Mikaomi Usui was born in the village of Yago in Gifu prefecture in Japan on August 15, 1865; where his ancestors had lived for eleven generations. His family belonged to the Tendai sect of Esoteric Buddhism. When he was four, he was sent to a Tendai monastery to receive his primary education. He was a very bright student.
He grew up during a period of time when Japanese society was going (and growing) through dramatic changes. Since 1641 (before Usui's time) all Europeans and foreigners, except the Dutch, had been expelled - and those who were allowed to remain, did so by being confined to special trading centers in Nagasaki. Christianity was made illegal, and the Japanese were made to register at Shinto temples. Japan did not open its doors to the West until the 1850's, and the ban on Christianity was not lifted until 1873.
During this time (1860's - 1890's) of moving from a feudal society to an industrialized one, Japan was also looking for spiritual direction for its people. The Meji Emperor had begun a new regime that overthrew the Shoguns, and Japans feudal states were brought under the direct control of the central government, which was relocated in Tokyo. Under this new regime, some of the "old ideas" were discarded in favor of modernization. But, when it came to Japan's spiritual underpinnings, the population was encouraged to reinvigorate its traditional paths of Shinto and Buddhism by embracing new ideas that could be easily incorporated into them - yet at the same time, holding firm to the core of those traditions.
Usui pursued higher education and received a doctorate in literature. He spoke other languages fluently, and became well versed in western medicine, theology, and philosophy. Like many of the intellectuals of his day, Usui was fascinated by the "new science" coming from the West. There arose a frenzy for transforming the modes of daily life into Occidental fashions, which were identified with Western civilization. In every department of social and political life, men furnished with some knowledge of modern science were promoted to high and esteemed positions.
Usui's father, Uzaemon, was an avid follower of the new regime and adopted progressive political views. Usui had great respect for his father and was very influenced by the excitement in regards to "western ways." He traveled some, and was said to have done study of western medicine and science. In addition, he befriended several Christian missionaries who had learned medicine at Harvard and Yale.
During the time when Japan was opening its doors further to the West, the first arrivals were the missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant. They set up their operations in three main districts. One was in Yokohama, under the influence of the Rev. John Ballagh. Here they started their medical work and brought with them knowledge of Western medical science. These missionaries became influential leaders and formed the first Japanese Christian church in 1873.
At the same time, a Japanese named Neesima had returned from his travels in America where he had been converted to Christianity. In 1876 he founded the Doshi-sha school in the city of Kyoto, a city, which had been the stronghold of Buddhism for many centuries. Doshi-sha became a theological seminary that embraced the slogan "United in Ideal." In the late 1880's, Doshi-sha introduced "liberal theology" and invited Unitarian Missions from America. This institution became a focal point for missionaries to hold seminars and classes on liberal Christian thought.
They were very open to the ideas of Darwinism and scientific views of life. Because of Usui's extensive education in theology and science, coupled with his friendship with certain missionaries; it was likely that Usui attended some of these seminars - perhaps even being asked to speak. However it is clear from his personal notes, that he did not embrace Christianity and was quite skeptical of the doctrine.
Throughout Usui's early adulthood, he lived in Kyoto with his wife Sadako Suzuki and two children; a son - Fuji, and a daughter. He was a businessman and had varying degrees of success. He did encounter some difficulties, but his strong determination and positive outlook helped him to overcome these difficulties. He continued his spiritual studies and became involved in a spiritual group named "Rei Jyutsu Kai." This group had a center at the base of the holy mountain Kurama-yama, north of Kyoto. On the mountain, is the Buddhist temple, Kurama-dera, which has a statue of Amida Buddha.
The temple, at that time, belonged to the Tendai sect and was built in 770 AD. Kurama had been regarded as a power spot and many famous sages as well as Emperors came here to pray. The Temple and the surrounding areas are kept in their natural state and the mountain itself is the spiritual symbol of Kurama temple. Steps lead down to the base, where some sit to meditate and pray. Nearby is a waterfall that is said to be where Usui himself often came to meditate.
