A short history of Reiki

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There are several differing versions of the history of Reiki, and new information is coming to light all the time due to new research and increasing east-west dialogue. 

The following information represents a summarised version of the basic sequence of events sufficient for introductory purposes and as I understand it at the moment of writing.

Although probably based on very ancient teachings, Reiki as we know it was discovered and developed by Dr Mikao Usui who was, amongst other things, a Buddhist monk in Japan in the late 19th century.

Born in 1865, the traditional story is that he contemplated the healing practices of both Jesus and the Buddha and travelled to ancient Tibetan and Japanese monasteries seeking the knowledge and ability to heal.

We now know that as a child he studied kiko in a Buddhist temple on the sacred mountain of Mount Kurama. Kiko is a form of Qi Gong which focuses on the development and use of Ki or life energy as part of a health-improving discipline combining meditation, breathing practices and slow moving exercise.

This Ki could be used for healing but in doing so the giver’s energy was often depleted, something which Dr Usui questioned.

As an adult he travelled widely in Japan, China and Europe in pursuit of knowledge, studying a wide range of subjects including medicine, psychology, religion and metaphysics.

Dr Usui's education and abilities resulted in government employment in the department of health and welfare in Tokyo and for a while he also became a successful businessman. However, in 1914 he decided to join a Buddhist monastery.

After intense training he felt drawn to return to Mount Kurama and make a 21-day fasting retreat on the sacred mountain.

He fasted, chanted, prayed and meditated. (He may have undergone the waterfall meditation which is practised on Mount Kurama to this day, whereby a stream of water on the head is used to purify and open the crown chakra).

Towards the end of his retreat he experienced a very powerful light entering the top of his head and he had a ‘satori’ or enlightening experience. He called this light “Reiki” and realised its power gave him the means to channel healing without becoming depleted himself.

Dr Usui then started a healing society in Tokyo named Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai and opened a clinic, gave Reiki treatments and began teaching.

After the devastating earthquake in 1923 thousands of people were left homeless, injured or emotionally traumatised, and there was an increasing demand for Reiki.

In 1925 Dr Usui opened a much larger clinic and began travelling all over Japan to teach Reiki. He believed that Reiki was a way for anyone to experience the divine, and that this would make people more willing to work together for a better world.

He trained sixteen teachers, one of whom was Dr Chujiro Hayashi who eventually, after Dr Usui’s death, broke away from the Gakkai to form his own association.

Mrs Hawayo Takata was born to Japanese parents in Hawaii in 1900. Around 1935 after her husband’s death she travelled to Japan to visit family and seek help with her health. She had been diagnosed with a lung condition and also had abdominal pains.

After visiting Dr Hayashi’s clinic for four months she was completely healed. In 1936 she began to study Reiki with Dr Hayashi and worked in his clinic for a year, before returning to Hawaii where she established two clinics. She gave treatments and began teaching Reiki, travelling to the US mainland and to other parts of the world.

It was Mrs Takata who developed some of the Reiki practices we use today in the West and she initiated 22 Reiki masters before her death in 1980.

She also added some rules which others have considered restrictive, and in recent years there has been some modification of these and increasing research into Dr Usui’s original teachings.

Like many living practices, Reiki is still evolving as our knowledge and experience develops and more information about Dr Usui’s teachings come to light.

Usui Shiki Ryoho is the Japanese name for the system which has evolved using the original teachings of Dr Usui plus some more recent practices.

Our knowledge of Reiki’s history is still unfolding, partly due to language restrictions, the effects of World War II and previously poor east-west dialogue.

If you wish to know more I recommend reading “The Spirit of Reiki” by Walter Lubeck, Frank Arjava Petter and William Lee Rand (Lotus Press 2001).