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History of Reiki and the Usui System of Natural Healing

Author: James Bulls
Posted: May 29th. 2011
Times Viewed: 3,025

Reiki is translated from Japanese as Universal (Rei-) Life (-ki) , but it has also been translated as spiritually guided universal life energy. Reiki is a spiritual healing modality, which is commonly used to manage stress and promote relaxation; practitioners believe that giving Reiki for oneself or another promotes health and wellness. Reiki has a long history and I am greatly indebted to such scholars as Frank Petter and William Rand whose tireless research and vast experience have illuminated my own knowledge of Reiki. The Reiki story begins with Dr. Mikao Usui in the late 1800’s, although a great amount of misinformation exists which suggests that Reiki goes back much farther than Dr. Usui.

Mikao Usui was not a doctor or physician: it is more accurate to call him “sensei” or “teacher, ” but because the Japanese title is used so infrequently in the West, it has for practical purposes been easier to give him the title “Doctor.” Dr. Usui was born on August 15th, 1865, in the Japanese province of Gifu. (5) Dr. Usui was a lay Tendai Buddhist monk (6) and is commonly reported to have been actively searching for Reiki, but his own handwriting reports that his system of natural healing was unsought and spontaneously discovered. (7)

Part of the common misinformation about Dr. Usui is that he taught at a Christian university in Japan and also studied for seven years at a college in the United States. Both of these claims have proven to be untrue and appear to have been fabricated by a later leader in the Reiki story, Hawayo Takata. Though it is certain that Takata did fabricate stories about Dr. Usui, which were untrue, the majority of Reiki professionals today generally recognize her for the Reiki hero she is. Without her efforts to make a Japanese practice more palatable to the West, Reiki may never have spread beyond Japan and Hawaii.

What is true is that Dr. Usui was the private secretary for a government official – Shimpei Goto – who was the Secretary of the Railroad, the Postmaster General, and the Secretary of the Interior of the State; (8) Dr. Usui did travel abroad and probably traveled to the United States. His exact travels, duties and responsibilities are not clear but it can be surmised that Dr. Usui was able to use this position to his benefit.

As commonly repeated in Western Reiki, Dr. Usui supposedly found a method for unlocking a lost method of healing without energy depletion passed down from time immemorial encoded into Tantric Buddhism and went on a spiritual retreat to perform a hitherto unknown ritual to unlock Reiki. We now know that story to be factually untrue: he already practiced other healing modalities and his retreat had nothing to do with Reiki. (9) What is known is that after three weeks of fasting, meditation, prayer, and spiritual devotion, Dr. Usui had a spiritual experience. The story frequently says that a beam of bright white light struck him in the forehead and he saw a fantastic vision of lights, spirits, and the mystical symbols, which are now used in Reiki. What really happened that day on Mount Kurama is like much of the Reiki story a mystery, but most people believe that his spontaneous discovery was much less dramatic.

It is important to note the manner in which Dr. Usui presented his discovery. Because each person can only teach what he or she knows, Dr. Usui taught Reiki from the perspective of a Japanese Buddhist monk; this may be what has contributed to the persistent and factually untrue connection between Reiki and Buddhism. Dr. Usui included in his Reiki instruction principles, songs, and poetry from the Meiji Emperor that he believed taught the best way to live. In fact, Usui Reiki is guided by five principles taken from the Meiji Emperor’s five rules for life. With much gratitude for his excellent research, I reprint here Frank Petter’s translation (10) of Dr. Usui’s original handwriting:

The secret method of inviting happiness. The wonderful medicine for all diseases (of the body and the soul) . Just today:

1. Don’t get angry

2. Don’t worry

3. Show appreciation

4. Work hard (on yourself)

5. Be kind to others

Mornings and evenings, sit in the Gassho position and repeat these words out loud and in your heart. (For the) improvement of body and soul, Usui Reiki Ryoho (Usui system of natural healing) .

*Gassho position: Bring the palms together for prayer at the level of the heart.

