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Traditional Tibetan picture or Thanka showing The wheel of life and realms of samsara

Samsara (Sanskrit: संसार) is the cycle of birth, death and rebirth (i.e. reincarnation) within Buddhism, Bön, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Vaishnavism and other related religions. Colloquially, "Samsara" can also refer to a general state of overt or subtle sufferings that occur in day to day life.

According to these religions, one's karmic "account balance" at the time of death is inherited via the state at which a person is reborn.[citation needed] During the course of each worldly life, actions committed (for good or ill) determine the future destiny of each being in the process of becoming (evolution or devolution). In Buddhism, at death the underlying volitional impulses (Saṅkhāras) thus accrued and developed are carried and transmitted in a consciousness structure popularly known as the soul, which, after an intermediate period (in Tibetan called the bardo), forms the basis for a new biological structure that will result in rebirth and a new life. This process ends in the attainment of moksha. All Indian religions believe that each living-being, be it an ant or a human, is destined to attain moksha.

If one lives in extremely evil ways, one is reborn as an animal or other unfortunate being.[1]


Etymology and origin

Samsara is derived from "to flow together", to go or pass through states, to wander between life and death[2].

The concept of samsara (along with karma, reincarnation, and moksha) was likely first developed in India by non-Aryan people outside of the caste system. The spiritual ideas of these people greatly influenced later Indian religious thought. Buddhism and Jainism are continuations of this tradition, and the early Upanishadic movement was influenced by it. Reincarnation was adopted from this religious culture by Brahmin orthodoxy, and Brahmins first wrote down scriptures containing these ideas in the early Upanishads.[3][4][5][6][7][8]

The Sanskrit word "Samsara" is the root for the Malay word "sengsara", which means suffering.

Cycle of rebirth

The concept of samsara is closely associated with the belief that one continues to be born and reborn in various realms in the form of a human, god, animal, or other being (depending on karma).[1] In particular, Jainism[9] maintains that, if one performs extremely evil karma, one can be reborn also as a plant or even as a rock, and similar tendencies can be found in Purāṇas, in the Bhagavadgītā, in the Manusmṛti[10] and in similar texts. Nonetheless, most philosophic traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism[11] maintain that plants and even more obviously rocks cannot be included in saṃsāra since they lack the possibility of experience (bhoga) and, hence, of karma.

Saṃsāra in Hinduism

In Hinduism, it is avidya, or ignorance, of one's true self that leads to ego-consciousness of the body and the phenomenal world. This grounds one in kāma (desire) and the perpetual chain of karma and reincarnation. Through egoism and desire one creates the causes for future becoming. The state of illusion that gives rise to this is known as Maya.

Through ascetic practice one finally attains sanctity and liberation (moksha or mukti) - the equivalent of salvation in Indian religions.

Broadly speaking, the holy life (brahmacarya) which leads to liberation is a path of self-purification by which the effects of sins are released.

The Hindu Yoga traditions hold various beliefs. Moksha may be achieved by love of Ishwar/God (see bhakti movement, see Mirabai), by psycho-physical meditation (Raja Yoga), by discrimination of what is real and unreal through intense contemplation (Jnana Yoga), and through Karma Yoga, the path of selfless action that subverts the ego and enforces understanding of the unity of all. Advaita Vedanta believes that Brahman, the ultimate Truth-Consciousness-Bliss, is the infinite, impersonal reality (as contrasted to the Buddhist concept of shunyata); all temporal states like deities, the cosmos and samsara itself are revealed to be nothing but manifestations of Brahman.[citation needed]

Saṃsāra in Jainism

In Jainism, Saṃsāra is the worldly life characterized by continuous rebirths and reincarnations in various realms of existence. Saṃsāra is described as mundane existence, full of suffering and misery and hence is considered undesirable and worth renunciation. The Saṃsāra is without any beginning and the soul finds itself in bondage with its karma since the beginningless time. Moksha is the only liberation from saṃsāra.

Saṃsāra in Buddhism

The concept of Saṃsāra as a cycle of rebirth and suffering is taught in Buddhism. To understand the concept of Saṃsāra it is important to know about the six realms, rebirth, karma, and Bodhi-nature or the liberation from the suffering.

Saṃsāra in Sikhism

In Sikhism, it is thought that due to the commendable past actions and deeds (known as karma or kirat) that people obtain the chance of human birth, which is regarded in Sikhism as the highest possible on Earth and therefore an opportunity that should not be wasted. Only by continued good actions and the "Grace of the Almighty" can one obtain liberation from the continuous cycle of births and deaths of various bodily forms that the soul has been undergoing since the creation of the universe. The end of the cycle of transmigration of the soul is known as mukti. For Sikhs, the state of mukti can be achieved whilst still alive, known as "Jivan Mukat", literally "liberated whilst alive".

