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Mikao Usui, Sensei, the founder and ultimate Teacher and Master of Reiki, was born in 1865, near Kyoto, Japan. He was a very spiritual man – from a spiritually oriented family – a man who took his daily religious and meditation exercizes very seriously. In 1921 his deep devotion, vast personal searching, life experiences and a particular profound Satori during a sacred retreat on Mount Kurama, culminated into new insights and an even more focussed way of energy transference that we now call Reiki. Master Usui had numerous students of varying levels of proficiency and dedication, who learned meditation in groups throughoout Japan but mainly in the Tokyo area. He added this very unique hands-on-healing element to his classes in 1921.
Reiki is a Japanese word, made up of two Japanese kanji – Rei and Ki – meaning, roughly translated, universal and energy. The word Reiki is often translated as “Universal Life Force Energy” or “Spiritual Ray of Life”.
During the early twentieth century in Japan, during Master Usui’s time, one hundred years ago, the ancient art of hands-on-healing was enjoying a Renaissance. Healing, so much a part of shamanistic practice in all parts of the world for thousands of years, was also known in Japan. There were many different types of healing forms achieved through meditation and energy transference and gradually “touch” was also being practised by various teachers affiliated with the accepted spiritual traditions at that time.
As Master Usui’s classes and healing work spread, other teachers of other healing modalities shared their knowledge with each other and with Master Usui. We now know that Master Usui’s Reiki was not a rigid or static method but evolved, gradually, over those last five years of his life (and the first five years of Reiki) and that there was unique synergy between himself, his students and other serious and dedicated healing pioneers of his time.
The Reiki part of the meditation ‘work’ classes and gatherings was not well known in Japan, initially. It was deemed best to keep it quiet and hidden. Master Usui went along with this until the massive earthquake of 1923 that devastated a huge part of Tokyo and left the city in ruins. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost and even more people were injured, shocked and disrupted. At this time Master Usui, who had up to that point been the only teacher at his Reiki Gakkai (Learning Society which he had officially started the year before), made some changes such that eight of his senior students were given teacher “status”. He taught them to teach Reiki to others and they went forth into the damaged city to do as much healing as possible. And so the general public experienced this wonderful work also and at a time when it needed it most.
In 1925, Master Usui led meditation and Reiki healing classes at many centres and then opened a clinic / school in Nakano. He was much sought after and then also began traveling and lecturing on top of his busy work schedule. In those last four short years, he taught thousands of students and trained about 17 teachers – from all walks of life including five Buddhist nuns and four admirals. He wanted this simple technique to be available to all people – as many as possible – worldwide – no discrimination – open.
The teachers associated with him also initiated more people and thus Reiki and Master Usui became known in all of Japan.
Had Master Usui not felt the need to reach out and share the Reiki ways – and act in contradiction to accepted Japanese socially correct “rules”, then Reiki would not have been given away so widely. And we, in the West, would probably never have been introduced to it, as a consequence.
Master Usui died in 1926.
The Society that Master Usui founded in Tokyo – now called the Usui Reiki Ryoho Society – dedicated a tomb stone to Master Usui and you can read more on that at http://aetw.org/reiki_gokai_inscription_2.html. This society and other closed societies continued on over the years (and actually survived WWII). They are overseen by a chairperson, appointed for life (about 8 since Master Usui’s passing).
As five of Master Usui’s associates, also society members, were well placed in the Japanese Navy, we think that Reiki may have also been spread through those contacts prior to World War II breaking out.
Master Hayashi, a retired rear-admiral and dear friend of Master Usui’s, seperated himself from the society a year after Master Usui’s passing – and that largely became the great blessing for the west. He was taught Reiki shortly before Master Usui’s passing. The Hayashi line of Reiki teaching then proceeded to reach the west through his Japanese Hawaian student Master Hawayo Takata and she is the most well known Reiki teacher in the West, and yet not the only lineage Sensei Usui initiated, nor the only source of the original information that Master Usui created and utilized.
