The Naikan Truth

“Naikan” is heralded as: “the Japanese art of self-reflection,” a structured blend of spiritual and psychological concepts, but it has the signs of being a spin-off of religious conceptualizing. In this case, the religious root is Buddhism. In our March, 2010 post: “NoetiTao™ and the Ego,” we explored the fact that every religion on planet Earth includes or is based on suppression of the egos of followers. NoetiTaoism™ is the only exception (see March, 2014 post: “NoetiTaoist™ Philosophy Primer”). Naikan, a westernized extension of Buddhist thought—which sees desire as the root of all evil—is more than a technique for meditative self-examination; it is a process for subtly guiding the meditating mind to ferret out and quell the ego.

At a glance, Naikan—developed by Ishin Yoshimoto (1916-1988)—can appear similar to the practice of “recapitulation” advocated by Carlos Castaneda. Such recapitulation is said to have been the way ancient Toltec sorcerers freed themselves from false identification of self with personal history, by revisiting that history in extreme detail in order to re-experience associated feelings and detach from those emotion-charged memories—to erase personal history and restore the luminous egg (soul) of the formless warrior. Oddly, some see Carlos’ teachings as centered on ego-demolition, but I challenge anyone to read that shelf of books and not see the perseverance of Castaneda’s ego throughout his quest to discover, develop, and deploy personal power.

Naikan’s method of self-reflection requires asking the self the following three questions with respect to each significant relationship with another person, particularly family members:

• What have I received from ________?
• What have I given to ________?
• What troubles and difficulties have I caused ________?

All three questions reflect an erroneous perspective on Self unless the blanks are filled with “the Universe” or “God” or “the One” or “the World” or “all others,” in which case the absurdity of the third question becomes glaringly apparent to anyone not brainwashed into believing that they share responsibility for some mythological Fall of Man, or who is otherwise masochistic or a martyr. If the blanks for questions one and two are filled with “the Universe,” for example, the correct answer to both is: everything. If, however, you fill the blanks with “Uncle Jute” and weigh the results, you can find endless ways to find fault and feel bad about yourself, or Uncle Jute, or both.

Can Naikan create a new sense of reality, an altered perspective on life with regard to relationships? No doubt—just as various psychotherapeutic methods, 12-step programs, and confessional booths can also help achieve “adjustment” and relative harmony through blaming others or through self-beratement. But if the seeker’s goal is the highest level of neurological development, none of those approaches is up to the task because such attainment involves having a willingness to think independently rather than adjust and conform, to pursue the unique divinely-connected Self despite pressure to compromise for the sake of shared harnessing.

Some people are passengers, happy to take seats in the back of the plane and critique the comfort-quality of the flight, but those impelled to ride the leading-edge of experiential expansion and exciting evolution are not content with anything less than sitting in the pilot’s seat and flying artfully into their future.

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