To celebrate the August 15 birthday of Reiki healing founder Mikao Usui, I asked U.K. Reiki master Colin Powell to share his research into the details of Usui sensei’s life.
by Colin Powell
Although Mikao Usui, the founder of Usui Reiki Ryoho, died less than 100 years ago in 1926, there are surprisingly few documented facts about him as a person.
This may be due in part to the many records that were lost during World War II, together with the fact that most of the people who knew him or were taught by him are either unknown or are no longer alive.
Some of Usui’s descendants who have been tracked down in Japan are either unwilling to speak about him or admit to knowing virtually nothing about him!
Unfortunately, many myths and speculations have grown up around his life to fill this void. Some of these unsubstantiated stories are passed on as fact. In this article, I attempt to present credible information, using contemporary or near-contemporary documentary evidence and sources within Japan, supported by more than one source whenever possible.
Separating Reiki history from Reiki fiction
The main source of information about Mikao Usui is a huge memorial stone erected by some of his students on the family grave plot in February 1927. However, even the information obtained from this monument is subject to interpretation. The stone is inscribed in Old Japanese, which has to be translated into Modern Japanese before being translated into other languages.
Mikao Usui was born in Taniai village (now part of Miyama village) in Yamagata county, Gifu Prefecture, on 15th August 1865, into a family whose ancestors were Samurai, of the Chiba clan. Usui’s father was called Taneuji, and was also known as Uzaemon. His mother was from the Kawai family.1
Japanese Reiki master Hiroshi Doi visited the village with a group of Reiki practitioners in 2000 and spoke to an elderly villager.2 According to this woman, Mikao, who was also sometimes known as Gyohan (possibly his Buddhist name), had two younger brothers, Sanya and Kunji. Sanya became a doctor in Tokyo and Kunji became a policeman in Gifu Prefecture.
Mikao also had an older sister, Tsuru. In 1923, the four siblings donated a Torii Gateway to the Amataka Shrine in the village. The woman mentioned that Mikao left the village at an early age and did not return very often.2
The memorial stone and various grave markers on the Usui Family plot indicate that Mikao Usui was married to Sadako, from the Suzuki family, and that the couple had two children. According to the old villager, their son Fuji became a teacher at Tokyo University and died on July 10th 1946, at age 39. Their daughter Toshiko died at 21 on September 23rd 1935.3
Mikao Usui, the student
As a child, Mikao Usui showed a great aptitude for hard work and study. According to the memorial, his abilities were far superior to those of his friends. He loved to read as a child, and continued to study on his own even as a grown man.
Usui’s interests ranged from biographies, history, medicine, psychology and theology (including Buddhist and Christian) to astrology, incantations (such as for removing sickness), physiognomy (face reading), shinsen no jitsu* (God Hermit Technique) and divination. His studies also took him abroad to Europe, America and China.4
The memorial describes Usui’s nature as gentle, humble and prudent and says he tended to show his true feelings. He was quite a large man who always had a smile on his face1 (except when having his photograph taken, it seems!)
As an adult, Usui had a variety of occupations, including public servant, office worker, industrialist, reporter, missionary, supervisor of convicts, and politician’s secretary.5,6,7 (Usui was secretary to Shinpei Goto, a railroad director who later became mayor of Tokyo and who was responsible for the Shokosha Watch company being renamed “Citizen,” in the hope that one day all citizens would be able to afford a watch.8)
Despite Usui’s knowledge and ability, the unusually large variety of jobs he held suggests a restlessness in his nature. Although he was not always successful in life and was often quite poor, Usui was determined not to let these setbacks worry him, and he threw himself more deeply into his studies.1,7
Given the extent of his studies, Mikao Usui may well have formed his own perspective on deep philosophical questions such as Why are we here? and What is the purpose of Life?, but if he did, there is very little documentation that he taught his theories or ideas until very late in life.
There are stories purportedly from people who knew and studied with Mikao Usui from around 1915, including a group of Buddhist nuns, which indicate he originally taught a spiritual system to help students reach enlightenment. Supposedly this system included some healing practices.
However, some of those sources are contradictory and there is at this time no hard evidence to back up those claims.9 For example, the existence of the nuns was never corroborated by a third party. However, an article written in 1928 by Shou Matsui, a student of Chujiro Hayashi, says, “It has been more than 10 years since Reiki Ryoho was founded.”10 That statement suggests Usui might have started teaching earlier than the commonly accepted 1922.
