Awakening from the Daydream: Reimagining the Buddha’s Wheel of Life is a fantastic, accessible, and modern reworking of the Buddhist Wheel of Life. I took a course on Buddhism in college (seems like a million years ago now) and I remember being effected by this picture then- the original version. For thousands of years, Buddhist practitioners have been studying the mind, how it perceives the world, and how it creates a perpetual cycle of suffering. The original Wheel captures this in extraordinary detail and Nichtern’s re-imagining of it is brilliant.
I think that this could be very helpful for many people. It’s similar to artists updating and customizing Tarot decks. Sometimes, new images spark new ways of looking at situations and new solutions arise.
Nichtern is clearly an expert on this topic but he never ventures beyond the basics of the teaching into spaces that beginners can’t grasp. His philosophic writing is understandable and relatable. I appreciated that because not all Buddhists texts are simple reads- Stages of Meditation by the Dalai Lama comes to mind.
“Tradition says that the Buddha directed the creation of the original Wheel painting, which he commissioned as a gift to teach Dharma to an Indian king. When the king who received the painting contemplated it and fully understood its meaning, he attained enlightenment- he brought the suffering caused by unconscious habitual patterns to an end… The image of the Wheel survives not just because it sustains tradition, but because the message it conveys is powerful and timelessly relevant.” Nichtern reminds us in this book, that Buddha gave the painting to a king not a monk. This shows that we can live in the world and also transcend it. These teachings are for everyone.
Nichtern discusses the Buddhas contained in each part of the picture- in the suffering areas and outside of it: “There is also usually a Buddha standing outside of the Wheel, representing transcending the six realms altogether. Such people are said to be free from imprisonment in the six realms- free of karma- and only appear in the six realms in order to teach and liberate the beings within the realms out of compassion. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to meet people who remind us of this kind of possibility.”People, I would say, like Nichtern himself.
How to find opportunity in the midst of suffering: “The abject misery that we experience in the hell realm mindset offers us the opportunity to relate to the suffering of others… This isn’t to say that we simply forgive the harmful behavior of others. Instead, we can use our own intense experiences of hatred or depression to realize a deeper truth about all of us living beings in general: none of us are immune from this.” None of us.
Nichtern offers meditation practices for beginners or more experienced folks. Here is a snippet of his advice: “…it is good to help manage people’s expectations. Meditation can include boredom, irritation, discomfort, frustration, grasping, aggression, a discursive waterfall of thoughts and emotions coming and going, and perhaps occasionally a sense of peace and acceptance of things as they are. In a nutshell, it can and will include all the aspects of who we are and of what our lives are actually made.” He also offers concrete suggestions on how to find instructors.
I recommend Awakening from the Daydream for anyone interested in Buddhism, at all levels of knowledge, but this would probably be most helpful for beginners to intermediate practitioners. Some books that cover similar topics that you may want to check out: You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment by Thích Nhất Hạnh, Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill by Matthieu Ricardo, or The Buddha Walks into the Office: A Guide to Livelihood for a New Generation by Lodro Rinzler.
A big thank you to NetGalley and Wisdom Publications for a free digital copy of this book and thank you for reading!