Mikao Usui

Many consider that Mikao Usui was the creator / founder of what is probably the best known or most well-known lineage of Reiki and that the word Reiki applies only to the healing modality he discovered and developed; however further research revealed that prior to Usui Sensei coming onto the scene, there were at least 4 other styles of Reiki healing that were being practiced in Japan at that time.

  • In 1914, Matiji Kawakami, a Japanese therapist, created a healing style he called Reiki Ryoho and in 1919 he published a book about it. The English translation of the title of that book would be "Reiki Healing and its Effects."
  • Reikan Tonetsu Ryoho was created by Reikaku Ishinuki.
  • Senshin-ryu Reiki Ryoho was created by Kogetsu Matsubara; and
  • Seido Reisho-jutsu was created by Reisen Oyama.

Since we don’t know very much about how these other systems of Reiki were practiced prior to Usui Sensei developing his system, we don’t know to what extent his system was similar to, or different from these other styles of Reiki.

In March 1922, Usui Sensei allegedly had his most famous Satori or mystical experience on Kurama Yama / Mount Kurama in which he was given Reiki energy and from that experience developed his particular style of Reiki. He called it Usui-Do ("my method"). We now know of it today and refer to it as Usui Reiki. Because of World War II, other forms of Reiki fell into disuse or remained relatively unknown while Usui Reiki continued to be practiced and grew in popularity.

It should be pointed out here that there have been many systems of Reiki healing which are original but do not have lineage going back to Usui Sensei. Reiki energy has been around for thousands of years and some feel that it has been around since the beginning of time. Reiki energy is something that anyone can make use of and of course many have done so with this in mind.  

Because of conditions in Japan after World War II and the fact that Hawayo Takata brought Reiki to the West, Usui Reiki became the predominant form of Reiki practiced throughout the world.

Usui-Sensei was born on 08/15/1865, in the village of Taniai, now called Miyamacho, Yamagata-district, Gifu Prefecture which is located near present-day Nagoya, Japan. His house does not exist anymore. Part of the land was turned into houses and the other part of the land was sold to a timber dealer. Usui’s popular name is Mikao but his pen name was Gyohan. Unbeknownst to many, he did have siblings. Sanya Usui and Kuniji Usui were his younger brothers. He had an older sister, Tsuru. A 95 y/o woman of Usui Mikao’s relatives remembers Mikao’s mother, sister and brother, but about Mikao, she said, “I heard about Mikao and saw photos before, but have never met him. Usui Mikao left home in his youth and did not come back so often, so that few remember about him.” Santa-san went on to become a doctor in Tokyo and Kuniji-san became a policeman in Gifu prefecture.

The time during which Usui lived was one that saw a lot change and upheaval in Japan which affected the environment in which Usui grew up and ultimately permeated the environment in which Reiki developed. For example, in 1867 when Usui was 2 y/o, a few important things happened: Tokyo was opened to foreign trade and the feudal government system was finally toppled. 1868 marked the beginning of the Meiji period when Prince Mutsuhito became the 122nd Emperor of Japan, taking the name Meiji, meaning “enlightened government.” His ascencion to the throne marked the beginning of a national modernizing process referred to as “The Meiji Restoration.” 

In 1871, the Yen became the new form of currency in Japan and the Samurai class were also banned from carrying swords. In 1872 an Imperial Edict gave state permission for Buddhist monks to eat meat, grow their hair, marry, have children, take on a family name and refrain from wearing robes except when performing their religious duties. In 1873, the centuries-old ban on Christianity was finally lifted. Prior to the lifting of this ban, anyone caught practicing Christianity weas either literally forced out of Japan physically or summarily executed. In 1877, the last revolt by the Samurai class was quelled.

This brings us nicely back to Usui and his family which had upper class roots. They were Hatamoto Samurai who were the personal bodyguards of the Shogun. The Shogun was originally a military officer with a rank corresponding to that of General and later the title Shogun was given to heads of military governments in Japan. Usui had an avid interest in learning as a child and he worked hard at his studies. He was sent to a Tendai Monastery at age 4 where he remained for several years. It is know that there was a Tendai Monastery present in the Usui's birth village.