Mikao Usui, the teacher
The first documented evidence of Usui’s teachings comes from the memorial stone, which describes his period of fasting on Mount Kurama, near Kyoto (photo at right), during which he experienced a “great Reiki” around his head,1,4,11 or a shock in the centre of his head5,7 (depending on the translation accessed), an effect of which was that he obtained a Reiki Ryoho (Reiki healing method).
After practicing the method on himself and his family with much success, Usui opened a dojo (training hall) in Aoyama, Harajuku, Tokyo in April 1922, and began teaching people and offering healing sessions. Usui was so popular that people traveled great distances to receive his guidance and healing. The memorial states that there was often a long line of shoes outside (people took off their shoes before entering).1,4,11
Usui was a progressive thinker in a very traditional society. He made a bold decision to teach his practice to the public, rather than keeping it as a family secret or just for a close-knit group of people as was traditional in healing systems and martial arts.
In Usui’s Kokai Denju (thoughts on the teachings), which appears in a handbook of the Usui Reiki Ryoho, he says:
In times like these, the happiness of humanity is based on working together and the desire for social progress. This is why I would never allow anyone to possess it [Reiki Ryoho] just for himself!
Our Reiki Ryoho is something absolutely original and cannot be compared with any other [spiritual] path in the world.
This is why I would like to make this method [freely] available to the public for the well-being of humanity. Each of us has the potential of being given a gift by the divine [Reiju can be translated as Divine Gift], which results in body and soul becoming unified. In this way [through Reiki practice] a great many people will experience the blessing of the divine.12
Usui’s fame spreads
A devastating earthquake hit the Kanto district In September 1923. The crisis was worsened by large fires which started from the wood-burning hibachi stoves that were destroyed in the quake. There were many injured and homeless people, and Mikao Usui took some of his students to “reach out their hands of love to suffering people.”1,3
Usui became even more popular after this charitable effort, and moved to a larger building in Nakano, just outside Tokyo.1,4,11 Around 1925, he was visited by a group of naval officers.13 Among the officers was Chujiro Hayashi, who became a master student of Usui and the teacher of Hawayo Takata, Chiyoko Yamaguchi, and many others.
Usui’s system became very popular with the armed forces, and particularly the Imperial Navy, because they were looking for traditional ways of healing that did not require large stocks of equipment and drugs to be taken on board ship, where space was at a premium.7 Later that year several more naval officers arrived, including Rear Admirals Jusaburo Ushida and Kanichi Taketomi.13 Taketomi took over the running of the dojo, which eventually became the headquarters of the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai.
Usui sensei began to receive requests from all over Japan to teach his Reiki Ryoho. In response, he traveled to Kure and Hiroshima, then Saga and Fukuyama, where at the age of 60, he died of a stroke on March 9, 1926.1,4,11 According to his memorial, Usui taught over 2000 people to practice his Reiki Ryoho, and trained 20 teachers.
In spite of the popularity of Mikao Usui and his Reiki Ryoho in the 1920s, both he and his method were virtually unknown in Japan after World War II. Those who practised Usui Reiki Ryoho after World War II either did so in secret, as the Gakkai practised, because of their military connections,** or in secluded villages, as Chiyoko Yamaguchi practised. Due to this isolation, Usui’s students had no knowledge that Hawayo Takata’s teaching in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean had led to Reiki being practiced worldwide.
Usui and Christianity
In the years after Hawayo Takata and her Reiki master Chujiro Hayashi brought Reiki practice to Hawaii, Mrs. Takata described Mikao Usui as a “full-fledged [sic] Christian minister” and also “Principal of the Doshisha Universtity in Kyoto,”14 a Christian institution.
Usui’s Christianity was accepted without question for more than half a century. However, as Western Reiki practitioners began connecting with Japanese practitioners of the Usui and Usui/Hayashi lineages in the 1990s, many Western Reiki teachers rejected out-of-hand the possibility that Mikao Usui might have been a Christian or even influenced by Christian teachings.
As noted above, Usui’s memorial stone states that Usui studied the theology of many religions. Although Christianity was repressed for many years in Japan, during the period when Japan was shut off from most of the world, Christianity continued to be practised by Secret Christians (Kakure Kirishitan).