As far as I can gather from reading the research of a number of dedicated seekers, Master Mikao Usui’s teachings at the Master / teacher level were passed on also to:
Rick Rivard has a wonderfully written look-see into the Reiki origins of the 1920’s in Japan at https://www.threshold.ca/reiki/Reiki_styles.html
The Reiki teachings of the day were transmitted orally and generally the written form was a collection of Q and A’s, between teacher and student, from generation to generation. Many stories, myths and legends about Master Usui and about the origins of Reiki have appeared – some honourable, some dubious and some quite preposterous.
Master Usui had a varied career, especially by Japanese standards of the day which was to have one and stick with it more or less. He also travelled extensively. But Master Usui did not study theology in Chicago for seven years or live in Tibet as a monk for 12 years, nor go to India for three years, etc. This may have appeared as wishful thinking by many who wanted the Judaio-Christian world to feel more comfortable with a devote Buddhist who practiced hands-on-healing.
Hands-on healing was considered quackery in the rough and tumble USA pre WWII, a criminal offense in fact, and even some parts of modern post-war northern Europe held that view. We have moved on from those obtuse times and tend to forget the prejudice for un-similar, unusual ways and people who are ‘different’ – and we have modified some attitudes that now seem rather as thick-as-two-planks, negative, dangerous and closed-minded. (For example, I remember that an attempt on my Dad’s life had been made when we first came to Canada in 1953 because he had “taken a job that should have gone to a Canadian”). (And I was given the strap daily in a two-room school house by an Irish-Canadian nun who could not abide by the fact that one of her students was a Protestant and refused to kneel!)
I had a teacher who thought I should remove the second “k” from my last name, just so I would “fit in better” and I also remember making a new 7-year-old friend whose mother beat her mercilessly for playing with a “bloody DP”, after having been warned repeatedly to stay away from me! … all this in easy-going Southern Ontario, Canada, in the 1950’s. Those were the times and those were the times in Hawaii, too for Mrs, Takata as strange as that seems today…
So the need for the Reiki ‘story’ in context of how people viewed anything ‘foreign’ makes a lot of sense to me. I certainly understand the emergence of a “story” of Reiki’s specialness when it was first introduced to the USA, in a Japanese-hating, post Pearl Harbour environment. But we now can clean up this convoluted western version of Reiki history and I am sorry that this was not done by intelligent Reiki people close to Master Takata after her passing or even by the Reiki Alliance.
In the last 50 years, various Western Reiki teachers (as well as some Japanese) created their own personal variations of the system of Reiki healing and thus there are now many different Reiki “offshoots” with names of their own. It is estimated that there are more than 100,000 Reiki masters and one million Reiki practitioners in the world today.
The search for the “truth and roots” about Reiki and it’s history is fascinating and leads one down many interesting pathways. In the late 90’s a few very dedicated western Reiki Masters were determined to uncover the REAL origins of Reiki; they wanted to find out what had happened to Reiki during WWII and how it seemed to come back and have a renaissance; who were the teachers now. They wanted to analyse the gaps that may have occurred in the interim so that corrections in the west could be attempted and new findings could possibly be shared with the east and vice versa.
Had all the teachers and students in Japan perished? Did they have any contact with other surviving healing groups – in Japan or beyond? Was Reiki even being practised? Where were the teachings kept and documented? What was the older generation in Japan quietly doing or not doing at all?
And many of us wanted more details of the life of Master Usui himself and his intentions for the work in future years so that we would not be guessing and so that we would not be assuming that no one was even interested in Reiki back in Japan, post-war!. We owe these pioneers who dedicated themselves to finding the answers (in spite of closed Japanese doors to sincere requests) a huge debt of gratitude.
Western-type Reiki is both practical (hands-on-healing) and spiritual (mediation oriented) and developed on some of the fundamentals of the Reiki that Master Usui taught – but not totally. Due to the different nature of our Western culture and modern fast-paced times, his classes were entirely different – and so there are no truely “traditional” Usui-type classes being taught in North America today and probably not in Japan, either. His classes were undertaken with long term commitments (many years), which we do not require in the Western world, even though we often read that someone teaches in the same manner as Master Usui, we doubt that the student signs up for an unlimited number of years – one evening per week. What is meant, no doubt, is that the course content may have similarities and overlap and the method of passing on the healing energy and concepts may be somewhat similar, too.
We also know that Master Usui met like-minded people and information was shared by people honing their skills in similar and overlapping gentle healing ways and a lot of fine cross-pollination took place, including at the weekly Reiki gatheirngs.