He loved to read. As he grew older, he traveled to Europe and America and also China to further his studies. He spoke several languages. It is assumed that he was schooled in martial arts because he was born into a family with Samurai heritage. According to the teaching of Suzuki San, Mikao Usui began with the practice of a martial art called Aiki Jutsu at the age of 12. He also studied an early form of Daito ryu and in 1899 gained Menkyo Kaiden, the highest level of proficiency in weaponry and grappling. This martial art is mostly considered to be a fighting style created by the Seiwa Minamoto clan and was handed down from generation to generation.

His curriculum included reading books on medicine, history, poetry, theology, philosophy and religious texts such as Buddhist Scriptures and Christian Scriptures. He was well versed in psychology, Taoism, the art of divination, incantation and physiognomy and was fascinated with the new science coming out of the West. He studied the spiritual traditions of Tendai Buddhism as a youth. Tendai is a Japanese form of Buddhism. He later became a Tendai lay minister, a priest called a Zaiki, and also became a member of Rei Jyutu Ka, a metaphysical group dedicated to developing psychic abilities. He held many jobs throughout his life including civil servant, company employee, journalist and helped to rehabilitate prisoners. Usui is also said to have been influenced by Shintoism.  

Usui’s natural character was that of a gentle and prudent man. He was a big man physically and extremely powerful, but quiet in manner and his face was always beaming with a smile. He had a strong personality and his presence would fill a room. He was kind and compassionate though he was also impatient with people who were abusing others of their beliefs or ideas. He could be very outspoken apparently and controversial and was sometimes considered to be a bit of a loose cannon. He followed his own path regardless and his friends would often be concerned about his welfare. His answer to them would be “just for today do not worry.” Usui Sensei did not suffer fools gladly and he could be quite abrasive at times. At other times, he could become righteously angry and quite impatient, particularly with people who wanted results but were not prepared to work for them.

Usui married a woman by the name of Sadako Suzuki, and throughout his early adulthood, they lived in Kyoto. Usui was a businessman and had varying degrees of success. In his younger life, he experienced much adversity, lack of money, no security or regular employment but he seemed not to attach much importance to material things and was regarded as something of an eccentric. He did encounter some difficulties, but his strong determination and positive outlook on life helped him to overcome all of his obstacles. Sometime between 1888 - 1892, Usui contracted Cholera when an epidemic swept through Kyoto during that timeframe.  

It is claimed by some that Usui had a profound near-death experience in which he received visions of Mahavairochana Buddha and received direct instructions from him. This would be the first of two important Satori events in Usui’s life. This was a pivotal experience for Usui which caused him to make a major reassessment of his life. He developed a keen interest in the esoteric science of healing as taught by Buddha, and he develop the compassionate wish that he might learn these methods in order to benefit mankind. When Usui recovered from his near fatal illness, he began to discuss his experiences with his family and family priest. They were outrages at his claims of seeing enlightened deities and the Tendai priest beat him over the head and chased him out of the Temple. It should be noted here that the source of this information has been exposed as having fabricated a considerable amount of supposed “original” reiki information and documents.

Mikao Usui allegedly spent a great deal of time and money pursuing his new found spiritual path by studying and collecting Buddhist scriptures. In particular, he studied Buddhist healing techniques and invested heavily in collecting old medical texts. Usui had good political and academic connections and made many contacts in various countries in his search for texts. For example, in Bombay, India, merchants travelling along the silk route through Tibet to China were given gold to find secret Buddhist healing texts. Usui was particularly interested in obtaining texts from Tibet.

