On the 21 of March 1922 a light entered through the top of his head causing him to fall unconsciousness. After regaining consciousness, he experienced himself as being the energy and consciousness of the universe. Filled with excitement he ran down the mountain to tell his Zen master. On the way down he stubbed his toe on a rock. He placed his hand over his toe and felt a healing energy begin to flow into it. The pain went away and his toe was healed. This was the beginning of Reiki. Mikao Usui initiated twenty-two people qualified to teach Reiki. The most prominent of which was Chujiro Hayashi.
Mikao Usui asked Chujiro Hayashi to open a Reiki clinic and expand and develop it. Chujiro Haysashi wrote the Reiki Ryoho Shinshin (guidelines for Reiki healing Method) and was used as a class manual. He also developed a method of teaching Reiki that condensed it into one five-day seminar. A woman named Hawayo Takata learned Reiki at this clinic and took the practice to Hawaii. She simplified the system further stating that Japanese Reiki was too complicated for the western mind. One of her student, Iris Ishikuro had training in other healing methods in addition to Reiki. l One of these methods came from a Tibetan temple in Hawaii. Iris’s student Arthur Robertson was also a teacher of Tibetan shamanism and had learned Tibetan methods of healing that involved symbols and rituals called empowerment. He merged these systems adding two Tibetan symbols and a technique called the Violet Breath.
The integration of Tibetan methods of healing is not out of place with the original spirit and practice of Reiki. The system originally set up by Mikao Usui had incorporated many aspect of Esoteric Japanese Buddhism, which is a form a Vajrayana Buddhism transmitted to Japan through China, but ultimately having its origins in Tibet. This is explored in the book The Inner Heart of Reiki.
The practice of Reiki has often been associated in the west with a system of healing in which energy is transmitted through the hands of the practitioner into the patient to heal physical and emotional diseases. However according to Frank Stein, in his book The Inner Heart Of Reiki: Rediscovering Your True Self it is much more than this. As he says, “The word Reiki has been translated in different ways but the real inner meaning of the word Reiki is True Self. Think about it, the word Reiki literally translates as spiritual energy. But then we ask ourselves the question: What and where it is this spiritual energy?” (p10) In the next paragraph he answers, “…we can start to rediscover that this spiritual energy is both inside and outside of ourselves; it is all encompassing …This non-dual experience is our True Self, who we really are without the boundaries of the ego. This is spiritual energy. This is Reiki, our True Self.” (P10) Any energy healing done through the hands is a technique on the path of Reiki and not in the thing in itself. Healing of illness is not the main goal of Reiki, but rather striking at the root of all illness by rediscovering the True Self.
The main techniques on the spiritual path of Reiki are The Precepts, Meditation techniques, Symbols and Mantras, Reiju/Initiation/Attunement, Hands on Healing. The precepts are,
Do Not bear anger, for anger is an illusion
Do not be worried, for fear is a distraction
Be true to your way and your being/True Self
Show compassion to yourself and others
Become this center of Buddhahood
Reiki has deep roots in esoteric Japanese Buddhism, but many of its techniques do not look that way on the surface. This is because Reiki way developed in a time when Buddhism was not favorable with the government. Reiki is partial away to transmit the Buddhist dharma in a covert way so that it was socially acceptable at the time. This is discussed in a quote from Reverend Kuban Jakkoin, a Shugendo priest. He is discussing the word Hiho, which appears in the first line of the precepts. “The Expression hiho is used often by Buddhist people to speak about “the most Important teachings... Around the 1900s is the end of the Meiji period, which was against Buddhism precepts in Japan. I think Usui Sensei wanted his students to remember that to follow the six paramitas was the most important at this time. The paramitas are the keys to develop “bodaishin” which is the Way to be One with Universal Energy. Always think about the hard periods (Meiji, Taisho) in which Usui Sensei wrote and taught. It is very important to reflect like anthropologist.” (p46)
As opposed to the better known Japanese Buddhist tradition of Zen Reiki is based mainly on two Japanese Esoteric traditions: Tendai, Shingon, and Shugendo. Tendai and Shingon are based on Vajrayana Buddhism brought to Japan 1100 hundred years ago. The main difference are their founders and the main text of their traditions. Shugendon is a bit different, “Shugendon is a set of vigorous practices for developing Siddhi (inner power). It was founded in Japan, 1300 years ago, by Enno Gyoja. As a tantric-based mountain practice that mixes Daoism and Shintoism (shamanism), it views the mountain as the perfect three-dimensional womb and diamond mandala of Dainichi Nyorai (the Cosmic Buddha).” (p.110) The methods of mantra, symbols and initiation come from these schools.
The metaphor of Buddha as a healer and the Dharma as the medicine has been with Buddhism since the beginning. In fact, the four noble truths were written/spoken in the format of a traditional Indian medical diagnosis. By why was the hand-on healing practice, for which Reiki is now know, added to this system? As stated in The Inner Heart of Reiki, ”Some of Mikao Usui’s later students appeared less interested in meditation practices like joshin kokyu ho or chanting mantras, as their world was opening up and being influenced by Western cultures. To be able to guide them he also started to introduce hands-on healing in his teachings. This hands-on healing practice evolved over time to become a more externalized practice, and today many of us have forgotten inner meaning of hand-on healing for ourselves.” (p160) This inner meaning is discussed a few pages later, “We might think that hands-on healing was developed to alleviate our physical pain, but that is really only the outer meaning of hands on-healing. The inner/ hidden meaning is letting go of the “I”. Because when we let go of the “I”, then there is no “I” who is worried about pain and discomfort.” (p.162)
Reiki was developed at a time of major change in Japan. The state Shinto of the government had practically outlawed Buddhism and the exposure to the outside world of what had been the very isolated nation of japan, caused the Japanese to begin questioning their traditions. Although Reiki is today known mainly as a method of healing was meant as a way to transmit and protect the Buddhist dharma in a somewhat hidden way at a time when it was under threat.