What I want you to take from this is that Dr. Usui, as a Buddhist monk, had a spiritual approach to healing and taught a flexible, intuitive system structured around learning to feel “Byosen” or stress in the body. Dr. Usui had many students who in turn also had many students. As it concerns the movement of Reiki from Japan toward the West, the next most prominent figure in the Reiki story is Dr. Chujiro Hayashi. Dr. Chujiro Hayashi, unlike Dr. Usui, was in fact a physician. Dr. Hayashi was born in Tokyo on September 15 th, 1880 and died at his home in Atama, near Mt. Fuji, on May 11th, 1940.

Dr. Hayashi served as a physician in the Japanese Navy and began studying with Dr. Usui in 1925. (11) It is important to note the differences between Dr. Usui and Dr. Hayashi. Dr. Usui was a lay Buddhist priest who taught an intuitive approach to a spiritual practice. Dr. Hayashi, as a trained physician, had his roots in a traditional, clinical approach to the application of Reiki. After studying with Dr. Usui for about six years, Dr. Hayashi formed his own system of Reiki and named it after himself: Hayashi Reiki. Dr. Hayashi taught a more clinical approach to the use of Reiki and was asked by Dr. Usui to write a teaching manual and develop a set series of hand positions for particular dis-eases. (12)

It is important to note the differences between Dr. Usui and Dr. Hayashi because of one of Dr. Hayashi’s most famous students: Hawayo Takata. Hawayo Takata was born on December 24th, 1900, in Hanamaulu, Hawaii. (13) Takata primarily lived and worked in Hawaii and had the misfortune (or blessing?) of enduring great hardship during her lifetime and outliving her husband after he passed from cancer. Possibly from the stress of being a widow with two children and the demands of working full-time to support her family, Takata suffered from a variety of illnesses and is even reported to have had a nervous breakdown. (14) To make matters worse, one of her sisters died unexpectedly which necessitated that Takata travel to Tokyo to bring the sad news to her parents.

This trip to Tokyo was also to get medical treatment for her own life-threatening ailments. As the story is commonly told, Takata was in a hospital operating room waiting for the surgeon to arrive when she heard a voice say three times “the operation is not necessary.” She got off the operating table and declined the surgery; when she asked the surgeon about alternatives to surgery, he referred her to Dr. Hayashi’s clinic in Tokyo. She received Reiki from Dr. Hayashi and his students every day until, four months later, she was completely cured of her ailments. Also commonly told is Takata wanted to learn Reiki but Dr. Hayashi refused. Takata was insistent and Dr. Hayashi finally agreed to teach her: she was initiated to first and second degree Reiki in 1936 and 1937, respectively, and shortly thereafter enjoyed great success and popularity operating a Reiki practice in Hawaii. (15) Takata is believed to be the last person initiated as a Master by Dr. Hayashi.

Hawayo Takata continues to be a controversial figure in the Reiki story. She is justly accused of fabricating fantastic stories and even outright lies about Reiki; the history and development of Reiki; Dr. Usui himself; roles and titles within the Reiki community; claims to authority over the origin of Reiki; and many other similar stories. For contrast, Takata was promoting a Japanese spiritual practice at a time when American anger at the Japanese was still a concern. One of her most widespread fabrications is that Dr. Usui was a Christian minister who was searching for a method to heal the spirit as he supposedly read in the Bible. The true reason for Takata’s fabrications can only be guessed, but it is commonly believed that she introduced several Western elements to the Reiki story (and Dr. Usui’s history) in order to make Reiki more palatable to Westerners. Though her motives behind such fabrications are uncertain, I believe, as do many others that she was absolutely instrumental in the promotion, education and acceptance of Reiki in the West.