Determined to find the answers to his questions about his visions, Usui eventually met a Shingon Bonze, Watanabe Senior, who recognized Usui’s tremendous spiritual potential and took him on as a student. Usui then became a Shingon Buddhist which outraged his family even more. It is believed that in either 1918 or 1919 is approximately when Usui began his three-year training in Zazen meditation. Another questionable part of the Usui's story alleges that it was during the late 1890s when Usui came across a box containing manuscripts that set out the methods he had sought so assiduously for so many years. Therein lay the Tantra of the Lightning Flash, the secret transmission for healing all illnesses of body, speech and mind. This Tantra allegedly provided the information that he had been looking for and presented a comprehensive healing method derived from esoteric Buddhism as practiced in Tibet. The text dated back to the 7th Century and was brought to Japan by Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism. Current research determines the Tantra holds a direct lineage to the Historical Buddha (563-480 B.C.E.). 1914 has, however, been reliably cited as a possible date that Usui received his Reiki ability, as this was the date given in 2 different Japanese books on Reiki.

Kyoto was home to many large and extensive Buddhist libraries and monasteries that had collections of ancient texts. Usui did much of his research there. Many historians believe that Usui would have had no need to travel the word in search of great spiritual and mystical texts containing the answer he sought for because of the extensive network of Buddhist libraries and monasteries already present in his native Japan. But to continue on with the story, for many years, Usui continued to collect, study and practice the teachings within these medical texts. He became an advanced practitioner and meditation master. His closest friend, Watanabe Kioshi Itami, the son of his Buddhist teacher, became his most devout student. Over time, Usui became a respected and learned Buddhist teacher with a following of devoted students. They met regularly and Usui would teach from the texts that he had been collecting. The focus of his teachings was on healing and benefiting humankind through healing. They practiced elaborate rituals for averting newly created diseases that were ravaging Japan, as well as esoteric practices for healing every type of illness.

Eventually Usui became the secretary of Shinpei Goto, head of the Department of Health and Welfare. It may be that the term "Secretary" could have been a euphemism used in polite society with the understanding that the role Usui held was more along the lines of Bodyguard. This, however, is only speculation at the moment. Usui is believed to have begun working as Secretary of Shinpei Goto in 1921. In 1922, Shinpei Goto became the Mayor of Tokyo. Usui fathered a son named Fuji in 1907/8? and a daughter named Toshiki in 1913. Usui’s son, Fuji, went on to teach at Tokyo University but died at the age of 38. Usui’s daughter Toshiko lived a short life, dying at the age of 22 in 1935. The entire family’s ashes are buried at the grave site at the Saihoji Temple in Tokyo.

During his life, Usui associated with many men and women who held very high spiritual values. Some were famous people in Japan, for example Morihei Ueshiba (founder of Aikido), Onasiburo Deguchi (founder of Omoto religion) and Toshihiro Eguchi (founded his own religion and was a good friend of Usui). There are even connections between Usui and Mokichi Okada, the founder of Johrei, and there are also connections between Usui and Jigoro Kano (founder of Judo) though Kano was not a significant member of the group.

The depth and breadth of Usui's experiences inspired him to discover his life’s purpose. In his search, he came across the description of a special state of consciousness which, once achieved, would not only provide an understanding of one’s life purpose, but would also guide one to achieve it. This special state is called An-shin Ritsu-mei (pronounced on sheen dit sue may). In this special state, a person is always at peace regardless of what is taking place in the outer world and it is from this place of peace that the person comes to understand and then achieve their life’s purpose. One of the special features of this state is that it maintains itself without any effort on the part of the individual; the experience of peace simply wells up spontaneously from within and is a type of enlightenment.

Usui Sensei understood this concept on an intellectual level and dedicated his life to finding and achieving it. This was also considered to be an important step on his spiritual path. He discovered that one path to An-shin Ritsu-mei is through the practice of Zazen meditation. So, he found a Zen teacher (Watanabe Senior) who accepted him as a student and he began to practice Zazen. After 3 years of practice, he had been unsuccessful at achieving this spiritual state and so he sought further guidance. His teacher suggested a more severe practice in which the student must be willing to die in order to achieve An-shin Ritsu-mei.