THE KURAMA TEMPLE
It was during this time (around 1900) that Usui fell extremely ill as an epidemic swept through Kyoto. He had a profound near-death experience in which he experienced visions of -- and instruction from -- Mahavairocana Buddha, the Great Central Buddha. This was a life changing experience for Usui that 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 developed the compassionate wish that he may learn these methods in order to benefit mankind. When he recovered from his near fatal illness, he began to discuss his experiences with his family and family priest. They were outraged at his claims of seeing Enlightened Deities, and asked him to leave the temple.
Determined to find answers to his questions about his vision, Usui eventually met a Shingon Bonze, who recognized Usui's tremendous spiritual potential and took him on as a student. Usui then became a devout Shingon Buddhist, which outraged his family even more and they removed him from the family ancestry. Usui was seen as a traitor to his family and ancestors. To this day, relatives refuse to speak of him, saying that it is against the will of their ancestors to speak his name. Even his daughter wrote a clause in her will that her father's name should never be spoken in her home.
Mikao Usui spent much time and money pursuing his newfound spiritual path by studying and collecting Buddhist scripture. In particular, he studied Buddhist healing techniques and energy disciplines that focused on the use of "Ki." In addition, Kyoto is the home of many large and extensive Buddhist libraries and monasteries that had collections of ancient texts. So it is quite probable that Usui did some research there.
For many years Usui continued to study and practice the Buddhist teachings that he had learned. Over time, Usui became a respected and learned Buddhist teacher with a following of students. They met regularly and Usui would convey what he had been fortunate enough to learn. The focus of his work was on healing, and benefiting mankind through healing.
Mikao Usui was truly ahead of his time, in that he believed that the layperson should have some access to the Buddhist healing methods. He wanted to find a way to offer these powerful methods to the common man, without need for long arduous practices. Out of his great compassion and determination, he vowed that he would some day find a way to develop a "synthesis" healing method (or spiritual discipline) that would cure every type of disease, and that could be taught to anyone.
In 1914 Usui undertook a meditation retreat so he might receive an answer to some problems he was having in his life. We believe he might have included, as part of his focus, his "vow" in this retreat / request. As the story has it, Usui went to a meditation spot at Mount Kurama-yama and undertook an intensive practice utilizing some the practices he had studied. During his "satori" experience, he came to the realization of how working with divine "Ki" energy might assist him in some of his difficulties. Eventually, through the years of study and practice Usui was able to meld together a method for bringing the essence of these Buddhist practices together in a way he could work with. Later on, it became known as Reiki.
He first practiced his newly discovered method on himself and friends. It is said that he may have possibly exchanged his knowledge, techniques and ideas with Morihei Ueshiba (the founder of Akiko), Onasiburo Deguchi (founder of the Omoto religion), and Toshihiro Eguchi. As time went on, he began to offer this healing method to the residents of Kyoto. This gave him an opportunity to perfect and refine his new healing method. Meanwhile, he continued to hold regular meetings for his growing circle of Buddhist followers, and further developed and refined his system.
In 1922, Usui moved to Tokyo where he opened a Reiki clinic in Harajuku, outside of Tokyo. He began to set up classes and teach his system of healing - Reiki. He also began to utilize a small manual, which contained the Precepts, Meditations, and Japanese poetry (Waka) - but no hand positions of any kind were mentioned.
His teachings seemed well received by the older generation, as they viewed them as a return to older spiritual practices that they were familiar with. Usui trained a very small number to the Shinpiden (Master) level. They were 5 Buddhist nuns, 3 Naval officers, and 9 other individuals. Toshihiro Eguchi is included among them. It is said that he had been one of Usui's best friends. Later on, Eguchi formed his own spiritual society called Tenohira-Ryouchi-Kenyuka, whose disciples carry out a simple hands-on treatment technique based on the use of intuition. They also have a simple initiation process.
On September 1, 1923, Tokyo, and the surrounding areas, were struck by the devastating Kanto earthquake. Most of the central part of Tokyo was leveled and totally destroyed by fire. Over 140,000 people were killed. The wood houses quickly ignited as they collapsed from the tremors. Three million homes were destroyed leaving countless homeless. Many thousands suffered serious injuries. The public water and sewage systems were destroyed. It took years for the rebuilding to take place.
