Mikao Usui

The following article was written for the official Reiki Jin Kei Do lineage website in 2010 but was never used, so I am presenting it here. 

On the 15th August 1865 in the village of Tanai Mura in the Gifu Prefecture of the old Japanese capital of Kyoto, Mikao Usui was born. Although the son of a wealthy Tendai Buddhist family that was descended from one of the most famous Samurai clans in all of Japan; the Chiba clan, the birth of the baby Mikao was to prove to be far more auspicious and of greater significance than anyone could have at that time realised. The name of Usui was in under a century to be known and applauded around the globe. It was Mikao Usui that was to eventually develop and teach the system of spiritual development and healing that we now know as ‘Reiki’  – the world’s fastest growing therapeutic method.

In the beginning, the system was known by Usui’s students as ‘Usui Do’ (the way of Usui) and it was born into the world at a time in Japanese history when major sociological changes were taking place in the country’s political and cultural life. After two centuries of self-imposed isolation, a massive programme of industrialization under the Meiji Emperor (Prince Mutsuhito) was transforming feudal Japan into a major player on the world stage. Mutsuhito was determined to give his country a modern outward-looking and dynamic new focus. This was to be a new beginning for Japan.

Mikao Usui was one of four children born to the Samurai rank of Hatamoto just three years prior to the social-quake that Mutsuhito was about to unleash. The Hatamoto Samurai had been the Shogun’s personal guard and as such the bearer of this rank was entitled to have servants, hold land and station in life and to carry two swords. This highly privileged position would not, however, do the young Usui much good on his journey through life. As a part of the nation’s modernization programme the Samurai came under attack from Mutsuhito and his Meiji government. Six years after Usui’s birth the Samurai were banned from carrying swords and then in 1877, the last Samurai uprising was quelled.

At the age of four Usui entered a Tendai Buddhist monastery near Mt Kurama (Horse Saddle Mountain) to begin a period of several years of intensive training in this school of Mikkyo Buddhism. Usui’s commitment to Tendai led him for a short time in later life to become a Tendai monk or priest and it was at this time that he took on his Buddhist name of Gyoho (or Gyohan or Gyotse).

Much of Usui’s life was characterized by a strong pull towards all things Western. Mutsuhito was encouraging his subjects to travel and learn the Western ways and Usui was only too glad to oblige. Over the span of his lifetime, Usui travelled extensively, visiting the US and Europe several times as well as China to study and learn the Western ways. He was always a hard-working student and during his life he accumulated a vast knowledge of medicine, psychology, fortune telling and the theology of world religions. He also studied Chinese Traditional Medicine, numerology, astrology and psychic and clairvoyant development amongst other things.

It appears that Usui was something of an eccentric and as a young man had faced many adversities. He had no regular employment or security and frequently suffered from a lack of money. This however seems to have been a conscious decision as Usui did not place any real value on material possessions. Over the years however he followed a number of professions: industrialist, missionary, reporter, office worker, public servant and supervisor of convicts. He also at one time worked as the personal bodyguard for Goto Shimpei who was the Head of the Department for Health and Welfare.

Shortly after the turn of the 20th Century Usui got married to Sadako Suzuki and in 1908 their son Fuji was born, followed in 1913 by a daughter; Toshiko. It was around this time it is believed, that Usui began to teach his new spiritual system which he simply referred to as ‘My method’.

In developing the system that we have come to know as Reiki, Usui drew on many sources. Some of these are known and we can speculate with some degree of accuracy in regards to others. Some sources we may never know. Of course it must be that Usui’s commitment to Tendai provided a strong philosophic background to the system and this is perhaps why he developed a method to lead the practitioner to an experience of enlightenment through working with spiritually guided energy rather than simply another energy-healing therapy. It has been suggested that Usui also possibly drew on an esoteric practice called ‘Shugendo’. Shugendo is a practice that itself draws on other disciplines such as Tantric Buddhism, Chinese Yin-Yang magic, Taoism and an assortment of pre-Buddhist folk traditions and was practised by itinerant mountain priests (the ‘Yamabushi’). Shugendo incorporates meditation practices along with incantations and mudra-like techniques to bring about direct spiritual empowerment via the state of ‘kantoku’ (an illuminating mystical visionary state of mind).

