“Just as in the physical body of the embodied being is the process of childhood, youth, old age; similarly in the transmigration from one body to another the wise are never deluded.” – Bhagavad Gita
Hinduism revolves around the concept of rebirth. In fact, every other concept in Hindu mythology directly or indirectly coordinates with this concept. There’s a lot of misconception around this term and even many Hindus don’t understand the exact meaning of the word Saṃsāra.
So in this article, I am going to discuss what Samsara is in Hinduism and why it is the core concept in Hindu mythology.
What Does Samsara Means In Hinduism?
In Sanskrit, the word samsara can be translated either as “World” or “Wandering.” Hindus share the belief that the atman, the true self, does not change even after death. This means Saṃsāra describes the universal process of rebirth between different forms of life.
To get to its next destination, which we call rebirth, the soul travels in the subtler (astral) body after physical death. A person’s mental state at the time of death, along with his or her wishes and karma, will decide the specifics of the next body (future birth).
Therefore, the concept of Samsara is strongly linked to the idea that a person will keep on being reincarnated in several dimensions and life forms guises.
It is not known where exactly samsara got its start. Several schools of thought among academics speculate that the concept of rebirth has its roots in ancient Indian and Asian lore. Although not mentioned in the Rig Veda, the idea is discussed in the Upanisads.
The arliest sections of the Vedic text introduced the idea of hell and heaven which was believed to be true for a limited time. However, it was criticized by the ancient Rishis that this view of the afterlife was too basic since not everyone leads a perfectly good or evil life.
Some good lives are more virtuous than others, and evil also has degrees which makes it illogical and hard for the God of death Yama or Yamraja to evaluate and reward people to either heaven or punish them to hell.
As a result, the ancient gurus and sages popularised the concept of reincarnation, in which people go to either heaven or hell only for a short time depending on what Karma they did in their life. After that, they reincarnate into the next life to complete the cycle of rebirth.
The Samsara Cycle: How Samsara Works?
The images down below can help you understand the cycle of Samsara. One shows the basic cycle and the other one is the Buddhist idea of rebirth, but both of them talk about the same concept.
Now the image below is the Buddhist Bhavachakra which shows the Samsara cycle in more visual way:
Karma and Moksa are two ideas often spoken in the same breath as samsara. The cycle of rebirth and death known as samsara has its origins in karma, which can be thought of as the universal law of action. The Sanskrit word Moksha means “release,” and Moksa, the Hindu concept of Nirvana, is the highest achievement.
As a person lives he performs his Karma which should go in line with the Dharma as Karma and Dharma are interwoven. In the Bhagavad Gita, Shri Krishna introduces Arjuna with the ways of Nirvana that are: karmayoga, jnanayoga, and bhaktiyoga.
If a person attains Moksha then he/she breaks out from the cycle of Rebirth or Samsara. On the other hand, if he/she does not, then the soul have to reach the Yamalok after passing the Vaitarni(mentioned in the Garuda Purana) and then the soul will attain the fruits of its Karma. After the completion of the enjoyment of those fruits, one is borns again.
Watch this video to understand the basic concept of Samsara:
What is Samsara in Buddhism?
The Buddhist concept of samsara is comparable to that of Hinduism in some sense.
Karma drives this perpetual samsara in Buddhist thinking. In each reincarnation, one is born, dies, and is reincarnated elsewhere based on one’s karma. In early Buddhist thought, the wheel of existence (samsara) revolved through five different realms.
This featured hells, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, and gods (devas, heavenly). In later accounts, there are six realms of reincarnation, with demi-gods (asuras) added to the god’s realm. Buddhism describes this state of existence as samsara, in which sentient beings cycle through a series of “stops” where their awareness is temporarily established until it dissolves at death. Some are heavenly, others are horrible, and one progresses through them based on intents and acts.
To escape samsara, one must master self-discipline, contemplative attention, and emptiness. However, in order for one’s knowledge to evolve and become powerful, one must first cultivate meditative attention.
The Six Realms Of Samsara
You can think of the six realms as a hierarchy, with the three upper realms representing blessings and the three lower realms representing terrible fortune.
The God Realm: The realm of the gods (or devas) is the most enjoyable of the six, and it is generally further divided into twenty-six smaller realms. It is claimed that only people with exceptionally good karma will be reborn into this blissful world.
The Manushya Realm: Manushya or Human realm is the name of the world where humans live. According to Buddhist teachings, a person’s prior karma determines whether or not they will be reborn in this world, and whether or not they will have the same physical attributes and moral disposition as their previous life.
The Asura Realm: The third level of Buddhist Samsara is occupied by the demi-gods (asuras). The asuras are a race known for their rage and their superhuman abilities. They clash with the Devas or bring misfortunes such as disease to Manushya.
The Animal Realm: One can be said to be living in the animal realm if they have a body and mind that are purely animal. As Buddhist texts have it, animals are ruled by their baser instincts and impulses, making this realm seem a lot like hell.
The Hungry Ghost Realm: Invisible and consisting of “subtle substance,” these beings have no physical form.
The Hell: People who commit evil deeds like theft, lying, adultery, and others are punished by being sent to the infernal world or popularly known as Naraka (hell).
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