Danny Goldberg – Ep. 23 – David Nichtern

David Nichtern

Danny sits down with author, musician, and teacher David Nichtern. David and Danny get into the content of David’s new book, “Awakening from the Daydream,” which reimagines the ancient Buddhist parables of the Wheel of Life and Samsara.

David Nichtern breaks down the concept of the Wheel of Life in plain language. He and Danny explore this as well as the self and the interconnectedness of different practices.


Show Notes

Bhavacakra (Opening) – David describes the Wheel of Life (Bhavacakra) which in his book, “Awakening from the Daydream,” is reimagined for the modern world. The Wheel of Life represents Samsara, the recursive cycle of life.

The six realms traversed in Samsara are descriptions of different states of mind and being in the world.


“The thing about the psychology of these realms is that they are very familiar. Any human being, when you hear about it, if it is described well, which is what I try to do in the book by making the description more contemporary and a little less archaic, you see that it is a self-portrait of the human race.”


Hell Realm (3:00) – This is the portrait of anger, violence, depression, and hate. Any place where you find yourself in a world that you are trying to reject. No sense of ease, no peace of mind as the external world mirrors the inner world.


“In a nutshell [The Wheel of Life] is sort of a portrait of our relationship to pleasure and pain. Obviously, our approach is to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, but often by trying to do that, we end up with the opposite.”


Hungry Ghost Realm (4:20) – The Hungry Ghost Realm is a metaphor for addiction, grasping, and clinging.


The Animal Realm (6:30) – The Animal Realm describes the mindstate of thick ritual behavior. This mindstate applies to all aspects of life. While the behavior might even seem like a healthy one, the mindless and empty repetition inhibits us.


The Human Realm (7:30) -The Human Realm represents all the things we associate with being human. We like pleasure and pain, understand our impermanence, doubts, questions, and uncertainty. This realm has a flickering quality that comes from searching, while an undercurrent of instability remains.


“From a Buddhist point of view, [the Human Realm] is a great place to be, because you have the possibility of really exploring your world and learning more about it. . . that is sort of the place where you can really practice Dharma.”


Realm of the Jealous Gods (9:00) – The Realm of the Jealous Gods is very relevant today, because of what is happening in the world. This realm represents the powerful beings who think they have an opportunity to have it all. This wanton greed is the addiction to power, competition, and envy.

This realm is often witnessed in the entertainment industry that David and Danny have much experience around. Danny emphasizes how petty this behavior is because of the ultimate insignificance that the object of desire holds.


“In Samsara, in this cyclic existence, nobody is truly happy.”


God Realm (11:25) – The next realm is the God realm itself. You might think that this is the goal of religion. However, this domain is seen as yet another trap.


What is the Point? (12:40) – The concept of the Wheel of Life is interesting, but what is the point in knowing all this? David explains that the path this leads to is that of a happier and more fulfilling life which is a result of lifting the behaviors that cause us so much suffering.

Danny and David discuss what it means when we talk about the Buddha. There is some confusion about this; David explains that the Buddha refers to the man and the concept he represents.


“The Buddha statue is meant to imply a way of going about something, rather than something to worship.”


Is there a glorification of suffering? Suffering exists as a byproduct of conditioning. David explains why there is such a focus on suffering.


Contradiction (20:30) – Danny brings up the anniversary of the 1967 explosion of spirituality and cultural change. He observes the relativity of different spiritual practices, meditation for example, which might seem contradictory.


David relates the importance of understanding the unified thread of how the practices are connected before determining where the differences might conflict.


Samsara and the Music Industry (31:00) – David talks about a few ideas that got left out of the book which would have integrated his love for music and experience in the industry.


Ethics (34:05) – Danny wants to know about ethics are involved with the Wheel of Life. In his book, David describes in depth the concept of Karma. Ethics and the intention behind it are a foundation of Karma


Self (44:00) – Danny talks about his dreams and the attachment of identity that lies there. He and David discuss the concept of self and the relativity involved.


“Remember the Jewish koan that was going around for a while? ‘If there is no Self, then whose arthritis is this?’ “


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More About David


David Nichtern is a senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. This tradition combines a contemporary, secular approach to meditation with the ancient practices and philosophies of Tibetan Buddhism. David was one of the initial American students of renowned meditation master Trungpa Rinpoche and studied closely with him soon after his arrival in the United States in 1970.

David has been co-director of the LA Shambhala Center and Karme Choling Meditation Center in Vermont, as well as Director of Expansion for Shambhala Training International and Director of Buddhist Practice and Study for OM yoga.

He has been a featured writer and regular contributor to The Huffington Post and leads meditation workshops around the world and online. David also works individually with meditation students in person and via Skype. He does a weekly live broadcast on Ustream (via his Facebook page) and has several online meditation workshops available through creativeLIVE.com. His DVD/CD package OM YOGA & MEDITATION WORKSHOP, created in conjunction with yoga teacher Cyndi Lee, is widely available

David Nichtern is also a well-known composer, producer and guitarist – a four-time Emmy winner and a two-time Grammy nominee. He is the founder of Dharma Moon and 5 Points Records. David has recorded and played with Stevie Wonder, Jerry Garcia, Lana Del Rey, Maria Muldaur, Paul Simon and many others. Among his many credits in records, film and tv, David wrote the classic song “Midnight at the Oasis” and composed the score for Christopher Guest’s film “The Big Picture”. As the Beyman Bros, he collaborated with Guest and CJ Vanston on an album “Memories of Summer as a Child” and has produced multiple records for Grammy nominated kirtan performer Krishna Das. Awakening from the Daydream is David’s latest book.


For a deeper dive into , listen to his recent chat with Raghu on to the Mindrolling Podcast.


Photo via Wisdom Publications