The origin of Reiki can be traced back thousands of years to ancient Tibet. The technique was reintroduced in the mid-1800s through the experiences of Dr. Mikao Usui of Japan. Historically, the tradition of Reiki was passed on through word of mouth. Regardless of our current methods of communication, there is a great desire to keep the mysteries of Reiki secret. The system of Reiki we now practice was influenced heavily by the spiritual system (Tendai Buddhism) taught by Mikao Usui from 1920 to 1926.
These sources are Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai, Hayashi Reiki Kenkyukai, and Tenohira Ryoji Kenkyu-kai.
Dr. Usui’s Story
Dr. Usui was the head of a Christian Boys School in Kyoto, Japan. In 1822, after giving a sermon, Dr. Mikao Usui was approached by two seminary students who asked him to explain how Jesus did the miracles of healing and whether or not he could perform the same miracles. Dr. Usui was not able to give the students an answer. The confrontation with the students became a turning point for Dr. Usui as he began his lifelong quest to uncover the source of ancient healing techniques. He left Japan, came to America, and studied at the University of Chicago where he earned a Doctorate degree in Theology. He searched the scriptures to uncover the secret of how Jesus and his disciples healed the sick and performed miracles, but he did not find the answers he sought during his time in America.
Upon his return to Japan, it occurred to Dr. Usui that the Buddha performed the same miracles as Jesus. He, too, had great control of energy and channeled the power of God and the Universe. Dr. Usui began asking the different Buddhistic sects if they could perform the miracles of healing the body that Buddha performed. The Buddhists felt that healing the Spirit and healing the body were not always directly connected. They concentrated on the Spirit, and not on the body. They left the healing of the body up to those in the healing arts.
Dr. Usui eventually found himself at a Zen monastery. He asked the head monk: “Do the Zen know how to heal the body?”
The monk explained that they concentrated on healing the spirit and there just wasn’t enough time to teach the physical healing of the body. Dr. Usui requested that he be admitted to the Zen monastery so that he could study the Buddhist scriptures in search of the key to physical healing. He was admitted and so began his study.
Dr. Usui first studied the Japanese translations of the Buddhist scriptures but did not find the explanation he sought. Then he learned Chinese so that a wider range of Buddhist writings would be available to him, but still to no avail. He was later guided through his meditations to learn Sanskrit so that he could read the original Buddhist writings. After reading the teachings of the Tibetan Buddhistic Sect, he discovered what he felt to be the keys to healing. Dr. Usui found the symbols, formulas, and descriptions of how Buddha healed.
Nearing the end of his search, Dr. Usui had uncovered the knowledge he was seeking but he still did not have the power to heal. He discussed this with his old friend, the monk; they meditated upon the path to take. They were told that Dr. Usui should go to a designated place upon the holy Mount Kuri Yama. There he was to fast for twenty-one days and meditate to seek the power to heal; during this time he would receive enlightenment and Spiritual clarity.
Dr. Usui climbed Kuri Yama to a certain level and found a place that faced east. Since he had no calendar, he gathered twenty-one small stones and placed them before him. Every morning he awakened before the sun rose and would throw away one of the twenty-one stones to keep count of the days.
Each day he meditated and fasted. On the twenty-first day, Dr. Usui awakened to a darkened morning. It was like a new moon day when no light shone in the heavens before the breaking of dawn. When he awakened he could not even see his hand in front of his face. He found his way to his meditation spot and picked up the last stone. Dr. Usui prayed before throwing the last stone off the side of the mountain. He asked God for confirmation of his findings and asked to be given the enlightenment of how to use them.
As he threw the final stone off the side of the mountain, a light appeared far off in the east. It became brighter on its approach, frightening him. Dr. Usui fought the urge to run as a voice in his head reminded him, “You have searched for years and years, and you have meditated and fasted for twenty-one days. You have asked for enlightenment and confirmation, and now you want to run away from it?”
Dr. Usui quieted his intellect and said, “No, if that light is for me, I accept the enlightenment.”
The light became very bright and streamed across the heavens and hit him directly in his third eye. For a moment he thought he had died and ascended into heaven because he had never before been in such a euphoric state. He saw many bubbles in all the colors of the rainbow, and then a powerful white light, followed by golden Sanskrit letters, the secret formula of the Universal Life Force, and how to contact it. They came to him one by one, commanding him to memorize and preserve them.
