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The Story of Reiki

© December 2005 (revised July 2006) - David L. Gleekel, CRMT

In learning about the roots of Reiki, it is important to divide fact from fiction or language from legend. There are some facts that most Reiki Historians agree upon. We will start with these:

  • There was a man named Mikao Usui.
  • He was born in 1865 in a Japan ruled by the Emperor Meiji and died in 1926.
  • He was a teacher.
  • He was led to rediscover a healing energy that he called Reiki which means Universal Life Force Energy.
  • He developed a healing system that he called Usui Shiki Ryoho (the Usui System of Natural Healing) or Usui Reiki Ryoho (Usui Universal Life Force Natural Healing).
  • He founded an organization called the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai (the Usui System of Natural Healing Council) that still exists in Japan.
  • Usui is referred to in Japan as Usui-Sensei (Honorable Usui). We refer to him in the West as Dr. Usui.

There are many other pieces of information about Dr. Usui that are present in the Reiki Story that are not consistent across all sources. Here are the variations:

  • He was a Christian vs. He was a Buddhist.
  • He taught in a Christian Boys’ School vs. He taught in a Buddhist Monastery.
  • He studied at the University of Chicago vs. No information to confirm this from that school.
  • He taught using an oral tradition vs. He supplied his students with written materials to assist them.
  • He believed in exchanging money for Reiki vs. He healed often at reduced or no charge for the public benefit (as in the Kanto Earthquake in 1922).
  • He was the Grand Master of Reiki vs. He was the President of the Gakkai only and there was no Grand Master title.

Now, we move to what the figure Usui did on his path to Reiki. According to the Western version of the story, as supplied to us by the Usui Shiki Ryoho, the lineage coming through Usui to Hayashi to Takata, Usui was teaching a group of boys. One of the students, as they often do even today, asked a question that Usui was not able to answer, “Whatever happened to the healing that is described in religious texts, where (either The Buddha or Jesus) a religious figure was able to place his hands on someone and they would get better immediately?”

Usui did not know the answer. He was a man of the intellect, so he first began researching the texts of his religions (and possibly others) to find sources that might describe how this healing was done and whether it could be rediscovered. There were a number of mentions in many sources. In the Medicine Buddha sutra, it described the healing that the Buddha did and that this could be done by anyone who had the appropriate level of mindfulness. In the Christian bible, there was a quote from Jesus saying that this he did we could do also.

But his research proved incomplete. There were many references to what healing had been done and hints at what could be done, but no pathway that was clearly described that could lead to someone becoming a hands-on healer once again.

It is said that after seven years of trying to find the answer, Usui retreated to Mt. Kurama, outside of Kyoto, to begin a period of fasting and meditation. This was a traditional site for Japanese Buddhists to come for answers (a sort of Vision Quest power spot). It is also said that Usui took 21 stones up the mountain with him (to keep track of the days he would be on the mountain). He is said to have told a small boy at the monastery that, if he did not return in 21 days, they should come for his bones, because he would be dead. Indeed, Usui was deadly serious about his quest. He climbed to the summit, settled down in meditation, and began his fast. (Author's note: according to a channeled account that I received in 2006, this event occurred in June 1909).

Twenty days passed, but no answers came to Usui. He grew weaker as he watched the stones move from one pile to another. Then, at dawn of the 21st day, Usui was looking at the eastern horizon. He began to see the light changing and thought he was hallucinating. There were bubbles of light developing! The bubbles were multicolored and began to move towards the mountain. They appeared to have symbols, similar to those in use at the Mt. Kurama Monastery, written in old Kanji and Sanskrit characters. The bubbles emitted a kind of humming sound and rushed towards Usui, hitting him at the forehead! He passed out for several hours.

When he awoke, it was nearly evening. He jumped up, so shocked was he at his experience. He tripped over a stone and cut his foot. He instinctively reached down to grasp his foot and found that miraculously the foot appeared to have already healed. He was fascinated. He began his descent down the mountain and arrived at the hut of a poor peasant family. They offered him what they had to eat and it is said that he ate a full meal. Miraculously, he did not get sick after having fasted for 21 days. He recounted his recent experience to the family and they described how their daughter was ill with a toothache and they could not afford to take her to a dentist. He offered to treat her with his hands to see if they would alleviate her pain. Once he did this, her pain was much improved.

Usui continued down to the monastery and was greeted by the monks, telling him that the Abbot of the Monastery was taken ill to bed with severe arthritis. Usui went to see him, recounted his story and was able to much improve the Abbot’s condition. The Abbot encouraged Usui to use what he had been given.

