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Book Review: Reiki: Hawayo Takata's Story by Helen J. Haberly

Yadira rifles through this story of Hawayo Takata only to find that the book isn't really about what you might expect... It's less, yet so much more! Confused? Read the review!

Book Review by Yadira / Lake Forest, California / April 09 2008

Front cover of Reiki: Hawayo Takata's Story by Helen J. Haberly Enlarge Image

Front cover of Reiki: Hawayo Takata's Story by Helen J. Haberly

Copyright of the author of the work

Review of Reiki: Hawayo Takata's Story by Helen J. Haberly

Hawayo Takata has been something of an enigma in the world of Reiki: some have nothing but praise for her, others question some of her practices, but almost all are universally thankful for the part she played in spreading Reiki around the world.

Now, I confess that this is another one of those books that I've had for quite some time now, but I thought it would be fun to write down my first impressions of it here for you to read; they haven't changed much, so I think it's appropriate. When I first picked up this book, my motives for buying it were simply to learn more about Hawayo Takata in the face of all the controversy surrounding her, and given the apparent closeness of the author to the lady in question, I thought it would provide me with a very insightful look at her story. By the time I closed the back cover, I distinctly recall that I had been impressed by what I'd read, but for some entirely unexpected reasons, and this is where I shall begin my review...

From the title of the book, “Hawayo Takata's Story”, you might expect to have in your hands a book about the story of Hawayo Takata. Well, this is true in part. The book does contain the aforementioned story, but it is told and finished with during the first third of the book.

Hawayo K. Takata Enlarge Image

Hawayo K. Takata

Photograph by Gunter Baylow

From the back cover (and from additional references within), you might expect this book to have been written by someone who was particularly close to Hawayo Takata: “Helen J. Haberly... tells the story as it was given to her by Hawayo Takata, her teacher and friend” reads the back cover, and “In her visits to the Pacific Northwest I came to know Hawayo Takata both as a teacher and friend, and when in 1980 she asked me to write her life story with Reiki, I was honored to do so” reads the preface. On reading the book however, I was disappointed to find that there were no interesting stories or anecdotes arising, as you might expect, from the author having shared a close friendship with Takata. Indeed, what is told appears to be solely from the perspective of a student who once attended Takata's classes. Opinions are offered, but it is hard to shake the feeling that they are drawn simply from general observation and familiarity rather than anything much more than that. (You won't for example find anything along the lines of “Takata always used to say to me such and such”, or “one evening over dinner this happened”, or “Takata and I were once doing xyz when...”.)

So if like me, you were hoping to get a particularly insightful perspective from someone who genuinely knew Takata well, then this sadly is not something that is in evidence within the pages of this book. Perhaps the author chose not to include the more personal aspects of her relationship with Takata, or perhaps someone in the book publisher's marketing department chose to make more of the bond between the author and Takata than there might really have been — after all, it is easy to consider someone as a friend without truly knowing them that well. If it is the latter, then it is a real shame because the book has more than enough to make it stand on its own two feet without the use of such unnecessary ploys.

So if the opening words of this review paint a somewhat puzzling picture, what do we have in our hands then?

Well, believe it or not, still a real gem of a book!

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Let me first say that this is a short book (112 pages), so do not expect to come away with an in–depth study of the story of Hawayo Takata from reading this — even the author makes it clear that “this is a story — not a history — as Hawayo Takata told it”. Yet despite being bite–sized, it remains a thoroughly engaging read and well worth digesting. Here's why:

Firstly, of course, there is the story of the life of Takata as she herself told it to her students. It is a fascinating read on several levels. Firstly, there is no denying that this is a very well told and heart–warming tale. The language used is reminiscent of the best fairytales, and yes, in places it is hard to ignore that events do appear to take on an overly fanciful or romanticized hue, but even so it remains both an uplifting and inspiring story; one of faith overcoming adversity through tragedy then joy. Secondly it is intriguing simply because of the insights it provides into Takata's life: we are treated to peeks into her young childhood, experience the joy and the tragedy she found later in marriage, feel her anguish at the debilitating illnesses she faced, and ultimately, we follow her down the path that all of these events put her on: to the clinic of Chujiro Hayashi in Japan, and to becoming a Reiki Master who would go on to heal and teach so many others.

