The History of Reiki 1865 - 1926
Mikao Usui was born on August 15, 1865 in the village of Yago in the Gifu Prefecture, where his ancestors had lived for eleven generations. His family belonged to the Tendai sect of Buddhism and so aged four, he was sent to a Tendai Monastery to receive his primary education.
Usui was a good student and very bright. He went on to pursue higher education and received a doctorate in literature. He spoke numerous languages and became well versed in medicine, theology and philosophy. Like many intellectuals of his day, Usui was fascinated with the new science coming from the West. During this time (1880s and 90s), the Meiji emperor had begun a new regime that overthrew the Shoguns and Japan¹s feudal states, now relocated in Tokyo, were brought under the direct control of the central government. Under this new regime, the old ideas¹ were discarded in favour of modernisation and the country was opened to westerners for the first time, encouraging a frenzy to replace the traditional modes of daily life with occidental fashions, which were identified with civilisation. In every department of social and political life, men furnished with some knowledge of modern science were promoted. Men of new knowledge¹ were almost idolised and the ambition of every young man was to read the horizontal writings of occidental books. The nation as a whole asked eagerly for the benefits of the new civilisation. The motto of the era was Enlightenment and Civilisation.
Usui's father, Uzaemon, was an avid follower of the new regime and adopted progressive political views. Usui had great respect for his father and was very influenced by this national obsession to become westernised¹. Whilst continuing to study science and medicine, Usui befriended several Christian missionaries who had studied medicine at Harvard and Yale. During this time, when Japan was opening its doors to the West, the first arrivals were the missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant. They set up their operations in three main areas. One was in Yokohama, under the influence of Rev. John Ballagh. Here they started their medical work and brought with them knowledge of western medical science. These missionaries became very influential leaders and formed the first Japanese Christian church in 1872.
Throughout Usui¹s early adulthood, he lived in Kyoto with his wife, Sadako Sizuki, and two children, a son and a daughter. He was a businessman and had varying degrees of success. Usui did encounter some difficulties, but his strong determination and positive outlook on life helped him to overcome all obstacles. He continued his religious study and became involved with a group named ORei Jyutsu Ka¹. This group had a centre at the base of the holy mountain, Kurama Yama, north of Kyoto. There is an ancient Buddhist temple, Kurama-dera on the 1,700 ft mountain which has a large statue of Amida Buddha and houses many artefacts that are part of the National Treasure. Built in 770C.E., the temple belonged to the Tendai sect of esoteric Buddhism. By 1945 the temple had evolved into an independent Buddhist sect. For centuries, Kurama Yama has been regarded as a power spot and many famous sages, as well as Emperors, go there to pray. The temple and surrounding areas are kept in their natural state and the mountain itself is the spiritual symbol of Kurama temple. Steps lead down to the base where one can sit and meditate. Nearby is a waterfall. Usui went to this area frequently to meditate.
It was during 1888 that Usui contracted cholera as an epidemic swept through Kyoto. He had a profound near death experience in which he received visions of Mahavairochana Buddha and received direct instructions from him. This was a pivotal experience for Usui that caused him to make a major reassessment of his life. He developed a keen interest in the esoteric science of healing as taught by Buddha, and he developed the compassionate wish that he might learn these methods in order to benefit mankind. When Usui recovered from his near fatal illness, he began to discuss his experiences with his family and family priest. They were outraged at his claims of seeing enlightened deities and the Tendai priest beat him over the head and chased him out of the Temple.
Determined to find the answers to his questions about this vision, Usui eventually met a Shingon Bonze, Watanabe Senior, who recognised Usui¹s tremendous spiritual potential and took him on as a student. Usui then became a devout Shingon Buddhist, which outraged his family even more and they removed him from the family ancestry, regarding him as a traitor. To this day, relatives refuse to talk about him, saying that it is against the will of their ancestors to speak his name. Even his daughter wrote a clause in her Will to the effect that her father¹s name should never be spoken in her home.
Mikao Usui spent a great deal of time and money pursuing his new found spiritual path by studying and collecting Buddhist scriptures. In particular, he studied Buddhist healing techniques and invested heavily in collecting old medical texts. Usui had good political and academic connections and made many contacts in various countries in his search for texts. For example, in Bombay, India, merchants travelling along the silk route through Tibet to China were given gold to find secret Buddhist healing texts. Usui was particularly interested in obtaining texts from Tibet.