Finally, the bubbles, the light, and the Sanskrit letters disappeared. Dr. Usui felt rested and full of life and energy. He jumped to his feet. He wanted to hurry back and tell the monk his exciting news. In his rush, he stubbed his toe on a rock. He reached down to comfort the pain and to stop the bleeding. He found that the pain and the bleeding stopped very rapidly and realized that something was different about the energy in his hands; they had become very hot.
After healing his toe, Dr. Usui continued his pilgrimage down the mountain. Soon he began to feel hungry, so he stopped at a home that served travelers and ordered cold rice and cold tea. In a few minutes, a Japanese girl with a bandage wrapped around her jaw brought Dr. Usui his meal. She told Dr. Usui that her tooth had been aching for days. Encouraged by his own phenomenal pain relief Dr. Usui asked, “May I give you a healing?” She accepted his offer gladly. He put his hands around her jaw and within moments the pain and swelling started going down. She was very happy and went to tell her father.
Dr. Usui ate his meal and went to pay the papa san. He reached into his pocket to get some coins out, but the papa san said, “Thank you, sir monk, but I cannot accept the money. You have rendered unto my daughter a service for which I do not have the money to pay. Please accept the food in exchange for the healing services that you have rendered.” Dr. Usui accepted the food in exchange for his services and continued his journey home.
Upon returning to Kyoto, he went to tell his friend, the monk, what happened. He asked for advice on what to do now that he had received the keys and the energy of healing. He wanted to learn more about its use and how to develop it and as such he was directed by the monk to meditate on it.
From his meditation, Dr. Usui was guided to go to the beggar kingdom in Tokyo. This kingdom was controlled by a beggar king. Dr. Usui went to see the beggar king and asked if he might live there to heal the sick and the afflicted. The beggar king admitted him but did not believe Dr. Usui would succeed in healing the beggars. For the next seven years, Dr. Usui worked on healing the sick in the beggar kingdom. He worked from daylight to dark, healing the young and old alike, and saw many beautiful results take place. He began to understand how Reiki flowed through him into others, and how the body became well.
One afternoon, Dr. Usui took a walk to the edge of the beggar kingdom. He saw a young beggar who looked familiar. He asked if the beggar knew him, and the beggar said, “Of course, Dr. Usui. Do you not remember me? I am one of the first beggars you healed.”
Dr. Usui said, “I healed you and you are still a beggar?”
The beggar looked back at him and said, “Oh, Dr. Usui, yes, and I did just what you told me. I went out to the temple to receive a new name, went to society, and began dealing with my karma, doing just what you told me to do. I even got a job and soon married, but it was too much responsibility. So, I decided that I would rather be a beggar. That way I wouldn’t even have to be responsible for myself.”
Dr. Usui was greatly upset, and thought, “What a terrible thing I have done. Perhaps the churches were right, the physical is not enough – the spiritual has to also be healed. Never again will Reiki be given away, always will there have to be an exchange of energy.” He decided to immediately leave the beggar kingdom.
As he walked back to the monastery, Dr. Usui was greeted, in Spirit, by the teachers who had greeted him on Kuri Yama. At this time he was given the Five Spiritual Principals of Reiki.
These five principles created significant changes in Dr. Usui’s subsequent healings. He realized that he had been giving healing away without requiring the healee to take any responsibility for the healing or for maintaining the healed state. There had not been an exchange of energy for the services rendered. The new teaching provided spiritual concepts to be integrated with the physical aspect of the Reiki energy.
Dr. Usui got a torch and lit it, and went walking in Kyoto. He was stopped and asked why he was carrying a lit torch in the middle of the day with the sun brightly shining above. He replied that he was searching for people with hearts full of love but who were sad and sorrowful and did not know the true light. He invited people to come and hear about Reiki. In this way, he started teaching Reiki throughout Japan and gathered a following of sixteen teachers.
Eguchi and Hayashi (founder of Hayashi Reiki Kenkyukai) were the only two students to complete the original Usui training (to Shichidan level) and for many years they continued to offer this system to some students along with their own Reiki systems.
There were also two nuns who worked closely with Usui in Kyoto and Tokyo, from 1920 to 1926. They were awarded the 2nd highest level of Rokudan in January 1925. (Usui taught his method between 1918-1926)
In 1923 the Kanto earthquake struck 50 miles from Tokyo, destroying Tokyo and Yokohama. An estimated 140,000 people died from the quake or the fires that followed it.