Chujiro Hayashi Enlarge Image

Chujiro Hayashi

From an uncredited source

But to me, the story is even more special simply because of the fact that all of the “little white lies” or “embellishments” remain present and intact within it; all of the things that have now been verified from independent research as not having been quite true are there. (For those that do not know, this includes such things as portraying the founder of Reiki, Mikao Usui, as a Christian rather than a Buddhist; promoting Reiki teaching as an oral rather than a written tradition; and many other such discrepancies.) Some argue that these changes were made on purpose to make Reiki more acceptable to Western tastes and perceived culture, while the more skeptical say it was simply for Takata's personal gain as a Reiki Master who undoubtedly charged very high fees. While few would argue that she was not a woman who knew very well how to go about achieving her goals, which in itself is an admirable quality, questions do arise as to where exactly she drew the lines between business success and the benefit of others. Whatever the true case might have been, while reading the story I couldn't help trying to spot all of the discrepancies and thinking about what Takata's true motives might have been. For example, did Dr. Hayashi really end his own life in the mystifying and almost hauntingly romantic manner in which Takata portrays it, or is it more likely that the ceremony itself would in truth have been the highly honorable and traditional Japanese method of ritual suicide, hara–kiri (or seppuku)? As a Japanese woman telling her story, how would I have described such things to Americans in the wake of World War II and the attacks on Pearl Harbor?

Hawayo Takata and Chujiro Hayashi c. 1938 Enlarge Image

Hawayo Takata and Chujiro Hayashi c. 1938

From an uncredited source

All of these things added immensely to my reading of this part of the book.

But there are other treats too.

The next part of the book serves as a very clear description of what Reiki is on the part of the author. It really is a joy to find something like this written in such clear and easy–to–understand language. Because it is concise and to the point, it also makes for a very good introduction to Reiki for anyone that has not previously been introduced to it.

 “Reiki means Universal Life Energy and we are all composed of this energy. Everyone can use this energy for healing — and I can teach you how!” 

— Hawayo Takata

But the real gem in my view is left until the final third of the book. Collected here are short stories or anecdotes that Hawayo Takata used to tell her students as part of her teaching. Each describes how a particular ailment or illness was treated using Reiki, and together they give a fascinating insight into how Takata went about healing those who came to see her. So we get to discover not only what kind of Reiki treatments Takata recommended for different illnesses, but we also get to read about each case in Takata's own words and writing style. This last aspect in itself gives us additional insights into the way that she taught, and to a certain extent, also into her way of thinking. True, it is entirely possible that these stories were colored with the same brush that painted her life story, but this in itself is revealing, and simply for the insights this provides, I would buy this book on the strength of this last section alone.

So where does all this leave us, then?

Well, as an account of Takata's own life story and her rise to prominence in the world of Reiki, what is present appears to be reasonably complete. Where it is lacking is toward the latter years of Takata's life. The detail in the account begins to fade some time after the events of World War II, and the last decade or so is covered only very briefly. It appears as though the author either did not to have access to relevant information, or perhaps was not afforded the time to collect it — by the author's own admission, Takata sadly went into transition before the manuscript for the book could be completed. Perhaps this also then is the reason why the content of the book appears to be mixed and not solely about what is advertised on the covers.

As an insight into Takata's way of teaching from the many collected anecdotes, which we are told are in her own words and writing style, I think this is priceless.

To conclude, this makes a great read for anyone with an interest in the life of Hawayo Takata, and in particular for those with an inquisitive interest in her account of established events. In addition, and on account of the author's clear writing style and concise explanations, it also doubles as a wonderful, easy–to–read, and uplifting introduction to Reiki for anyone wanting to know more about the subject. If you have an inquisitive mind, can set aside the slightly misleading title, and simply enjoy the surprise content, you are in for a treat!

I like it!

About Reiki: Hawayo Takata's Story by Helen J. Haberly

Full Title:
Reiki: Hawayo Takata's Story
Author:
Helen J. Haberly
Publisher:
Archedigm Publications (June 1990)
ISBN:
0-944135-06-4

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