Takata and Distant (Remote) Initiation

Distant initiation is a controversial subject, especially among traditionalists. Yet, it is not without precedent, as shown below in evidence from Doris Duke’s archives. To have a meaningful discussion, let’s separate the use of remote initiation from the question of what is the best learning environment in which to start practicing Reiki.

Robert Fueston is a Reiki master and licensed acupuncturist with a Master degree in Library and Information Science. A well respected Reiki scholar, he has been researching the history of Reiki practice since 1996. He shares an important piece of his recent research.

Distant initiation, Robert Fueston at Duke archivesEvidence that Hawayo Takata Occasionally Taught Reiki Remotely
By Robert Fueston

My assistant and I were waiting impatiently for the archive to open when a fire alarm sent everyone scrambling to exit the library.

It was April 17, 2014, and I was at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University researching Hawayo Takata’s relationship with heiress Doris Duke.

I had learned about the archives from Justin Stein, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto who is writing his dissertation on the history of Reiki practice. After reading the online description of the archive’s content, I quickly made plans to drive seven-and-a-half hours to Duke University, hoping to unearth some unknown Mrs. Takata treasure to include in my upcoming book.

It was nearly an hour before the false alarm declaration cleared the way for us to enter the archive.

As a research librarian, I was familiar with university archives procedure. First we needed to show our government issued identification cards, i.e. a driver’s license, and then we placed our bags, pens, and personal belongings in a locker. Archives prohibit pens because you might accidentally put a mark on an item; pencils are provided. No bags are allowed to prevent anything being smuggled out.

An archives study area is typically a large open room containing lots of flat tables so the staff can see everyone and the archive materials you are working with.

Unlike a public library where you are free to wander the stacks and pull material off the shelf, archives are a closed stack system. That means you must register ahead of time as a researcher, and formally request the boxes containing the folders and files you want to examine. The archivist on duty doles out one box at a time for the researcher to examine.

While it is common knowledge that Mrs.Takata had known Doris Duke, the archives at Duke contain a wealth of information regarding their relationship.¹ I knew Ms. Duke had received Reiki treatment from Mrs. Takata, but was unsure if she had ever taken a class. Mrs. Takata’s letters to Ms. Duke document her to have been Mrs. Takata’s First and Second Degree student.

What really flabbergasted me was discovering Doris Duke had learned the Second Degree on the telephone. Excitement so thoroughly scrambled my thoughts, I had to re-read the documents again and again to be sure I understood correctly, and that Mrs. Takata did indeed occasionally teach students remotely. I had been under the impression that teaching Reiki remotely started after Mrs. Takata’s death.

In one letter to Ms. Duke, Mrs. Takata explained she sometimes taught on the telephone and gave remote initiations, or as Takata wrote in her letter, by “short wave” or “remote control.”²

In a letter postmarked December 19, 1978, Mrs. Takata reiterates that in a prior phone call, she had explained to Ms. Duke how to draw one of the second degree symbols. Mrs. Takata wrote that the symbol wouldn’t work without the initiation, which she could give remotely. Later, in a separate letter, Takata sent a copy of all three symbols to Ms. Duke through the mail, detailing the sequence of strokes for each symbol.

Mrs. Takata’s remote initiations in perspective

I have felt conflicted about releasing this information, lest it be taken as a precedent to justify remote teaching, or even online classes.

It is important to consider the context in which Mrs. Takata’s remote initiation and teaching occurred. Mrs. Takata explained that she only used remote initiations when it seemed absolutely necessary. In one letter to Ms. Duke, Mrs. Takata specified she had given remote initiations when the recipient was in the hospital or was far away and in obvious need. Clearly this way of teaching was the exception rather than the norm.

In Mrs. Takata’s time, there wasn’t a Reiki practitioner in every corner of the world as there is today; remote initiations may have seemed the best way, or the only way, to help in some circumstances.

Unfortunately, I found no information in the Doris Duke archives concerning the origin of remote initiations. Is that something Mrs. Takata learned from her teacher? Distant initiation is one of the details of Reiki history we might never know.

What we do know is that occasionally Mrs. Takata gave remote initiations in the context of teaching a student through telephone conversations.

