THE BIRTH OF REIKI
Mikao Usui, Tokyo, Japan
A note from Fiona Phillips....
Before moving into the History of Reiki (below) I'd love to share a few thoughts with you. Within the Reiki community, the story of Usui Sensai carries with it a great deal of uncertainty and controversy. It is a constantly moving target and is not in any way near fixed or settled. There are endless 'versions' of the story of Mikao Usui, who he was and how he came to discover Reiki.
Some claim he was Tendai Buddhist, others, a Pure Land Buddhist. Some believe he was a doctor, others state that he was erroneously given that title in the West mistakingly using it for a term of respect. Those who claim he was a Buddhist, tell a story of him being a seeker, being said to have travelled the world studying my different subjects and modalities. He was appointed Mayor of Tokyo, achieving a great deal success and status in society. He ran his own successful business. But when his business failed and at mid-life, he found himself seeking greater meaning. He returned to his Buddhist roots, became a Monk and he embarked on a quest to discover the meaning of life, what it means to be human and looking for answer to how to eliminate human suffering.
Many Westerners believe that Usui wasn't Buddhist at all, that he was a Christian Minister, teaching at a Christian University, who was asked a question by a student about how Jesus could heal and whether he could prove that Jesus could heal. He was said to have gone on a quest to discover the answer to this question of how Jesus was able to heal, it was a path to discover enlightenment. This last version has been attributed to Takata Sensai, the woman responsible for bringing Reiki to the West and as more and more research into this version is done, the more unlikely it seems to have validity.
In all versions, Usui was said to have climbed Mt Kurama, meditated for 21 days and that on the 21st day experienced a Satori (or enlightenment). This was how he discovered Reiki.
Much of the uncertainty has arisen because there are few written records available to really know the precise history or details about him as all the records held by the Usui Gakkai (the organisation founded by Mikao Usui) were destroyed in a bombing during the war and his family, wanting to maintain their privacy, have been unwilling to provide clarity. Accordingly, much of the history relies on second-hand oral sources or ‘most likely’ type of summations based on where he grew up and what was actually known about him – connecting the dots, so to speak. The history written below on this page is the ‘best known’ history in this moment in time.
There are many people in the Reiki community that have made it their life mission to discover the truth, they are emphatically committed to finding accurate information and details and are entirely focussed on finding the truth of the ‘details.’ And even amongst the most avid researchers, many assumptions have been made and declared as fact. In many ways, their pursuits and the focus on ‘truth’ and ‘information’ in a way has caused many in the community to lose sight of what’s most important about the story of Usui.
In a radio podcast, Takata Sensai’s Late daughter, Phyllis Furumoto contemplated what it is, when it comes to oral tradition, that is of the greatest priority and value in the story. Is it really the information, dates, places or things? Or is it the essence of the story that has the most value?
I highly recommend listening to the whole show, as it really is a powerful contemplation.
Phyllis goes on to say “What’s important in the story of Reiki is this process of Mikao Usui, who was living his life as a regular person, who had a question and all of a sudden that question lit him up, it produced a reaction in him that was far beyond just a question…it went inside of him and propelled him into search that took the rest of his life”.
It doesn’t really matter whether it was a Christian student at a Christian University who asked him a question about Jesus or whether the question was one that he was asking himself of his own volition. It doesn't matter whether he was Tendai Buddhist or Pure Land. The essence in this story (and the essence of what lies in every single version of the story) is that he had that burning question that propelled him to uproot and change his life as he knew it (and the bravery that would have taken) and instead dedicate his life seeking the answer to that burning question. “It propelled him into a search, it changed his life and in that, it changed the life of millions of people on the planet.” That is the essence of the story of Reiki, and that is where the power of that story lies."
And this story, his path, is a path those of us who practice Reiki connect to a common a shared experience that traces back to the beginning of our Lineage. It mirrors our own experiences of how we each came to Reiki, the unfolding discoveries and pathways it offers us through our own practice. Phyllis affirms“The value is the energetic which [the story] carries and [the many things] which it communicates to the student. It communicates the particular history in the lineage, their history in relationship to this practice.”
Phyllis concludes the episode with this powerful statement;
“Mikao Usui…has a unique place in the healing history of mankind right now. He took a question and through his search, found answers for himself, not a written ‘how to do it’ book or a formula of Reiki practice, but certainly guide-posts and impulses that guided him to each step of the way that he took and as he took these steps, it allows us to see that we are doing the same things.
For each of us, whether we know it or not, somewhere in our life, we have a burning question, we have something that sparks us, that drives us to do something and that question will burn in us for the rest of our lives.
That question probably brought us to Reiki and we will ‘experiment with it’, we will ‘use it’, we will makes mistakes, we will find that it gives others joy and we will get satisfaction from that, we will experience its healing on all different kinds of levels and still there is something that drives us for the next step, something that we know something is around the next corner.
