Naikan And Happiness

What is really important in our life? This is a question that Naikan practitioners reflect upon on a daily basis. It is a question that confronts those doing an intensive Naikan retreat.

It is confronting because our self-cherishing nature desperately wants us to believe that so many other things are important why the boss is giving us a hard time, the husband who leave his dirty clothes on the floor, the mother-in-laws opinions that make us angry all of these and much more often clog up the mental pathways of our day obscuring that which is able to bring a deeper inner happiness.

Naikan guides us to hold on to what is really important thus freeing us to be in the present moment and see the beauty of the day. It does this by teaching us to focus on three very strategic questions:

What have I received from a particular person or event?

What have I given to a particular person or event?

What troubles and difficulties have I caused?

The first question What have I received from a particular person or event?

invites us to see the gift and interconnectedness of life. Life is a precious gift in which we make manifest and share our own giftedness to the world. This is a valuable key towards inner happiness.

Our life depends upon so many people. The coffee you appreciated this morning was a gift from so many. The coffee beans had to be picked, processed, packaged and transported. The jar was made by a network of others. A store owner provided the store in which the coffee is sold, the check out person served us. We needed water to add to the coffee. There are so many people involved in providing and maintaining the city water grid. We needed a fragile environment to cause rain for the water. Do you take sugar and milk in your coffee? Sugar requires farmers to plant and harvest the sugar cane. Cows provide the milk. On and on it goes the complex web of interdependence and connection.

In Naikan Meditation we take time to reflect on those who injure or insult us. In one retreat a participant told me that his boss was very difficult to get along with and could find nothing that the boss had given him. However, soon he was able to reflect that the boss provided him with work which he needed. Naikan meditation trains us to observe the gift in each day.

The second question of Naikan: What have I given to that person or event? helps us to develop a compassionate heart. It is still a question that focuses on the gift of life but now reversed. Gifts are about both receiving and giving. The second question in Naikan is about giving. Naikan meditation invites us to sift our minds and hearts deeply as to those things we give others not just material things but also time, attention, knowledge and many other non-tangible things. We begin to learn that we can give in so many creative ways.

The second Naikan question helps us to go into each day with a mind of giving. What do you give to other drivers on the road when you drive to work? What do you give to your work colleagues and boss? There is so much happiness in giving and generates the compassionate heart.

In Buddhism there is the concept of Dana (giving). Giving freely without concern or interest of self creates great Karmic merit. The giving heart is a healthy heart. The giving heart is a heart free from troubles. The giving heart is an abundant heart. When you give from your own inner gift you create energy of abundance and well-being. This is Naikan.

During a Naikan retreat participants retrain their minds to see life from a different angle carefully sifting the sands of their life for the Dana the gifts of life.

The third question is by far the hardest. In Naikan meditation it is the one which confronts us the most. It is the one we want to avoid. Now the self-cherishing part of us starts to kick a tantrum. It is also the question upon which we must spend 60% of our time. It is the most important question. What difficulties and troubles have I caused this person or event?

We are so used to examining and talking about what problems others have caused us. We are used to seeing ourselves as the victims of others, the world or our environment. The self-cherishing part of us desperately wants us to feel hurt. It tricks us into thinking that feeling this way we will find deep inner happiness, comfort and nurture. However, we will never find deep happiness by blaming others for our problems. Most often this attitude promotes anger and the natural consequence of unchecked anger is a never ending cycle of misery and suffering. Naikan, on the other hand, teaches us to take responsibility for our lives. One of the biggest obstructions to happiness and well-being is the self-cherishing part of us. Naikan meditation gradually erodes the self-cherishing nature leaving us with the gift of life.

What problems and difficulties others have caused us personally do not matter. They are not important. The Buddha has made it clear that the problems we face are of our own making. All things emanate from our mind. We have sown the seeds of our own torment and we reap the results. When we truly understand and accept this we are able to break down the barriers of delusion and see life in all its beauty.

What is really important is that we no longer sow the seeds of negative karma. By firmly and resolutely answering the third Naikan question in relation to our entire life we begin to root out the karmic obstructions, gain personal integrity and as a result sow seeds of positive karma. We are thus masters of our own destiny. Further by concentrating on this third question we train our minds to be ever watchful of planting seeds of destructive karma. This is important. This is Naikan.

During a Naikan Meditation Retreat participants gradually learn what is really important in life as the key to a deeper happiness. Naikan is not only a Pure Land Buddhist practice but a highly valuable psychological process for dealing with our life problems. Our problems arise because we cannot see the gift and joy of life. Learning to live the gift and joy of life is important. This is Naikan.

By: Mao Xinmen

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Malcolm Hunt is an International Naikan and Mindfulness Trainer and Retreat Facilitator at Guang Jue Buddhist Monastery in China and can be contacted at

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