|Most of us who took our first Reiki class more than three or four years ago were told a wonderful story about the origins of Reiki. Time has shown it is largely myth...but it is a myth that inspired a generation of Reiki Masters, and one that is still uplifting. It was the story of Mikayo Usui, the principle of a Christian college in Japan who was asked by one of his students how Jesus was able to heal the sick by laying his hands on them. This man of impeccable integrity, when unable to find an answer to this question, resigned his position to study how Christ might have done His healing. His quest for the answer took him to the theological college at the University of Chicago, to various Buddhist monasteries, and to the Lotus Sutras in original Sanskrit, which he had to learn in order to read them.|
Many years into his search, he met the aging abbot of a small Buddhist monastery who helped his researches and finally suggested that he attempt a twenty-one day fasting meditation in a holy spot on Mount Kurayama. Usui did this, and on the morning of the twenty-first day, just as he was about to give up, a spot of pure light struck him in the middle of the forehead and he passed out. In his dreams, he saw coloured bubbles containing sacred Sanskrit symbols floating past his eyes. He knew he had the answer but didn't know how to activate it.
The story continues with a series of small miracles that punctuated his return to the monastery. He ran down the hill full of energy as if he hadn't been fasting for twenty-one days. He stubbed his toe on a rock in his hurry and put his hands on it as we do when we're bleeding; within minutes all that was left was a tiny scar. He came to an inn and ordered a huge breakfast and was able to eat it without the discomfort that usually comes after a long fast. He put his hands on the face of the innkeeper's daughter to comfort her as she suffered the pain of a toothache; within minutes the tooth was healed and whole. He returned to his friend the abbot who had taken to his bed some days before with the pain of his arthritis; withing a few minutes he was pain free.
Usui knew he had been granted the ability to heal through the laying on of hands, and took his newfound healing gift into the beggar's quarter of Kyoto, where he healed these unfortunates so that they were able to find jobs and make normal lives for themselves. But after some time he found that some of his original patients were returning, having given up their new lives because they had never really wanted them. This is when he formulated the percepts that Reiki should only be given to those who ask for it, and that there must be an exchange of energy for the healer's efforts to show that the recipient acknowledges the value of what s/he is receiving.
At that point, Usui began to travel through Japan, spreading his healing. He taught his techniques to a handful of others. This seems to be the first point in the story where there is any documentation. Indeed, lovely though the early parts of the story may be, there is evidence that they may be fabrication; neither the University of Chicago nor the Christian boy's college he was supposedly principal of have any record of a Mikao Usui.
It is quite possible that the Christianisation of Usui may have been made up by Hawayo Takata, the courageous woman who brought Reiki to the Western world. Certainly, many aspects of the system of healing she taught, which is now called "Traditional Reiki," seem to have started with her. In recent years Reiki practitioners from the West have travelled to Japan to see if they can learn how Reiki is done at its source; they bring back stories of traditions of healing propagated by others of Usui's own students which are substantially different from what we have learned in the West. Certainly their stories about Usui himself are different.
It is likely that Usui was a devout Buddhist. He may have been taught his healing technique by the seniors in his tradition, or he may have had to pursue something akin to the extensive research and spiritual seeking we have been told about. There is apparently a circular spot on Mount Kurayama where snow does not accumulate, which one Western Reiki seeker was informed might have been where he did his "twenty-one day fast." Certainly in Japan as here, he is credited with being a very holy man who carried his healing message like a torch around Japan during the later part of his life. New evidence may indicate that he was highly placed in the civil service.
|While some of the Reiki traditions in Japan contest this, we in the West are told that before Usui died, he passed the responsibility for teaching and using his healing system to one Dr. Chugiro Hayashi, who was a retired naval surgeon. Hayashi set up a clinic, and his students worked in this clinic in exchange for their training; he did a lot of work systematising the hand positions for Reiki treatments, suggesting regimes to treat for specific diseases. He also introduced the system of three levels of training that we now see in the West.|
|One of his students was Hawayo Takata. Takata was a young widow of Japanese descent who had been raised and married in Hawaii. She suffered from many illnesses related to the stress of being widowed with two young girls to care for, and returned to her people in Japan for medical help. She was scheduled for surgery on her gall bladder and a voice apparently told her not to have the surgery; her surgeon told her about Hayashi's work. She persuaded Hayashi to take her as a student in spite of the fact that so far no women and no-one who was not a Japanese citizen had previously learned Reiki.|
She spent the next year learning and administering Reiki under Hayashi's instruction, then returned to Hawaii. Hayashi visited her in Hawaii some years later, and she persuaded him to teach her how to pass on the attunements. She then refined the system she had been taught into the system that we in the west have been taught as "Traditional Reiki." This includes the price structure that was in place until a few years ago. She initiated twenty-three Masters.
Before she died, Takata asked her granddaughter, Phyllis Furumoto, if she would take over the task of "Grand Master," the person at the helm of the Reiki movement in the West. Phyllis didn't feel ready at the time and declined, although she did take up the job later when she felt ready. The Reiki Alliance is a group formed of Traditional Masters who held the teachings of Mrs Takata sacred, and held Furumoto to be the Grand Master even before she accepted the title.
Another of Takata's Masters, Barbara Weber Ray, had by this time stated that she had been guided to take on the job of Grand Master, and she founded a group called the Radiance Alliance.
I have studied with five different Reiki Masters myself, and each of them seems to have learned slightly different versions of some of the Reiki symbols and the attunement processes. Given that until very recently Reiki was a totally oral tradition, it may be that the symbols have altered slightly as they were passed down. I have also heard it suggested that in oriental spiritual traditions, the masters would often alter the information they passed for each student, so it is possible that each of Takata's twenty-three Masters learned something slightly different.
With the explosion of Reiki in recent years, many people are offering systems of teaching that differ in many ways. Takata's system of a three day teaching process for level one and two has been altered in every way possible, including teaching both levels in a single weekend. Some masters are using a single attunement instead of four attunements at level one. There are masters who receive other symbols that they are informed are integral to Reiki, and they are teaching these symbols as part of Reiki. The pricing structure set up by Takata in an effort to convey to her American students the value she assigned to the gift of Reiki has almost disappeared. Many Masters are allowing their students to take home printed copies of the symbols; in fact all of the Reiki symbols can be found printed in books, and they are even available on the internet.
Some of these changes are likely prompted by a sincere desire to make Reiki available to as many people as possible; certainly the world can only be the better for having more Reiki in it. I'm certain that most of the people who diverge from the traditional in how they offer Reiki are sincere in their beliefs that they are guided to make these changes in order to spread Reiki as far as possible. I'm also certain that the people who decry these changes as diluting the power of the healing system by tampering with tradition are equally sincere. It seems a shame that a healing energy as loving and beautiful as Reiki should be mired to this extent in politics.
Many Masters try to stay out of the politics, synthesising new information as it is offered and teaching as they are guided to by their own teachers, by the healing guides they work with, and by what the energy itself reveals to them. Those of us who sincerely believe that the Reiki works only for the highest good of all it touches are working as it guides us, waiting in trust for the dust to settle, and trusting that someday Reiki will flow unimpeded in all living things.