Master Usui had an open mind, versatile thinking and a huge heart, and hence the idea of sharing information and inviting other healers into his and his students’ midst. He may even have incorporated some of the newer elolved concepts he encountered and that he felt were appropriate, much as we do today – much as energy work evolves today, too.
For example, Master Takata, who was one of the first to teach Reiki in the Western world, taught 12 distinct hand postitions to her Level One students, so that anyone could do Reiki, including anyone as thick as two planks. This had been shown to her by her teacher, Master Hayashi, who had developed these 12 hand postitions for Master Usui just before he passed on in 1926. These twelve basic hand positions were written out to help those students lacking inherent intuition to be able to do a good job!
Later, others she had trained started to add more “basic” hand positions (arms and legs and chakras) and their students, thinking they are the original ones, pass these on, and no harm is done, of course…
There was no emphasis placed on advanced development of intuition in the early classes in the West. Sometimes Master Takata’s students were very advanced meditation, acupuncture and yoga practitioners. Sometimes Master Takata just “knew” who would be very capable – and then they were invited to become a student.
In comparing notes, many years later, that some of Master Takata’s students’ had taken after the end of classes, we see variations and that speaks to the fact that with energy healing work even the great teachers did not feel that the work was static and cast in stone…
Most of us believe that the contemporary teachings should be as close as possible to the original teachings, even as this may be a challenge… but within the confines of present day dynamics. Change just for the sake of it has no place in Reiki education.
This may include, for example, making sure that students can learn to “run” energy from their hands properly by doing special energy exercises that may not be identical but as close as possible to what was at the disposal of Master Usui’s original classes. Neither Master Usui’s or present day classes should include aromatherapy, shamanic symbols and crystals, to name a few “add-ons”, to a class. A few more insights at https://www.aetw.org/pdf/Ogawa.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2mi_IFMDcXEh7nyWsynfmeXJTjRk7O8q1kvczBj4kpppB0RnJeQYYfXPo
Back in Japan, in the ’20’s, if you were invited to join an Usui healing / meditation group, you would probably spend many years diligently going to class, one evening per week, for years and practicing daily and improving till eventually you’d be invited to a higher level group if you were interested to do so. Dedication, commitment, time and patience were obviously central to being involved. An invitation to become a teacher could possibly evolve from these steps to higher levels.
There was no textbook to purchase. NO price shopping and comparing. NO internet attunements. Rather each student copied the questions and answers from his / her teacher’s book into their own Reiki notebook and then continued to record their own questions and answers from each ensuing class – one noted question per evening session would be deemed appropriate.
This is not possible in our present time frame – things must be learned in a quick and compact manner. On the other hand, it is absolutely not necessary to teach Reiki by Skype or correspondence or to throw all levels together into one jiffy class. That totally demeans the process, in my opinion. Is it a smart marketing ploy? Calous quickies certainly do not serve our learning experience, nor empower us, nor show us how to develope our healing abilities, nor do the ridiculously “quickified” versions capture ANY of what Master Usui taught and aimed for.
You’ll be able to tell the depth of a Reiki teacher’s work by many facets – and one is to look at the manuals your teacher has created – is it a few pages of quick notes, a bookstore bought manual similar to everyone else’s from a teacher of the same lineage? Or is the manual a compilation of information that the teacher has gathered over time and thinks is the very best to pass on.
As a devout, practicing Tendai Buddhist from early childhood, Master Usui would have had a deep understanding of the wisdom and teachings of the Buddha – teachings that were the result of his own direct investigations, deep meditations and guidance from his religious advisors, not from “supernatural” revelations or some form of channelling. In fact, we read in Curtis Lang and Jane Sherry’s history of Reiki that what Master Usui taught was that nothing was to be taken “on faith”. His students were to examine his teachings for themselves, based on their own experiences, whether Reiki was able to transform suffering into well-being and upliftment.
There are no or few exact documents of Master Usui’s original healing system or methods as he taught it. We know he generally used only about five different hand positions and was guided by his intuition. He even worked with one hand when he felt called to.
