Naikan: A Self Inquiry Practice for Inner Peace
Most people will agree, improving our wellbeing and achieving true inner peace can be difficult, perhaps even elusory. In today’s world, many of us struggle to feel calm, content, and at ease.
Many of us spend time and energy exploring the different ways that we can bring contentment into our lives. We experiment with different modalities, follow the teachings of gurus and teachers, read books, take classes, seek professional help and so on. These tools can all help with our wellbeing.
Naikan is another tool that can help you in your search for inner peace.
What is Naikan?
Naikan is a Japanese word that translates as “nai” – inside, and “kan” – to observe. It means “inside looking”, “introspection” or some like to think of it as, “seeing oneself with the mind’s eye”.
Based on Jodo Shin Buddhist teachings, Naikan is a simple and effective Self Inquiry Practice that can restore your inner peace and wellbeing. It does this through a structured method of Self inquiry and reflection that can help you understand your Self and your relationships with others.
The practice of Naikan is based upon answering three basic questions and reflecting on the nature of relationships with various people in our lives. We will get to those now.
The Three Questions
- What have I received from ……………………?
- What have I given to ……………………?
- What trouble and difficulties have I caused ……………………?
Please note, to practice Naikan, you only focus on these three questions.
We all experience the world in different ways, and therefore, the benefits of Naikan will vary for each person. By practicing Naikan as a tool of Self inquiry, we have the possibly of perceiving our Self and the world around us more fully. Of course, expanding and enriching our perception can be uncomfortable and painful. However, as we move through the discomfort, with compassion, we have the opportunity for wholeness and presence.
There are many potential benefits of Naikan, and here are 10 of them:
- Peace with your past.
- Acceptance of your life stories.
- Overcoming negative patterns through awareness.
- Acceptance of your feelings by being with them.
- A sense of possibility and hope.
- More relaxed view of problems.
- Accept your Self.
- Develop a compassionate understanding of others.
- Increased Self-confidence.
- The ability to recognise and practice responsibility.
Remember, all of us are as unique as each sunrise. We have our own stories and experiences. Not one of us has travelled the same path. And still, we can all learn to perceive our Self and world as it really is, not as how we think it should be. That is one of the keys to inner peace.
How to practice Naikan
Although there are different ways to practice, the three questions remain the same. There are retreats where you can immerse your Self into practice with the support of others. Alternatively, which suits more people, you can practice at home whenever you like.
A good starter is to give your Self, 20 – 30 uninterrupted minutes at the end of the day, before you go to bed. First, think about what person you want to focus on for this night’s practice. Them, write the questions on a sheet of paper, and spend some time contemplating each. It is usually best to stick with one question until you are done, before moving onto the next one.
A slight alternative, is to use these questions as a reflection for the day you just had:
- What did you receive from others today ……………………?
- What did you give to others today ……………………?
- What troubles and difficulties did you cause others today ……………………?
Not everyone will want to write down their reflections as they go through the questions and that is fine. Do it in a way that works for you, after all, Self-inquiry work has you at the centre.
If you try Naikan, let us know how you got on.