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Mikao Usui (臼井 甕男 Usui Mikao?, 15 August 1865—9 March 1926), also known as Usui Sensei in Japan, is usually considered the founder of Reiki. Until the mid-1990s little was known of the historical man, not even the dates of his birth and death.
For several decades the sole knowledge of Dr. Usui in the West came from the late Hawayo Takata who brought Reiki from Japan to Hawaii in the late 1930s. She freely admitted her knowledge of Dr. Usui was hearsay as he had made his transition (Reiki jargon for passing on or dying) several years prior to Mrs. Takata's first trip to Japan in the mid-1930s.
Nature and story-tellers abhor a vacuum, and in the absence of any direct knowledge of Dr. Usui's life the myths and legends were born. And some are quite amazing. I have a photocopied set of notes from another Reiki master in which Dr. Usui's healing miracles from the 1830s are sombrely and reverently recorded. Unfortunately, we now know that Dr. Usui was born in 1865.
For years the only story known in the West of Dr. Usui's life was the oral story told over and over by Mrs. Takata to her students. We do not know if Mrs. Takata ever read the works of the late, Joseph Campbel but her rendition of Dr. Usui's life reads like a script from Professor Campbell's book on the archetypal hero's journey.
There is even a tape recording (made in 1979) of Mrs. Takata telling the story in detail. It takes her about 45 minutes to do so. Briefly, here is a summary of some of the high points of Mrs. Takata's story of Dr. Usui's life: Dr. Usui was the principal of the Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, and also a Christian preacher and missionary. One day one of his students asked him if he could duplicate the healing by laying on of hands which the Bible describes was done by Christ.
Dr. Usui replied he could not, and thereupon resigned his position at the university to travel to the United States to receive further Christian training at the University of Chicago in the hope of learning this healing skill described in the Bible.
After studying seven years in the U.S. and discovering American Christians had no idea about Christ's healing by hands either, he began studying other philosophies and religions, including Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism. He read a passage in the Buddhists texts about the Buddha healing by laying on hands and decided to return to Japan and see what the Buddhists there might know.
After a few years of studying in a Japanese Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto, where he was befriended by the wise head monk who became his mentor, Dr. Usui had not found his answer. He then moved on to study in China with the Chinese Buddhists, but came to the same conclusion as he had in Japan, that they did not have the answers he sought either. Realizing many original Buddhist text were written in Sanskrit, the ancient language of India, he decided to learn that language so that he might study those ancient Buddhist Sanskrit writings (some versions of the story have him in India for this).
After diligent study of Sanskrit, Dr. Usui eventually found an inscription in Sanskrit which explained how to do the laying on of hands, although the inscription did not contain instructions as to how to activate the energy. A citation for this inscription is never included in any version the story. Dr. Usui was inspired to return to the Zen temple in Kyoto and talk to his mentor, the senior monk, about what to do about activating the energy.
The two of them decided Dr. Usui would be best to meditate at the top of a mountain outside of Kyoto for 21 days. On the last day of the meditation Dr. Usui had a spectacular epiphany experience during which he was shown how to activate the energy and give the gift of Reiki, the healing by laying on of hands.
He then came down the mountain performing miraculous healings. After consulting with his mentor, he later set off into the world doing good works, teaching Reiki, and healing the infirm with his newly-given gift, all the while learning many important lessons about human nature.
For factual information about the life of Usui Mikao there is a Usui Mikao memorial stone at the Pure Land Buddhist Saihoji Temple in Tokyo. It is headed "Reiho Choso Usui Sensei Kudoko No Hi" (Memorial of the merits of Usui Sensei, the founder of Reiho (Reiki Ryoho)). The memorial stone was placed there by students of Usui Mikao just one year after his death in 1927.
Usui Mikao's Memorial Stone, translation by Haykuten Inamoto - 
- Mikao Usui's Memorial Stone, translation by Jiro Kozuki
- A Reiki History Time-line Reiki-related-events in the life of Mikao Usui, and beyond
- Pictures of Mikao Usui