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The Life of Mikao Usui

Rita Kapoor

Reiki was discovered by Dr. Mikao Usui, who set out on his path of spirituality after he experienced visions of — and instruction from — Mahavairocana Buddha, the Great Central Buddha. Determined to find answers to his questions about his vision, Usui eventually met a Shingon Bonze, who recognized Usui’s tremendous spiritual potential and took him on as a student. After years of work and meditation, Usui recieved enlightenment while he was meditating at hsi favourite spot at Mt. Kurama.


Mikaomi Usui was born in the village of Yago in Gifu prefecture in Japan on August 15, 1865, where his ancestors had lived for eleven generations. His family belonged to the Tendai sect of Esoteric Buddhism. When he was four, he was sent to a Tendai monastery to receive his primary education. He was a very bright student.

Usui pursued higher education and received a doctorate in literature. He spoke other languages fluently, and became well versed in western medicine, theology, and philosophy. Throughout Usui’s early adulthood, he live in Kyoto with his wife Sadako Suzuki and two children, a son - Fuji, and a daughter. He was a businessman and had varying degrees of success. He did encounter some difficulties, but his strong determination and positive outlook helped him to overcome these difficulties. He continued his spiritual studies and became involved in a spiritual group name “Rei Jyutsu Ka.” This group had a center at the base of the holy mountain Kurama-yama, north of Kyoto. There is an ancient Buddhist temple, Kurama-dera on the mountain, which has a very large statue of Amida Buddha and houses many artifacts that are part of the “National Treasure.”

The temple, at that time, belonged to the Tendai sect and was built in 770 AD. Kurama had been regarded as a power spot and many famous sages as well as Emperors came here to pray. The Temple and the surrounding areas are kept in their natural state and the mountain itself is the spiritual symbol of Kurama temple. Steps lead down to the base, where some sit to meditate and pray. Nearby is a waterfall that is said to be where Usui himself often came to meditate.

It was during this time (around 1900) that Usui contracted Cholera as an epidemic swept through Kyoto. He had a profound near-death experience in which he experienced visions of — and instruction from — Mahavairocana Buddha, the Great Central Buddha. This was a life changing experience for Usui that caused him to make a major reassessment of his life. He developed a keen interest in the esoteric science of healing as taught by Buddha, and he developed the compassionate wish that he may learn these methods in order to benefit mankind. When he recovered from his near fatal illness, he began to discuss his experiences with his family and family priest. They were outraged at his claims of seeing Enlightened Deities, and the Tendai priest practically beat him and chased him out of the temple.

Determined to find answers to his questions about his vision, Usui eventually met a Shingon Bonze, who recognized Usui’s tremendous spiritual potential and took him on as a student. Usui then became a devout Shingon Buddhist, which outraged his family even more, and they removed him from the family ancestry. Usui was seen as a traitor to his family and ancestors. To this day, relatives refuse to speak of him, saying that it is against the will of their ancestors to speak his name. Even his daughter wrote a clause in her will that her father’s name should never be spoken in her home.

Mikao Usui spent much time and money pursuing his newfound spiritual path by studying and collecting Buddhist scripture. In particular, he studied Buddhist healing techniques and invested an enormous amount of money collecting old medical texts. Because he had good political and academic connections, he had many texts from varying countries, including rare medical texts from Tibet.

Kyoto was the home of many large and extensive Buddhist libraries and monasteries that had collections of ancient texts. Usui did much of his research there. It was in Kyoto that he stumbled across a copy of the “Lightening Flash” tantra. He felt it was an important discovery. It is said, that this text was brought to Japan by Kobo Daishi /Kukai - the founder of Shingon Buddhism.

For many years Usui continued to collect, study and practice these medical tantras. He became an advanced practitioner and meditation master. His closest friend Watanabe Kioshi Itami, the son of his Buddhist teacher, became his most devout student. Over time, Usui became a respected and learned Buddhist teacher with a following of students. They met regularly and Usui would teach from the texts that he had been fortunate enough to coIlect. The focus of his teachings was on healing and benefiting humankind through healing. They practiced elaborate rituals for averting newly arising diseases that were ravaging Japan, as well as esoteric practices for heating every type of illness.

Mikao Usui was truly a man ahead of this time. He went against the social norms of his day, which was very radical. Usui believed that everyone should have access to the Buddhist healing methods, regardless of religious beliefs. He wanted to find a way to offer these powerful methods to the common man, without need for long arduous practices. Out of his great compassion and determination, he vowed that he would some day find a way to develop a “synthesis” healing method that would cure every type of disease, and that could be taught to anyone, regardless of background, education or religious beliefs.

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