Though Reiki taps into some very ancient beliefs and customs its origins are relatively recent. It’s generally acknowledged that its first practitioner was a Buddhist monk called Mikao Usui who was born in 1865 in the small village of Tania, Gifu Prefecture, Japan.
As a young man at a Buddhist temple on Mount Kurama north of Kyoto, Usui became a keen student of Kiko, the lesser known Japanese version of the Chinese art of Chi Kung – which was aimed at improving health through alternative medicine practices such as meditation, breathing exercises and movement.
But he also developed a keen interest in other systems and beliefs and was believed to have traveled extensively around Japan, China and even as far as Europe and the U.S., where he sought out to educate himself in various religious and spiritual beliefs as well as more Western fields such as psychology and what we might now refer to as ‘Western medicine’. It is said for example that during his time in America he earned a doctorate of theology from the University of Chicago.
In Japan, even before he developed Reiki, he began to become recognized for his burgeoning knowledge of the world around him and many influential people had already started to seek out his guidance. Eventually he was to become a secretary to Shinpel Goto, the president of Kyoto, and might have been well on his way to becoming an establishment figure but after a time he became disillusioned with his new stature in life and returned to Mount Kurama, where he had first studied Kiko as a young man.
There he began a 21-day retreat on the mountain where he fasted, sang, prayed and meditated. It is believed that one of these meditations had been to stay under a waterfall for long periods of time to allow the cascades of water to fall on his head thereby opening and purifying the Crown chakra, a practice that is still performed today by the monks of the Kurama Temple.
It was then at the end of this retreat, in March 1922, that Mikao Usui had what in Reiki circles is called his Satori or enlightenment experience, where he learned how to tune the Single Life Energy (Ki), with the Universal Life Energy (Rei). Thus he was to become the first practitioner of what is now known as Reiki. Usui spent some time testing this system as a way to increase mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing in individuals, first on himself and those around him until finally, in April 1922, he opened a Reiki school. A school that still exists today the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai in Tokyo.
Usui was to open many other Reiki schools in Japan. And it was in one of these schools, in Fukuyama, that he suffered a stroke and died in April of 1926, thereby leaving his message of healing and hope to be passed on by some of the over 2000 students that he personally taught. Some of these students became Reiki masters until his tutelage, and in subsequent decades some of them then made the journey to the West, to spread his philosophy and teachings to a global audience.