Saṃsāra in Surat Shabda Yoga

In Surat Shabda Yoga, attaining self-realization results in jivan moksha/mukti, liberation/release from samsara, the cycle of karma and reincarnation while in the physical body.[citation needed]

Surat Shabda Yoga cosmology presents the constitution of the initiate (the microcosm) as an exact replica of the macrocosm. Consequently, the microcosm consists of a number of bodies, each one suited to interact with its corresponding plane or region in the macrocosm. These bodies developed over the yugas through involution (emanating from higher planes to lower planes) and evolution (returning from lower planes to higher planes), including by karma and reincarnation in various states of consciousness.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Reaching the Level of the Gods", Hinduism, The Canadian Encyclopedia.
  2. ^
  3. ^ “This confirms that the doctrine of transmigration is non-aryan and was accepted by non-vedics like Ajivikism, Jainism and Buddhism. The Indo-aryans have borrowed the theory of re-birth after coming in contact with the aboriginal inhabitants of India. Certainly Jainism and non-vedics ... accepted the doctrine of rebirth as supreme postulate or article of faith.” Masih, page 37.
  4. ^ Karel Werner, The Longhaired Sage in The Yogi and the Mystic. Karel Werner, ed., Curzon Press, 1989, page 34. "Rahurkar speaks of them as belonging to two distinct 'cultural strands' ... Wayman also found evidence for two distinct approaches to the spiritual dimension in ancient India and calls them the traditions of 'truth and silence.' He traces them particularly in the older Upanishads, in early Buddhism, and in some later literature."
  5. ^ Gavin D. Flood (1996), An Introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge University - Press : UK ISBN 0521438780 - “The origin and doctrine of Karma and Samsara are obscure. These concepts were certainly circulating amongst sramanas, and Jainism and Buddhism developed specific and sophisticated ideas about the process of transmigration. It is very possible that the karmas and reincarnation entered the mainstream brahaminical thought from the sramana or the renouncer traditions.” Page 86.
  6. ^ Padmanabh S. Jaini 2001 “Collected Paper on Buddhist Studies” Motilal Banarsidass Publ 576 pages ISBN 8120817761: "Yajnavalkya’s reluctance and manner in expounding the doctrine of karma in the assembly of Janaka (a reluctance not shown on any other occasion) can perhaps be explained by the assumption that it was, like that of the transmigration of soul, of non-brahmanical origin. In view of the fact that this doctrine is emblazoned on almost every page of sramana scriptures, it is highly probable that it was derived from them." Page 51.
  7. ^ Govind Chandra Pande, (1994) Life and Thought of Sankaracarya, Motilal Banarsidass ISBN 8120811046 : Early Upanishad thinkers like Yajnavalkya were acquainted with the sramanic thinking and tried to incorporate these ideals of Karma, Samsara and Moksa into the vedic thought implying a disparagement of the vedic ritualism and recognising the mendicancy as an ideal. Page 135.
  8. ^ "The sudden appearance of this theory [of karma] in a full-fledged form is likely to be due, as already pointed out, to an impact of the wandering muni-and-shramana-cult, coming down from the pre-Vedic non-Aryan time." Kashi Nath Upadhyaya, Early Buddhism and the Bhagavadgita. Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1998, page 76.
  9. ^ Schmithausen,L. (1991a).Buddhism and Nature. The Lecture delivered on the Occasion of the EXPO1990. An Enlarged Version with Notes. Number VII in Studia Philologica Buddhica Occasional Paper Series. The International Institute for Buddhist Studies.
  10. ^ śarīrajaiḥ karmadoṣair yāti sthāvaratāṃ naraḥ (Manusmṛti 12.9).
  11. ^ Kelsang Gyatso. (1994). Tantric grounds and paths: How to begin, progress on, and complete the Vajrayana path. London: Tharpa Publications, p. 151

External links


Simple English

showing The wheel of life and realms of samsara]]

Samsara is a Buddhist term, meaning the conditioned state of mind. It is cycle of ignorance, leading to disturbing emotions and clumsy actions. They in turn are cause for suffering and new disturbing feelings and so on. According to Buddha’s teachings there are three main disturbing feelings: ignorance, anger and desire. They are called three poisons of mind and are told to have 84 000 combinations. The only way to completely get rid of suffering is to reach Nirvana or the perfect state of Buddha. All the teachings Buddha gives lead to this goal.

= The Six Realms

= There are six realms of samsara, connected to six specific emotions:

  • Hell or paranoia realm is connected with anger.
  • Preta or hungry ghost realm is connected with greed.
  • Animal realm is connected with ignorance.
  • Human realm is connected with desire and attachment.
  • Asura or Semigod realm is connected with jealosy and envy.
  • Realm of Gods is connected with pride.


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