In response to this catastrophe, Usui and his students offered Reiki to countless victims. His clinic soon became too small to handle the throng of patients, so in February of 1924, he built a new clinic in Nakano - outside of Tokyo. His fame spread quickly all over Japan, and he began receiving invitations from all over the country to come and teach his healing methods. He received an award from the Emperor, for having done extremely honorable work. His fame soon spread throughout the region and many prominent healers and physicians began requesting teachings from him.
In 1924 Usui began teaching a simplified form of Reiki to the public, in order to meet this demand. Two of his most notable students of this form included:
Toshihiro Eguchi, studied with Usui in 1923. Eguchi was the most prominent of his students and he reportedly taught thousands of students before the war. It is largely through Eguchi that hands-on-healing has continued in Japan.
Chujiro Hayashi, studied with Usui in 1925, just a year before Usui's death. Hayashi was one of the first of Usui's non-Buddhist students. Hayashi was not a Buddhist, and had his own separate, and very strong beliefs, which were decidedly Christian. Usui eventually sent Hayashi on his way. Hayashi used the knowledge he learned from Usui to open a healing clinic in Tokyo. He readapted some of the format of Usui's teachings and developed a more complex set of hand positions suitable for clinic use. His clinic employed a method that required several practitioners work on one client at the same time to maximize the flow of energy. One of Hayashi's ways of getting practitioners for his clinic was to give the First Degree Initiation / Attunement in return for 3 months commitment as an unpaid employee.
After this period he would offer the better students the Second Degree for a further 9 month commitment. Those who completed this had an opportunity to receive further training. After 2 years further commitment (which involved an apprenticeship under Hayashi) they were taught all the initiations / attunements and were allowed to begin to teach the first level. In lieu of money changing hands, each student had to work for Hayashi one eight-hour period, once a week, for the duration of the commitment.
Hayashi kept detailed records of the treatments in his clinic, and utilized this information to create "standard" hand positions for varying ailments. This information ended up being published in the training manual (Usui Reiki Hikkei) given to the Reiki Gakkai's students (The Reiki Society formed shortly before Usui's passing). This allowed Hayashi's version of Reiki to be molded into a more "medical model" type of approach, where you would diagnose a particular problem, and then treat it with a given set of hand positions. This was different than Usui's more intuitive approach. Hayashi also incorporated aspects of Usui's intuitive approach into his teaching model.
During this time, Usui quickly became very busy as requests for teachings of Reiki continued to grow. He traveled throughout Japan (not an easy task in those days) to teach and give Reiki Empowerments. This started to take its toll on his health and he began to experience difficulties from the stress. Finally, on March 9, 1926, while in Fukuyama, he died of a fatal stroke; he was 62 years old.
His body was cremated and his ashes were placed in a Temple in Tokyo. Not long before his death, the Reiki Society (Gakkai) was formed. The remaining students of this organization met in Tokyo to erect a memorial stone to Usui at Saihoji Temple in the Toyatama district of Tokyo.
According to the inscription on his memorial stone Usui taught Reiki to over 2,000 people, even though we believe that this number simply denotes "a large number" of students. Many of these students began their own clinics and developed Reiki schools. By the 1940's there were about several Reiki schools spread all over Japan. Most of these schools taught the simplified method of Reiki that Usui had developed.
The Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai became a more formalized and cohesive organization at the time of Usui's transitioning. It was led by some of Usui's senior students, including Chujiro Hayashi. In all probability, over the years, the methodologies of the Gakkai have changed to some degree by those who were overseeing the teachings. We know they have a restricted number on membership, and one must be invited by someone already affiliated with the Gakkai to be able to join. During the wartime years the society did move its headquarters around due to the bombing; and consequently some members did lose contact with each other. The Gakkai continues to maintain the Reiki tradition in the manner in which they received it in Japan. Much about how they "hold" the system is still unknown to us in the West at this point in time.
