Bohemian Buddhist Review

"Awakening from the Daydream" by Lawrence Nichtern

" . . . the six realms of the world can be said to be psychological states, rather than external situations such as a heaven above and a hell below. The realms are known as the whirlpool of illusion -- samsara." Chogyam Trungpa.

"We ourselves create a 'daydream' world in which we live most of the time. Just as we experience dreams as if they were reality while dreaming, we experience the daydream of our lives to be real and react accordingly."

In Nichtern's pithy and provocative book, he undertakes to  unpack some of the gnarliest tenets of Buddhism, i.e., the six realms and the twelve interdependent links. What he brings to the discussion that feels new is the understanding that all of us cycle through all realms -- hell realm, hungry ghost realm, animal realm, human realm, jealous god realm, and god realm -- almost all the time. They are impermanent psychological and emotional states, subject to change, and not actual physical abodes. "The allegory of the Wheel [of Karma] reveals potent insight into how we get stuck cycling through [various realms] -- and tells  us how to cultivate positive tendencies that help free us from ingrained karmic patterns."

Nichtern gives different meditations at the end of each chapter to help "navigate the particular challenges of the mindsets that drive each realm."

This will be particularly useful to beginning meditators but even experienced ones will find the connections between the six realms and their "antidotal" meditations productive because they address the very root of suffering caused by each realm. For instance, the meditation for the god realm is based on recognizing impermanence, the fact that even sublime causes and conditions do not and cannot last. Many of us have done the other suggested meditations -- loving-kindness, generosity, cultivating compassion -- but perhaps not with a specific realm in mind.

"Awakening from the Daydream" is highly recommended for our troubled and uncertain times as we each cycle through innumerable states of mind, trying to find solid ground in a quick-change world. But as Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche famously said, "The bad news is that we're in free fall. The good news is that there's no ground."

While this might and probably does freak some people out, it is the very recognition that can end "grasping, aggressing, and ignoring" -- and thus end our suffering. 

Paki S. Wright, Ed.