The History of Reiki

Reiki Master Teacher, William Lee Rand, talks about the practice of Reiki, its history and its future. He takes a detailed evidenced-based look at the history of Reiki, and, at the end of the video, explains the direction he thinks Reiki will take in the future. This presentation was given at the Australia Reiki Connection Convention, 18th October 2015, via skype.

The history of Reiki begins with Dr. Mikao Usui. Dr. Usui founded an energy healing system in the early 1920’s in Japan and called it Usui Shiki Reiki Ryoho or the Usui Method of Reiki Healing. He referred to the ‘Reiki Method – the way to improve body and mind’. 

Dr. Mikao Usui Photo
Dr. Mikao Usui

Dr. Usui, was born on August 15, 1865, in a small village in the Gifu Prefecture of Japan. From a very young age, he trained in Tendai Buddhism, martial arts and kiko, the Japanese version of qi gong, a practice combining movement, breathing and intention to increase the flow of vital life force energy for physical and mental health. 

He lived in the ‘Meiji’ era when many religious groups and spiritual movements were formed. Many of these involved hands-on healing. Founders of Karate, Judo and Aikido were also all born around the same time. These were all formative influences in the development of Reiki by Dr. Usui.

He was a talented and intelligent man. He is said to have traveled in Europe and studied in China.  He studied Buddhist and Christian religions, medicine, psychology, Taoism and fortune telling. Taoism is a Chinese spiritual / energetic tradition which came to Japan even earlier than Buddhism, and influenced virtually all aspects of Japanese spiritual life. 

He had many different professions including running his own  business, being a public servant and writing for newspapers. He was at one time the secretary to the head of the department of health and welfare, Goto Shinpei, who became the Mayor of Tokyo in 1920. Dr. Usui was also a member of a metaphysical group, Rei Jyutu Ka, dedicated to developing psychic abilities.

Photo of View from Mount Kurama
View from Mount Kurama

In his travels and studies, he sought the meaning of life, particularly wanting to know how to give healing without physically depleting his own energy. Finally, in search of answers, he went to Mt. Kurama, in the northern part of Kyoto, where he had previously meditated and received his Buddhist training. He enrolled in a twenty-one-day training course sponsored by the Tendai Buddhist Temple. The training is likely  to have included fasting, meditation, chanting and prayers. Mount Kurama is still regarded as a sacred mountain today with many special ‘power’ spots.

On the 21st day of his meditation, Dr. Usui saw a beam of light coming towards him from the horizon. This was the Reiki energy. The beam struck him on the head, knocking him unconscious. When he awoke, he felt oneness with the universe – what the Japanese call ‘satori’ which can be translated as enlightenment or awakening or understanding – and received the answer to his question.

He realised that the ultimate purpose of life is to totally trust the universe and live in harmony with it, ‘Anjin Ryumei’, in Japanese which may be thought of as a state of peace and contentment with all that is. He had been given the gift of  being able to channel healing energy without depleting or passing on his own energy. And, his own healing abilities had been greatly enhanced. Some accounts report that this happened in 1914 and others state that it was in 1922.

Photo of Kurama-dera Temple
Kurama-dera Temple

There are similarities between Dr. Usui’s system of Reiki healing and the Buddhist practices, philosophy and symbols of the Tendai Buddhist monks of Mount Kurama (now known as the Kurama-Kokyo Buddhists) with whom Dr. Usui trained. The temple, known as Kurama-dera, was founded in 770 by a Buddhist monk – it is a spiritual place that attracts many visitors today.

For the next 7 years Dr. Usui is said to have worked healing the poor and sick of Kyoto. In 1922, he moved to Tokyo and opened a clinic there providing treatments and teaching Reiki classes. He established a healing society for the Usui System of Reiki Healing – Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai. Some sources say that he started teaching long before 1922 as he gradually developed the Reiki system of healing. He wanted Reiki to be easy to do and to understand so that it was available to anyone. He also wanted the teaching to be simple.

In 1923, there was a devastating 7.9 earthquake 50 miles from Tokyo. More than 140,000 people were said to have died – many in the fires that started after the earthquake. Buildings collapsed or were destroyed by fire. A huge number of people were left homeless, injured, sick and grieving. Usui Sensei and his students treated as many people as possible with Reiki. The demand and need for Reiki became huge, and, in 1925, a bigger clinic was built.

Usui sensei became famous and his reputation spread throughout Japan. He travelled throughout the country teaching Reiki. His memorial stone says he taught over 2,000 students and initiated 16 teachers. The Japanese government gave him an award recognising his honourable work in helping others. While teaching in Fukuyama (west of Hiroshima), he suffered a stroke and passed away at the age of 61 on March 9, 1926. He is buried in Saihoji Temple in Suginami-Ku, Tokyo. In Japan, Dr. Usui was given the title Usui Sensei – Sensei means Master – and indicates the respect and high regard in which he was held. 

Reiki was brought to the West by an American woman, Hawayo Takata, whose parents were Japanese . She was trained in Japan by Dr. Hayashi who was one of the Reiki masters trained by Dr. Usui. On her return to her home in Hawaii she established a Reiki practice and in the late 1970s she trained 22 Reiki Masters, and through those Reiki masters the use of Reiki spread throughout the West.