Kyoto was home to many large and extensive Buddhist libraries and monasteries that had collections of ancient texts. Usui did much of his research there. For many years, Usui continued to collect, study and practice these medical texts. He became an advanced practitioner and meditation master. His closest friend, Watanabe Kioshi Itami, the son of his Buddhist teacher, became his most devout student. Over time, Usui became a respected and learned Buddhist teacher with a following of devoted students. They met regularly and Usui would teach from the texts that he had been collecting. The focus of his teachings was on healing and benefiting humankind through healing. They practised elaborate rituals for averting newly created diseases that were ravaging Japan, as well as esoteric practices for healing every type of illness.
Mikao Usui was truly a man ahead of his time. He went against the social norms of his day, which were very sectarian and class oriented. Usui believed that everyone should have access to the Buddhist healing methods, regardless of religious beliefs. He wanted to find a way to offer these powerful methods to the common man, with no need for long, arduous practice. Out of his great compassion and determination, he vowed that he would some day find a way to develop a healing that would cure every type of disease and could be taught to anyone, regardless of background, education or religious beliefs.
It was during the late 1890s that Usui came across a box containing manuscripts that set out the methods he had sought so assiduously for so many years. Therein lay the Tantra of the Lightning Flash, the secret transmission for healing all illnesses of body, speech and mind. This Tantra provided the information that he had been looking for and presented a comprehensive healing method derived from esoteric Buddhism as practised in Tibet. The text dated back to the 7th Century and was brought to Japan by Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism. Current research determines the Tantra holds a direct lineage to the Historical Buddha (563-480 B.C.E.).
Dr. Usui went to Mt. Kurama Yama (a holy mountain in Japan) on a short retreat to contemplate this material, to review the miraculous healing from his illness and to discover why it was he who had received the Medicine Tantra. At the completion of his time on Kurama Yama he gained an understanding of these methods and received insight into these Buddhist practices. After much contemplation and careful consideration he decided to share these teachings with others. Through the distillation of years of study and practice, Usui was able to perceive a method for bringing the essence of these Buddhist practices to the masses. Usui called this healing method Rei Ki.
Usui first practised his newly discovered method on his family and friends. Then he began to offer this healing method to the lower class district of Kyoto. Kyoto is a religious centre and the people in the streets are taken in and cared for, with each family looking after its own. Usui opened his home to many and for seven years he brought Reiki to them. This gave him the opportunity to perfect and refine his new healing method. Meanwhile, he continued to hold regular classes for his growing Ocircle¹ of Buddhist followers, and further developed and refined his system.
In 1921, Usui moved to Tokyo where he worked as the secretary to Pei Gotoushin, the Prime Minister of Tokyo. He opened a Reiki clinic outside Tokyo, in Harajuku, and began to inaugurate classes and teach his system of Reiki. Some of his foremost students, who received the teachings, include:
- * Watanabe Kioshi Itami, his long time friend and student from Kyoto. It
- was Watanabe who inherited all of Usui¹s notes and the collection of
- Buddhist tantras when Usui died;
- * Taketomi, who was a naval officer;
- * Wanami;
- * Five Buddhist nuns;
- * Kozo Ogawa. Ogawa opened a Reiki clinic in Shizuoka City. He was very active in the administration of the Reiki society. He passed on his work to his relative, Fumio Ogawa, who is still alive today.
In 1922, Usui founded the Reiki society, called Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai, and acted as its first president. This society was open to those who had studied Usui¹s Reiki. This society still exists today and there have been six presidents since Usui:
- Mr. Jusaburo Ushida 1865-1935,
- Mr. Kanichi Taketomi 1878-1960,
- Mr. Yoshiharu Watanabe (? - 1960),
- Mr. Hoichi Wanami 1883-1975,
- Ms. Kimiko Koyama 1906-1999,
- and the current president Mr. Masayoshi Kondo
This society started a new religion¹, or spiritual organisation, which was a common practice at this time in Japan.
On September 1, 1923 the devastating Kanto earthquake struck Tokyo and surrounding areas. Most of the central part of Tokyo was levelled and totally destroyed by fire. Over 140,000 people were killed. In one instance, 40,000 people were incinerated when a fire tornado swept across an open area where they had sought safety. These fires were started because the quake hit at midday, when countless hibachi charcoal grills were ready to cook lunch. The wood houses quickly ignited as they collapsed from the tremors. Three million homes were destroyed leaving countless homeless and over 50,000 people suffered serious injuries. The public water and sewage systems were destroyed and it took years for rebuilding to take place.
