The Origins of Reiki
Mikao Usui was a Japanese Buddhist monk in search for enlightenment. The ultimate scope of Buddhist practice, as is the ultimate scope of spiritual practices, is transcendence, meaning going beyond the sole identification with a separate self, and thus ending the suffering related to separation and a contracted identity. Happiness is the realization of being at one with something greater than the self, an expansion that when realized through direct experience, not only as an intellectual understanding, leads to greater wisdom, compassion, purpose and resources than the small “I” self can access.
When Mikao Usui achieved an enlightened state, following a lengthy fasting retreat in a temple, he used his previously acquired knowledge and skills of QiGong in integration with his new insights to establish a system of healing which he called the Usui Reiki Ryoho - the Usui Reiki system of healing. At the time when he lived, there were other systems of healing named Reiki, translating as “Spiritually-guided life force energy”, where the name Reiki was used to name those systems of healing transmitted from a Sensei (Master) to a student through a ceremonial initiation. The Reiki healing systems are different than the healing methods taught solely through verbal instruction, where healers use their thoughts, breath, movement and touch to move and balance the Ki (Chi, or Life Force Energy). The later methods can be learned from reading a book or watching a video class. The Reiki methods are passed on through ceremonial transmission. Mikao Usui named his method after his name: the Usui method of Reiki healing, and passed it on to his students through initiations, known in the West as attunements, and within a framework of apprenticeship, where the student healers were to observe the Buddhist percepts and live according to the Dharma, the Buddhist right way of life.
Mikao Usui established a professional association for his Reiki practice, the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai, formed with his students - colleagues, and placed himself as chairman. To address the general skepticism about Reiki in his culture, Usui decided to conduct research; for research to be credible, it must be independent, so he asked a student of his, Dr. Chujiro Hayashi, to conduct the Reiki research in his home-based clinic. Hayashi was a member of the Gakkai - a medical doctor retired from the navy, whose clinic employed several Reiki healers, and whose patients were residents of his home clinic, receiving several short treatments a day from a number of healers at the same time, for as long as it was needed until they were well.
Later, when Mikao Usui died, and a new chairman of the association was named, a personality clash between the new chairman and Chujiro Hayashi led Hayashi to leave the Gakkai and continue teaching, training and treating people independently. To honour his lineage, as it is the custom within Japanese culture, both healing arts and martial arts, Hayashi’s graduation diplomas for his students always mentioned Usui Reiki Ryoho - the Usui Reiki system of healing. Hayashi modified some of the techniques in the method, removed some, and added some of his own.
When Hawayo Takata, an American woman of Japanese origin, travelled to Japan for medical reasons, to receive treatment for an illness, she was directed to Chujiro Hayashi’s clinic, where she resided, got cured, and received Reiki initiation and training, thus becoming the first Westerner trained in this healing art, and able to perform treatments. After a few years Hayashi travelled to the US and trained and initiated Takata to become a Reiki Teaching Master. Takata went to teach several students, of which twenty-two were trained to teach, and became Reiki Masters. Thus Reiki began spreading throughout the Western world, and everywhere else outside Japan. Like her teacher, Takata removed, modified and added techniques to the method; and since she and since she taught orally, without a handout, the various versions of teachings streaming out of her lineage led to a type of Reiki today which looks different than how Mikao Usui used to teach. In the West, the recommended positions of the hands roughly follow the chakras (energy centres along the spine), and most teachers teach their students to touch. A German Reiki healer, Frank Arjava Peter, and his Japanese wife, found and translated Usui’s teaching manual as well as Hayashi’s, and translated both in English, illustrating each hand position with photography. Usui taught a number of hand positions to remember by heart, prescribing a specific sequence of positions according to the disease addressed and treated. Contemporary Japanese Reiki is practiced hands-off, palms lifted above the body, to escape regulation, since all therapeutic touch is government-regulated in Japan. In most Western countries indigenous healing practices are not regulated and healers can perform healing sessions using touch.
The Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai still exists and is active in Japan. Reflecting a philosophy of keeping Reiki in its purely traditional form, and maybe some of the traditional Japanese reluctance to mingle with non-Japanese cultures, the Gakkai does not exchange information with any Reiki healers from outside the association, let alone outside Japan. However, individual Reiki teachers in Japan are now teaching versions of Japanese Reiki in the West, and individual Reiki teachers from the West are now teaching their version of Reiki in Japan, as is the case of Frank Peter.
A thorough researched history of Reiki is found in the book “The Spirit of Reiki”, co-authored by William Lee Rand, Frank Arjava Peter, and Walter Lübeck. More information can be found in articles published in the Reiki News Magazine, published by the International Centre for Reiki Training. Some of the information in this paragraph is sourced in a Reiki News Magazine interview with Hiroshi Doi, a Japanese Reiki Master who used to belong to the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai and left, and who has been teaching Reiki in North America. His interview can be found on www.reiki.org.
Traditional Reiki or Western Reiki?
There are two major approaches to teaching, in general, and to teaching Reiki, specifically, to reflect to major human personalities. Conservative personality teachers tend to lead their classes true to the teachings of their own teachers, preserving the content and often the style. Creative - innovative personality teachers tend to integrate a variety of methods and approaches within their classes, which may include aromatherapy, yoga, QiGong exercises, colour therapy and meditation. Defenders of tradition see innovation as a way to wash down an otherwise pure method; defenders of innovation look at traditional teaching as dated. The middle path looks at what is valuable and worth preserving, and what is enriching and not detracting from the effectiveness of the Reiki practice. The history of Reiki teaches that the Usui lineage contains both preservation and innovation - Usui borrowed techniques from QiGong, possibly from massage therapy or Shiatsu; Hayashi modified the techniques as well, and so did Hawayo Takata. Takata embelished the story of Usui and his Reiki healing method, at least in part to make it palatable to the American public at a time of political tension between the U.S. and Japan. Later on, thorough research proved much of Takata’s related history of Reiki to be a creative straying from facts, like her claim that Usui was a Christian professor of theology at the Chicago University.
When learning of the changes in the Reiki practices in Japan due to the pressures of governmental regulations, we learn that traditional Usui Reiki doesn’t exist anymore in practice. The most traditional that Reiki practice gets is what a Reiki Teaching Master can name his or her own teaching which preserves the teaching of his or her own teacher up on the lineage. If you learn Reiki with Master Tana Saler, you may as well call it “The Western Reiki” or “Tana’s Reiki”, and when you teach your own classes you can name it as you wish to reflect the unique flavour of your own teachings.
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