And that’s what Mikao Usui gives us – he gives us this journey that he has done and it allows us to follow the same path that he did but in our own way.
Very inspiring story from a man who was simply a man, following his burning question.”
I encourage you to listen to the entire radio episode by Phyllis Furumoto, and particularly, to the story of Reiki, as told to her by her Grandmother, Takata Sensai (it starts at 27:27). And after listening to the story, after feeling the energy that it communicates and the power of its essence, ask yourself, does it really matter what the details are, the data, the information? I’ll leave it for you make up your own mind.
(Taken from the article "THE POWER OF ORAL TRADITION: WHAT MATTER MOST, INFORMATION OR ESSENCE?")
MIKAO USUI SENSAI
Reiki was discovered by Mikao Usui in 1922.
Mikao Usui was born in Nagoya, Japan on 15 August 1865. Very little is known about Usui's younger years, although it had been said that at a young age, he studied kiko (the Japanese version of Qi Gong) at a Buddhist Temple on Mt. Kuruma. Kiko involves a build-up of a supply of energy through the use of exercises before using it for healing through the laying of hands. Those using kiko are prone to energy depletion (as it can draw on one’s own energy as well) and young Usui was fascinated with questions of whether there was a way to use the healing without the depletion.
As an adult, Usui travelled all over Japan, China and Europe in pursuit of this question, learning a broad array of subjects including medicine, psychology, religion and spiritual development. Blessed with psychic abilities, he also joined a metaphysical group called the Rei Jyutu Ka which enabled him to continue with his spiritual education.
(Photo of a young Mikao Usui)
Both his education and sharp mind landed Mikao a job as Secretary for the Shinpen Goto and later as the Head of Department of Health and Welfare. He then rose to become the Mayor of Tokyo. Following his tenure as Mayor, Mikao ran his own business successfully until 1914 when unfortunately, his business took a turn for the worse.
Having grown up in a Buddhist family, it was at that time that Usui decided to immerse himself in devotional practice. He became a Buddhist monk and trained intensely. Usui eventually returned to Mt. Kuruma where he had studied as a boy and decided to take a 21 day retreat on the mountain, during which time he fasted, chanted, prayed and meditated for the purpose of attaining enlightenment.
(Photo of the location thought to be where Mikao Usui meditated on Mt. Kurama)
It was towards the end of his retreat when a great, powerful, spiritual light entered Usui via the top of his head and was so powerful that it knocked him to the ground. This light was a satori or enlightening experience. It was Reiki (Universal Energy) coming to Usui in the form of an attunement after which Usui experienced an expanded awareness.
He was so excited by his experience, that when running down the mountain he stubbed his toe so badly that it was bleeding. Automatically he put his hand over his toe and the bleeding and pain went away.
(Shrine at Mt Kurama Yama in the location thought to be where Usui Sensai received the Satori)
When Usui reached bottom of the mountain and sat to eat his first meal in 21 days, he could see a young girl crying and her face was swollen from an infected tooth. He placed his hands over the aching tooth and almost immediately the pain went away.
After returning home, Usui first started practicing Reiki on himself and then on members of his family. In time he discovered Reiki’s capacity to heal, balance and restore (to make whole, physically, mentally and spiritually).
He then moved to Tokyo in 1922 and founded the ‘Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai’ (Usui Reiki Healing Society). He opened a clinic in central Tokyo where he began teaching classes and giving Reiki treatments.
(Photo of Mikao Usui Sensai (middle) with his students)
Usui Sensai cared deeply about the greater good of humanity, he regarded Reiki as Divine and his goal was for Reiki to spread worldwide and for it to be easily available to everybody, which remained his goal up until his death in 1926.
(Usui Sensai's Tombstone in Tokyo)
ALTERNATIVE HISTORY OF REIKI
BRINGING REIKI TO THE WEST:
MRS HAWAYO TAKATA AND HOW SHE KEPT THE FLAME OF REIKI ALIVE
Over the years there have been many versions told of Reiki’s history and in particular, about Usui Sensai. The most common ‘other version’ (and one that still prevails today in many circles) is that Usui Sensai was not a Buddhist monk, but rather, a Christian Minister who was educated by Christian Missionaries and became Principal of a Christian boys’ School. Claims were made that he had attended a University in the United States and had been the President of a Doshisha University, a Christian University in Kyoto, Japan. His Christian persuasion was central to this version.
Attributed to Hawayo Takata, she told of Usui Sensai ‘rediscovering’ Reiki after he sought to discover how Jesus was able to heal others and with this important question in mind, he went to Mt Kurama to meditate on it and it is at this point that the two main versions of Reiki’s history meet up.
Research would suggest that this version is much more mythology than an accurate account of Usui Sensai's life.