1. I have legal permission via a signed contract from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Archives to publish these documents in my upcoming book due out this year.

2. Mrs. Takata’s Master student Barbara Weber was teaching remote initiation methods to her Master students in 1983 and possibly earlier. I have found no documentation regarding whether Barbara Weber learned remote initiation from Mrs. Takata.

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18 thoughts on “Takata and Distant (Remote) Initiation”

  1. In response to Robert’s reported ‘flabbergast”, I would have been more surprised if he had discovered that Takata had not ever done a “remote initiation”.

    Two of Takata’s often quoted sayings are “Practice, practice, practice” and “Let Reiki teach you”. Takata was, in my view, the very essence of an experienced and good student of the Reiki practice.

    To my way of thinking, to know the boundaries of what has been taught as the practice, and at the same time be willing to “prove” them is the hallmark of a “good student”.

    My personal practice was what led me (many years ago) to intuit that remote initiation was a logical extension of the distant treatment practice. It was not taught to me by someone else. I didn’t learn it. It was a knowing. My experience is that a clear and discernible effect resulted.

    I understood more fully the parameters of form as a result. Elements of physical touch, breath and presence that are intrinsic to an in-person initiation were brought into focus. Form became a place of wisdom and not a set of rules.

    I am also very clear when, and in what limited circumstances, I am willing to “bend” form, an exception from the norm, an intuited best practice.

    Takata was an ordinary human being (as are we all). For me, it is respectful and honouring to not to make more of her than she was. Whatever qualities she may have gained through this practice are ours to realise through the practice also.

  2. Christopher E Whitehurst

    Hi Pamela,

    You may not remember me as you hear from and talk to many many people. However I wrote you sometime back regarding how strongly I felt about the importance and necessity of one’s Reiki training via online classes leading to even receiving their practitioner certification. At that time you did not feel the same as I did. I see now that after some further investigation that you may have changed your views. I look forward to hearing from you regarding this. B

    1. I have no doubt that the optimal learning environment is to receive Reiki instruction in-person, in a group class given during 2-3 days which includes considerable in-class and at-home practice time. I do not support online Reiki practice learning, although online can be useful for continuing education.

  3. Thank you Phyllis for sharing your experience and deep knowledge with such integrity and balance. I chose not to share this posting on social media for one reason – for me it was very clearly a private correspondence between a very experienced master and her student. To share this information in the public domain without having the permission of both parties or their descendants, and without the benefit of having the full story seems dishonourable. I trust that Hawayo Takata knew more about Reiki than anyone else and just as any expert in their field is able to do, they can bend the bamboo without breaking it but this should not be taken as a signal that Mrs Takata taught anything other than oral tradition. For me, learning Reiki and being initiated in the traditional way gives me, amongst other things, the opportunity to walk my Reiki path and grow in my own way. I very much thank those who teach in the oral tradition for not making choices on my behalf.

    1. Feona, thank you for giving us that beautiful and very apt image of the level of expertise it takes to bend the bamboo without breaking it. Takata surely had that ability, as did Hayashi and Usui before her. Each participated profoundly in bringing Reiki practice both to a broader public in their own time, and into the future.

      None of us practice in isolation. The choices made by Reiki masters and practitioners of all lineages and practice styles affect the entire community, and the public perception of the practice, which shapes the future of Reiki practice.

      What if we each contemplated our choices in the context of bending the bamboo without breaking it?

      You wrote that sharing Mrs. Takata’s correspondence (which is in the public realm) “seems dishonorable,” and perhaps you are not alone in that feeling.

      What if we each had a commitment to investigating our discomfort in order to learn more about it? What something seems, might not be what it is.

      Continuing, relentless self inquiry is necessary for anyone who would develop the ability to bend the bamboo — keep the practice alive and relevant in each generation — without breaking either the practice, or the community.