He also noticed that not all his students had his great intuitive insights and asked a most trusted student to record a set of hand positions that anyone could use to give a thorough session. These became the 12 original hand positions that Master Usui asked Master Hayashi to draw up, and which have been passed down to us via Mrs takata (and have often been added to or changed).
(Master Usui’s teachings cannot be retrieved, copied and desseminated, even though they still exist with the original Gakkai. These now “sacred” documents have been kept out of sight as the teachers and practitioners do not discuss these details, or of their society with non-members and where membership into the society is by invitation and closed to foreigners). Due to the nature of Japanese society, information and knowledge is often kept within one’s own family or group and never shared, even for the common good… Well, almost never…
One of Master Usui’s senior students, Toshihiro Eguchi, knew Master Usui’s methods in its original form and taught this as well as his own system of touch healing that he integrated. One of his students, Yuji Onuki, decided to travel the world (including in Italy), in order to pass it on and teach what he had learned from Master Eguchi, way back in the 1970’s. Several of these Italian students later went back to Japan, searched for the details and clues of their Reiki history and ended up teaching Japanese people Reiki ~ Reiki had come full circle, geographically!
In the mid 1990’s, a German Reiki teacher, Frank Arjava Petter, was living in Japan teaching German, English and Reiki with his Japanese wife. He had no idea that Reiki in Japan actually still existed (in the closed/hidden societies – the Reiki Associations in Japan had no desire to communicate with foreigners, even though they were appalled that Reiki had experienced changes which the internet had brought home to them). Master Petter’s serious searching efforts for Reikii origins came to dead-ends. One of his students, however, spoke up and explained that there were many others in Japan who quietly knew Reiki from before World War II, but in a rather different form. This student went against the norm of vigilance and silence.
“Then one day we were given the telephone number of someone who had practiced Reiki since the 1930’s. My wife talked to the person who turned out to be Mrs. Kimiko Koyama, the president of the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai. With her help we were able to provide a lot of factual information about Dr. Usui, his life and his life work: Reiki! It was her who led us to Dr. Usui’s grave at the Saihoji Temple in Tokyo. The following research and the resulting information is documented in my first four books: “Reiki Fire”
“Reiki, the Legacy of Dr. Usui”
“The Original Reiki handbook of Dr. Mikao Usuiî”
“The Spirit of Reikiî”.
Arjava Petter was wonderfully determined and deeply sincere. He found that the past Reiki practices were quite different from those taught in the West, but that the Reiki energy was more or less the same. The only difference was in the methods by which the energy was applied.
Later, he began to research the work of Master Chujiro Hayashi and again met with nothing but dead ends and worthless leads. But, in 1999, he heard of an older woman teaching Reiki in Kyoto who had been a student of Dr. Chujiro Hayashi! So he and his wife, Chetna spent five days with Ms. Chiyoko Yamaguchi and her Reiki Master son Tadao and learned their traditional Japanese Reiki One and Reiki Two in the same manner that Master Hayashi had taught it six decades prior to Master Takata – a foreigner whom I describe below!
“I was disappointed with the way many Western Reiki teachers lived their lives and how they did not live what they taught… The day we left the Yamaguchi’s home in Kyoto I said to Mrs. Yamaguchi that it had been an immense pleasure to finally meet a Reiki adult. In the Western World we are still in the adolescent Reiki age, and what we call tradition is at the most thirty years old. But in the presence of the Yamaguchis I felt that the spirit of Reiki was transmitted continuously. In every smile, in every reassuring word the humble lady uttered, every little hint she gave us in regard to healing, and in the way she walks, talks and lives each moment of her life. Mr. Yamaguchi and his mother have now begun conducting monthly courses for foreigners.”
Chris Marsh (an advanced martial arts student from Britain and a connoiseur of the Japanese language, a Tendai Buddhist and frequent traveller to Japan for his devoted studies) was serendipitously introduced to a Buddhist nun, over 100 years old, who had been a student of Master Usui in the 1920’s and possibly a niece of Master Usui’s wife! Chris Marsh was told by her that she and others were not happy with what had become of Reiki throughout the world. She taught him what she had learned from Master Usui himself.
And here is his very delightful story – https://ihreiki.com/blog/japan_reiki/?v=3e8d115eb4b3
Back in England Chris shared his new Reiki knowledge with another Reiki Master who was searching for solid Reiki history details as well, namely Andrew Bowling.