However, Mrs. Takata’s version is still an extremely important one in the history of Reiki. Indeed, were it not for Mrs. Takata’s ‘modified’ version of Usui Sensai, Reiki most likely would not have been brought to the West and we would not have Reiki available to us today. For this reason, we honour Mrs. Takata for her contribution to the continued practice of Reiki around the World and the story she told to ensure that.
INTRODUCING HAWAYO TAKATA
Mrs. Takata was born on 24 December 1900 on the island of Kauaui, Hawaii. She grew up and began working in various jobs from farm work, to an education assistant, a house worker and finally progressed to House Manager, giving all of her wages to assist her family. As the manager of the Estate, she handled paychecks and general finances for the Estate. It is there where she met Saichi Takata, the Estate accountant whom she ended up marrying and having two children together with. It was a happy but short marriage as sadly, in 1930 her husband died.
Following Saichi Takata’s death, between 1930 and 1935 Mrs. Takata continued to work hard but struggled to provide financial care for her family. In addition to the stress and burden of trying to make ends meet, Mrs. Takata suffered from a painful abdominal condition which required surgery and a lung condition which prevented the use of the anaesthetic needed for the abdominal surgery. In 1935, the burden proved too much and she suffered a nervous breakdown.
(Photo of Saichi and Hawayo Takata at the Maeda Clinic in Tokyo, dated October 23, 1928)
Desperate and not knowing what to do, every night after finishing her chores she would sit under the big camphor tree where she would meditate and pray for guidance. On one such night she heard a clear and distinct voice advising her to take care of her health first, for only then would she be able to work and earn a good living.
Within a few weeks, one of her sister’s died very suddenly so Hawayo returned to Japan where her parents lived, to deliver the news to them in person. After doing so and after her sister’s funeral she attended hospital for treatment of her conditions. It was there that the doctor confirmed that she had a tumour, gallstones and appendicitis. She was scheduled for surgery the next day.
Early the next morning, she was taken into the operating theatre to prepare for surgery and as the operating staff prepared around her she heard a voice clearly telling her “the operation is not necessary”, several times. She looked around the room but no one was talking and then she heard the words “ask…ask…ask” and when she wondered who to ask, she heard the words “The head surgeon.”
When Mrs Takata asked the head surgeon whether he knew of any other treatment therapy that would help her, he said that he did but that there was no way to know how long the treatment would take, that it could take one, two months or even a year which meant she would have to extend her stay in Tokyo. She was committed to trying the treatment and it was from there that she was referred to Churijo Hayashi Sensai, a Master Reiki Practitioner.
INTRODUCING CHUJIRO HAYASHI
Hayashi Sensai has played two important roles in Western Reiki. Firstly, he is considered to be the originator of the hand position system used here in the West and secondly, he initiated Mrs Takata to Reiki Master, allowing her to then bring Reiki to the West.
Chujiro was an ex-naval Officer in the Japanese Navy who graduated Navy School in December 1902. He commenced his Reiki training with Usui Sensai in 1925 at the age of 47. It is said in some circles that he was one of the last Reiki Masters trained by Usui Sensai prior to his death.
Usui Sensai taught his students to develop their 'sense' of where Reiki was needed in the body (known as 'Byosen' or 'disease line') using sensations in the Practitioner's hands known as Hibiki (meaning 'echo'). When the Practitioner's hands scanned the body of a client, they would feel a type of 'echo' in their ends of where the body needed Reiki. When practising and teaching Reiki, Usui Sensai used standard head positions for each treatment, then treated any problem area on the body. He also gave additional positions for treating specific conditions.
However, not all students were able to sense hibiki through byosen and it was said that Usui Sensai asked Hayashi Sensai to develop a form of practice that anyone could use.
And so following Hayashi's training, with Usui Sensai's permission, he left the Usui school and started a small clinic in Tokyo named ‘Hayashi Reiki Kenkyu-Kai’.
Hayashi Sensai then developed a Reiki practice form using seven to eight main hand positions that covered the upper body. These positions were based on Eastern traditional healing methods (such as in Chinese Medicine) where the ‘body’ consists of the head and torso and the limbs considered ‘external’. The idea was that when treating these main positions (which cover major energy centres and acupuncture points), the energy would flow not only through the body but also to the arms and legs using meridians. Therefore it is only necessary to treat the head and torso in order to treat the entire body mind.
It is believed that these may have been the basis for the hand positions Hayashi Sensai taught Mrs Takata and which are used in most Western Reiki forms today.