This was the greatest natural disaster in Japanese history, and Usui gave many treatments to victims. The Usui memorial says that Usui Sensei “reached out his hands of love to suffering people”, and in recognition of his services to the people during this emergency, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate. (This event was transposed by Takata as the beggar parable which some teach in the West in 1st degree Reiki)
While they were most likely the most experienced Doka (students) they did not accept the final level, possibly due to personal reasons relating to their temple life. One of these nuns is Tenon-in (aka Mariko-Obaasan) who is over 106 years old in 2003. Tenon-in said that Usui did encourage her and her friend Yuri-in, to observe the Usui Teàte proceedings, which by 1925 began to include free treatments to some non-doka (non-students) who approached the dojo.
In the final years of his life, Usui Sensei was teaching his personal spiritual system, which he called simply “My Method”(Usui states in his own words, in the Usui Reiki Hikkei (Usui Reiki Manual given to his students) that, “My Usui Reiki Ryoho is an original, it’s nothing like this in the world. . . . So I would like to release this method to the public for everyone’s benefit and hope for everyone’s happiness.
My Reiki Ryoho is an original method based on intuitive power in the universe. . . .
With this power, the body gets healthy and enhances the happiness of life and a peaceful mind. Going on he states that, ” I’ve never been given this method by anybody nor studied to get psychic power to heal. I accidentally realized that I have received healing power when I felt the air change in a mysterious way during fasting. So I have a hard time explaining it exactly, even if I am the founder.
Scholars and men of intelligence have been studying this phenomenon but modern science can not solve it. But I believe that day will come naturally ” ….Usui 1924
His students referred to this as Usui-Teate. By this time the system, which originally had no divisions, now included several levels of achievement. The naming convention was influenced by Usui’s friend Jigoro Kano, the founder of Japanese Judo.
Usui’s own application of Usui-Teate. It was practiced in Usui’s dojo in 1925. It does not contain any of the material introduced by Hayashi, Eguchi, or Ushida.
The true origins are rooted deeply in Japanese tradition that has existed for thousands of years. The teachings are presented exactly as passed on by a student who studied directly with Usui from 1920 until 1926. They are not interpreted through a Buddhist lens or by a post-Meiji Japanese viewpoint.
The system was originally presented in a formal dojo. Interactions between Doka (student) and Shihan (facilitator) follow a prescribed manner. The system is passed on through the dojo presentations which permit the Doka to ‘experiencing’ the system rather than ‘learning’ it.
There were no descriptive handouts or manuals at that time and no automatic movement up the levels of the system.
Another influence in Usui’s life was his friend Toshihiro Eguchi, reportedly a natural healer, and a school teacher who had his own hand healing method. He often taught some of these ideas in the Usui-dojo (Usui training hall) beginning in 1923. Usui would allow this use of his dojo in order to support his income.
While Usui did not take part in the system, it was still called Usui Teàte by the students, no doubt out of respect for the dojo founder. And it still retained some of the founder’s spiritual philosophy. Eguchi later created his own school called Eguchi Tenohira Ryoji Kenkyu-kai.
Dr. Hayashi’s Story
During his torch lit up travels Dr. Usui met Dr. Chujiro Hayashi, a Naval Commander in the Naval Reserve. He came from a well-educated and well-to-do family. He met Dr. Usui in the marketplace holding a lit torch announcing his lecture at a nearby temple. Dr. Hayashi was very impressed with the sincerity and conviction of Dr. Usui. When asked by Usui to accompany him in his travels, Dr. Hayashi agreed. And they traveled together teaching and healing. Dr. Usui made his transition in 1893, after asking Dr. Chujiro Hayashi to see that the Reiki teachings were preserved. Dr. Hayashi continued in Dr. Usui’s tradition, traveling, teaching, and dedicating his life to Reiki. He opened a clinic in Tokyo near the Imperial Palace. It consisted of eight beds in a large room, two practitioners per patient. One would treat the head and the other would be on the right treating the stomach area, then both would treat the patient’s back. The practitioners all worked here doing healings. They would also go to the homes of sick people for house calls.