It’s important to note the many differences between Hawayo Takata’s, Dr. Hayashi’s, and Dr. Usui’s systems of treatment. In Dr. Usui’s system, eight or more initiations were performed over several years. (16) During regular treatments, Dr. Usui sat his patients in a chair and only let them lay if they were seriously ill. (17) Dr. Usui worked with patients one-on-one and directed much attention to the Tanden (just below and behind the navel) , and divisions of the spinal vertebrae. (18) Dr. Usui taught that detecting Byosen, or learning to feel sickness and stress with the hands, was absolutely necessary in giving Reiki. He also taught his students to use a variety of methods to include looking at the area of stress, blowing breath on the area of stress, tapping and massaging the affected area, and giving Reiki through the hands. (19) Contrary to what Takata taught, holding the hands with the fingers tightly together does not appear to be an absolute necessity: Dr. Usui was known to teach his students a variety of hand and finger positions to channel Reiki.

Dr. Hayashi was asked by Dr. Usui to use his skills and knowledge as a trained physician to further develop Reiki. (20) With his clinical approach, Dr. Hayashi required patients to lay prone on a straw mat or futon and at least two practitioners worked on a patient at the same time; sessions were generally 60 to 90 minutes long and were given daily. (21) Dr. Hayashi placed less emphasis on the Tanden and more on the meridian lines, endocrine glands, and the internal organs; (22) he also followed every session with a special massage of the spine to increase circulation. (23) Initiations weren’t limited to the eight or nine given in the Usui system, but were instead given at regular monthly intervals to promote personal growth and sensitivity. (24) Last, Dr. Hayashi developed an original manual to guide Reiki practitioners: this manual included set series of hand positions which were intended to aid the Reiki practitioner who has not learned to detect stress. (25)

Just as Dr. Hayashi took one step away from Dr. Usui, Hawayo Takata took one (or more) steps away from Dr. Hayashi and removed many of the Eastern traditions from the Reiki system she taught to her students to include the spiritual element introduced through the recitation of song, verse, and poetry. (26) She taught neither to breathe in a specific manner when giving Reiki nor that masters should hold the breath or contract certain muscles when initiating others. 16 Another significant difference is that she did not appear to have taught her students to feel or detect stress. (27)

There are a few reasons why there is so little concrete information about Takata’s approach to Reiki. One of those reasons is that she forbade notes or audio recordings of her teaching; to compound this, she herself did not write or publish her teaching methods and philosophy; contrary to history, she insisted that Reiki was and always had been a strictly oral tradition and should not be recorded. (28) Because her students were forbidden from taking notes, their fragile and fallible memories were all that remained. To further complicate affairs, Takata did not teach the same material to each class and did not consistently present the same information each time. Both the history and the curriculum she presented weren’t consistent from one presentation to the next. (29)

In the Summer of 2009, William Rand corresponded with Alice Picking, a student who attended a seminar taught by Takata in 1975. This appears to have been one of the only (or the only) classes where Takata gave hand-outs and allowed her students to take notes. Ms. Picking saved her handouts and shared them with William Rand to help the rest of the world learn how Takata taught Reiki. In a word, Takata’s system was concise. Takata did teach a series of hand positions for the treatment of chronic and acute conditions, but they were few: upper left abdomen, upper right abdomen, navel, lower abdomen, upper-mid spine, mid-spine, and lower-mid spine. (30) All other accounts of Takata which I have read are either conflicting or describe a system which emphasizes allowing spiritual intuition to prompt the practitioner.

Traditionalists saw Takata’s changes, revisions, and subtractions as a betrayal of the purely Japanese Reiki system and this led to a fracture between Easter and Western Reiki. Fortunately, time has shown that Reiki is much more flexible than the human minds which have tried to define it. Were it not for Takata’s revisions, Reiki may never have gained footing in the West nor spread the way it has; it may also have fallen into obscurity and never received much notice outside of Japan. In Takata, East met West and Reiki spread like wildfire across the globe – Western Reiki enjoys equal and sometimes greater popularity in Japan than the traditional Eastern styles.

