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File:The wheel of life, Trongsa dzong.jpg

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

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Samsara (Sanskrit: संसार) is the cycle of birth, death and rebirth (i.e. reincarnation) within Buddhism, Bön, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Vaishnavism and other Indian 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.

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


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Samsara is derived from saṃ√sṛ, "to flow together," to go or pass through states, to wander. One who is subject to Samsara is called a samsarin. Mostly a great revolving door between life and death and a new life reincarnated cycle of life.

Cycle of rebirth

In most Indian philosophical traditions, including the astika Hindu and nastika Buddhist and Jain systems, an ongoing cycle of birth, death, and rebirth is assumed as a fact of nature. These systems differ widely, however, in the terminology with which they describe the process and in the metaphysics they use in interpreting it. Most of these traditions, in their evolved forms, regard Saṃsāra negatively, as a fallen condition which is to be escaped. Some, such as Advaita Vedanta regard the world and Saṃsāric participation in it as fundamentally illusory.

Some later adaptations of these traditions identify Saṃsāra as a mere metaphor.

Saṃsāra in Hinduism

In some types of Hinduism, Saṃsāra is seen as ignorance of the True Self, Brahman, and thus the soul is led to believe in the reality of the temporal, phenomenal world.

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 desire and the perpetual chain of karma and reincarnation. The state of illusion is known as Maya.

Hinduism had many terms for the state of liberation like moksha, mukti, nirvana, and mahasamadhi.

The Hindu Yoga traditions hold various beliefs. Moksha may be achieved by love of Ishwar/God (see bhakti movement), 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, which heavily influenced Hindu Yoga, believes that Brahman, the ultimate Truth-Consciousness-Bliss, is the infinite, impersonal reality (as contrasted to the Buddhist concept of shunyata) and that through realization of it, all temporal states like deities, the cosmos and samsara itself are revealed to be nothing but manifestations of Brahman.

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Saṃsāra in Jainism

In Jainism, karma, anuva (ego) and the veil of maya are central.

In Jainism, liberation from samsara is called moksha or mukti.

Saṃsāra in Buddhism

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Saṃsāra in Nikaya Buddhism

Whereas in Hinduism some being (ātman, jiva, etc.) is regarded as being subject to Saṃsāra, Buddhism was founded on a rejection of such metaphysical substances, and originally accounts for the process of rebirth/reincarnation by appeal to phenomenological or psychological constituents. Later schools of Buddhism such as the Pudgalavada, however, re-introduce the concept of a "person" which transmigrates. The basic idea that there is a cycle of birth and rebirth is, however, not questioned in early Buddhism and its successors, and neither is, generally, the concept that saṃsāra is a negative condition to be abated through religious practice concluding in the achievement of final nirvāṇa.

Saṃsāra in Mahayana Buddhism

According to several strands of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, the division of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa is attacked using an argument that extends some of the basic premises of anatta and of Buddha's attack on orthodox accounts of existence. This is found poetically in the "Perfection of Wisdom" literature and more analytically in the philosophy of Nāgārjuna and later writers. It is not entirely clear which aspects of this theoretical move were developed first in the sutras and which in the philosophical tradition.

Saṃsāra in Tibetan Buddhism

Samsara is uncontrollably recurring rebirth, filled with suffering and problems (according to Kalachakra tantra as explained by Dr. A. Berzin).

Samsara in Surat Shabda Yoga

In Surat Shabda Yoga, the purpose is to realize the individual's True Self (Self-Realization), True Essence (Spirit-Realization) and True Divinity (God-Realization) while living in the human physical body. This Journey of Soul involves reuniting in stages with what is called the Essence of the Absolute Supreme Being, the Shabd. Attaining self-realization and above also results in jivan moksha/mukti, liberation/release from samsara, the cycle of karma and reincarnation while in the physical body.

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.

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  1. "Reaching the Level of the Gods", Hinduism, The Canadian Encyclopedia.