piece is written by Reiki Instructor, and good friend of mine,
Darragh MacMahon. It is an extract from a 'Work in Progress' and
may not be published on other websites, posted to usergroups,
or forums, or otherwise digitally/electronically distributed without
Copyright © 2005 by Darragh MacMahon
the graveyard of the Saiho-ji Temple in Tokyo, a large memorial
stone records how, in the early 1920's, a man named Mikao Usui undertook
a 21-day period of shugyo (Physical & Spiritual Discipline)
on a sacred mountain known as Kurama Yama, to the north of Kyoto.
As a result of a mystical experience on the mountain, so the memorial
explains, Mikao Usui became imbued with the gift of healing and
later went on to develop a reiho: a 'Spiritual Method', by
which to pass on this gift to others.
In time, this
method for receiving and sharing healing with others came to be
known as 'Reiki' and spread far and wide throughout the world.
Over the years,
'Reiki' has become many things to many people. To some it is perceived
purely as a therapeutic art; to others, purely a method for spiritual
growth. To yet others still, Reiki may be seen as falling anywhere
in the broad spectrum between the complimentary polarities of 'physical
healing modality' and 'Spiritual Discipline'.
But whatever ones perception, for those of us who have been touched
by Mikao Usui's reiho, Reiki is a journey, and for many, that journey
inevitably leads us to the place where, we are told, it all began:
* * * * *
It was my second
visit to Kurama Yama (Mt. Kurama) that week. There was, to my mind
at least, just too much to experience: too much to see and absorb
in only one day. That and the fact that I hadn't been quite as prepared
as I had imagined for the degree of physical exertion involved in
'doing the rounds' of the mountain temples and shrines. This time,
I had also traded in my shoes for a good pair of ankle-supporting
From the Demachi-yanagi
station in Kyoto, I had boarded the Eizan Electric Railway Company's
small mountain train. The half-hour journey, on the Eizan-Dentetsu
Kurama line, had been pleasant enough as we made our way, following
the course of the swift-flowing Kurama-gawa river, through a beautiful
landscape of tree-covered hills to Kurama station at the end of
On the previous
day, I had been persuaded to purchase an all-inclusive, 1,800 yen,
'Kurama Onsen Shuyu' Ticket at Demachi-yanagi Station. This, I was
told, covered the cost of admission to the Kurama-dera (KuramaTemple)
and entitled me to use the outdoor baths at Kurama's famous 'Onsen'
or Hot Spring (towel provided). I also received a free gift, apparently
a local (Kurama) speciality; a carton of cooked pepper leaf buds.
On this second
trip, I had foregone the opportunity of receiving another free carton
of pepper buds. (I'm still not sure if I was meant to eat them,
infuse them, or bathe with them.). Instead of purchasing another
'Kurama Onsen Shuyu' Ticket (in the end I had decided not to avail
myself of the dubious delights of the outdoor baths), I had opted
for the basic train fare, choosing to pay the Temple entrance fee
(200 yen) when I arrived at Mt. Kurama itself.
By the time
we pulled in to Kurama station the train was almost empty. Most
of the passengers had alighted at a station not far from Demachi-yanagi
- apparently heading to some event at a local Imperial Villa. Save
for a group of three Japanese students, a small party of elderly
Americans (or possibly Canadians?) who alighted from the other carriage,
and a highly athletic-looking young couple, of Nordic appearance,
who were involved in a heated discussion while lightheartedly fighting
over a folding map; the only other people who had remained on the
train to Kurama station were myself and a woman with a young teenage
station, the students boarded the free bus provided to take visitors
to the Onsen. The party of 'senior citizens' whom, it transpired,
were ornithologists, were busy unpacking binoculars, monoculars
and cameras with ridiculously large telephoto lenses from their
packs; and as I headed off down the road in the direction of the
Temple steps, it appeared they had already spotted some avian rarity
of great interest across the station carpark.
While the woman
and girl, hand in hand, headed off in the opposite direction through
the village, I had the feeling that somewhere, out of sight, the
young Nordic couple were still fighting over their map.