By the time Usui was born, Japan had been opened up again and Christianity was flourishing once more, with many Japanese interested to learn about this once forbidden religion.15 The Japanese are known for their liberal attitude toward religious beliefs and practices, to the extent that the total number of people practicing various religions in Japan is greater than the total Japanese population.16 As one source states:
“…it is common in Japan for a person to have Shinto ceremonies shortly after they are born and at certain ages (3, 5 and 7 years old) throughout their childhood, have a Christian wedding when they get married and have a Buddhist funeral after they die. It is also relatively common for individuals to be unaware of what Buddhist sect they and their family belong to until after a close relative dies and they need to contact a temple to summon the priests.”16
All of the above cautions against assuming Usui was exclusively Buddhist on the basis that his grave marker and memorial are in a Buddhist Pure Land cemetery. There may be an element of truth in what Mrs. Takata taught about Usui. There are so many details of Mikao Usui’s life and practice on which we do not have certainty, and perhaps never will.
All Reiki practitioners owe a debt of gratitude to Hawayo Takata for keeping Reiki practice alive, to Chujiro Hayashi for agreeing to teach Mrs. Takata and for supporting her in bringing the practice to the world outside Japan, and of course to Mikao Usui, without whom there simply would be no Usui Reiki Ryoho.
Addendum from Colin Powell:
Following the publication of my article, I decided to do a little more research of my own, concerning the statement by Hawayo Takata that Mikao Usui was a Principal of Doshisha University (a Christian Institution). After looking through a list of all the past-Presidents (President rather than Principal appears to be the title used by the University) of Doshisha University, which is available on line, and not seeing Mikao Usui mentioned, I emailed the office of the University and asked them whether they had any record of Mikao Usui as a member of staff (Principal or teacher) at Doshisha University. Here is their reply:
Dear Mr. Colin Powell,
Thank you for your e-mail.
In response to your question of Mikao Usui, we have contacted several sections in charge of these matters at our university. According to them, they have been receiving e-mails regarding Mikao Usui once every couple of years, but unfortunately, he has never belonged to Doshisha University in the past.
Thank you for your kind understanding, and we wish you the best of luck on your research.
Office of International Affairs
*God Hermit Technique appears to be an attempt at a literal translation, but shinsen no jitsu has links with a traditional form of Anma (a precursor of Shiatsu) called Anmajutsu where shinsen (an alternative romaji spelling to jinsen) is described as one of several techniques used, involving vibration both with and without actual movement.17 It is also described in a book called Sei-Ki: Life in Resonance, The Secret Art of Shiatsu, by Akinobu Kishi and Alice Whieldon as a “Self-healing art of Eastern philosophy.” The latter seems to be more meaningful and in-keeping with Usui’s interests.
** When the Americans occupied Japan after World War II, they suppressed traditional Japanese Healing Arts and any societies that were military or nationalistic in nature. The Gakkai were teaching a healing art based on traditional Japanese Hand Healing, teate, and it had been organised mainly by military officers who were quite nationalistic (perhaps one of the reasons Chujiro Hayashi left18). Therefore if they wanted to continue practising and teaching, it was prudent to do so in secret so as not to fall foul of the American authorities. Some traditional healing methods did get re-instated after a while, but Reiki did not, at least not whilst the Americans remained in Japan.
1. Hiroshi Doi – Memorial Stone translation, Iyashino Gendai Reiki-ho (Modern Reiki Method for Healing), Fraser Journal Publishing, 2000
2. Rick Rivard, Tom Rigler and others visited Taniai village, with Hiroshi Doi, as part of the Usui Reiki Ryoho International conference in 2000, https://www.threshold.ca/reiki/TaniaiVillage.html (accessed August 9, 2012)
3. Rick Rivard, Threshold Reiki website, photos and inscription translations of the Usui family grave markers. https://www.threshold.ca/reiki/usui_marker.html (accessed August 9, 2012)
4. Rick Rivard, Threshold Reiki website, Memorial Stone translation. https://www.threshold.ca/reiki/usui_memorial_translation.html (accessed August 12, 2015)
5. Hiroshi Doi, Iyashino Gendai Reiki-ho (Modern Reiki Method for Healing), Fraser Journal Publishing, 2000
6. Toshitaka Mochizuki, Le Reiki japonais, Ed. Niando, 2009 (a French translation of his Japanese book, Iyashino Te – Cho Kanton)
7. Tadao Yamaguchi, Light on the Origins of Reiki, Lotus Press, 2007
8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Got%C5%8D_Shinpei (Accessed August 10, 2012)
9. Dave King, referenced on https://www.aetw.org/reiki_usui_do.htm
(accessed August 9, 2012) and Chris Marsh, referenced on https://www.aetw.org/reiki_usui_teate.htm (accessed August 9, 2012)
10. Translation of March 4, 1928 Sunday Mainichi article, in Frank Petter and Tadao Yamaguchi’s The Hayashi Reiki Manual, Lotus Press, 2003
11. Hyakuten Inamoto, Memorial Stone Translation. https://reiki.whatitallbelike.com/?page_id=83 (accessed August 10, 2012)
12. “Why I teach this method publicly: explanation by the founder Usui Mikao” quoted from the Usui Reiki Ryoho Hikkei (Usui Reiki Healing Society Handbook), in Reiki- the Legacy of Dr. Usui by Frank Arjava Petter, Shangri-La, 1998.