He went to the poorest quarter in Tokyo, called the Beggar’s Quarter. In this neighborhood of those who were forgotten in Japanese society, he was only accepted by the people when he gave away everything that he had to them. Once they accepted him, he worked there for seven years, giving the energy freely that he had been given at Mt. Kurama. But over time, Usui began to notice that beggars left the quarter (having had their “sickness” of begging healed by him), and then returned after a few months or years. Usui met one of them and asked him, “Why is it that you return here? Was the healing not of value to you?” He was answered by the beggar, “The healing was all right, but it was too hard out in the world, there was too much responsibility, too much work; it is much easier to live here.”

Usui took meaning from this that only if someone receiving the healing had to put forth some form of value to receive this healing would he value that healing. This led to the tradition of exchange for money or barter for Reiki sessions, except among family or close friends. Usui established a clinic in Tokyo and began seeing upper class citizens of Japan. A number of high-level government officials and military officers came to see him and eventually became his students. This grew dramatically after he assisted during the Kanto Earthquake of 1922 in Tokyo, when ¾ of the city was reduced to rubble. Usui was awarded an award by the Emperor for his assistance during the earthquake.

Usui’s way of marketing was to hold a torch and stand in the financial district of Tokyo. When passersby would remark that he was crazy to be holding a torch in the daylight, he would tell them that there was a light that they could not see and he could show it to them. He would invite them to his clinic that evening to learn. Usui developed the concept of the attunement or initiation, designed to recreate the experience that he had on Mt. Kurama.

Usui is said to have died four years after the Kanto Earthquake in 1926. Information which I received from the story told by Hiroshi Doi, the developer of Modern Reiki (Gendai Reiki in Japanese) indicates that Dr. Usui passed away while on travel to teach Reiki in the North of Japan in July 2006.

One of the military officers that Usui taught was Chujiro Hayashi. He was a retired Admiral in the Japanese navy. He was also an engineer and is said to have been the source for the hand positions and much of the story that we learn in Western Reiki classes today. He also developed the system of four attunements for level one; two attunements for level two and one attunement for level three.

In recent research, it has been found that Hayashi held no office in the Gakkai, but was a respected healer and had a well-known clinic. Many of his fellow practitioners had to work at other jobs because the practice was not considered to be lucrative, although it was helpful to many people. In information received from Hiroshi Doi, it indicates that Dr. Hayashi was encouraged to start his clinic by the Gakkai. Later, the two organizations appeared to separate.

Hayashi was the teacher of Mrs. Hawayo Takata, the woman who brought Reiki to the West. All Western Reiki Masters can trace their lineage to her.

Mrs. Takata was born in 1900 and was from Kauai, the “garden island” of the Hawaiian Islands of parents who were native Japanese. She married young and by her early 20’s had three daughters. Her husband died soon after the third daughter was born and she was forced to work three jobs to keep her family fed. Her health grew weaker and weaker, due to her high level of stress from working so hard. In the early 1930’s, her sister passed away and she felt it necessary to travel to Japan where her parents were visiting to inform them of the news. Soon after her arrival, she suffered some kind of terrible pain and was taken to the local hospital. The doctors recommended surgery and she reluctantly agreed. As she was being prepared for surgery, before the anesthesia was administered, she says that she heard her dead husband’s voice, insistently saying to her, “Surgery is NOT NECESSARY!” She at first thought this was her fear talking, until she heard, “Surgery is NOT NECESSARY—ASK the surgeon!” She asked the surgeon if there was another way besides surgery to help her pain and was told that the surgeon’s nurse, Mrs. Hayashi, was married to a local Reiki Practitioner who might be able to help her.

Mrs. Takata thus met Dr. Hayashi and lived in his clinic for a number of months, gradually getting stronger. It is said that at her first treatment, she jumped up from the tatami mat where the treatment was being given and looked for electrical cords because the amount of heat that she felt seemed to her to be like electricity. It is said that Dr. Hayashi found this to be so funny, that he fell off the stool he was sitting on, when he heard it.

After Mrs. Takata began to get better, she asked Dr. Hayashi to teach her Reiki. He at first declined, but when she agreed to stay and work with him for a year in his clinic, he taught her the first two levels of Reiki. Then, she and her family returned to Hawaii.

In 1938, Mrs. Takata was made a Reiki Master. She taught from then until the year of her death in 1980. She began to teach Reiki Masters in the final four years of her life and by the time of her death had taught 22 Reiki Masters. She died December 12, 1980, just before her 80th birthday.

Among the Reiki Masters taught by Mrs. Takata was Iris Ishikuro. She is said to have taught only two people: Her husband and a man named Arthur Robertson. Arthur Robertson developed a type of Reiki called Raku-Kei and taught many Reiki students in his lifetime. Both he and Iris passed away in 1991. Even though Iris only taught two people, she is considered the “mother” of the independent Reiki movement, for from her lineage; people began to reduce the fees charged for Reiki training.

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