It is highly likely that Usui’s commitment and practice within various martial systems also provided methods and philosophic material to draw on. At the age of 12 Usui began training in the martial art of ‘Yagyu Shinkage Ryu’, which included Samurai swordsmanship and methods of unarmed combat as well as, anomalously, a technique called ‘katsu’ that was used for infusing life energy into a person. During his 20’s Usui achieved his teacher’s licence in Yagyu Shinkage Ryu that marked his proficiency in the system at the highest level. Usui also studied at about the same another martial art called ‘Aiki Jutsu’ and was at various points in his life to achieve high levels of proficiency within a number of ancient Japanese methods that it is said included the practice of ‘Ki Ko’. Ki Ko is the Japanese equivalent of Chinese ‘Qi Gong’ (energy cultivation) and includes a method for projecting accumulated ki or chi for the purposes of healing. Usui was a contemporary and personal friend of a number of martial arts luminaries during his life. These included Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of ‘Aikido’, Jigoro Kano, the founder of ‘Judo’ and Gichin Kuakoshi, the founder of ‘Karate’.

How much any of the spiritual, martial and energetic systems that Usui worked with contributed to the development of Usui Do we shall perhaps never fully know, but Usui was certainly a man with a mission. He had a strong and overriding desire to pursue the ultimate meaning of life and so find the way to escape from suffering. Usui seemed more than willing to explore whatever method might lead him to it.

From the evidence of the teachings contained within Reiki Jin Kei Do it seems highly likely that Usui also drew on the spiritual practice that is now known as ‘Buddho-EnerSense’ because the origins and the deeper meanings of the Reiki symbols are contained within this method as is the meditation practice of the ‘Buddho’ (from which the system gets its name) which Usui undertook at a critical juncture in the evolution of his system.

It was Usui’s experience of satori or an absorptive ‘dhyanic’ state on Mt Kurama that is the most often talked about moment in the development of Usui’s system. In his search for the Truth, Usui decided to fast and meditate for 21 days. During this period on Kurama, Usui performed the first three cycles of the Buddho meditation. Buddho means ‘energy’ or ‘seed’ of enlightenment. This meditation was the spark that would later send a Zen monk by the name of Seiji Takamori in search of the roots of the Reiki system. The Buddho meditation is known to have been passed on by Usui who had received it from a monk who had advised him to practice the meditation in order to receive the energy empowerments that he sought. This cyclic meditation involved a direct connection to and visualisation of Buddhist deities and symbols that are the root of one of the widely known Reiki symbols.

Usui’s hopes of having the ultimate Truth of the way to escape from suffering revealed to him were realized on the 21st day of his retreat whilst practicing the Buddho meditation. Usui experienced a moment of satori. It was at this moment that he received his empowerment to the Universal Life Force Energy as Reiki entered through his crown chakra.

It is not entirely clear as to when Usui first started to teach his system to others, but the general consensus is that it was around 1914/15 though it could have been as early as 1912. The system that he taught metamorphosed a number of times however under the influence of various students and colleagues as the years passed. Most notable of these influential students was Chujiro Hayashi, one of the last people to study with Usui’s before he died.

It was in1925 that Usui came across a group of Imperial Officers who were to become his students. These included Rear Admirals Jusaburo Ushida, Kan’ichi Taketomi and Naval Captain Chujiro Hayashi. Usui’s system had come to the attention of the Japanese Navy who were keen to find a method that could be used as a form of emergency treatment as their ships were equipped with only limited equipment and personnel. Usui Do was what they wanted.