5. [Petter, F. (1997) . Reiki Fire: New Information about the Origins of the Reiki Power: A complete Manual. Twin Lakes: Lotus Press. Accessed on Amazon Kindle: location 245-246.]
6. [Wikipedia. (Accessed 16/08/2009) . Mikao Usui.]
7. [Rand, W. (2009) . A Response to the Bishop’s Statement on Reiki. Reiki News Magazine, Vol. 8, Issue 2., 54-56.]
8. [Petter, F. (1998) . Reiki: The Legacy of Dr. Usui. Twin Lakes: Lotus press. Accessed on Amazon Kindle: location 192-97]
9. [Rand, W. (2009) . A Response to the Bishop’s Statement on Reiki. Reiki News Magazine, Vol. 8, Issue 2., 54-56.]
10. [Petter, F. (1998) . Reiki: The Legacy of Dr. Usui. Twin Lakes: Lotus press. Accessed on Amazon Kindle: location 198-203]
11. [Hayashi, C., and Petter, A., and Yamaguchi, T. (2003) . Hayashi Reiki Manual: Traditional Japanese Healing Techniques. Twin Lakes: Lotus Press. Accessed on Amazon Kindle: location
61- 67.]
12. [Streich, M. (2009) . The Story of Dr. Chujiro Hayashi. Reiki News Magazine, Vol. 8, Issue 3., 36-42.]
13. [Wikipedia. (Accessed 16/08/2009) . Hawayo Takata.
14. [Wikipedia. (Accessed 16/08/2009) . Hawayo Takata.
15. [Wikipedia. (Accessed 16/08/2009) . Hawayo Takata.
16. [Petter, F. (1998) . Reiki: The Legacy of Dr. Usui. Twin Lakes: Lotus press. Accessed on Amazon Kindle: location 316-24]
17. [Streich, M. (2009) . The Story of Dr. Chujiro Hayashi. Reiki News Magazine, Vol. 8, Issue 3., 36-42.]
18. [Usui, M., and Petter, F. (1998) . The Original Reiki handbook of Dr. Mikao Usui. Twin Lakes: Lotus Press. pp. 22-23.]
19. [Usui, M., and Petter, F. (1998) . The Original Reiki handbook of Dr. Mikao Usui. Twin Lakes: Lotus Press. pp. 25.]
20. [Streich, M. (2009) . The Story of Dr. Chujiro Hayashi. Reiki News Magazine, Vol. 8, Issue 3., 36-42.]
21. [Streich, M. (2009) . The Story of Dr. Chujiro Hayashi. Reiki News Magazine, Vol. 8, Issue 3., 36-42.]
22. [Streich, M. (2009) . The Story of Dr. Chujiro Hayashi. Reiki News Magazine, Vol. 8, Issue 3., 36-42.]
23. [Hayashi, C., and Petter, A., and Yamaguchi, T. (2003) . Hayashi Reiki Manual: Traditional Japanese Healing Techniques. Twin Lakes: Lotus Press. Accessed on Amazon Kindle: location
24. [Streich, M. (2009) . The Story of Dr. Chujiro Hayashi. Reiki News Magazine, Vol. 8, Issue 3., 36-42.]
25. [Hayashi, C., and Petter, A., and Yamaguchi, T. (2003) . Hayashi Reiki Manual: Traditional Japanese Healing Techniques. Twin Lakes: Lotus Press.]
26. [Streich, M. (2007) . How Hawayo Takata Practiced and Taught Reiki. Reiki News Magazine, Vol. 6, Issue 1. pp. 10-18.]
27. [Streich, M. (2007) . How Hawayo Takata Practiced and Taught Reiki. Reiki News Magazine, Vol. 6, Issue 1. pp. 10-18.]
28. [Siderides, D. (2009) . My Time with Mrs. Takata. Reiki News Magazine, Vol. 8, Issue 2. pp. 64-66.]
29. [Streich, M. (2007) . How Hawayo Takata Practiced and Taught Reiki. Reiki News Magazine, Vol. 6, Issue 1. pp. 10-18.]
30. [Rand, W. (2009) . Takata's Handouts. Reiki News Magazine, Vol. 8, Issue 2. pp. 58-63.]

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James Bulls

Location: Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario


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