Usui went to Mt. Kurama Yama (a holy mountain in Japan) on a short retreat to contemplate this material from the boxes he’d discovered so long ago, to review the miraculous healing from his illness and to discover why it was he who had received the Medicine Tantra. In February 1922, he went to Kurama Yama, Mount Kurama, a sacred mountain north of Kyoto; The word Yama translates as Mountain and the word Kurama translates as Horse Saddle; Usui was 56 years old at that time; however, Usui Sensei misunderstood what his Zen master had said. He mistakenly believed that he had to literally die in order to find and achieve An-shin Ritsu-mei rather than just be willing to die. Either way, it was with this idea fixed firmly in his mind, he went to fast and meditate until he transitioned into the next world. He was NOT looking to discover a method of healing. Rather, he was seeking to experience this special spiritual state.

So, Usui Sensei climbed Mount Kurama where he meditated while fasting for 21 days. He gathered 21 stones together and put them in a little pile and as a way to mark time, every day he threw away a stone. As time passed, he became weaker and weaker. It was now March of 1922 and at midnight on the 21st day he stood up and a powerful light suddenly entered his mind and body through the Crown Chakra at the top of his head and he felt as if had been struck by lightning. In fact, the energy, the experience, the awakening was so powerful, it literally knocked him unconscious and he fell down. He was spiritually awakened and at the same time he acquired the gift of Reiki.

The traditional Western version of the History of Reiki says that as the sun rose, he awoke and realized that whereas the day before he felt very weak and near death from his 3-weeks’ worth of fasting, he was now filled with an extremely enjoyable state of vitality that he had never experienced before. A miraculous type of high frequency spiritual energy had displaced his normal consciousness and replaced it with an amazingly new level of awareness. He experienced himself as being the energy and consciousness of the Universe and that the special state of enlightenment he had sought had been given to him as a gift. As you might imagine, finding himself alive and in a state of amazing energy and health, he was overjoyed by this realization.

When this happened, he was filled with such excitement that he went running down the mountain to tell his Zen master about the great good fortune that had befallen him. On the way down the mountain, some say he stubbed his toe on a rock or perhaps tripped. Other versions of this story say that he tripped on one of the massive tree roots and fell down. Either way, he ended up hurting his toe or toenail, and in the same way anyone would do when we get hurt, Usui Sensei placed his hands over his toe which was in great pain. As he did this, healing energy, what we now know as Reiki, began flowing from his hands all by itself. The pain in his toe went away and his toe was healed. Usui Sensei was amazed by this. He realized that in addition to the illuminating spiritual experience he had undergone, he had also received this gift of healing. At that point, he experienced a revelation and he understood that this was his life purpose – to be a healer and to train others.

According to the Eastern version of the History of Reiki, at the completion of his time on Kurama Yama he gained an understanding of these methods and received insight into the Buddhist and other esoteric practices he had been searching for, studying and practicing. This was the 2nd great Satori experience of Usui’s life and what many believe to be Usui’s highest experience of Ki. After much contemplation and careful consideration, he decided to share these teachings with others. Through the distillation of years of study and practice, Usui was able to perceive a method for bringing the essence of these Buddhist practices to the masses. Usui called this healing method Rei Ki.

Mikao Usui was truly a man ahead of his time. He went against the social norms of his day, which were very sectarian and class oriented. Usui believed that everyone should have access to the Buddhist healing methods, regardless of religious beliefs. He wanted to find a way to offer these powerful methods to the common man, with no need for long, arduous practice. Out of his great compassion and determination, he vowed that he would someday find a way to develop a healing that would cure every type of disease and could be taught to anyone, regardless of background, education or religious beliefs.

Usui first practiced his newly discovered method on his family and friends. Then he began to offer this healing method to the lower-class district of Kyoto. Kyoto is a religious center and the people in the streets are taken in and cared for, with each family looking after its own. Usui opened his home to many and for seven years he brought Reiki to them. This gave him the opportunity to perfect and refine his new healing method. Meanwhile, he continued to hold regular classes for his growing circle of Buddhist followers, and further developed and refined his system. It is now believed that Usui was practicing and teaching his Usui-Do or Teate – hand-healing system as early as 1914 as previously mentioned, and possibly even earlier than that as he worked on codifying all his knowledge into a system he could share with others.