13. https://threshold.ca/reiki/Usui-Do.html (accessed August 9, 2012)
14. From a transcript of the tape ‘Hawayo Takata Speaks Volume 1,” published by John Harvey Gray.
15. Usui in Context: Christianity in mid-19th Century Japan: https://reikidigest.blogspot.co.uk/2009/09/usui-in-context-christianity-in-mid.html (accessed August 10, 2012)
16. https://godknowswhat.wordpress.com/2009/09/09/japans-pick-and-mix-religions/ (accessed August 10, 2012)
17. https://www.amatsu-ireland.com/publications/SEITEI/Seitai%20Module%200-2007-Pre%20Mod%201.pdf (accessed August 10, 2012)
18. https://www.aetw.org/reiki_history_tl.html (accessed August 10, 2012)
Also by Colin Powell:
What Does the Reiki Kanji Mean?
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25 thoughts on “Mikao Usui, Reiki Founder”
Great article and the discussions are equally interesting. Just a quick side note to correct a minor fact; As someone who lives in the lovely neighbourhood of Nakano, I just wanted to inform you that Nakano is actually located in Tokyo (West side), not outside. It’s only one stop from Shinjuku by train (mere 5 minutes) so it’s pure Tokyo if there’s such thing! 🙂
Thank you so much for the correction, Mia!
I trained in the Usui Reiki method about 20 yrs. ago. I’ve been a Reiki Master for a long time. I feel so gratified that healing through this method can be so rapid.
I also trained in the Usui method 30 yrs. ago. I’ve been a Reiki Master since then. In these precarious times, Reiki practice is the best medicine.
Thank you Colin and Pamela. I am studying western Reiki now and I wanted to know how what I’m learning matches with what Mikao Usui actually taught. This post is very informative. As have been the comments here. Your points have made sense to me on many levels. I still have questions but you’ve given me much to think about. Again, thank you. 🙂
Fascinating research and comments Colin Powell, Pamela and Suneil,thank you! Its of great help !
My apologies for the delay in response.
Thank you for letting me know that Kurama-yama was Kyoto when Usui-sensei’s time as well.
Where I live is concrete jungle, anyway… Though I can go to the imperial palace by bicycle.
By the way, it is very sad that Usui-sensei’s descendants are unwilling to speak about him…
Colin-san, Thank you for sharing your research on Usui sensei’s life. I appreciate your hard work on researching on his life.
Pamela-san, Thank you for giving us opportunity to learn the history of Usui-sensei.
What I wonder is not related to Reiki method directory at all.
But Kurama is still in Kyoto, not near Kyoto at least in this modern era. Kurama is located in Sakyo-ku or Sakyo-ward in Kyoto.
Or the area of Kurama-yama was not called Kyoto when Usui-sensei was alive(in Taisho era)?
I am just curious because I am a Kyoto-ite and also I used to go to college in Iwakura where is located near the Kurama.
I appreciate if you would let me know the detail, if possible. Arigatou-gozaimasu.
Yes, you are correct that Kurama is part of Kyoto (and was in Usui Sensei’s time). When I visited Kurama Yama it seemed to be a fair distance away from the centre of Kyoto, where I was staying and I didn’t realise at the time that we had not actually left Kyoto itself!
Thank you for pointing this out and you are very lucky to live in such a beautiful area. 🙂
Suneil, thank you for your comments. This post certainly seems to have hit a nerve 🙂
Since I would like to respond to each of your points, I have included them below (prefaced with S) and added my responses indented with —.
S:I will begin by saying I have the highest regards for Mikao Usui, who gave us this wonderful gift of Reiki.
—I also hold Mikao Usui in high regard and I am very grateful for his decision to teach people outside his family.
S: I am not at all concerned about what his history is, since there appear to be too many methodological problems in the research and the way it keeps getting presented – there appears to be an agenda in this historical research.
— Please can you tell me what you think the “agenda” is ? I did not intend there to be an agenda other than to present some available research based on documentary evidence and also to examine the plausibility of some information that is often presented as fact but does not have any supporting evidence.
