Reiki begins with the story of Mikao Usui, who was born on 15 August, 1865, in a village called Taniai in the Yamagata district of Gifu prefecture. Mikao (who was also known by the name of Gyoho as a child) studied at the Mt Kurama Buddhist temple school, which is a noted Japanese meditation site. He married Sadako who came from the Suzuki family. They named their son Fuji and their daughter Toshiko. Usui was a practising Buddhist and during his life Usui returned regularly to the Mt Kurama Buddhist temple school, to meditate and to study. Around 1914 Usui returned to Mt Kurama to undertake shyu gyo, which is a strict Buddhist discipline of meditation and fasting. On the 21st day of his shyu gyo he discovered he had been given a gift of knowledge that would heal without draining the giver, unlike the customary Japanese hands-on techniques that were used up to that time.
From this knowledge, Usui developed a spiritual system integrating this knowledge with ancient Taoist practices. The method that Usui developed which became Reiki was designed to be simple; he wanted people to be easily able to understand and to practice his new system. As well as healing disease, his method was designed to help people develop a healthy mind and body so that people would experience happiness and enjoy life. Usui described his method as both a secret method of inviting happiness and a spiritual medicine of many illnesses. He based his method on the Meiji Emperor’s Five Precepts:
First we say, today don’t get angry
Secondly we say, don’t worry
Third we say, be thankful
Fourth we say, endeavour your work
Fifth we say, be kind to people.
Every morning and evening, his students were asked to sit in silence with hands held gassho, or in prayer, and to chant the Five Precepts to nurture a pure and healthy mind. The essence of Reiki is to incorporate these thoughts into your daily life so you would become Reiki.
Usui practiced this system first on himself and his family then broke with tradition by deciding to share the gift rather than keeping the knowledge inside his family as was usual in Japan at that time.
In April 1922 Usui moved to Tokyo and established a gakkai, or learning society where he taught his new system, which became very popular. In September 1923 the Kanto earthquake injured many people and Usui travelled through the affected areas to offer relief. By this time many people knew of the Usui method and wanted to learn. Usui’s gakkai was now too small to welcome the number of people who wished to learn his ways, so in February 1925 he built a new dojo in Nakano. Because his fame was now spreading outside Tokyo, Mikao Usui was invited to many places in Japan, travelling to Kure, Hiroshima, Saga and Fukuyama, where he suddenly sickened and died on 9 March, 1926.
Physically Usui was a big, strong, happy man who smiled all the time. His students remember him as humble, gentle and cautious. Usui’s students also honour him as a man with many talents. He liked to read and from his reading had an extensive knowledge of history, biographies, medicine, theology, psychology, jinsen no jitsu, ju jitsu, incantations to remove sickness and evil from the body, divination, physiognomy and the I Ching. Although Usui trained about 2,000 students to the practitioner level he is believed to have only trained sixteen students to the teacher level. One of Usui’s original students recalls that:
- The foundation of Usui’s teachings is the Five Precepts.
- Usui also taught students Kenyoku and Joshin Kokyu ho but like all Usui’s teachings these techniques would be adjusted to suit the student.
- The Waka Poetry of Meiji Emperor was used to clear the mind before commencing Reiki.
- The initial teachings are solely about self healing and not healing others. By healing the self one affects others.
- Only those students who showed a willingness to learn and who made sufficient progress were given further teachings. Usui could get righteously angry and quite impatient, particularly with people who wanted results but were not prepared to work for them.