He moved to Tokyo in April 1922 and established an institute in Harajuku, Aoyama, Tokyo, a healing society where he taught Reiki to others and also gave Reiki sessions to people who needed healing. His motto for the training center / clinic was “Unity of self through harmony and balance.” At first, all he had was the Reiki energy. Over time he developed his system of Reiki and most of the developments within the Reiki energy which are taught as commonplace now, came after the Great Kanto Earthquake and Tsunami in 1923 which killed over 104,000 people and injured over one million. The earthquake struck 50 miles from Tokyo destroying both Tokyo and Yokohama. That earthquake also caused a large fire in the Kanto District of Tokyo so there was a lot of destruction and devastation to the entire area of the country. Most of the central part of Tokyo was levelled and totally destroyed by fire.

In one instance, 40,000 people were incinerated when a fire tornado swept across an open area where they had sought safety. These fires started because the quake hit at midday at 11:58 a.m., two minutes before noon, when countless hibachi charcoal grills and other sources of open fire and cook pits were ready to cook lunch. The wood houses quickly ignited as they collapsed from the tremors. 460,000 homes collapsed or were destroyed by fire. The public water and sewage systems were destroyed and it took years for rebuilding to take place. Usui Sensei and his students roved the town in the days following the quake, treating the wounded, offering Reiki to countless victims and saving innumerable people from death. Because there were so many people in need of healing, Usui Sensei decided he needed to do something to speed up his ability to train teachers. Just prior to this devastating earthquake in 1923, Usui had begun teaching a simplified form of Reiki to the public in order to meet increasing demand.

Prior to developing the attunement method, he would often treat 6 patients at a time: one patient with each hand, one patient with each foot, a 5th patient with his breath, and the 6th patient with his eyes. As you can imagine, even using every single body part available to him, as one man, there was still only a very limited number of patients he could treat on any given day.

It was at this time that he developed many of his practitioner techniques such as Gassho, Byosen scanning, Reiji-Ho, Gyoshi-Ho, Enkaku Chiryo and so forth. He also developed a formal attunement method of Reiju Kai, making it easier for others to learn Reiki and to become teachers. Prior to developing this attunement process, the method he used to pass on the ability to do Reiki was simply to hold the students’ hands, but this process took too much time to be able to empower a lot of people with Reiki in a short amount of time. He needed something that worked faster. The Reiju Kai made transferring the ability to another person much faster and efficient.

Usui Sensei had many ways which he performed the Reiju Kai, not just one way. He would touch the students’ shoulders or the hips or the knees to give Reiju Kai. During this time, he also developed the Reiki symbols of which he had only 3. These are the 3 symbols that we currently receive in Reiki II which he called Okuden. There was no Master symbol in use or being used at that time as part of Reiki.  

Historical sources indicated that Usui Sensei also gave many attunements to each student, not just one attunement or just one set of attunements. The purpose of the student receiving the attunement over and over was that this process continually acted to further refine and develop the students’ ability to channel Reiki energy, thus making the energy a student channeled more versatile, able to heal a wider range of conditions, to heal more deeply and in a shorter amount of time. Usui’s philosophy is that there is NO limits to the quality and effectiveness of the Reiki energy available in the Universe and an important purpose for all students was to continually seek to improve the quality and effectiveness of the Reiki energy they are able to channel.

The degree of training normally receiving in the Reiki I / II Classes when taught together over 2-days are first degree – called SHODEN (Beginning – First Teaching), second degree – called OKUDEN (Advanced - Inner Teaching) and third degree – called SHINPI-DEN (Mystery Teaching).  