S: I am, however, more than keenly interested in his story, so long as it is presented as a story (may be true, may not be accurate).
— fair enough.
S: For many different, intertwining reasons, I am not entirely convinced by the account presented above. Let me start by stating my first assumption – that Japanese culture might be more similar to Indian culture than any Western culture, and therefore is more likely to value historical time progression less than history researchers or professors. For example, the domestic help in a typical Indian household can barely remember the year of their birth, much less the exact date (of course, there is the element of socioeconomic stratification in this – the better-off always have the privilege of recording their deaths and births more accurately, while the poor can say things like, “I guess I was born two Sundays after the Christmas when there was no snow”)
—maybe but here we are talking about a man who was born less than 200 years ago so it is quite recent history and some generally accepted documented evidence is available.
S: Second, and I am less sure about this, (I am used to calling him Sir, so permit me that indulgence ) Usui Sir must have been a respected and even revered figure in Japan – almost akin to a miracle worker. This would tend to produce more hagiographies than biographies. For example – all spiritual biographies in India and Tibet (the two genres that I am more familiar with) have elements of devotional exaggerations, even for masters who are alive and can dispel the mythical elements from the historical (good examples – Mata Amritanandamayi, who was said to be dark blue on birth and started composing Sanskrit hymns in perfect metre when she was five; almost all actively teaching Rinpoches; the Dalai Lama, who recognized his personal effects from a past life, and the 17th Karmapa, who left his foot imprints in solid cave rock as recently as the 90s, when he fled Tibet and came to India). This might lead to people ascribing far more to Usui Sir than what might really have been the case – I mean, come on – he studied theology, psychology and loads of other stuff, was prudent, gentle and humble, etc. etc. In my eyes, this is blatant exaggeration of simpler facts, arising from students’ devotion to their teacher.
—Usui Sir is fine, if you want to call him that, it is a cultural thing. In Japan his students would have called him Usui sensei, or respected teacher. I call my Japanese Reiki teacher sensei but Mikao Usui is not my direct teacher. However, in my culture when using a person’s family name when referring to them is not necessarily being disrespectful. As mentioned I deeply respect Mikao Usui, and also all my Reiki teachers and fellow practitioners.
— You seem to compare Mikao Usui with a holy man but , to me, stating his interests, academic achievements and character traits in such a way does not sound like “blatant exaggeration”. Many people I know personally would fit a similar description and they are not holy people in the sense 🙂
S: Thirdly, I am not even sure about the memorial stone actually belonging to, talking about Usui Sir – what’s the proof? Were they even using the Gregorian calendar in Japan at that time? How accurately
— I have been to Saihoji cemetery and seen his memorial myself and although I am not fluent in reading Old Japanese, I can recognise that the name on the memorial and grave marker is Mikao Usui and I can recognise the kanji for the term Reiki. Translations have been done by several people from different Reiki schools and all say roughly the same thing. So I think we can be pretty sure that the memorial exists and it commemorates the Mikao Usui who founded and taught a practice called Reiki Ryoho. As for the dates mentioned in the article, they have been converted from the traditional Japanese dates for clarity. If you would prefer the original date format, Mikao Usui was born in the first year of the Keio period, called Keio Gunnen. He moved his residence to Harajuku in April of the 11th year of the Taisho period. In the 14th year of the Taisho period, he moved again, to Nakano and he died in the 15th year of the Taisho period. Although the periods or years in Japanese do not synchronise exactly with Western years, there is a generally accepted way of converting between the two conventions.
S: Fourthly, when there are no family members or acquaintances of the family speaking up about Usui Sir, I wonder if it is methodologically correct to consider hearsay and stories from other people claiming to be his students as a source of information when they do not have any documentary proof themselves, and provide links in the footnotes to such information when none of them are, by the writer’s own admission, factually sure of the events.
—There are sources of documentary proof for some of Mikao Usui’s students in the form of photographs showing recognisable people such as Admiral Jusaburo Ushida and Chujiro Hayashi in group photo with Mikao Usui in his dojo (training hall). Jusaburo Ushida is credited with writing Mikao Usui’s Memorial stone on the memorial itself, which was erected in the second year of Showa (February 1927). I have only presented some of the more dubious sources in order to illustrate that some of the information which is passed around widely as fact does not yet have any documentary or third party evidence to back it up.