This was just prior to World War II when it became clear that Japan would enter the war. Being a Reserve Officer, Dr. Hayashi knew he would be recalled to duty and would therefore become responsible for killing many people. He felt this would be impossible based on his spiritual convictions and decided to end his life. Before passing on, he trained two Japanese women. One of these teachers stayed in Japan. The other, Mrs. Hawayo Takata, of Hawaii, was made a Reiki Master in 1938, prior to Dr. Hayashi’s death.
A brief story of Mrs. Takata
Mrs. Hawayo Takata was born in Hawaii, on Kauai, on Christmas Eve 1900. Originally of Japanese descent, she went to Japan in the 1930s to inform her family of the death of her sister. While there she became very sick and was hospitalized. The doctors were going to operate, and as she was being prepared she kept hearing a voice saying “Operation not necessary”. Eventually, she jumped off the table asking “Is there another way?” The doctor had a sister who had been cured of dysentery at Dr. Hayashi’s clinic and suggested Mrs. Takata talk with her. The sister brought Mrs. Takata to the clinic and her treatments there began. After Mrs. Takata became well she wanted to learn this healing method for herself. However, Dr. Hayashi was not willing to teach her because she was a foreigner. Through the good graces of her doctor, Mrs. Takata was able to persuade Dr. Hayashi to train her in Reiki. This training took a year and brought her to what we would now call Reiki Level II. Thereafter, she returned to Hawaii.
In Hawaii, she learned the lesson of having the recipient perceive value in receiving treatments. She treated a neighbor but did not charge, and this neighbor did not value the treatments and did not become well. She treated another relative and this time charged, and this relative did stay well. Thus the tradition of charging for Reiki treatment was reinforced.
In November 1936, Dr. Hayashi came to Hawaii for a speaking tour to promote Reiki. During this time he trained Mrs. Takata to teach Reiki, thus making her what we now call a Reiki Master. Before leaving Hawaii he asked her to come to see him when he summoned her.
As the dangers of World War II neared Japan, Dr. Hayashi appeared to Mrs. Takata in a dream asking her to come to Japan. Upon arrival in Kyoto, she found her teacher taking his naval uniform out of storage. With the coming war, he knew it was a matter of time before the Navy would call him out of retirement and he would be asked to perform actions he was not capable of doing due to his spiritual development. At this time he passed the leadership of Reiki to Mrs. Takata. He gathered all the Reiki Masters, announced that Mrs. Takata would become the leader of Reiki, and then revealed he would kill his physical body by bursting three of his blood vessels. And as he continued speaking to this group on Tuesday, May 10, 1940, the blood vessels burst and he died.
Mrs. Takata returned to Hawaii and continued using and teaching Reiki. Eventually, she moved to California, using and teaching Reiki. She did not teach other masters until 1975, and before her own death in 1980 she trained 22 Reiki Masters. Mrs. Takata initiated the following 22 people as Masters: George Araki, Dorothy Baba, Ursula Baylow, Rick Bockner, Patricia Bowling, Barbara Brown, Fran Brown, Phyllis Furumoto, Beth Gray, John Gray, Iris Ishikuro, Harry Kuboi, Ethel Lombardi, Barbara McCullough, Mary McFadyen, Paul Mitchell, Bethel Phaigh, Shinobu Saito, Virginia Samdahl, Wanja Twan, Barbara Weber Ray, and Kay Yamashita.
There are many Reiki Masters in the world today. These individuals dedicate and commit their lives to live, being, and perpetuating the universal life force of Reiki. The honor of assisting in the harmony and balance of the universe and providing others with a means of balancing their body, mind, and spirit is what Reiki Masters are ordained to do.
The history you have just read is a simple story with many hidden messages. All fairy tales have messages. Some messages come in whispers, and others shout off the page. You will find that it is not the storyteller who regulates the volume of the message. It is in fact the reader who chooses to hear what they are ready to hear. Even now, as I reread this story years after it was introduced to me, I am surprised by its profundity. If ever you are confused along your path, come back to this story with faith that it will whisper what you have momentarily forgotten. The history you have just read is a simple story with many hidden messages. All fairy tales have messages. Some messages come in whispers, and others shout off the page. You will find that it is not the storyteller who regulates the volume of the message. It is in fact the reader who chooses to hear what they are ready to hear. Even now, as I reread this story years after it was introduced to me, I am surprised by its profundity. If ever you are confused along your path, come back to this story with faith that it will whisper what you have momentarily forgotten.