Naikan is a meditative method that Ishin Yoshimoto created and promoted. In 1953, Yoshimoto set up the first Naikan center in Yamato Kouriyama, Nara Prefecture, Japan. At present there are more than 20 Naikan centers in Japan.
Naikan means "introspection." Nai means "inner" or "inside" and kan means "looking," therefore Naikan literally means "looking inside" or "looking within." Yoshimoto once said, " I'm not the first person who placed emphasis on looking into oneself, which is an old human tradition. From ancient times, many sages such as Buddha and Socrates have emphasized the importance of looking into oneself. I have just given shape to one particular method of introspection."
Since it has emerged out of a Japanese cultural context, Naikan was originally thought not to be of use to the people outside of Japanese culture. However, Naikan has been used not only in the United states but also in countries of Europe and has had a decisive influence on Westerners as well as Easterners. Therefore, I would say that Naikan makes an appeal to some universal element in human consciousness.
Naikan has developed in several different directions and has been practiced by both mentally healthy and mentally unhealthy people. For some, such as students, teachers, nurses, doctors, businessmen, and homemakers, it is a spiritual practice( a way of self-illumination), a practice aimed at the acquisition of self-understanding or self-improvement.
For others, it is a kind of psychotherapy which effectively addresses conditions such as marital conflict, alcohol dependence, juvenile delinquency, school truancy, neurosis, and a variety of other problems.
In fact, as a Naikan counselor I have interviewed both categories of people as clients at my own Naikan center. Many of them had transforming experiences through Naikan, which I think demonstrates the significance of Naikan as both a spiritual practice and a psychotherapy.
How do people actually practice Naikan? Let's contrast the familiar psychoanalytic techniques with Naikan.
In psychoanalysis, an analyst usually tells a client, "Please talk freely for about an hour. Don't hesitate to mention anything that comes to your mind, even though it seems like a fantasy." Usually, a psychoanalyst interviews his or her client four or five times a week. In the case of (non-psychoanalytic) counseling, the counselor interviews his or her client once a week, during a session of fifty or sixty minutes.
In Naikan, on the other hand, the Naikan-sha (which is the Japanese terminology for a person undergoing this form of introspection) stays six or seven nights at a center and reflects and examines himself or herself intensively.
A diagram of Naikan practice
a.place: a quiet place
b.posture: a comfortable seated position
c.period: all day long(6:00AM~9:00PM) for one week straight
d.work: devoting oneself to self-examination on the following themes
2)Themes of Naikan
a. what you have received
b. what you have returned
c. troubles and difficulties you've caused
in relation to:
significant people in your life, beginning with your mother, father, and spouse, and continuing on to others
through the method of:
a.dividing these relationships into chronological order
b.putting yourself in their shoes
c.trying to recollect concrete facts
a.location: the client's Naikan practice room at the center
b.method of interaction: face to face
c.time and frequency: three to five minutes every one or two hours, eight times a day
Basically, one sits in the corner of the room walled off by a folding screen (in Japanese, a byobu screen). Using a byobu makes it easier for you to observe yourself, since it cuts off visual stimulation from the outside. Sitting in a quiet place and staying in a relaxed position, you continue to look into yourself earnestly behind the folding screen from 6:00 in the morning to 9:00 at night. You carefully examine how you lived and who you were.
In Naikan, in contrast to psychoanalysis or counseling, you are given certain themes. You try to examine yourself in regard to your relationships with people you consider important to you in your life in the context of the themes given to you.
You scrutinize what you have been like in relationship to them, recalling the past clearly and realistically by examining three particular themes.
The three themes of Naikan are:
1) How much did you receive from a particular person in your life?
2)How much did you return to that person?
3)How much trouble and worry and difficulties did you cause that person?
Those three themes are the basis of Naikan, to which you must return when you examine yourself in relationship to anybody. In the beginning, you are supposed to look at yourself in relationship to your mother or someone else who took care of you in place of your mother during every period, of your life, starting from your childhood and then moving to the present. Next you are asked to examine yourself regarding other people, such as your father, spouse, friends, colleagues, and so forth.
Every one or two hours, a Naikan counselor comes around to get a short interview, which usually lasts three to five minutes, and asks, "What have you examined this time?" This process is repeated over and over again. You must try to remember concrete things as clearly as you can, and you are encouraged to put yourself in others' shoes.
When a counselor asks you a question like, "What did your mother do for you?" or "What kind of trouble or difficulties did you cause your mother?", your answer should not be something such as, "There were many things which my mother did for me," or "I caused my mother a great deal of trouble."
Rather, you must look for concrete things and not abstractions. When you are asked what you received from your mother, you might answer like this: "When I caught a cold, my mother nursed me all through the night. When I went on an excursion, my mother prepared a delicious lunch for me."
When you are asked about what you returned to your mother, you might answer like this: "I was able to remember only massaging my mother's shoulders. But even when I gave her a massage, I always asked her for a reward for doing so."
Finally, you might answer, in regard to the theme of what kinds of trouble and difficulties you caused your mother, in the following fashion: "I got my mother irritated by bullying my brother and sister. And one time, I smashed the windowpane by swinging the bat inside the house."
Naikan is a method and a means of looking at oneself. It makes no sense to know about the existence and the use of a tool if we do not use it. At present, there are more than twenty Naikan Centers in Japan. We hope that you will find the time to practice Naikan for a week. Because the things one discovers practicing Naikan are individual, one never knows what will be revealed by Naikan. But it is beyond all doubt to say that one will lose the present sufferings, or at least make a huge step toward losing it.
When looking at the disposition of the more than 500 people to whom I have recommended Naikan, this is still obvious to me, whether they practiced Naikan last week of Naikan, or twenty, thirty years ago.
While thinking about whether one should practice Naikan in order to improve one's situation, a week passes by very fast. But simply doing Naikan, one is freed from one's afflictions after a week and new steps can be taken. There are innumerable instances of thirty years of suffering being ended with the help of Naikan. Yet, there are many people who are interested in the method, and put off their decision to do it for five or ten years. If such people make up their minds after five years to practice Naikan, they say afterwards: If I had done Naikan five years ago, I would have been spared five years of suffering.
European Naikan-guides have been asked several times in a critical tone, why they have not imported Naikan to Europe ten years ago, because in that case, the questioners would have been spared many problems.
Practicing Naikan means: pausing for a week, making a stop in the flow of time, and seeing life from the other side. If one is able to take the time to look at oneself, while other people restlessly strive forward, this is a very fortunate situation.
Of course it is not easy to take one week off for oneself. We might need the help of our environment. If one person changes, the people around might become happier as well.
We would be glad if you, too, would once pause for yourself and the ones around you, and stop the flow of time to look at yourself. This will lead to getting rid of your worries; it will result in your happiness and that of the people around you.
Quoted from the books;
"Naikan Therapy" written by Doctor Yoshihiko Miki
Nara Traning Center of Naikan Therapy
"Naikan" written by Doctor Akira Ishii and Shaku Yoko Josef Hartl