Naikan is a Japanese word which means “inside looking” or “introspection”. A more poetic translation is “seeing oneself with the mind’s eye”. It is a structured method of self-reflectionthat helps us to understand ourselves, our relationships and the fundamental nature of human existence. Naikan was developed by Yoshimoto Ishin, a devout Buddhist of the Jodo Shinshu sect in Japan. His strong religious spirit led him to practice mishirabe, an arduous and difficult method of meditation. Wishing to make such introspection available to others, he developed Naikan as a method that could be more widely practiced.
A sincere examination of ourselves is not an easy task. It requires attention to what has not been attended to. It involves a willingness to squarely face our mistakes, failure and weakness. It requires us to acknowledge our transgressions and actions which have caused difficulty to others. The fourth step of the Alcoholics Anonymous twelve step program asks us to make a searching and fearless moral inventory. Albert Schweitzer’s suggestion was to “make a secret account of what you have neglected in thoughtlessness or in consideration of some other person’s existence.” Such self-relfection leaves little room for blaming others or complaining about how we have been treated.
The Three QuestionsNaikan reflection is based on three questions:What have I received from __________ ?What have I given to __________ ?What troubles and difficulties have I caused __________ ?These questions provide a foundation for reflecting on relationships with others such as parents, friends, teachers, siblings, work associates, children, and partners. We can reflect on ourselves in relation to pets, or even objects which serve us such as cars and pianos. In each case, we search for a more realistic view of our conduct and of the give and take which has occurred in the relationship.