NAIKAN: Developing an Attitude of Gratitude ( this is an article I wrote for a magazine many years ago)


After many years of learning and practicing techniques from the great spiritual traditions, both
East and West, I have discovered a handful that are truly effective and actually transform our lives for
the better…techniques that anyone can practice, no matter what their background or belief or lack
of belief.
One of the most powerful and useful practices I have discovered is the Japanese practice of
Naikan. Naikan means “inside looking.” Its origins are in the Jodo Shinshu school of Buddhism but
is not a Buddhist practice. In this century, Yoshimoto Ishin, a self-made millionaire, discovered the
usefulness of Naikan in his own awakening or enlightenment. Since he wanted to make this wonderful
practice available to everyone, he eased the physical restrictions and modified the procedure
somewhat for laymen. Dr. David K. Reynolds, a psychologist, learned Naikan in Japan and brought it
to the United State as an essential aspect of his Constructive Living training.
What now follows is my interpretation of Naikan as I teach it in the Hara Training at The
Awakened Heart Center for Conscious Living. If you want to know more about Naikan and
Constructive Living, please contact the TODO INSTITUTE:
Naikan is a transcendent way of life that leads us beyond ourselves to enlightenment. Naikan
enables us to develop a deep attitude of gratitude and respect for all of our life based on our actual
experience. To practice Naikan, we do not have to believe anything. All we have to do is accurately
report the truth of our daily life.
Many of us have learned to be victims in life. We experience life as full of problems and we have
no recourse other than to complain. Things are just not turning out the way we think/feel they should.
“Poor, poor, pitiful me.” Everyone and everything is doing it to me and I’m doing the very best that I
can against all odds. This is the victim stance and much of our social structure supports and reinforces
the victim racket… it seems so real!
Naikan frees our attention from our victim stance and focuses it on the fact that we live in an
incredibly supportive and nurturing universe. Naikan deals with facts, not opinions or hysterical
reactions. For instance, if I practice Naikan right now, I realize I am typing on a typewriter that has
served me very well for years. Someone made it for me and it was sold to me at a price I could afford,
even though it took over 100 years of technical research to develop such a fine instrument. I am
thankful for my typewriter. I am thankful for the paper I put in it. I am thankful for the portable phone
beside me so I don’t have to get up each time the phone rings. And the technology that developed the
telephone cost millions of dollars — yet I only have to pay a few dollars a month to use this awesome
technology. I am thankful I have a job to pay for all of this. I am thankful I have time to write this
article. I am thankful for the garbage man, the mail man, the people who built my house, my car, our
roads, our town. I am thankful for the magazine that publishes this article and for you, the reader, that
reads it.
As we practice Naikan sincerely, we begin to realize, from the very depths of our being, that we live
in a completely interdependent universe, that we could not survive without others, that much more
is given to us each day than we could possibly give back, that our simple daily lives are dependent on
thousands of people and millions of dollars just to get us through our day. As we practice Naikan,
we come to realize, from deep within, that our life is a wonderful gift filled with opportunities and the entire universe supports us being who we are. As we practice Naikan, we stop being victims, we stop
complaining, and become masters of our lives expressing respect and gratitude in everything we do. We
begin to see clearly what a wonderful gift our life is. We are sincerely grateful.
The practices of Naikan that I recommend to begin with are four. I recommend doing them for 15
to 30 minutes right before bed, right before you go to sleep, except the fourth one which you can do
anytime. 1) Ask what you have received from others today. Include everything such as where did you get
the bed you are sleeping on, who changed the sheets, who made the clock by your bed for you, wrote
the book you are reading, who taught you how to read. Once you get the hang of it, the list is always
endless and always humbling. If we tell the truth, we have always received much more than we have
given. 2) What have I given to others today? Be honest. It is good to see that we have given less than
we have received. It is very important not to get involved in guilt and inadequacy here — that is not the
point at all. The point is to directly recognize that we are not separated, isolated creatures but part of a
much greater process that transcends our limited personality. We are completely interdependent with
each other. We are part and parcel of a much greater whole. As we continue to practice Naikan, we begin
to recognize that everyone and everything is an aspect of this one dynamic whole. 3) What trouble have
I caused others? Again, the point of this inquiry is not to create guilt or shame but rather to recognize
we are far from perfect and yet this amazing universe continues to have us, support us, take care of us.
As we practice Naikan, we begin to move from “I, Me, Mine” to the wholeness of “Us, We, Ours.”
There is no longer a “Them” because we realized “They” are “Us”. 4) Do secret services to others
in which you receive no recognition. This practice is especially useful in relationships that are going
through difficult times — whether at work or at home. We stop looking for something to complain about
and instead look for situations in which we may be secretly useful. We become a secret ally to our
supposed foe. We become supportive to the interdependent whole that we are.
It is important to do theses practices daily and sincerely. In a very short time we will notice an
amazing change in life and in ourselves. Our whole attitude changes for the better. We are actually
becoming free of our self-obsessed neurotic narcissism and begin to live joyfully in every aspect of our
life. If we make a sincere and deep commitment to Naikan, we can actually realize true enlightenment
and be free.
Again, Naikan can be practiced by anyone of any faith or lack of faith. It requires no belief, only
an honest assessment of the facts of our life. If everyone practiced Naikan, just imagine what the world
would be like!
And now I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Dr. David K. Reynolds:
“I have never met a neurotic person who is filled with gratitude. And neither have you!”