As a consequence of the interest of the naval officers Usui’s method started to shift from being a spiritual system of personal enquiry and liberation to a simple method of hands-on healing. The focus was now on treating others and it was this system that was the forerunner of modern day Reiki as most of the world now knows it.

‘Reiki’ as a term for Usui’s system seems to have first been used by Chujiro Hayashi. Hayashi was clearly not a run of the mill student in spite of having trained with Usui for a period of only 9 months or so. It was to Hayashi that the task of spreading Reiki beyond the shores of Japan and to the passing on of the Buddho meditation was to fall. The latter was to be a pivotal event in the emergence of Reiki Jin Kei Do as a separate and distinct style of Reiki that harks back to the philosophic aims of the system as originally developed by Usui.

Mikao Usui eventually died from a stroke – his third – whilst on a visit to Fukuyama, Hiroshima on the 9th March 1926.

His impact on the world, which continues to grow, has been immense.

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About Steve Gooch

Steve Gooch was born in March 1962 in Rugby, Warwickshire in England and grew up there with his two brothers and sister. He moved to Corsham in Wiltshire and attended Bath Academy of Art, where he studied sculpture and printmaking, before going on to work on projects for the artists Joe Tilson and Nick Pope. He also helped with the publication of a limited edition folio of Paul Eluard’s poetry. Steve moved to London to study for a postgraduate teaching certificate and then worked as a teacher of art in the UK. He gained his MA in Education with the Open University and also studied the discipline of Reiki with his Reiki teachers in Newcastle upon Tyne. His daughter Marianne was born in 1994. For a period of time, Steve devoted himself to teaching Reiki in his hometown of Rugby, before moving to Egypt, where he resumed his career as an art teacher, becoming the Head of Art in a prestigious British International School in Cairo. He continued to teach Reiki, introducing the discipline for the first time to Egypt. He also wrote extensively on the subject for various Egyptian English-language magazines. Returning to the UK, Steve’s son Sam was born in 2004. Not wanting to go back into the teaching profession, Steve took a job as a chef in a vegetarian restaurant and wrote his first book ‘Reiki Jin Kei Do: The Way of Compassion & Wisdom’. It was the world’s first book on that particular tradition of Reiki and is still considered to be the standard reference work on the subject. Steve them moved to Sudan, where he was again Head of Art at the prestigious Unity High School, and built an online living history for the school, called 'The Unity High School Archive'. It was in the process of building this archive that Steve uncovered a major scandal involving senior members of the Anglican Church, local dignitaries, and members of the faith communities. As a consequence, he got to know the head of the Secret Police in Khartoum quite well and then promptly left the country. Steve moved back to Egypt and took up a post as Head of Art in a school in Alexandria. Very much involved in the Reiki community in the UK, however, he founded the national organisation ‘Reiki Jin Kei Do UK’ and became the editor of ‘Focus: The Journal of Reiki Jin Kei Do UK’, and then set up the global ‘Reiki Jin Kei Do International’. He also set up the global video-arts project '12seconds for Peace'. The concept grabbed the attention of a number of big names in the peace movement, including Nobel Peace Prize nominees, and threatened to go viral. Circumstances (revolutions and social unrest) put it on the back-burner. Likewise, a major peace initiative called the 'Global Concert for Peace', scheduled for the summer of 2013, which would have been the world's biggest musical event, also went on the back-burner. Steve moved to Saudi Arabia for a little over a year in 2014, before returning to Egypt to take up a senior management position in another British International School in Cairo. Finally, after a year of professional purgatory in which he realised that there is no such thing as a good British International School in Egypt, he decided ‘enough is enough’ and quit the teaching profession for good to focus on his writing, art and Reiki classes. He is currently living in Cairo and writing ‘The Temple of the Djinn’, which is loosely based on the events that he uncovered during his time in Sudan. He is also teaching Reiki and working freelance for a variety of Egyptian magazines. He misses the UK and is looking forward to spending more time in his home country with his children. He'd also like to find time to paint and make sculpture.
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