  4. Phyllis Furumoto

    Since I have been sent this link by many people I feel compelled to comment on this release. I am not clear about the motivation of the release and the nature of the language. I am also continually irritated by the assumption that Mastery is about following Rules and being perfect. Mastery, in my opinion, is assessing the student and the situation and being open to teaching that student to the student’s need while supporting the system of the practice.
    Exceptions are not uncommon. I know several of the masters I have initiated who have employed something that Robert refers to “remote initiations” in moments in which the master deemed appropriate. This was not a “part of the practice” but a decision made by a master to serve Reiki, to serve the practice, and to serve the student.
    I believe the “disbelief” came from an assumption that the “remote initiations” do not “work.” I am not sure if this is true…..but those of you who believe that masters who practice through the internet, for instance, are not affecting change in their students need to revisit this belief.
    It seems believable after my many years of sending distant treatments that the profundity of initiation can be transmitted by a master. (The more years of practice and depth of experience most likely makes a difference as well.)
    However, this is not the practice of a master who is dedicated to maintaining the teaching of Reiki by oral tradition. This was the case of Hawayo Takata and other masters who have chosen to do this as an exception.
    The “remote initiation” was not a part of her practice of Reiki but a possibility in light of necessity.
    The relationship between Doris Duke has been up to now a private one. Very complicated and without our ability to understand the circumstances or personal feelings involved in their relationship.
    I find it distasteful that this relationship has been brought to light under the somewhat sensationalism of this internet communication. I know that I am old fashioned but the sacred conversations between a master and student, between old friends, and between business associates need to remain private.
    This instance gives way to a thought that I will not save these records or letters for others to delve into my conversations……my private relationships…..and the sacred decisions I make as a master.
    I keep them until the present as a way to build and remind myself of where i have come in relating to others. I will now burn them.
    Who knows what will be inferred by someone reading them many years later without the context of relationship, time, and means of communication?
    I would not want these relationships to be scanned, interpreted, nor sullied by someone who has his/her own motivation of being an expert, of being the source of information, or whatever this hidden motivation is.
    I am not in favor of our right to interpret others and to infer correctness.
    I am not saying this in a way to “get at Robert” through being vague. He and I have been in close communication in the last months around his “book.”
    What he is doing…..I believe is his business and what my response is to what he does is mine to communicate. He invites this because he is publishing these communications.
    There is a level of mastery that I ask of all reiki students to consider who Hawayo Takata was, that the telephone was not available at that time…..all the time, and her letters are private correspondence between a master and student.
    She did not teach “remote initiations” because these were not a part of her practice.
    Phyllis Furumoto

    1. Thank you for your comment, Phyllis.

      You had the great advantage of observing your grandmother, Hawayo Takata, over many years. The rest of the community does not have access to that experience.

      That is why I asked Robert to write the article, to give the broad, diverse Reiki community a glimpse of how Hawayo Takata, an experienced Reiki master to whom we all owe an unrepayable debt, whom we know to have been devoted to practice and oral tradition, approached the application of those values in individual situations.

      Distant initiation is a controversial topic in the Reiki community. Opinions regarding distant initiation, both pro and con, are too often made reflexively, without contemplation or sensitivity to the nuances that real life brings. This disclosure offers a powerful precedent for approaching each situation with careful reflection, so that the Reiki master might come to a balanced, compassionate response that is respectful of the practice and the people involved.

      My guess is you are not the only person who will brand this “sensationalism” — “somewhat” or otherwise — and find the article “distasteful.” I apologize for any offense taken; it is never my goal to offend.

      I completely agree with your statement, “I am not in favor of our right to interpret others and to infer correctness.” That’s why the article was written carefully to simply report the facts that are in the public domain, in the context of Robert’s personal experience, but without interpretation.

      I will not censor information which might have once been considered private, but which was put in the public domain and is relevant to the future of Reiki practice.

      I hope the article continues to stimulate discussion among Reiki practitioners and masters of diverse perspectives, so that we might pool our collective experience and wisdom to support us all as we make challenging choices, and perhaps expand our understanding of sacred along the way.