S: Fifthly, Mrs Takata said he died of a stroke. I am again not sure if it would have been considered the done thing to perform an autopsy on a man of his stature after his death (the doctors could not do an autopsy on the 16th Karmapa when he passed away for at least the first few hours – his attendant lamas, all hoary Rinpoches of high standing in their own right, were apparently witnessing intense parapsychological events at that time and for a long time to come afterwards; Paramahansa Yogananda’s body was said to be in a state of non-putrefaction even days after his death; Osho was cremated in a riot of dance and celebration).
— I am not quite sure what your point is here. In my opinion, Mikao Usui was not a holy man, in the sense of a Karmapa, Lama or Rinpoche, and on his memorial it says he got sick unexpectedly and died, during a trip to Fukuyama. I will admit that to say it was definitely a stroke may be interpretation on the part of some researchers and Reiki teachers but it certainly says on his memorial that he died suddenly and unexpectedly.
S: I am also surprised by how the current slot of non-Alliance masters call it Usui Reiki Ryoho, instead of Usui Shiki Ryoho – I don’t know if there is a significant difference in the two, but as I said initially, there seems to be a deliberate agenda somewhere in this…
— The original name of the practice as taught by Chujiro Hayashi to my teacher’s mother was Shin Shin Kaizen Usui Reiki Ryoho (Usui Reiki Healing Method for Improvement of Mind and Body). Mrs Takata also often refers to what she is teaching as Usui Reiki Ryoho on tape recordings I have of her. It became known as Usui Shiki Ryoho (Usui Style Healing Method) later in Takata’s life and this term was passed on by her students. Takata’s Reiki master certificate, signed by Chujiro Hayashi has the name of the system in English as Usui’s Reiki system of healing (Usui Reiki Ryoho in Japanese).
S: Finally, if I were to maintain integrity in my intellectual stand, I have to say that I would not believe in the existence of the Gakkai until they themselves come forward and declare their existence (and even then, if they are imperialists, or have acute xenophobia, in my opinion they can very well stay hidden for all I care) – if the scientific research into Reiki requires demonstrable, replicable results, so does this historical research. The absence of evidence may not be the evidence of absence, but Ockham’s razor is my preferred tool of discernment in this case.
— Yes the Gakkai are very enigmatic but Gakkai simply means a society or organisation and an organised group of Reiki practitioners was in existence by the time Usui’s memorial was written (it says on there that Admiral Ushida and some of his fellow students had met to discuss a fitting tribute to Mikao Usui). My Japanese Reiki teacher knows some people personally who are members even today, one of whom I have seen a photo of displaying a Reiki certificate from 1933, signed by Kanichi Taketomi, who was another of the Admirals who headed the society formed to practice and teach Usui Reiki Ryoho. As stated in my previous article, this organisation is very closed today and usually only accepts family of existing members as new members. My Reiki teacher has tried to apply for membership but has been unsuccessful even though his mother was a student of Chujiro Hayashi. Several people, including Frank Arjava Petter have met with a Chairperson of the Gakkai, Mrs Komiko Koyama and there are photographs to prove it. Mrs Koyama and another former Chairperson, Admiral Hoichi Wanami, are credited with publishing the Gakkai Handbook (Hikkei), in the mid-1970s, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Gakkai. One of the widely circulated Japanese copies of the Reiki Precepts was brushed by Mrs Koyama. It is such a shame that they seem to fly in the face of Mikao Usui’s desire to spread the teachings of Mikao Usui as widely and openly as possible.
S: I am sorry if I am ruffling too many feathers with this comment – it is my own belief and personal statement, and does not represent either my Centre’s or my teaching lineage’s views on Usui Sir.
—No problem. No feathers are ruffled 🙂 everyone is welcome to their own opinion but, as someone who is interested in the history and development of Usui Reiki Ryoho (and not in promoting and single style of Reiki practice over another), I would be interested in any documentary evidence you could provide that would help to clarify, support or even refute evidence that I have provided in my article.
Ai to hikari (Japanese for love and light)
Thank you thank you thank you — Colin, Pamela, Suneil! The historical information as well as the ensuing discussion is fascinating to read! And despite the differing beliefs we may have surrounding Mikao Usui’s history, the one thing that we obviously share is a deep-hearted gratitude for this profound healing method!
Thanks for your reply, Colin. I will definitely share the results of any original research that I undertake, or of a collaboration with a Japanese person who can help me access similar information. In the meantime, please continue to share information on the Gakkai, non-Hayashi masters trained by Mikao Usui, their practices, and practices and beliefs attributed to Mikao Usui. I would love to study how what I have been taught and teaching might be different from what such research turns up, and to hypothesise on how and why changes crept into the system. Till then, namaste 🙂 (Sanskrit for, literally, I bow to you in respect, and a common, non-spiritual greeting)
Thanks for this article Pamela! The interfaith perspective of Usui speaks most strongly to me. Spiritual healing is part of most (all?) traditions.
