Dr Mikao Usui was born in the small village of Yago, Southern Japan, in 1865 into a prosperous family. A keen and talented student, he travelled widely, including to Europe and China, and studied history, medicine, psychology and the Taoist, Buddhist and Christian scriptures. In young manhood, be became a successful businessman. But in his fifties, his health and his businesses began to fail.
Legend has it that Mikao Usui discovered the Reiki principles while meditating and fasting on top of Mount Kurama, believed to be a sacred mountain. He felt an incredible energy, and soon after found he could heal himself and others by laying his hands on them. This led to his rediscovery of the ancient hands-on healing method that he named ‘Reiki.’ Reiki means ‘universal life energy’.
He opened a clinic in Tokyo in April 1921.People came from far and wide. He also gave workshops to spread the knowledge. In 1923 a dreadful earthquake shook the city, and he gave Reiki treatments to the survivors. The clinic became so popular that it couldn’t handle the numbers, so he built a larger one and was honoured by the Emperor for his work.
He founded an association called Usui Shiki Reiki Ryoho. It had 2,000 students and 21 trained Masters by the time of his death.
Usui was said to be a warm and gentle man, modest, humble and courageous. Contemporaries said that people were drawn to him for his charisma and wisdom. He did not see healing as separate from his spiritual teachings.
In 1926, at 61, he suffered a fatal stroke. By then, there were Reiki centres throughout Japan.
One of Usui’s students was a medical doctor and retired naval officer, Churijo Hayashi. He was initiated as a Reiki Master in 1925. He opened a clinic and adopted a scientific method to his practice. He carefully logged his treatments and results and used this information to create the ‘Hayashi Healing Guide’ which included detailed treatments for specific conditions. These included specific positions on the body on which the hands re to be placed to facilitate flow.
One of Hayashi’s patients was a Hawaiian, Hawayo Takata (1900-1980). By her mid-thirties she was desperately ill. On a visit to Japan she was taken into hospital to be treated for gallstones, a tumour and emphysema, but she claimed she heard a voice telling her that the operation was unnecessary, discharged herself and consulted Dr Hayashi. She received daily treatments for four months as was completely cured. Impressed, she persuaded Dr Hayashi to teach her Reiki and was initiated as a Reiki Master in 1938.
She worked tirelessly to take Reiki to the USA, from where it spread to Europe and around the world. She initiated 22 Reiki Masters, who taught others and spread the teachings.
There are now an estimated million Reiki Masters in the world. The Reiki taught by Mrs Takata was a somewhat watered-down version of Usui’s original methods, designed to be more palatable to the West. Many Reiki practitioners regard Hayashi and Takata as a kind of lineage; others set up splinter groups of their own, each claiming to be the authentic successors of Usui. However, there is no evidence that Usui himself intended to initiate such a line.
Today’s Reiki is much more structured than the intuitive method practised by Usui, for example, the hand positions now taught originated with Dr Hayashi and were developed by Mrs Takata.
Moreover, Usui did not approve of taking a fee for giving Reiki – Mrs Takata overturned that and spawned a whole industry. Even Reiki Masters have to make a living!
©David Lawrence Preston, 18.3.2017
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 For further details, see William Rand, The Healing Touch, Vision Publications, Southfield MI, 1991