    2. thanks for your sharing, Phyllis.
      I can understand your point of view and your worry about the future and the willigness to burn personal conversations …
      and at the same time it makes me sad to see, that this seems to be nessecary.
      Im sure that Takata did know what she was doing and that she did it with integrity without hurting the system she was teaching … and that it is a kind of abuse if someone tries to make rules or general teachings out of it – which I experienced during the last weeks in different circumstances

  5. I was assisting with the research with Robert at Duke University . We were totally shocked to read what was written in the papers by Mrs. Takata. All that he writes is true. I appreciate his concern about sharing this information and hope that it we continue to teach in face-to-face class situation and not distantly with remote initations…. unless it’s a specific situation and cannot be done in person

  6. I know Robert and have a lot respect for him and his research.
    I have to admit I was very surprised by what he has discovered, it changes nothing for me and my Reiki practice, I teach as I was taught by my Master Wanja Twan. But I some concern about how the Reiki community may respond, I hope with thoughtfulness.

  7. Well…sounds interesting but ….. I do not see any proofs about Robert’s affirmations. I really think that a scan of the letters should be posted here just to confirm this fact.
    I read the post several times and especially the fragment “In a letter postmarked December 19, 1978, Mrs. Takata reiterates that in a prior phone call, she had explained to Ms. Duke how to draw one of the second degree symbols. Mrs. Takata wrote that the symbol wouldn’t work without the initiation, which she could give remotely. Later, in a separate letter, Takata sent a copy of all three symbols to Ms. Duke through the mail, detailing the sequence of strokes for each symbol.”
    That means that Ms. Duke took the training prior to that letter . Mrs. Takata had a great respect for symbols and those were are not shown until you you are not in a second degree class. She had a great respect regarding the symbols and his Reiki teacher dr. Hayashi. Mrs. Takata reveal the symbols and their using ONLY in Reiki class. This information is very well known by all Reiki Masters trained and initiated by Mrs. Takata.
    It is difficult to explained how to draw one of the second degree symbol if that person does not have the teachings and initiation for second degree and especially if she did not seeing the symbol before. You can explained to the phone how to remind the strokes for one of the second symbol only if that person saw the symbol before . “She could give the initiation remotely”….could does not means ” sure” or “she did it”. It can be a possibility but not a certain thing.
    It is interesting that Robert does not shown any proofs here and everybody should expecting him to release his book. For me this raise a question mark…why you did not showing your proofs here ? An answer could be that Robert is waiting that everybody should order his future book.
    An inconsistent article based on a lot of suppositions. Still waiting the proofs not just stories .

    1. Thank you for your comment, Jimmy, and for giving me the opportunity to clarify why the letters are not reproduced here. Robert’s permission from the Duke archives is specifically to publish copies of the letters one time, which understandably, given all the time Robert has devoted to researching and writing, will be in the book.

      Meanwhile, the letters are available to anyone who wants to do what Robert did — get himself to North Carolina — and in his article, Robert generously outlined the process to access archives to make it easier for anyone who is not a researcher.

      Given that there is evidence which is available to the public but cannot legally be published here, it is not reasonable to characterize the article as “inconsistent” and “based on a lot of suppositions.” Specifying the paper trail so that others can find evidence to evaluate on their own is the standard in academic research, and that standard has been met here.

  8. It is fascinating how in the era of internet and ubiquitous information about Reiki and pretty much everything else, Mr. Fueston finds something that is not being well know in the Reiki community or it has been kept secret until know.

    Thank you for sharing this research.

    1. And thank you for your comment. I don’t know that the information has been deliberately kept secret; I do know that not too many Reiki practitioners care about getting to the facts as much as Robert does.

      I asked Robert to share this research in the hopes of stimulating a respectful discussion about distant initiation and training as it is already offered as a primary training option on some websites, rather than a rare accommodation to unusual circumstances, as Mrs. Takata did.

      Please share this post widely so that more people can engage in the discussion.

  9. I find this story fascinating and look forward to reading the book!

    For me, there are two distinct areas of learning/teaching in Reiki. One arises from the commitment to myself, my practice and my teacher to teach as I was taught. The other arises from my practice as “Reiki teaches” me.

    My teacher refrained from telling me how to practice in “unusual” situations and said that she trusted that as a devoted practitioner, I would find my way, and that it wouldn’t necessarily be her way.

    So while I find this story really fascinating, I don’t experience it as an instruction to add distant initiation to my practice, or that somehow the teaching was withheld from me or forgotten. I believe it’s important to allow myself to develop my practice from a baseline of traditional teaching, to give my students the same opportunity, and to grow from there when required.

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