(Pictured: Dr. Hayashi's clinic shaded in on old map of Tokyo)
Taking on her surgeon’s suggestion, Mrs. Takata remained in Tokyo and commenced Reiki treatments with Hayashi Sensai. Within weeks of her daily Reiki treatments, Mrs. Takata showed great improvement. She was so fascinated with Reiki that she begged Hayashi Sensai to train her so that she could treat herself back in Hawaii and also make a living for herself and take care of her family. At that point Reiki was only taught and practiced in Japan to the exclusion of all Westerners. However, following a compelling letter from Mrs. Takata's surgeon, Hayashi Sensai agreed and began teaching Mrs Takata Reiki.
(Photo of a young Hawayo Takata with Dr. Hayashi)
Mrs. Takata then began practicing Reiki on herself daily and within weeks her health improved. Finally, after four months, she began to practice Reiki in Hayashi Sensai's clinic and did so for over a year until finally earning her Second degree in Reiki.
(Reiki certificate with Hayashi Sensai's stamp)
In 1937, Mrs Takata returned home to Hawaii and a few weeks later Hayashi Sensai arrived to help her establish a Reiki clinic in Honolulu. Hayashi Sensai publicly announced Mrs Takata as a Reiki Master at the end of his trip. As a Reiki Master, Mrs. Takata was allowed to now teach Reiki to others.
In her clinic, Mrs. Takata both practiced Reiki and began taking classes to teach and pass Reiki on to students. She also travelled around sharing Reiki and finally came to purchase a large property in Hilo, Hawaii where she continued to practice and teach Reiki.
(Photo of Hawayo Takata demonstrating Reiki in Hawaii. Hayasahi Sensai is pictured behind her at the front of the 2nd row)
In 1949, Mrs Takata had a vivid dream about Hayashi Sensai's impending death and immediately travelled back to Japan. After her arrival she was informed that Hayashi was going to ‘transition’. Hayashi Sensai knew that war was inevitable between Japan and America and knew that as a Naval Reserve Officer, he would be called to active duty aboard a battleship. This would inevitably mean killing many people. As a devout Buddhist and Reiki Master, he could not destroy life. Indeed, Hayashi had dedicated his life to healing and helping people, so rather than kill others, at the age of 62 and in perfect health, with peace in his heart, he took his own life.
And it was at this point that Hayashi Sensai made Mrs. Takata his Successor, leaving his property and practice in Kyoto to her. She claimed that Hayashi Sensai declared her the Grand Master of Reiki (The Leader and Head).
Hayashi Sensai's wife agreed to look after the clinic and the property in Kyoto until Mrs. Takata was able to return there. With the coming of World War II, Mrs. Hayashi and Mrs Takata’s communication was broken and it took several years after the war ended before Mrs. Takata was able to travel to Kyoto to the clinic.
The clinic was the only building that remained in tact with all surrounding buildings now rubble, devastated by war. Mrs Takata then returned to Hawaii with the intent of continuing to spread Reiki there and claimed that she was the only surviving Grand Master in the world after the war and that all other Grand Masters had passed away in their war efforts.
No one truly knows why Mrs Takata altered the story of Usui Sensai and how Reiki came to be, but in the context of the war between America and Japan it is possible that Mrs. Takata took the steps to alter the story about Usui Sensai, claiming that he was a Christian that taught, studied and worked in Christian and Western institutions and Universities to avoid the rejection of Reiki by the West due to the hostilities that existed at the time.
With animosities at their highest between the two countries, anything that even marginally linked back to Japan would most likely have been emphatically rejected in America. Perhaps intent on fulfilling the wishes of Founder and Father of Reiki, Usui Sensai, to spread Reiki worldwide and in order to secure the continued proliferation of Reiki in the West, it would seem that Mrs. Takata made the story more palatable by ‘Westernizing’ and ‘Christianizing’ Usui Sensai.
Furthermore, since the War, Japanese Reiki and the association founded by Usui Sensai, ‘The Gakkai’, has since become (and to this day remains) a very secretive association, only available to the Japanese for membership (and intensely guarded against foreigners). The Reiki practiced by such members is, to this day, only practiced amongst close friends and family members.
Since the war ended, Mrs. Takata continued to practice and teach Reiki prolifically right up until her death at the age of 80. In the final years she initiated 22 Masters and nominated her grand-daughter, Phyllis Furumoto, the Lineage bearer of the Reiki system taught by Takata Sensai.
We here in the West owe a depth of gratitude to her. It was as a result of her tenacity to keep Reiki alive after the War and her ingenuity by re-inventing the story of Usui Sensai in a way that would be accepted in the West that we have Reiki available to us today. It can be said that as a result of Hayashi Sensai's foresight to make Mrs. Takata, a Westerner, a Reiki Master and indeed his Successor, that Usui Sensai's dream to spread Reiki Worldwide became a reality. For that, I remain extraordinarily grateful to them both.
"Just for today
Do not anger
Do not worry
Be grateful for your many blessings
Work honestly and with diligence
Be kind to yourself and to others"
The Five Reiki Precepts
Dr. Mikao Usui