You’re welcome, Paul (and everyone else!).
Asian traditions don’t have the artificial separation between healing and spirituality that we see in the west.
Also, the distinction between spirituality and religion seems more widely appreciated in Asia than it is in the US, where when referring to Reiki as a spiritual practice, I often have to make the point that spiritual practice is neutral and non-dogmatic.
Indians often refer to one’s “chosen deity.” I appreciate that perspective, with its implication that one’s religious affiliation serves one’s spiritual growth, rather than the perspective that one’s religious affiliation is an end unto itself, a point of view that encourages divisive fundamentalism.
Colin, thank you for researching the history of Reiki. I really resonate with what you write and I appreciate the links that you added for us.
Thank you, Pamela.
I will begin by saying I have the highest regards for Mikao Usui, who gave us this wonderful gift of Reiki. I am not at all concerned about what his history is, since there appear to be too many methodological problems in the research and the way it keeps getting presented – there appears to be an agenda in this historical research. I am, however, more than keenly interested in his story, so long as it is presented as a story (may be true, may not be accurate).
For many different, intertwining reasons, I am not entirely convinced by the account presented above. Let me start by stating my first assumption – that Japanese culture might be more similar to Indian culture than any Western culture, and therefore is more likely to value historical time progression less than history researchers or professors. For example, the domestic help in a typical Indian household can barely remember the year of their birth, much less the exact date (of course, there is the element of socioeconomic stratification in this – the better-off always have the privilege of recording their deaths and births more accurately, while the poor can say things like, “I guess I was born two Sundays after the Christmas when there was no snow”)
Second, and I am less sure about this, (I am used to calling him Sir, so permit me that indulgence 🙂 ) Usui Sir must have been a respected and even revered figure in Japan – almost akin to a miracle worker. This would tend to produce more hagiographies than biographies. For example – all spiritual biographies in India and Tibet (the two genres that I am more familiar with) have elements of devotional exaggerations, even for masters who are alive and can dispel the mythical elements from the historical (good examples – Mata Amritanandamayi, who was said to be dark blue on birth and started composing Sanskrit hymns in perfect metre when she was five; almost all actively teaching Rinpoches; the Dalai Lama, who recognized his personal effects from a past life, and the 17th Karmapa, who left his foot imprints in solid cave rock as recently as the 90s, when he fled Tibet and came to India). This might lead to people ascribing far more to Usui Sir than what might really have been the case – I mean, come on – he studied theology, psychology and loads of other stuff, was prudent, gentle and humble, etc. etc. In my eyes, this is blatant exaggeration of simpler facts, arising from students’ devotion to their teacher.
Thirdly, I am not even sure about the memorial stone actually belonging to, talking about Usui Sir – what’s the proof? Were they even using the Gregorian calendar in Japan at that time? How accurately
Fourthly, when there are no family members or acquaintances of the family speaking up about Usui Sir, I wonder if it is methodologically correct to consider hearsay and stories from other people claiming to be his students as a source of information when they do not have any documentary proof themselves, and provide links in the footnotes to such information when none of them are, by the writer’s own admission, factually sure of the events.
Fifthly, Mrs Takata said he died of a stroke. I am again not sure if it would have been considered the done thing to perform an autopsy on a man of his stature after his death (the doctors could not do an autopsy on the 16th Karmapa when he passed away for at least the first few hours – his attendant lamas, all hoary Rinpoches of high standing in their own right, were apparently witnessing intense parapsychological events at that time and for a long time to come afterwards; Paramahansa Yogananda’s body was said to be in a state of non-putrefaction even days after his death; Osho was cremated in a riot of dance and celebration).
I am also surprised by how the current slot of non-Alliance masters call it Usui Reiki Ryoho, instead of Usui Shiki Ryoho – I don’t know if there is a significant difference in the two, but as I said initially, there seems to be a deliberate agenda somewhere in this…
Finally, if I were to maintain integrity in my intellectual stand, I have to say that I would not believe in the existence of the Gakkai until they themselves come forward and declare their existence (and even then, if they are imperialists, or have acute xenophobia, in my opinion they can very well stay hidden for all I care) – if the scientific research into Reiki requires demonstrable, replicable results, so does this historical research. The absence of evidence may not be the evidence of absence, but Ockham’s razor is my preferred tool of discernment in this case.