It is said that it was from the actions of Usui Sensei and his disciples immediately after the Kanto Quake that brought more new members into the healing society. The Japanese government issued him a Kun San To award for doing honorable work to help others. This award might have been the equivalent of an honorary doctorate so this may be one possible source of where references to “Dr. Usui” came from. Demand for Reiki became so great that his clinic soon became too small to handle the throng of patients so in 1925, Usui built a bigger one in Nakano, Tokyo. His reputation as a healer spread all over Japan and he began to travel to reach, teach and treat more people. When he began teaching other teachers, he formalized the attunement method so that it would be easier for new teachers to pass Reiki on to others. During his travels across Japan, he directly taught more than 2,000 students and initiated 20 Teachers, each being given the same understand of Reiki and each approved to teach and give attunements in the same way that Usui Sensei did. Usui quickly became very busy as requests for teaching of Reiki continued to grow. He travelled throughout Japan giving Reiki empowerments, not an easy undertaking in those days.

Those Usui trained as teachers also allegedly received the gift of An-shin Ritsu-mei and became enlightened and while Usui Sensei was alive, those Reiki masters he had taught were also able to pass on that same gift of enlightenment to their students who then also became teachers. Unfortunately, after Usui Sensei died, the gift of enlightenment was no longer passed on. Those in the Usui Ryoho Gakkai (a healing society formed by Usui's Reiki Masters) stopped teaching this level of enlightenment. After this, all teaching taking place in the different levels of Reiki training became honorary only and contained no additional training specifically with respect to enlightenment. It is suspected that this choice and this change in teaching may have been done as a way to honor Usui Sensei though there is no actual proof of this. The idea that enlightenment was passed on in an attunement in the past can act as inspiration for us to pray that this wonderful gift is attained again soon now that students gain even more significant benefit from the practice of Reiki.  

In late 1925, eighteen junior Naval Officers and two Rear Admirals joined Usui Sensei’s classes. There is an interesting theory rattling around out there as part of the History of Reiki and I strongly suspect there may be much truth in it which is why I’m including here for you, dear reader. Usui had been providing some healing work at a nearby naval base and the results so impressed the Japanese military that they asked Usui to provide training to some of their officers. Initially resistant to the idea as were many of his existing students who didn’t feel it was right that a spiritual practice should end up in the hands of military men, there seems to have been some arm-twisting that took place and Usui finally relented, agreeing to teach the naval officers. The first 3 of these officers were Churijo Hayashi, Jusaburo Ushida and Kan’ichi Taketomi.

The Japanese Navy wanted to use Usui’s system as a form of first-aid, as a sort of emergency paramedic system of sorts to be used on Japanese ships. At the time, the Navy was desperately short of medically trained personnel and it has been estimated that there was only one Doctor available for every 5000 men. The Navy was searching for a method that could be used as a stop-gap measure until proper medical attention could be given. It was at this time that Usui developed and began using and teaching his system with the inclusion of symbols. The method that Usui taught to the Naval officers was a stripped-down version of his energy healing system. This truncated method was implemented by the Japanese Navy and there are 1930’s Japanese Defense Manuals which give details of the Reiki system that had been developed for them. This was not and shouldn’t be seen as an evolution of Usui’s method, but an ad-hoc version, put together for a particular purpose. It is this method that the West has inherited today believing it to the complete system of Mikao Usui. Usui saw that his method of healing had tremendous potential so out of compassion, to aid all sentient beings, he developed a non-religious Reiki form to suit everyone. This form is the foundation of what is now known as Western Reiki. 

Between the rigors of constant traveling and teaching and the additional scrutiny and pressure from the Japanese Military together started to take its toll on Usui’s health and he began experiencing mini-strokes from stress. Knowing that his death was imminent, one day, while in his office in Tokyo, he gathered all of his documents and materials on Reiki. All his class notes, his diary and the collection of sacred Buddhist texts were placed in a large lacquered box. He gave this box to Watanabe, whom he considered his foremost student and dearest friend. Usui then left for a teaching tour in the western part of Japan. While traveling to Fukuyama to teach, he suffered a fatal stroke and on 03/09/1926 he died. He was 62 years old. His grave is located at Saihoji Temple in Suginami, Tokyo. After Usui Sensei died, his students erected a memorial stone next to his gravestone which still remains and is still tended for to this day. In 2018, Hiroshi Doi Sensei collected donations and created a memorial site in Tannai, Usui’s birth village to commemorate all the good that Usui Sensei has done.  

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