So it seems that - according to Hiroshi Doi anyway - Usui was looking for a way of knowing one's life's purpose and to be content, and despite all his exhaustive research, he could not find a way to achieve this state. The monk's advice prompted him to go to Mount Kurama and to carry out a 21-day meditation and fast. We now know that Usui Sensei carried out a meditation called 'The Lotus Repentance', which comes from Tendai Buddhism. Usui carried out the meditation and, according to his memorial stone, he experienced an enlightenment or 'satori' that led to the development of Reiki.
But this does not seem to have the ring of truth to it, because he performed this meditation five times during his lifetime, and Usui's system wasn't something new that came to him in a flash of inspiration, but a system that was rooted in many existing traditions. In fact, Usui was already teaching his system long before he carried out the meditation. Originally, Usui's system did not have a name, though he referred to it as a 'Method to Achieve Personal Perfection'. His students seem to have referred to the system as 'Usui Do' or 'Usui Teate' (Usui hand-application). The name 'Reiki' came later, perhaps first used by the founders of the 'Gakkai.
Mount Kurama, where Usui carried out one of his meditations, is a holy mountain. It is near Kyoto, the former capital of Japan, a place which I heard described on a recent television travel programme as being 'the spiritual heart of Japan' - a place with a thousand temples representing a whole range of deities. Mount Kurama is also important from a martial arts perspective, being the place where mountain spirits - Tengu - are said to have given the secrets of fighting to the Samurai. Morihei Usheiba, founder of Aikido, often took students to the mystical Shojobo Valley to train.
Usui Sensei Teaches his System
According to Usui's Memorial stone, Usui was a very well-known and popular healer, and he taught nearly 2,000 students all over Japan, but this should be taken as just meaning a large number, maybe 1,000 or more though. All of his students started out being treated by him. Usui would give them empowerments so that they were connected to Reiki permanently, so they could treat themselves in-between appointments with him, and if they wanted to take things further then they could begin an open-ended programme of training in his system. His teachings were very popular amongst the older generation, who saw them as a return to older spiritual practices; Usui was teaching at a time of great change for the Japanese people. In April 1922 Mikao Usui opened his first 'Seat of Learning' in Harajuku, Tokyo, and he used a small manual which had come into use about 1920. It did not contain any hand positions for healing others: it contained the Precepts, Meditations and Waka poetry.
Of the people that he taught, 50-70 went on to the first level of Second Degree, and maybe 30 went on to the second level of Second Degree. Usui trained 17 people to Shinpiden level. There were 5 Buddhist nuns, 3 Naval Officers, and nine other men, including Eguchi who was said to have been Usui's main friend/student. Eguchi later formed his own religion called Tenohira-Ryouchi-Kenyuka, which was Shinto revivalism, getting back to the early Shamanic roots. Even to this day in Japan there is a spiritual community on Hokkaido – called “ITTOE” - which carries on Eguchi's tradition, and where they carry out a simple hands-on treatment technique based on the use of intuition, and carry out simple initiations. Usui's teachings were what is called a 'Ronin' (leaderless) method. This was to make sure that no one person could lay claim to them and they would be freely available for all who wanted to learn them. So Usui Sensei left no heir in terms of his spiritual teachings; no provision was made for the continuation of this. It would have been more usual for Usui to have kept his system as an Usui family method, rather than passing it on to outsiders.
Usui Sensei did not only practise and teach his Spiritual Teachings in his school but he also gave healing. He became very well known for his healing skills and his fame spread very quickly throughout Japan. In 1923 the Kanto earthquake struck 50 miles from Tokyo, destroying Tokyo and Yokohama. An estimated 140,000 people died from the 'quake or the fires that followed it. This was the greatest natural disaster in Japanese history, and Usui gave many treatments to victims. The Usui Memorial says that Usui Sensei "reached out his hands of love to suffering people", and in recognition of his services to the people during this emergency he was awarded an honorary Doctorate. It is when he was giving healings at a Naval base that he met a group of Imperial Officers, who became students, including the man who would be responsible for allowing Reiki to come to the West.
Mikao Usui died from a stroke in a town called Fukuyama in Hiroshima in 1926. He had been a Tendai Buddhist all his life, and there has been some speculation as to why he was buried in a Pure Land Buddhist cemetery, but this is not significant: there was no Tendai Buddhist cemetery nearby and the Pure Land cemetery was the next best bet. There are a lot of Tendai teachings in Pure Land Buddhism.
How Usui Taught
The teachings were given one-to-one, and they varied according to the students’ needs. There was no single system that was passed on in a standard way. There were various levels, which could be described as first, second and Master levels. The spiritual teachings were:
Students would go to Usui Sensei’s home. He taught from home. They would spend 1-2 days with him and then went away to do the work. They would record their thoughts, feelings and insights in a notebook and then this was reviewed with him when they went to see him again, or when he was available. He would deal with their queries and their questions.