Usui Mikao was the founder of Reiki. He lived from 1865 to 1926. He came from a famous and influential samurai family, was born a Buddhist and studied as a child in a monastery of Tendai Buddhism, a Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism.
He practised a martial art called Aiki Jutsu from the age of 12, and became known as a teacher and expert in various martial arts forms. He travelled to Europe and America, studied in China, and was learned in history, medical science, psychology, religion (Christianity and Buddhism) as well as esoteric practices.
At one point in his life, he became a Tendai Buddhist Monk, a ‘Zaike’ in Japanese, one who remained in his own home rather than at a temple. After a 3-week period of fasting and meditation on Mt. Kurama, near Kyoto, he established an institute in Aoyama Harajuku in Tokyo to instruct Reiki and give treatments in April 1922. At the time, there were a number of other groups practising hands-on healing in Japan.
He developed his teachings and had over two thousand students in total. In a closed society, Reiki remained within Japan only. The Usui Reiki society (Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai) still exists today but is closed to foreigners and members are asked not to discuss the society with outsiders. One of Usui’s students, Hayashi Chujiro, taught a Japanese-American woman, Hawayo Takata, who brought Reiki to the west, training 22 teachers between the years 1976 and 1980. From there, Reiki has spread to all parts of the world, though is more popular and well-known in countries such as the United States and Germany.
Along the way, teachers and practioners have changed and adapted Reiki, introduced new teachings and ideas, and at times, combined it with New Age ideas. Reiki has also become primarily known for its hands-on healing. However, the Japanese tradition of Reiki was developed as a spiritual practice including meditation, mantras and mindfulness of which healing was only a part.