Part of the Spiritual Path of Mikao Usui
It has been firmly established that Mikao Usui had been raised in the Tendai Buddhism tradition, as his family and ancestors had been Tendai for a very long period of time. This information has been verified by a few of those who are still alive who actually trained with Usui in Japan.
Nonetheless, Usui did find his way into the teachings of Shingon; and the following will help to elaborate on the probable reasons, ... and significance, of his path into this parallel tradition. (Both are considered esoteric Buddhism.)
In the Tendai Buddhist School, one of the aspects that separate it from the Shingon School is its inherent Madhyamika attitude regarding reality. The practitioner of this stream does not judge the world to be real or illusionary, but suspends all judgment of any form, imagined or real, - of reality.
On the other hand, the Shingon, following the Yogacara attitude, emphasizes oneness between the phenomenal - and the pure, idealized Buddha world - seeing "All" as the pure worlds of the Buddhas. The vision of the Buddha World is kept in mind, while all else is burned away; and the practitioner unites him or herself with the transcendent aspects of Mahavairocana. The practitioner then sees all things, and everyone, in their essence form - as a Buddha.
The Tantric practices and rituals brought back to Japan by Kukai (the founder of the Shingon School in Japan) had a much more profound effect on Heian period Japan than did those of Saicho (the founder of Tendai in Japan). Some of the monks of Mt. Hiei (the center of the Tendai sect) felt inferior to the monks trained by Kukai on Mt. Koya. This was due in part to the fact that Kukai had spent much more time in receiving the esoteric teachings in China than had Saicho; and had received the full transmission of the Vajradhatu and Garbhadhatu lineage. Saicho had only received the transmission of the Garbhadhatu in his respective esoteric school of Buddhism.
In the early days of this period (circa 816), Kukai shared his much deeper and more complete knowledge of the esoteric teachings with the Tendai monks; including Saicho. Thus it became a normal path for Tendai monks to be studying the teachings of Shingon as well on Mt. Koya.
Kukai even responded to Saicho's request (several times in fact) to have Abhiseka rites performed (energetic spiritual initiations) for him (Saicho) - to more firmly establish the energetic field within and around him - as well as receiving many additional teachings.
But after a time, a disagreement between Saicho and Kukai ensued. (Reportedly over sacred documents that Saicho had borrowed, and refused to return.) Kukai then declined further involvement with Saicho, and thus the followers of Tendai, subsequently lost the opportunity of learning from Kukai and the Shingon sect.
In essence, as both streams continued to evolve, Tendai focused more importance on devotion as symbolized by the Lotus (also deep focus on the teachings of the Lotus sutra), while Shingon derived its powerful essence from emphasis on the Vajra Thunderbolt, and the Dainichi-kyo Sutra. Shingon also focused on many aspects of the Lotus Sutra, and to this day Chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra is part of the daily practices of the sect. Yet their respective interpretations on many things is slightly different - sometimes appearing to be an almost "mirroring effect".
The word used in both the Tendai and Shingon sects "Mikkyo", which bears the connotation of a "secret" teaching, does not so much mean privileged - as it does orally transmitted instruction and/or teaching: "from Master to disciple."
The Shingon School developed a strong emphasis on healing, and healing practices as relating to the Medicine Buddha / Yakushi Nyorai. At different points in time these practices were done on behalf of the emperor, the emperor's wife, and other dignitaries of the court. The Emperor's wife was actually healed through these practices, and as result, entire temples, (such as Toji in Kyoto - a Shingon temple complex) were built to facilitate and propagate these practices; - - honoring and further developing these practices within the Shingon priesthood. As far as has been discerned, this strong emphasis on healing did not take place within the Tendai School.
It is clear that this is the probable reason, (along with the discouraging response of his Tendai priest) that Mikao Usui began studying and embracing the practices of the Shingon School of Japanese Esoteric Buddhism. For it was here, that he found the fertile ground from which to draw, to help create his personal healing mode (Reiki). A way to heal the apparent imbalances (physical and otherwise); and address certain difficulties that had plagued him during his life.