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Who was Usui Sensei, the founder of Reiki?

Apr 19, 2021
Jordi Ibern Novell
Core Spirit member since Mar 2, 2021
Reading time 5 min.

The history of Reiki begins with Usui Mikao Sensei

Usui Mikao (Usui Sensei) was born on 15 August 1865, the first year of the Keio period. He was born in Taniai, a village in the district of Yamagata, in the Gifu prefecture of Japan. He had three brothers. His family belonged to a privileged class; they were hatamoto samurai, and members of the Chiba clan , however, during his childhood the family experienced financial difficulties. Belonging to a family of means, Usui Sensei received an education with a focus on the arts and poetry

It is known that his parents followed the Tendai school of Buddhism, and, as a child, Usui Sensei studied in a Tendai monastery. Some versions of the story claim he was a Christian monk; however, they are not particularly credible considering this particular period of history. During the Meiji era, Shintoism was officially installed as the only official religion in Japan, and Usui Sensei is actually buried in the Saihō-Ji Temple in Tokyo

Usui Sensei was a lay monk in the Tendai tradition, and went by the name of Gyoho in his monastic practices. He married Sadako Suzuki and had two children, a boy, Fuji, and a girl, Toshiko.

Although some sources profess he was a medic, Usui Sensei never studied Medicine, nor was he a doctor. His memorial tombstone in Tokyo claims that he studied in China, the United States and Europe, yet these supposed journeys outside Japan have never been confirmed

Usui Sensei had many different professions throughout his life, working as a journalist, prison guard, social worker, volunteer in a Shintoist group and as private secretary for the politician, Shimpei Goto . As well as his professional path, Usui Sensei lived his life with a continual search for his own personal realisation. A great admirer of the work of the Emperor Meiji, he was particularly influenced by Shintoism. Usui Sensei was an extremely spiritual man.

In the years following his youth, he chose to explore his inner life in greater depth, and to fully surrender to his search for spiritual realisation. It is known that he spent at least three years in a Zen monastery before founding Usui Reiki Ryoho. In Zen monasteries, life is very humble, and discipline extremely strict. Meditation practice has particular importance, and life is very austere. The sole aim of Zen Buddhism is to achieve Anshin Ritsumei (a perfect state of peace and tranquillity). There is no other.

After several years without any sense of fulfilment, Usui Sensei decided to undertake a fasting and meditation retreat in Mount Kurama, a sacred site in the north of Kyoto. The sacred Mount Kuruma is home to Buddhist temples and Shinto sanctuaries, and is considered by one and all to be a place of great power and spiritual energy.

In March 1922, during a twenty-two day fast on Mount Kurama, Usui Sensei received the ‘Great Spiritual Energy ,’ and reached the state of Anshin Ritsumei. He returned to the city and decided to share his wisdom with the world,

‘This is a revelation of the universe

so I might share my experience with

as many people as possible. Placing

the hands is the starting point of this

practice, and through it, I will transmit

the purpose of life: Anshin Ritsumei.’

(Usui Sensei, 1922)

In April of the same year, Usui Sensei founded the Shin Kaizen Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai in Tokyo, and became its very first president. The Reiki Society continues to this day, and has had seven presidents since Usui Sensei:

. Juzaburo Ushida (1865-1935)

. Kanichi Taketomi (1878-1960)

. Yoshiharu Watanabe (?-1960)

. Houichi Wanami (1883-1975)

. Kimiko Koyama (1906-1999)

. Masayoshi Kondo (1933-…)

. Ichita Takahashi (?-….)

Usui Sensei’s method was known as Usui Reiki Ryoho. However, with the passing of time, and with its expansion to the West, the majority of non-Japanese students and practitioners began to refer to the method as ‘Reiki.’

The teachings of Usui Sensei are distinguished from other healing methods, common during this period in Japan, by the Reiju (initiations), which spiritually reconnect all who receive the ‘Great Spiritual Energy.’ The aim of the Reiju is to achieve a state of plenitude

The fact that Reiki is regarded as a therapy rather than a spiritual method, is due to the influence of Doctor Hayashi Sensei and the modifications that Reiki sustained in the West over the years. The specific positioning of the hands found in Reiki therapies were added later; quite possibly to assist beginner students in practising more intuitively. Symbols one and two, as found in Usui Reiki Ryoho, were introduced to help sense the energy and develop the ability to transmit it, whilst cultivating compassion and overcoming bad habits.

On 1 September 1923, the great Kantō earthquake devastated Tokyo and its surroundings, leaving over 140,000 dead. It is believed that close to 600,000 homes were destroyed and countless numbers were injured. At the time, Japanese homes were constructed mainly from wood and bamboo, and this, combined with the strong winds that pounded Tokyo in the days following the earthquake, proved even more disastrous. The devastating fires provoked by the earthquake lasted for several weeks.

Usui Sensei and his disciples worked alongside the authorities; offering Reiki and treating as many victims as they were able. His devotion and dedication in the wake of the earthquake led to Usui Sensei becoming a well-known figure, not only in Tokyo, but throughout Japan. It is believed that he was awarded the Kun San To distinction by the Emperor; a special recognition conceded to all individuals who had performed an honourable service.

Following the Great Earthquake, hundreds of admirers from across Japan sought out Usui Sensei to share his teachings of Usui Reiki Ryoho.

Usui Sensei spent the last years of his life teaching the Reiki method throughout the country. At the age of sixty-two, he became ill and passed away on 9 March 1926. Usui Sensei’s remains were laid to rest at the Saihō-Ji Temple in Tokyo, where a huge memorial tombstone is engraved with his life story. In recent years, the tombstone has become a pilgrimage site for thousands of Reiki practitioners from all over the world.

According to his own annotations, Usui Sensei instructed close to seven hundred students. However, the tombstone inscription claims that he taught over two thousand disciples. Following the death of their teacher, many of Usui Sensei’s students created their own dojos and schools.

At the beginning of the 1940s, it was believed that there were over two hundred Reiki centres in Japan. Practically all of these schools disappeared during the Second World War.

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