Touch is perhaps the oldest and most primal form of healing known to humanity. Whether we cut ourselves or just stub a toe, our immediate response is to touch the injured area. Every group, from early primitive tribes to modern society, has incorporated laying-on-of-hands as part of its healing culture. Reiki is a form of laying-on-of-hands that theoretically involves channeling universal life force energy for healing.
While practitioners claim Reiki has no religious affiliations, it does have its roots in Eastern healing philosophies. The term Reiki is actually based on two Japanese symbols Rei and Ki. Ki is a term which can easily be identified with the Chinese word chi, that one would find in practices like Tai Chi or acupuncture. Like chi, ki is hypothesized to be the unseen internal life force or energy that circulates in our bodies and maintains mental, physical, emotional and spiritual balance and wellness. In Eastern cultures, it is believed that when the flow of the ki or chi is blocked or weakened, we develop illnesses. The word Rei, on the other hand, reflects the external, unmanifested life force that surrounds us all. The terms Rei and Ki are joined to form the word Reiki intentionally. This bringing together of the unmanifested universal life force and the internal energy of the person, is exactly what is theorized a Reiki practitioner does by placing his/her hands on someones body. With this laying-on-of-hands, it is thought that the Rei begins to flow through the practitioner into the patient, helping to bring the internal life force, the ki, into balance and harmony.
Reiki, as it is practiced today, began at the turn of the twentieth century in Japan with the work of Mikao Usui. Usui was born in 1865 in the village of Yago in the Yamagatta district of Gifu prefecture. Currently, several Reiki masters and practitioners are actively researching Usuis life and work and attempting to reestablish how he formulated his method. Some claim that Usui was a Christian educator who began his quest to find the roots of energetic healing when his theology students questioned him about how Christ practiced laying-on-of-hands in the Bible. Others claim that Usui was a member of a Japanese metaphysical group, Rei Jyutu Ka, and studied at a Tendai Buddhist school. All versions of Usuis history seem to include the story of a vision in which he was empowered with the Reiki energy on the sacred Mount Kurama in Japan.
Among the students to whom Usui passed on his Reiki knowledge was Dr. Chujiro Hayashi. Hayashi was a retired naval officer and received his Reiki training from Usui around 1925 in Tokyo. It is believed that it was Hayashi who organized the Reiki system of healing into three distinct levels of training, and developed the form or pattern for hand positioning during treatments that is taught in the Usui system of Reiki today in the west.
Around 1930, Hawayo Takata, from the island of Kauai, Hawaii, heard a voice while on the table awaiting surgery telling her that the operation wasnt necessary and that she had another option for treatment. On the advice of a friend, she traveled to Tokyo where she was treated successfully at Hayashis clinic. Amazed at her own healing, she convinced Hayashi to initiate her as a Reiki practitioner. With the advent of WWII, Hayashi was forced to close his Japanese clinic, and Takata brought Reiki to Hawaii where she opened her own healing center. It was through her practice, and the masters that she attuned before her death, that Reiki was spread first into America and then throughout the western hemisphere.
Before she passed in 1980, Takata initiated 22 Reiki masters. Since her death, the practice of Reiki has been evolving in new and often controversial ways through the efforts of these masters. Several new, differing branches of energy healing have developed. Because many of these practices vary from Reiki as Takata taught it, more traditional groups attempted unsuccessfully to patent the name Reiki to more clearly define the practice. Western practitioners are beginning to meet and study with Japanese masters to gain knowledge of how Reiki is practiced in the east where Usui first taught his method. Other groups are combining Reiki with traditional Buddhist healing practices, claiming that the practice has its roots in this faith.
Others still are combining Reiki with traditional therapies like massage and aromatherapy. Even though laying-on-of-hands is an ancient art, the evolution of Reiki healing is still in process.