* * * * *
entrance to Mt. Kurama is just a few minutes walk from the train
station. From the street, it is only a "stone's throw"
up the broad, tiered flight of steps to the entrance-proper to the
Kurama Temple complex, the Nio-mon (Guardians) Gate.
at either side of the Nio-mon Gate, as the name suggests, are two
impressive statues of guardian deities: Jikoku-ten, the Guardian
of the East, and Komoku-ten, Guardian of the West, two fierce Buddhist
deities brandishing 'Dharma weapons' with which to defend the temple
from evil spirits.
From the Nio-mon
Gate, depending on how energetic you are feeling, it can take a
good 25 minutes up the scenic winding pathway, past several shrines
and monuments, to reach the precincts of the main hall Kurama Temple
For those having
trouble making the climb (or those with the foresight to save their
energies for sightseeing adventures further up the mountain), modern
technology offers a helping hand.
From a visitors' brochure I had read before ever coming to Kyoto,
I had remembered that there was supposed to be a cable-car running,
from a point near the Nio-mon gate known as San-mon station, part-way
up towards the Temple, terminating at a point called Tahoto station.
I had had visions
of a little car, dangling precariously from a cableway strung high
above the treetops, but was mildly surprised the first day when
the 'cable-car' actually turned out to be a funicular (a hillside
tram pulled by cables running between the rails underneath
On my previous
visit, I had considered taking the funicular, but decided against
it as this 'easy option' would mean bypassing several shrines along
the winding route up the mountainside. This time I rested my legs
and let the little car do the work. Yet even from Tahoto station
it was still a ten-minute uphill walk to the temple main hall.
* * * * *
has its origins in A.D.770 when, according to the legend, a monk
named Gantei had a dream that he should allow himself to be guided
to a sacred place on the saddle of a white horse. He followed the
dream's instructions and his horse brought him to the foot of the
Climbing the mountain, he was attacked by a demoness, but rescued
by the Buddhist deity, Bishamonten.
In gratitude, Gantei built a small thatched temple to Bishamonten
at the site of his rescue.
26 years later, Isendo Fujiwara, officer in charge of constructing
the Toji temple, was also guided on horseback to the mountain, with
the intent of building a temple to Senju Kanzeon Bosatsu (the Thousand-armed
Kanzeon Bodhisattva) and discovered Gantei's small Bishamonten temple.
In a dream-revelation Fujiwara saw that there was a fundamental
connection between Bishamonten and the Bodhisattva Senju Kanzeon.
As a result, he redeveloped Gantei's temple for the joint worship
of Senju Kanzeon and Bishamonten.
It is said the
temple became known as Kurama-dera (Horse-saddle Temple) due to
Gantei and Fujiwara both being guided there on saddle-back.
It would seem
that the Mountain was named after the Temple, not the other way
From early on
in its history, Kurama had also been associated with the mystical
cult of Shugendo. The followers of Shugendo, ascetic warrior-priests
known as shugenja or yamabushi (yamafushi),
undertook intense spiritual and physical training in the mountains:
fasting, meditating and participating in esoteric rituals, with
the intent of developing gen (also called rei-gen)
- magical powers, and were renowned as sorcerers, healers, exorcists
and shamans, communicating with (and drawing on the power of) the
Spirits and Deities of the mountains for the benefit of the community.
were also masters of the martial arts, and during the Middle Ages,
people came from far and wide to train in the Hachi-ryu, the "Eight
Schools" of martial arts taught by the yamabushi of
Later, during the Tokugawa era (1600-1868), the Kurama Temple became
the administrative headquarters of an order (or perhaps more properly,
a guild) of licensed religious performer-practitioners: the gannin
or gannin bõzu.
In many ways similar to the yamabushi, yet in other ways
quite different, the gannin, who were frequently married,
also practiced rituals, exorcisms, divination and incantations.
Often seen parading through towns carrying small portable shrines
to either Enma-o or Awashina Daimyo-jin (Buddhist and Shinto deities
respectively), the gannin were known for creating and distributing
amulets and talismans, undergoing ascetic midwinter cold-water ablutions,
and also undertaking 'proxy pilgrimages' on behalf of paying clients.
Frequently wearing nothing more than a loincloth, the gannin
provided the public with semi-religious recitations and entertainments
including dancing to the accompaniment of popular tunes.
