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The Birth of Reiki: Usui's Meditation on Mt Kurama

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

Portrait of Mikao Usui

If you know anything about Reiki, you’ve probably heard about the profound enlightenment experience that the founder of the system, Mikao Usui, had during a meditation retreat on the holy mountain of Kurama, near Kyoto, Japan.

Following a period of intense meditation in which Usui failed to achieve his goal of the realisation of Anshin Ristumei (the realisation of the true nature of the universe, or enlightenment), he was advised by his teacher that if he really wanted to achieve this state and be released from the cycle of rebirth and endless suffering, then he must be prepared to die. He gave Usui a practice that would allow him to reach this summit and achieve his goal.

Here is a lovely description of Usui’s experience on the last day of his attempt to reach his goal by Bodo Baginski and Shalila Sharamon from their book Reiki Universal Life Force Energy, which I discussed in my book Reiki Jin Kei Do: The Way of Compassion & Wisdom:

(Usui)…saw a shining light moving towards him with great speed. It became bigger and bigger and finally hit him in the middle of the forehead. Dr. Usui…suddenly saw millions of little bubbles in…all the colors of the rainbow.

This well-known description is given in Reiki classes all over the world and describes one of the most pivotal moments in the development of modern Reiki as a hands-on healing therapy. Although Usui’s experience is widely documented, as far as I am aware, it has never been looked at in terms of an analysis of what Usui was experiencing.

It seems to me that there is a close relationship between Usui’s reported experience and the tantric Buddhist concept of the manifestation of Thigle (bindu in Sanskrit).

Thigle is a Tibetan word that describes vital essence drops or spheres of psychic energy or rainbow light that are visualised and manifest due to the practice of deep and profound meditation. It’s a critical experience within esoteric Buddhism. Traditionally, thigle are considered to have a very specific shape or form but it is the visual experience of the realisation of the true nature of the universe manifesting as particles of light which is most important. In Baginski and Sharamon’s book, Usui was reported to see thigle as millions of rainbow-coloured bubbles or spheres. These particles of energy can sometimes be seen strung together in strands or shafts of light and at other times as spiraling discs or orbs or moving dots.

When thigle manifest as a consequence of meditation practice, there is a concurrent natural realisation that what one is looking at is the true nature of the universe, which is emptiness filled with energy, this is the universal energy field, that we know as Reiki: emptiness manifesting as form, form manifesting as emptiness. All matter is included in this, including our own bodies.

It is important to realise that when thigle manifest, they are projections from the chakras (energy centres within the subtle body) that are exiting through the eyes. These subtle energy drops either sit within the chakra or are visualised as moving along the energy channels (nadis) within the body. The most important of these channels is the central channel, running in a straight line from the crown chakra then moving down in front of the spine to the base of the spine, which is the root chakra. The home of the subtle mind at the heart chakra is the pivot of the subtle body where the thigle project outwards through the eyes. This subtle mind has been with us from conception, is beginningless and endless, and is the essence of our true or fundamental nature.

Artists concept painting of thigle.

Thigle are directly related to the movement of energy and to the functioning of the mind. The metaphor often used is that of the mind being a lame rider and the prana or ki (chi) being a blind horse. The ki has no direction without the mind, whilst the mind has no capacity to move without the ki. They function as a unit, and the thigle or bindu is the rider of the pranic horse. The mind rides on the movement of thigle through the subtle energy system, giving rise to intense feelings of wellbeing and happiness, and bliss.

When we contemplate the system of seven chakras (the number of chakras is not fixed at seven by the way. See my post here for more information: The Ultimate Guide to the Chakra System), we see that the heart chakra is the balance point of the system, sitting in the middle where the two polarities of yin and yang, earthly and heavenly energies meet at the sphere of emptiness where only love resides.

This pivotal place of the heart chakra has a relationship to the pivotal sphere in the Buddhist vajra (the symbol of tantric Buddhism). A vajra is a ritual implement in Vajrayana Buddhism that signifies both the irresistible power of the thunderbolt and the indestructible qualities of diamond. It destroys but is itself indestructible and so has a relationship to shunyata (the void of emptiness, where all matter arises and passes away, unborn, unoriginated).

In esoteric Buddhism, our body and mind exist at the gross level of material form and also on a subtle level called the vajra body. The physical body is obviously subject to suffering, sickness, decay, and death, whilst the vajra body or subtle body is eternal, unchanging, and indestructible.

The central spherical location of the vajra (linked to the heart chakra) is occupied by thigle which represents our potentiality to realise relative and absolute truth which reminds us that samsara (the world of suffering) and nirvana (the world of no suffering) are expressions of our own true nature, our own energy, and that energy is a part of us, our true nature. Here purity and impurity, ignorance and wisdom reveal themselves as twin aspects of our own energy, and that there is no difference between them. It can be realised only upon awakening or experiencing samadhi.

By focusing intensely in a deep absorptive state on the vajra body and specifically on the movement of thigle in the central channel and the heart chakra, it is possible to cut through the more gross levels of the mind’s functioning and make contact with the pure sky-like mind of our true nature. In making use of this true mind, it is possible to become aware of the emptiness of existence and thus to penetrate to the ultimate nature of reality. At this moment of realisation there is an explosion of blissful energy as the thigle project outwards through the eyes and manifest as dancing lights in front of the practitioner. This is the union of great bliss and the simultaneous comprehension of emptiness.

In Usui’s experience of the manifestation of thigle, in the realisation of the truth of emptiness as the essence of his own mind, there is the arising of compassion as an aspect of this emptiness, but with cognizance and clarity, like the light of the sun. Everything appears and manifests out of this pure nature.

View of a temple on Mt Kurama

It is my belief that Usui, in being an experienced meditator of the highest order, was undergoing an experience of the spontaneous manifestation of thigle related to the energy empowerment that he sought. This experience for Usui was the realisation of Anshin Ristumei.

So was born the modern system of Reiki, riding on the back of Usui’s great ability as an advanced and experienced meditator of the highest order.

If you would like to learn more about the meditation that Usui practiced on Mt Kurama, you can check out the Buddho system.

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