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History and Origins of Reiki
by Terri

In just about every book I've seen on the subject of Reiki the same story of how it originated and how it reached the West is repeated, and comes primarily from a story passed on by one of Mikao Usui's students, Hawayo Takata. Much of the pertinent information regarding Usui's experiences and methods of healing was, according to many, never put into print. Therefore we can only speculate.  Therefore, I decided to look for further information on the history of this healing method. I will first give a synopsis of the history, as taught by the vast majority of Reiki Masters, followed by the Traditional Japanese Reiki version, which held more truth for me than the story commonly told. 

The Traditional Reiki story (as taught in the West) begins in the mid-1800's with Mikao Usui, but was ancient even then. There is a Tibetan Buddhist healing technique called the Medicine Buddha which is very similar to Reiki in that both involve the laying on of hands and passing the attunements from Master to student. There are other spiritual lineages in Tibetan Buddhism involving the same transmission of healing ability. Therefore, it is likely that what Usui "rediscovered" was formerly a Tibetan healing technique that had long since been lost. 

The word "Reiki" is used in Japan to describe many types of healing and spiritual work. Mikao Usui's method of healing is called the Usui System of Natural Healing, also known as Usui Shiki Ryoho. According to Mrs. Takata, it was Usui's desire to find and learn the method by which Jesus did healings. He was told by Christian authorities in Japan that the healing techniques he was looking for was not talked about, therefore unknown. Buddhist monks told him that the ancient spiritual healing method they once knew had been lost long ago when they began focusing on healing only the spirit. They believed that the spiritual side was more important since this was the way to release all karma -- which is the Path to Enlightenment. Buddhists describe the Path to Enlightenment as the only true healing method. 

It's believed that during his studies, Usui learned Chinese and eventually Sanskrit. It was in the Indian sutras that he found the formula for contacting a higher power. Loosely translated, the essence of the sutra indicated that a spiritual being known as the Bodhisattva Supreme Healer is available to assist all those in need of healing. However, knowing a formula is of no use to you if you do not understand it. The same principle applies to the Reiki symbols; they're useless until you have been attuned to them and know how to use them. 

At this point, all he could do was follow the practices in the formula, which meant that he had to travel to the holy mountain of Koriyama and fast, mediate, and follow the directions of the formula for twenty-one days. On the twenty first day, as he stood up and looked out toward the horizon, he saw a point of light coming toward him. He realized that this light had consciousness and was trying to communicate with him. 

This light also held the healing power he had been looking for. He knew that in order to receive this healing power the light would have to strike him, and by doing so, it might kill him. Usui decided that the power to heal the sick was worth the risk of death. The beam struck him in the forehead, knocking him unconscious, during which time he was shown the Reiki Symbols in bubbles of light and color. This was how he received his attunement along with the knowledge of how to use the symbols. 

It was Usui who decided to name this "life force energy," which was being guided by "spiritual wisdom," Reiki. He practiced and taught Reiki throughout Japan for the remainder of his life. Usui's failures in the beginning, as a healer, may have been due to the fact that he focused only on healing the person's physical aliments. In order for one to be truly healed, all three aspects of Self must be healed -- Mind, Body and Soul/Spirit. Before his death, in 1930, Usui gave the Master attunement to somewhere between sixteen to eighteen people. 

In 1925, retired naval officer Chujiro Hayashi was the first to receive the Reiki Master's training from Mikao Usui. Hayashi in turn attuned approximately sixteen (again, sources vary) Masters in his lifetime. Amongst them was Hawayo Takata. Mrs. Takata received her Reiki III from Hayashi in 1938, and (according to Mrs. Takata) was named as Hayashi's successor. 

During World War II, Hayashi's house and clinic were taken over by the Occupation making it difficult for him to continue his practice. Takata was the means by which Reiki continued and was brought to the West. She brought it first to Hawaii, then to the United States, and finally to Canada and Europe. She trained hundreds of people in the Reiki healing system, and initiated twenty-two Reiki Masters prior to her death in 1980. 

In my opinion, most of the stories originating from Mrs. Takata appear to have been created in order to make this healing method more acceptable to post-war, and predominantly Christian, Americans. There are no records indicating that Usui was a Christian, or even a Buddhist, or even a Doctor. And why wouldn't these stories be "slightly exaggerated?" Reiki was being developed in the West during a time when Eastern spiritual mysteries and mysticism was "in," and anything Japanese was "out." 

