out that being able to act so deftly comes from the sight of the Tao, the ability to see the way of things is necessary to move in accordance with them. Furthermore, moving with the way of things not only meets no resistance, it helps the whole as well: Water “benefits all things” (“bringing help to all”). In these points, we are reminded of the importance of intuitive insight in Taoism alongside a simple compassion found in working with Tao, and we can see the resonance with the prajna (knowledge of the way things are) of Buddhism and the skillful action that comes in acting from that knowledge in showing compassion to all, rather than pursuing your “self”.

May this help you find the Way.


Water’s Flux

Indigo waters gently stir
Under a night sky, black as emptiness
Foggy lights behind – the only luminescence
Ripples gently skim the surface,
Lapping at the dock’s beams
Lip, lup, lap, lup…

The water shimmers as it moves
Undulations in dim, pale light
A glittering, indigo, velvet flow
With each lap, the lake changes,
Water moves, dirt and particles shift
With every moment, fluctuation

The lake remains, but
It is imperceptibly different
I meditate – looking on the splendor
Of flux, of impermanence
As each ripple rolls toward me
Breathing in and out
Changing microscopically
With the lake
The “I” that appears the same
Just as the lake seems constant