“Naikan” 内観 is a self-reflective form of meditation founded by Yoshimoto Ishin 吉本伊信 (1916–1988), who developed it from a lay Shin Buddhist practice called mishirabe身調べ. After Yoshimoto used it to help prisoners in the 1950s, psychiatrists in the 1960s started to use it as a psychotherapy. Today in Japan it is the most popular psychotherapeutic method that originated in Buddhism.
Naikan involves self-reflection on three questions: What have I received from a significant other? What have I given back to that person? What troubles and difficulties did I cause that person? People doing Naikan ask themselves these questions in relation to a family member or some other person during particular times in their lives.
There are two types of the practice: intensive Naikan (shūchū naikan集中内観) and daily Naikan (nichijō naikan日常内観 or bunsan naikan分散内観). The former is done continually for a week at a Naikan training center, of which there are about twenty-five in Japan and several outside Japan in Austria, Germany, and the United States. During intensive Naikan, those doing Naikan report individually eight or so times a day their answers to the three questions to an “interviewer” (mensetsusha面接者). Daily Naikan is done as part of a person’s everyday normal routine for as short as a few minutes or as long as two hours a day. Intensive or daily Naikan is offered as a therapy at about twenty medical institutions in Japan and another fifteen in China.
Intensive Naikan is commonly done for one of four reasons. First, it is done to solve a specific problem, such as alcoholism, gambling addiction, a psychosomatic disorder, or a bad relationship with a family member. Second, it is used to train employees so they can interact better with customers and colleagues. The Toyoko Inn, for example, which has over 230 hotels throughout Japan, requires all its full-time employees to do intensive Naikan. Third, it cultivates greater self-awareness with regard to, for example, how our minds work. Finally, it is done to discover the true nature of our lives through a spiritual awakening, which commonly entails the realization of how we live due to the care of others and how we suffer because of our own self-centeredness. This final purpose is in accordance with Yoshimoto’s view of Naikan as a method for learning how to live happily regardless of one’s life circumstances. Those who do Naikan for non-psychotherapeutic purposes sometimes use the term “Naikanhō” 内観法 (Naikan method) to distinguish their aims from Naikan therapy (Naikan ryōhō) 内観療法, which is used to solve a particular problem. But regardless of whether Naikan is done for self-developmental, spiritual, or for therapeutic reasons, the Naikan method of reflecting on the three Naikan questions is the same.