From what is known, he was a spiritualist in search of a way to end world suffering and perhaps to be "Christ-like" in his teachings and healing methods. His correct title was "sensei," (Usui Sensei) a term meaning teacher or master. The term "doctor" in the West of course was originally applied to academics, initially of the church. The term "sensei" is applied to teachers of Japanese martial arts, such as Karate. 

In my search to find the truth behind the origins taught by the vast majority of Reiki Masters, and because I was having a difficult time with the whole "bubbles of light" theory, I discovered the following version being taught in the Traditional Japanese Reiki, by Reiki Master, Dave King.  I was given permission to teach this version as well, providing that I not change a single word. According to Traditional Reiki, I will honor that request. It is not my intent to debate which version of the history is correct. My only purpose in sharing this with you is to provide you with information not commonly taught in the States. This is also the version that rang true for me. 

"Mikao Usui was born on August 15, 1865 in Gifu district of Japan. Around 1900 he created a system of natural healing based on established Oriental medicine. The system used symbols, had a set of affirmations and employed seven main hand positions set over important acupoints. It was based on ancient Taoist energy practices, allowing the practitioner to draw in energy and pass it on to the client without the need to "recharge." 
He was sent at an early age to a Buddhist monastery which gave foundation to his interest in healing. He had no connection with any Christian school and never went to Chicago (the U of C Divinity School did not even exist at that time). He is likely never to have left Japan and probably did all of his research in one of the many Kyoto libraries. 

After spending many years in his search for a way of connecting to the energy without spending years of exercises and training he meditated at Kurama Temple in the region of a "power spot.". He is said to have undergone a twenty one day period of purification and was given the information that he sought to complete his system during the final meditation. 

Stories regarding a spontaneously healing stubbed toe and the eating of a huge meal followed by the curing of the innkeeper's dental abscess should not be treated with much credibility. They only appear in the Western versions of the story. 
He then spent seven years in the poor quarter of Kyoto and in 1922 opened a school in Tokyo, where he trained many students, sixteen to teacher level, before dying on March 9, 1926 in Fukuyama. The founder of a healing society of the time, Jiro Asuke, had commented that Usui was a very popular healer, and considered a pioneer in this form of healing. 

The names of some of his students are known. There were three naval officers: Taketomi, Hayashi and Guida who studied in 1925. His principal student was named Eguchi, who studied in 1923, and passed on the system to a man named Miyazuki. 

Chujiro Hayashi was born in 1878 and took the training in 1925. he used the knowledge to open a healing clinic in Tokyo. Hayashi developed a complex set of hand positions suitable for clinical use of the system; his clinic employed a method of healing that required several practitioners work on one client at the same time to maximize the flow of energy. Hayashi, as well as changing the focus of the system to fit a "medical" model, also introduced a system of "degrees" in his classes. 

One of Hayashi's ways of getting practitioners for his clinic was to give level I attunements in return for 3 months commitment as unpaid help. After this time he would offer the better students the second level, in return for a further 9 month commitment. Those who completed this had the chance of getting the #4 symbol. After a two years further commitment (which involved assisting Hayashi in the classroom) they were taught attunements and were allowed to teach. . ."

The rest of this story goes on to explain Takata's introduction to Reiki, and her teachings. An interesting note on this: according to the Traditional Japanese Reiki teachings, Takata's master/teacher certificate was notarized in Honolulu and registered by Hayashi on February 21, 1938 and does not confer the title of Grand Master. It simply gives Takata the right to practice and teach the system in the USA. It in no way gave Takata control of the system. In any case, Hayashi was not Usui's chosen successor. 

For over 2000 years, and through all of the changes and reinterpretations in various cultures, Reiki has survived.  Since Takata's death, Reiki teaching techniques in the West have undergone many changes. Several branches of Reiki have evolved, and continue to evolve.  Both Traditional and Nontraditional methods are being taught, both are equally as valid... though many Traditional Reiki Masters would argue that point. Some say that unless it's "Traditional Reiki," it's something other than "Reiki." 

The origins of Reiki should be, and need to be, honored. However, we are living in an ever-changing world and our needs, as individuals and as a society, are constantly changing. What's important now is that we preserve this effective method of healing. Reiki should be within reach of any who want to learn it.

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