In response to this catastrophe, Usui and his students offered Reiki to countless victims. His clinic soon became too small to handle the throng of patients, so in February of 1924, he built a new clinic in Nakano, outside Tokyo. His fame spread quickly all over Japan and he began receiving invitations from all over the country to come and teach his healing methods
Usui was awarded a Kun San To from the Emperor, which is a very important award (much like an honorary doctorate), given to those who have done honourable work. His fame soon spread throughout the region and many prominent healers and physicians began requesting teachings from him.
Just prior to this devastating earthquake in 1923, Usui had begun teaching a simplified form of Reiki to the public in order to meet increasing demand. Usui saw that his method of healing had tremendous potential so out of compassion, to aid all sentient beings, he developed a non-religious Reiki form to suit everyone. This form is the foundation of what is now known as Western Reiki. Two of his most notable students included:
* Toshihiro Eguchi, who studied with Usui in 1923. Eguchi was the most prominent of his students who reportedly taught thousands of students before the war. It is largely through Eguchi that Reiki has continued to flourish in Japan;
* Chujiro Hayashi who studied with Usui from 1922. Hayashi was one of the first of Usui¹s non-Buddhist students. Hayashi was a Methodist Christian, had very strong beliefs, and was not open to the esoteric nature of what Usui was teaching. Usui eventually sent Hayashi on his way. Hayashi used the knowledge learned from Usui to open a clinic in Tokyo. He replaced some of the format of Usui¹s teachings and created a system of Odegrees¹. He also developed a more complex set of hand positions suitable for clinic use. Hayashi¹s clinic employed a method of healing that required several practitioners to work on one client at the same time to maximise the energy flow. Hayashi encouraged practitioners to his clinic by offering to give Level 1 empowerments in return for a three-month commitment as unpaid help. At the end of this stint he would offer the more accomplished students the second Level in return for a further nine-month commitment. Those who completed this had the chance of receiving the Master symbol or third degree. After two years further commitment (which involved assisting Hayashi in the classroom), practitioners were taught the empowerments and were allowed to teach. No money exchanged hands in this training practitioners simply had to work an eight hour shift once a week for the duration of their commitment. Hayashi subsequently passed his knowledge to Mrs. Takata, who was responsible for bringing Reiki to America in the 1970s. It should be stressed that the actual content of the Reiki system known in the west today is but a fragment of Usui¹s actual Reiki system. Usui taught a simplified form of Reiki to Hayashi and in turn, Hayashi introduced new elements and structures to the Reiki system. Mrs. Takata further changed and added material to the system, so that when Reiki finally came to the West, the Usui system had altered quite significantly and bore little resemblance to its original roots.
Usui quickly became very busy as requests for teachings of Reiki continued to grow. He travelled throughout Japan (not an easy undertaking in those days), to teach and give Reiki empowerments. This started to take its toll on his health and he began experiencing mini-strokes from stress. Knowing that his death was imminent, one day, while in his office in Tokyo, he gathered all of his documents and materials on Reiki. All his class notes, his diary and the collection of sacred Buddhist texts were placed in a large lacquered box. He gave this to Watanabe, whom he considered his foremost student and dearest friend. Usui then left for a teaching tour in the western part of Japan. Finally, on March 9, 1926, while in Fukuyama, Usui died of a fatal stroke. He was 62 years old.
Usui¹s body was cremated and his ashes were placed in a temple in Tokyo. Shortly after his death, students from the Reiki society in Tokyo erected a memorial stone at Saihoji Temple in the Toyatama district in Tokyo. According to the inscription on his memorial stone, Usui taught Reiki to over 2,000 people. However, as written in Dr. Usui¹s personal notes, he clearly states that he had taught over 700 students. Perhaps the students who erected his memorial stone mentioned 2,000 to praise Dr. Usui¹s teaching efforts. Many of these students began their own clinics and founded Reiki schools and societies. By the 1940s there were about 40 Reiki schools spread all over Japan. Most of these schools taught the simplified method of Reiki that Usui had developed. Another more secret Reiki Society continued to maintain the esoteric tradition. These practitioners did not bring their work out to the public and upheld a deeply spiritual basis for their work. It is unlikely that many westerners have encountered this faction of the Reiki teachings in Japan.
Hawayo Takata - Pictured on the left here - features prominantly in Reiki history as the master who brought Reiki to the western world. She lived in Hawaii and before her death in the 1970's, had taught 22 Reiki masters. Most of the Reiki that we know and love in the western world comes through the Takata lineage.