In the following years, Andy and Chris were seperately and judiciously and very gradually introduced to more of Master Usui’s students (some from 96 to 111 years old). Some original notes and notebooks and manuals were allowed to be viewed. From this a lot of sharing in the West followed amongst many who were also seeking the “better history”, culminating in the first Usui Reiki Ryoho International workshop, in Vancouver, organised by Vancouver’s Rick Rivard, and Tom Rigler, Andrew Bowling and some other North American devoted Reiki Masters.
Hiroshi Doi-Sensei, a member of the Usui Reiki Society in Tokyo came to Vancouver and spoke about his Society’s history of Reiki. He also presented a modified version of a Usui Reiki empowerment procedure that was often used at the meetings called Reiju – a small empowerment exercise – a sort of mini-attunement.
So, bit by bit, the existence of Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai and details of the Reiki practices and Reiki history have been released to the rest of the world in a very controlled, limited manner.
Usui-Sensei died in 1926 of a stroke and following his death, Master Hayashi (a close friend) continued Reiki healing and teaching on his own, separate from the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai, because, he too believed that this universal energy was for everyone and not to be “keet in the closet”.
Master Hayashi created the first Reiki Centre and clinic, where people could pay to receive healing.
By 1939 he had initiated thirteen Reiki teachers. At that point he did not wish to continue to live as he knew Japan was heading to war. Japan had struck up an alliance with Germany and although retired, he knew he’d be called up to serve ~ after saving lives for so many years, killing was not an option. A woman from Hawaii who had initially come to his Tokyo clinic for healings (and stayed to learn) became one of his thirteen Reiki Masters.
Mrs. Hawayo Takata was born on December 24, 1900 on the Island of Kauai, Hawaii, the daughter of Japanese immigrants. While in Japan visiting her parents in 1936, Mrs. Takata needed medical intervention with appendicitis, gallstones and a tumour. Just minutes before the surgery, she heard a voice saying “There is another way – surgery is not necessary.” When she queried the surgeon just as he was to start the operation he answered her that, yes, indeed, there was another way. His wife worked at a Tokyo clinic where hands-on-healing was practiced and he referred her to Master Hayashi’s Reiki clinic. And after several months of daily healing sessions there, she was cured and totally sold on this wonderful elegant system! She stayed on in Japan, lived with the Hayashi’s (Mrs. Hayashi and daughter were both Reiki Masters – women were not limited from learning this work) and she obtained instruction from Master Hayashi while working in his clinic for a year – her equivalent to Reiki Level One and Two.
In a priceless YouTube video created by Sun Crow you’ll see a wonderful collection of photos of the early Reiki Japanese Practitioners. This video is dedicated to James Deacon – a fine Irish Reiki master with a very insightful website: http://www.aetw.org
In 1938, Mrs. Takata brought the healing system of Reiki back home to Hawaii, where she started a clinic on Oahu. The following year, Master Hayashi and his daughter came over to help her for a few months and gave their blessing to the first Reiki clinic outside of Japan! Mrs. Takata was initiated as a Reiki Master by Master Hayashi during this visit and was even given an English language Master certificate.
Mrs. Takata needed to appease the local Hawaiian authorities and that’s why we see the “Dr.” on her certificate and the fact that the certificate is in English (and that is why we still call Master Hayashi, Dr. Hayashi, so as to lessen the claims of quackery, which was a criminal offense at the time in the USA). And the term “Master” was used to imply that Mrs. Takata had excellent knowledge – as in Master carpenter or Master plumber. Two government goofs sat stoically in her office, day in and day out, to pounce if ever any money were to change hands so they could shut her down and charge her.
Clients paid in eggs, kimonos, chickens, breads, books and more.
Mrs. Takata stopped her healing work in her clinic after the Pearl Harbour bombing and resumed her practice of Reiki on the Hawaiian Islands in the late ’40’s. She studied nutrition and massage during her hiatus. She thought that Reiki in Japan had not survived WW II.
Much later she began to teach the level One and Two classes. By 1975 she began to teach practitioners to become Reiki teachers (by invitation). She travelled to the American mainland and Canada and eventually initiated 22 Reiki Masters, in all, by the time of her death in 1980. Of these masters, five were from the Slocan Valley in BC.