* * * * *
For most of
its existence, right up to the late 1940's, the Kurama Temple had
belonged to the Tendai sect, one of the two great branches of Japanese
Mikkyo (esoteric) Buddhism. It was always an important (and quite
wealthy) Buddhist temple and up till the end of the Tokugawa era,
the Kurama temple boasted control of some nineteen sub-temples.
One reason for its importance stemmed from the fact that it was
situated close to the capital, Kyoto, as a result of which it benefited
from courtly and Imperial patronage.
However, with the dawning of the Meiji era (beginning 1868) Kurama
Temple's prestige and fortunes deteriorated somewhat. This was in
part due to the fact that in 1869, the Dajokan (Grand Council) -
administrative body of the Meiji Government -transferred the capital
from Kyoto to Tokyo, beyond Kurama's direct sphere of influence.
But worse than
this, the new Meiji government, which was embarking on a radical
transformation of Japan, for various reasons viewed Buddhism as
hindrance to its plans for modernisation. As a result, during the
early years of the Meiji era, the various privileges and favours
which had over the years been bestowed on the Buddhist Priesthood
were systematically revoked. All across Japan, wealth and lands
belonging to various temples was appropriated by the government.
In many cases, temples were completely dismantled and destroyed.
Yet the Kurama
Temple managed to 'weather the storm'.
Since 1949 Kurama-dera
has been the headquarters (and sole temple?) of a modern-day Buddhist
sect called Kurama Kokyo.
Yet while the
Kurama-dera has always been classed as a Buddhist Temple, founded
on the worship of the Buddhist deities Bishamonten and Senju-Kanzeon,
the temple complex at Kurama also includes numerous Shinto Shrines,
something not uncommon in Japan.
major Shinto shrine at Kurama, on the way up to the Kurama-dera
itself, is the Yuki-jinja. Founded in 940AD, this large shrine is
comprised of several structures and houses a sacred artifact in
the form of a quiver known as 'Yugi'. The shrine is a chinju-sha,
that is, a shrine to the tutelary kami (i.e. Shinto deity)
of a place, in this case the Kurama-dera itself. And so we have
a Shinto deity enshrined as guardian-protector of a Buddhist Temple.
We in the west
commonly tend to think of Shinto and Buddhism as to distinct religions,
but it seems the reality is that the dividing lines between the
two, where they do exist, are very blurred to say the least. In
fact, and at several points throughout history, various philosophical
doctrines have been consciously developed in attempts to permanently
merge the two faiths in to one.
of degrees of this merging are to be found everywhere, a case in
point being the Kurama Kokyo sect (founded after WWII) who are now
in charge of the Kurama temple. Essentially a Buddhist sect - or
'Buddhist-derived Religion' - the Kurama Kokyo worship a triune
deity known as Sonten, comprised of the Buddhist deities Bishamonten
and Senju-Kanzeon and a Shinto kami known as Mao-son.
On the first
day I visited Kurama-dera, I had attended a talk in the 'Golden
Hall', given by Shigaraki Konin, the elderly, but still quite active,
Abbotess of the Kurama Kokyo.
In this talk, entitled 'Kurama-dera and its Natural setting', Abbotess
Shigaraki had spoken in a most reverential way about the mountain:
the forest of cedars, cypresses and pines - about nature in and
around the Temple precincts.
elements of the philosophy of this Buddhist Kurama Kokyo sect, she
was also expressing core sentiments of Shinto belief.
She had talked
of reverence for the cycle of life; how everything in nature was
precious, had its place and purpose; how nature and society were
interconnected. There was, she had said, a need for harmonious co-existence
and respect for others, for culture and belief. She had talked about
the essential oneness of all things - how there exists one single
great natural force, and that at Kurama this spirit, this Life Force
was strongly evident.
A little later
that first day, I had found myself in the basement of the temple.
Here, the air was heavy with the smell of incense; the place was
illuminated by numerous small ceiling-hung lanterns, which didn't
really give off that much light.
The basement itself was a maze of shelves, about nine rows high;
and lining the shelves, several rows deep, were what seemed like
thousands of small ceramic pots or jars, some: bulbous, urn-like,
and unglazed and bearing golden labels; others: hexagonal, glazed
and embossed with figures both human and divine.