I am sorry if I am ruffling too many feathers with this comment – it is my own belief and personal statement, and does not represent either my Centre’s or my teaching lineage’s views on Usui Sir.
I believe I enjoyed your comment nearly as much as the actual post. Thank you for offering up this perspective. Pardon me while I continue chewing on it. 😉
Suneil, we are not trying to convince you or anyone else of anything. That is never my purpose.
Nor is it a matter of ruffling feathers, but rather a matter of disagreeing respectfully.
Being someone who does not speak, read or write Japanese and who has never lived in Japan, I did as extensive research as possible into the roots of Reiki practice while writing my book REIKI: A Comprehensive Guide. I relied on a number of people whose integrity I respect, all of them being native Japanese and either still live in Japan or now living in the US.
Having lived in India for a couple of years, I have deep respect for the differences not only between American and Asian cultures, but also among Asian cultures, and wanted to guard against assuming that Japanese culture is like Indian culture; there may be some similarities, but they are distinct cultures. I want to be clear that any comments I make about Japanese culture come from this kind of personal research and not from the kind of direct experience I had living in India.
I am well aware of the many myths that have been circulated over the years regarding Usui, which many in the community take as fact. Knowing Colin’s integrity and sincere interest in ascertaining facts in general and specifically about Usui, and his lack of an agenda beyond that, I invited Colin to write a guest post to bring the community up to date. Fortunately, in spite of the considerable time that this kind of research and writing takes, Colin accepted.
My intention was to offer the Reiki community a resource and to invite the community to a respectful, reasonable discussion as is desired and needed. I am confident I speak for Colin in saying we invite others to share their research and to question sources, so that we as a broad community can gather the best information available. That’s the purpose of a respectful discussions, to gather information and perspective. This article is a beginning, not an ending.
We do not know if Usui was, as you wrote, a “revered figure in Japan, almost akin to a miracle worker.” Some people may have felt that way, but I don’t think we know just how well known Usui was. Remember this was nearly 100 years ago and news didn’t travel as fast.
Reiki practitioners today rightly think of Usui as a great man; that’s what he is to us. However, he was also a family man. If we consider the number of jobs that he had at a time that (again, to the best of my understanding) Japanese society was not very fluid, we can appreciate that his immediate family might feel otherwise. Perhaps they did not honor his spiritual drive and simply judged him as a ne’er-do-well. Perhaps they felt he failed the family by sharing his practice openly rather than keeping it for the clan, as was customary at the time. These are possible reasons why family members would be reluctant to speak about Usui. Many who are devoted to benefiting the world at large do so in some degree at the expense of those closest to them. But these are my musings only, about an area where we may never have facts.
My knowledge of the Gakkai comes from direct communication with my esteemed colleagues, Japanese Reiki masters Hyakuten Inamoto and Hiroshi Doi. We have had much communication over the years, with various translators connecting me with Doi sensei; What is Usui Reiki Ryoho? is a transcript of a phone conversation.
My understanding is that the Gakkai is an invitation-only, aging group currently numbering under 200 who practice what appears to be freeze-dried, unchanged Usui practice. If anyone has other information or direct experience, please come forward and share it.
Thanks Pamela Miles for all this information .God Bless you ….
vakharia M J
Several years ago, I completed my Usui Reiki training, and for Christmas, my husband gave me “Hawayo Takata’s Story”, a very beautiful story, which gave me, more than, a glimpse of Usui. I highly recommend it.
Helen Haberly’s book is among my favorites, especially for the many stories she shares of healings Mrs. Takata participated in. However, many details of Reiki history as Mrs. Takata told it remain undocumented at best.
For example, it seems unlikely that Usui sensei lived and practiced Reiki in a beggar colony for seven years; he had a family and to what we know so far, the dates just don’t work. It seems that Mrs. Takata was sharing a story to educate and carry traditional Reiki values rather than imparting an historical commentary. We just don’t know.
Thank you for that information – and perspective – Pamela. I will definitely bear it in mind as I read the book.
I just love Helen Haberley’s book too! In fact it is my favorite Reiki book so far. I took Reiki in 1983 before there were any books written on the subject from the wonderful Beth Gray who has passed. I just love your website Pamela and your intention to further Reiki to everyone.
Thank you for sharing this! I just ordered a copy from a used book seller.
Colin, thank you so much for this post, and Pamela, thank you so much for inviting Colin to write it.
I find I thirst for more knowledge about Mikao Usui and his Reiki practice, and this has provided some quenching. He is on my short list of people who have died with whom I would enjoy sharing a long conversation.