Mrs.Takata travelled to Japan in the mid 50’s and taught a first level class there and anticipated opening Reiki Centres with students who would carry on. Takata-sensei also had a small heart attack around that time and did not return back to Japan. In later years she often travelled with her granddaughter Phyllis Furumoto to the many Reiki classes convened for her in North America by many grateful people healed by her magical hands and who also may have wanted to become potential students.
In the mid 80’s a Mikeo Mitsui travelled to Japan to teach Reiki. She was a student of Barbara Ray’s who had been taught by Takata-sensei. She may have connected with Mrs. Takata’s original students, in Japan, too.
We know that many Reiki students in Japan today see Reiki differently than we do. Infact what they had been taught had not even been called Reiki then; did not include the use of the Reiki Symbols; nor had they even been shown the Reiki Symbols.
Within a very short few years after Takata-sensei’s passing in 1980, Reiki in the West had in many cases evolved far from the specific understandings and practices as taught by Takata-sensei herself. But so also had the original Reiki of Master Usui’s time changed … over the years … except, ofcourse, in a different environment, differing constraints and differing teachers and thought leaders.
Intense debate over how to continue on in North America began immediately following Mrs. Takata’s passing. A group of mainly Mrs. Takata’s original 22 Reiki teachers formed the Reiki Alliance led by granddaughter, Phyllis Lee Furumoto. She assumed the title of “Grandmaster” and continued on as close as possible to the previous ways of her grandmother. The Reiki Alliance is a global community of masters honoring the spiritual lineage of Mikao Usui, Chujiro Hayashi, Hawayo Takata and Phyllis Lei Furumoto.
Some Reiki Masters who were initiated by Mrs.Takata, spread the Reiki teachings during the 1980’s and made lasting changes. Some even renamed their Reiki as it had changed so drastically. They also reduced the tuition fees for Mastership training and consequently the rigid price structure Mrs. Takata had adhered to for her classes crumbled and thus many more Reiki Masters were created while qualifications also lessened. This led to the development of yet more off-shoot practices, as new Reiki Masters added their own concepts, tools and idiosyncrasies to the traditional “western” Reiki ways.
Mrs. Takata’s teachings were close to that of her teacher Dr. Hayashi and changes that she made were for practical purposes to adapt the work to Western and North American cultural ways. A typical Level One during master Usui’s time would take a number of years to complete ~ you simply were AT a level for a portion of your life and generally met with your group and teacher one evening per week.
With Dr. Hayashi, students worked in the clinic daily for many months and even years to attain what he called a form of Level One.
With Mrs.Takata, from the ’60s onward, four half days were set aside for teaching and with the students’ commitments that daily practice would follow on one’s own time.
The study of the chakra system became a widespread inclusion and with the rise of New Age spiritual practices, Reiki practitioners began to work consciously with and include Spirit Guides, Ascended Master Teachings, Arch Angels and Nature Divas. Some practitioners also incorporated crystals, channelling, past life healing, shamanism, crystal bowls and various other modalities into their Reiki classes ~ a veritable circus – and now one can understand why the Japanese were less than impressed with Western Reiki.
Then on-line classes were conceived, symbols started to circulate on the internet, Reiki aficionados felt the need to use Japanese words where English words and phrases would do fine and long-distance classes were taught with long-distance attunements!
Students felt free to study with more than one teacher at once – and more than one lineage – a veritable certificate collection game. Competition for the cheapest and shortest classes led to another level of loss of quality and integrity.
As students and practitioners of Reiki, it is up to us to practice what is a most important spiritual aspect — discernment. We must use our reason, intuition and our inner spiritual guidance to understand the true nature of Reiki and to verify this truth for ourselves through our own direct experience and stay on course.
As Reiki practitioners we naturally exercise tolerance for those who practice a different form of Reiki and who belong to a different lineage. As a Hindu yogi master once said, “When you have found a path up the mountain, and you can see the summit from far below, it is tempting to call out to those struggling to ascend on either side of you, and to tell them: ‘Look, I have found the way.’ It is only when one reaches the summit itself that one has the all-encompassing view of the mountain itself, and then one realises that there are many paths to the summit, .
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