I was aware
of a vague, and what I can only describe as a somewhat 'unreal'
sensation in this subterranean room, but I put this down to the
effect of the half-light and the incense.
I had assumed
the basement (as is the case in many western churches) was a crypt
and that the jars may have contained human ashes. However, later
in the morning while chatting with a German girl, Anya, I realised
how wrong this assumption had been.
Anya explained that the energy or power emanating from Kurama yama
(the Life Force that Abbotess Shigaraki had spoken of) is believed
to enter the body through the feet and travels upwards, eventually
coming to reside in the hair. The pots were receptacles for this
power emanating from the mountain; they each contain locks of 'energised'
So it would
seem that the basement was not so much a crypt, as a psychic energy
* * * * *
station is named for a pagoda tower near the point where the funicular
stops. Moments after stepping out of the car into the clear, fresh,
pine & cedar-fragranced air, I met a young monk who welcomed
me to mount Kurama. I thanked him and explained this was my second
visit, that there was so much to take in.
he agreed, "So few visitors can find time in their busy lives
for more than a fleeting visit."
I was indeed fortunate. Having met my work commitments in Japan
almost two weeks ahead of schedule, the next ten days were all mine;
and what's more, all expenses-paid (within reason).
I headed off
up towards the Temple.
day I had spoken briefly to another, somewhat older, monk.
Pausing for a moment, he had looked at me and said, "You are
here not just to see the temples and shrines and splendid beauty
of this sacred place, but to look for the Reiki."
It was a statement, not a question; I was taken aback.
Seeing my expression of surprise, the monk had grinned, "How
do I know? Nothing mysterious" he explained, "Your collar
told me", and he indicated towards my left lapel.
Instinctively I had grasped at my jacket, and felt the lapel pin.
The one with the silver Reiki characters on it!
We both laughed.
I asked politely, did he know much about Reiki?
"Oh, a little. Mainly what we have heard from visitors though.
Sometimes, we have Teachers of Reiki who come and make use our facilities,
to give talks to their students." he replied, then, "Usui
Mikao san* was from before our
time. Before the Kurama Kokyo's time."
"But don't worry," he had said encouragingly, "you
will find what you will find. We trust in Sonten to lead us to the
truth"; then bowing, he had excused himself and went on his
[* In Japan, the surname is given first, then
ones personal name. san is a standard term of respect]
* * * * *
The 'Reiki Pilgrim'
coming to Mount Kurama is at a disadvantage from the outset.
There is no tangible evidence of Usui-sensei's*
time spent here; no marker posts or plaques; no reference in the
names of places or features in this mountain landscape; no recorded
connections with particular shrines or sub-temples. Nothing.
[*Usui-Sensei, that is, 'Teacher Usui' is
the way in which Reiki Practitioners generally refer to Mikao Usui]
But then this is nothing strange. Usui-sensei was one of probably
hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of people: pilgrims and
mystics, sightseers and poets, courtiers, warriors and emperors
who at some or other time had come to Mt. Kurama seeking inspiration
or divine intervention. Of these, a few considered to be socially
or nationally 'important', have merited having their visit to Kurama
recorded in the history books, or in the oral traditions of the
tangible evidence is generally only found in relation to really
famous figures, like, for example the great Warrior Hero, Yoshitune.
(Mt Kurama is awash with sites connected to Yoshitune.)
And it is not
just a lack of a tangible connection at Mt. Kurama.
All in all,
Usui-sensei is in a way an almost mythological figure. Aside from
the memorial stone and grave where his ashes are interred in the
Saiho-ji Temple in Tokyo, we have very little evidence of his existence:
two, or possibly three, photographs of the man
a reference to him in a single newspaper article from 1928
a family reference on a 'tori gate' at a shrine in the village of
a list of Treatment Guidelines said to have been devised by him,
what professes to be a transcript of an interview with him (these
latter two presented in a booklet compiled in the 1970's)
Beyond this, no one has, as yet, discovered any specific reference
to him in public record, newspaper print, or other checkable medium.
In fact, one
could easily be forgiven for believing he had never existed at all.
Were it not
for the Reiki.