A quiet residential street a few blocks northwest of the U.S. Embassy in the western San José district of Pavas is home to the Johrei Center Costa Rica. According to Miguel Iano de Andrade, the center’s minister, Johrei, which best translates as “purification of the spirit,” is a non-touch healing method developed by Mokichi Okada, a Japanese businessman whose divine revelations in the 1930s and ’40s led him to develop a broad philosophy and accompanying practices that resulted in the creation of the Church of World Messianity, a new religion founded by Okada in 1935.
Meishu-sama, as Okada is also known, desired to bring spiritual practice and awareness in line with technological and material advances. Humans have struggled for millennia to satisfy their basic material needs, and yet spirituality lags far behind, Okada said in his writings. “A person’s life does not belong to the material world but in its true essence is of the spirit,” he wrote.
As civilization emerges from a “dark period” and prepares to enter into a messianic age, humans must prepare themselves spiritually by harmonizing their minds, spirits and bodies, Okada taught. Johrei was the method divinely revealed to Okada that would jump-start this process by allowing people to recapture their inherently divine nature.
Eliminating illness, conflict and unhappiness from earth is the overarching mission of the Johrei Fellowship, as the church is also known. The group is led today by Okada’s grandson, Kyoshu-sama.
Okada’s goal, starting with fostering inner harmony in people, was a gradual expansion of beauty and harmony throughout the entire world. As part of this divinely inspired mission, he created “prototypes” of the messianic age: In Japan, three sacred gardens and two large art museums are all open to the public.
Drawing on Christianity, Shintoism, Buddhism and Confucianism, as well as philosophy, science and the fine arts, Okada’s philosophy asks, “Where is truth to be found? In its pure and unadorned state, nature is truth. The sun always rises in the east and sets in the west, and every person exists physically by breathing, eating and drinking,” in a collection of his writings published by the U.S. Izunome Association in 2009. A prayer ceremony I participated in at the center in Pavas included water, salt and rice, three fundamental elements for human life.
Okada promoted a type of organic farming infused with gratitude and love. Flower arranging, known in Japan as ikebana, is another way to outwardly express beauty and harmony, and volunteers in Pavas create flower arrangements for the center’s otherwise unadorned wooden altar.
To receive Johrei, you sit face-to-face with a trained Johrei-giver who directs divine light by holding his or her palm toward your front and then back for a total of 15 to 25 minutes. Receiving Johrei on a regular basis will have positive effects on your health, mental and spiritual state, according to the church’s followers and leaders.
De Andrade, 33, a native of Brazil, greets those who come in by listening to their problems if they need to talk, followed by giving Johrei. As the process evolves, he gives people small tasks to do at home. One of these might be to inspire 10 people to thank you each day; this lessens egotism and encourages the flow of gratitude, de Andrade said. Gratitude is what drives the Church of World Messianity, which has an estimated 2 million members in 80 countries.
A series of 50 Johrei sessions received over a two-month period will normally bring about a change in someone’s physical, emotional and/or spiritual state, de Andrade said. These individual “miracles” are, for de Andrade, the “most interesting” things that happen in his work. Most of these people go on to receive training to impart Johrei to others.
Studying Meishu-sama’s philosophy and participating in prayer services are not required to receive Johrei and are not pushed by the center. Okada in his writings was explicitly against pushing his beliefs, believing that people would seek Johrei at the right time of their own volition.
The rise of alternative healing methods in developed countries has prompted scientific testing of the phenomenon. The Brain Research Bulletin, a multidisciplinary neuroscience journal published by Elsevier publishing company, in 2003 found Johrei to effectively reduce stress after a randomized trial in England measured the effect of Johrei on people’s immune system activity during exposure to stress. Likewise, a controlled study of patients with chest pain conducted by Arizona medical researchers in 2008 found a significant decrease in reported pain by patients who received Johrei.
Altruism is another driving force behind the movement’s growth. Giving Johrei helps the receiver while it also revitalizes the giver. When people feel better, they want to give to others, de Andrade said. You won’t see fliers or ads, or find any Johrei proselytizers on your doorstep. If a friend has a good experience with it, she may encourage you to go along with her one time. And in this way the Costa Rica center has grown tenfold over the past five years, from a dozen members in 2006 to more than 150 today.
The center runs on donations of time and money from its core members, who span all socio-economic and educational levels and range in age from 18 to 70, de Andrade said. In a recently started youth group for ages 18 to 30, de Andrade will draw on his experience doing community betterment projects with 300 young people in Rio de Janeiro, where he began his ministry in 2002. In contrast to Costa Rica’s estimated 350-strong Japanese population, as reported by the Japanese Embassy in San José, Brazil is home to the largest Japanese population (about 1.5 million), and the largest center of Johrei practice, outside of Japan.
De Andrade started receiving Johrei at age 3 when his mother took him to a giver at the behest of a friend who was concerned for the struggling and recently fatherless family. The only medicine he said he’s used since then is anesthesia for a tooth extraction. It’s not that he doesn’t get sick. When I asked him why receiving Johrei doesn’t keep him disease-free, he said illness is “necessary for purification and to achieve spiritual growth; it allows me to be more compassionate toward others.”
In the aftermath of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Okada lamented the devastating misuse of atomic energy, writing in 1949, “Each time a new invention has been produced, humanity has magnified and glorified it, thinking it would contribute to the welfare of humanity. The discovery of atomic fission … should have been a great blessing, but, quite contrary to the expectation, it has proved to be the most terrible discovery ever made. What people thought would be a path to heaven has turned out … to be a road leading to hell.”
As Japan struggles to contain the negative effects of nuclear energy for the second time, the country and the world are challenged to pull together to protect our fragile life on earth. “Purification of the spirit” seems like a good place to start.
The Johrei Center Costa Rica is 300 meters north, 200 m east and 25 m north (third house on the left) of the Virgen de Loreto Church in Pavas. For information, call 2231-0627 or email firstname.lastname@example.org