48 – Naikan and its relation to the cultivation of ikigai with Dr. Clark Chilson

Have you reflected on you relationships with others?

We might not always notice it, but sometimes we may have done things that could hurt or cause sadness to the people close to us. That's why it is essential to take some time to reflect on the things we have received and given to others—whether they are good or not. This helps us improve our relationships, not just with others but also with ourselves.

In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick speaks with Dr. Clark Chilson about a self-reflective form of meditation called Naikan, and how it can help people develop their ikigai.

Naikan can foster ikigai

"If human connection fosters ikigai, and Naikan fosters deeper human connection, which it does for many people, then there's definitely a relationship between Naikan as a practice for fostering deeper connection, and then consequently, fostering a stronger sense of ikigai." - Dr. Clark Chilson

Podcast Highlights

Clark Chilson

Clark Chilson

Dr. Clark Chilson is an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pittsburgh; he specialises in religion in Japan, particularly Buddhism and popular religion. He teaches Religion in Asia, Religion and Culture in East Asia, Japanese Religious Traditions, Popular Religion in a Changing Japan, as well as Buddhism & Psychology. He lived in Japan for over thirteen years and studied cultural anthropology, doing fieldwork at a Zen temple and among secretive Buddhists.


Clark Chilson

Naikan: A Meditation Method and Psychotherapy

Clark studying religion in Japan

Clark first went to Japan in 1968 as part of an exchange program at his university. During his stay, he got interested in the distinct religious culture of Japan; he was captivated by the “earthiness” of Japanese Buddhism.

"Many people who only know Buddhism through English language books, think of it as being primarily about meditation, and being very philosophical. And that's just not what Buddhism is like in Japan. It's very earthy, it's about the ancestors and ritual, and getting things for these worldly benefits. And that really appealed to me."

Doing fieldwork at a Zen temple

While working on his thesis for his undergraduate studies, Clark did some fieldwork at a Zen temple called Toyokawa Inari: one of the three largest Soto Zen training centres in Japan that has dozens of novice and full-time monks.

It was a fun and fascinating experience for him, from observing different people who visit the temple to witnessing some novice monks sneak out and have some drinks.

Defining Naikan

Naikan is meditative self-reflection practice which focuses on three questions:

  • What have I received that’s positive from other people? 
  • What have I given back that’s positive to other people?
  • And what troubles and difficulties have I caused other people? 

Naikan is about disciplined attention regulation – the attention regulation is focused on the three Naikan questions.

Naikan Types

There are two types of Naikan: Intensive Naikan and Daily Naikan. 

Intensive Naikan

Intensive Naikan is done at a Naikan training centre, where people spend a week away from all distractions and reflect on the important relationships they have in their lives. The interviewer (mensetsusha) will ask the three Naikan questions concerning different people: it can be the participant’s mother, father, and spouse if they’re married.

This will go on for a week because for the first few days, people find it hard to focus and fully concentrate on the three questions—it takes a few days before their minds settle down. At the end of the week, participants will have an hour-long discussion with other people who did Naikan and that’s the end of the Naikan practice.

Daily Naikan

Daily Naikan can be a self-managed reflective journaling practice incorporated into one’s daily routine. It involves sitting in a quiet place, without distraction, and listing answers to the three questions in relation to the day’s events.

Unlike intensive Naikan, daily Naikan is focused on more recent events (within the past 24 hours) and, with a slight rewording of the questions, can explore interactions with more than one person:

  • What did you receive from others today?
  • What did you give to others today?
  • What troubles and difficulties did you cause others today?
Naikan Ikigai Tribe

Naikan and guilt

Naikan will make people feel guilty, but not the self-centered kind of guilt. Rather, the guilt is focused on the pain and suffering of the other person; people realise the inconvenience they have caused others, and they want to do something about it and fix their relationship.

Benefits of Naikan

People do Naikan for various reasons: some do it because they’re undergoing serious problems, while others do it for self-cultivation – they want to be better at something. 

The benefits of Naikan depend on the person’s purpose of doing it, but the common benefit could be that people see their lives differently after doing it, thus,  people see themselves differently which can help to reduce their sufferings – they’ve gone through something that changes them perpetually.

Meaningful Life

Naikan and ikigai


The practice of Naikan can lead you to feel gratitude towards the people in your life. Through Naikan, you begin to appreciate what others have done for you, thus, you want to give back and take care of others in return, cultivating a feeling of ikigai. 

Like ikigai, Naikan is also related to one’s community. Naikan fosters deeper human connection, and human connection fosters ikigai. Rather than look for meaning in life, you should look for ways to create a profound meaning in life with others.

Human Connection

Ikigai often involves connecting with people – it is a shared experience that helps people grow and learn from each other.

Shared Experience

What's Clark's Ikigai?

"I want to be frank, I typically don't ask myself this question. And I think that when I don't feel the urge to ask the question, I probably have the greatest sense of ikigai. When I'm happy, I don't think about how happy I am, or maybe occasionally I do, but I'm just like, I'm living life, I feel like oh, this is nice. I typically don't ask myself what my ikigai is. I will say this, however, I feel incredibly fortunate."


The meaningful relationships we have in life are vital, as they can be a great source of ikigai, and the practice of Naikan gives you time to reflect on these important relationships.

If you spend time evaluating the impact you have on these relationships, then you can work on improving and building healthier connections with the people you care about, cultivating more ikigai in your life.