saṃsāra (Sanskrit: संसार; "flow") — refers to the phenomenal world. Transmigratory existence, fraught with impermanence, change and cycle of reincarnation or rebirth. The cycle of birth, death and rebirth; the total pattern of successive earthly lives experienced by atman (the Self). According to the Vedas the atman is bound in a "cycle", the cycle of life and death. Endlessly the atman transcends from possessing one form to the next, this is the concept of saṃsāra (reincarnation). So the logical inference is that the aim is to break free! Freedom. Freedom from every constraint, this is the aim of life, the aim of all the Hindu teachings.


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 kama (desire) and the perpetual chain of karma and reincarnation. The state of illusion is known as Maya. The Upanishadic aspect thinks the world as illusion (maya); reality (Sat) was rather to be sought in the unchanging and unitary principle of the universe, whether that is Rita (cosmic order, cosmic law), Brahman (Creator), or Atman (Cosmic Soul). The material world, on the other hand, was a place fragmented and constantly changing; this continuously changing aspect of the universe came to be called samsara.

The Process of Samsara

The atman (inner Self) is immortal, while the body is subject to birth and death. The Bhagavad Gita states that:

Worn-out garments are shed by the body;
Worn-out bodies are shed by the dweller within the body.
New bodies are donned by the dweller, like garments.

The idea that the soul (of any living being - including animals, humans and plants) reincarnates is intricately linked to karma, another concept first introduced in the Upanishads. Karma (literally: action) is the sum of one's actions, and the force that determines one's next reincarnation. The cycle of death and rebirth, governed by karma, is referred to as samsara.

The atman goes on repeatedly being born and dying. One is reborn on account of desire: a person desires to be born because he or she wants to enjoy worldly pleasures, which can be enjoyed only through a body. Hinduism does not teach that all worldly pleasures are sinful, but it teaches that they can never bring deep, lasting happiness or ānanda (peace). According to the Hindu sage Adi Sankaracharya — the world as we ordinarily understand it - is like a dream: fleeting and illusory. To be trapped in Samsara is a result of ignorance of the true nature of being.

After many births, every person eventually becomes dissatisfied with the limited happiness that worldly pleasures can bring. At this point, a person begins to seek higher forms of happiness, which can be attained only through spiritual experience. When, after much sādhanā (spiritual practice), a person finally realizes his or her own divine nature—ie., realizes that the true "self" is the immortal soul rather than the body or the ego—all desires for the pleasures of the world will vanish, since they will seem insipid compared to spiritual ānanda. When all desire has vanished, the person will not be reborn anymore.

Rebirth and the Law of Karma

Hinduism contends that the cause of suffering and inequalities must be sought not in what happens after death, but in the conditions before birth, and puts forward the doctrine of rebirth. Rebirth is the necessary corollary to the idea of the soul's immortality. Death is a break in the series of continuing events known as life. Through death the individual soul changes its body: "Even as the embodied Self passes, in this body, through the stages of childhood, youth, and old age, so does It pass into another body." A knower of the Self can witness the passing of a soul from one body to another at the time of death: "The deluded do not perceive him when he departs from the body or dwells in it, when he experiences objects or is united with the guna; but they who have the eye of wisdom perceive him."

Rebirth, Hinduism maintains, is governed by the karma. According to this law, man is the architect of his own fate and maker of his own destiny. Karma signifies the way of life, that is, what we think, say, and do and it brings conditioning of the mind, the root cause of embodiment. It is the mind that produces bodies, gross or subtle. Remaining identified with the body-mind complex, the soul, though ever-free, follows its destiny and, as it were, experiences all pairs of opposites, such as birth and death, good and evil, pain and pleasure. acharya-patanjali (the teacher of the Yoga system), in one of his aphorisms, describes the causes of suffering as five: ignorance, ego-sense, attachment, aversion, and clinging to life. Reality is neither good nor evil. There is nothing in the universe which is absolutely good or absolutely evil, that is to say, good or evil for all time. Good and evil are value judgments made by the individual mind in keeping with its inner disposition caused by past karma. If one asks, why does God permit evil, then the question will come, why does God permit good? According to the Hindu view, good is that which takes us near to our real Self, and evil is that which creates a distance between us and our real Self. The law of karma is the law of automatic justice. It tells us that no action goes without producing its result. The circumstances of our present life, our pains and pleasures, are all the results of our past actions in this existence and in countless previous existences. As one sows, so shall one reap. This is the inexorable law of karma. Karma produces three kinds of results:

(a) results of past actions which have produced the present, body, mind, and circumstances;

(b) results which have accumulated but are yet to fructify; and

(c) results that are being accumulated now.

Over the first category of results no one has any control; these are to be overcome by patiently bearing with them. The second and third kinds, which are still in the stage of thoughts and tendencies, can be countered by education and self-control. Essentially, the law of karma says that while our will is free, we are conditioned to act in certain set ways. We suffer or enjoy because of this conditioning of our mind. And conditioning of mind, accumulated through self-indulgence, cannot be overcome vicariously. A Hindu is called upon to act in the living present, to change his fate by changing his way of life, his thoughts and his actions. Our past determines our present, and our present will determine our future. He is taught that no change will ever be effected by brooding over past mistakes or failures or by cursing others and blaming the world or by hoping for the future. To the contention that the law of karma does not leave any scope for the operation of divine grace, Hinduism's answer is that the grace of God is ever flowing equally toward all. It is not felt until one feels the need for it. The joys and suffering of a human individual are of his own making. Good and evil are mind-made and not God-created. The law of karma exhorts a Hindu to right actions, giving him the assurance that, just as a saint had a past so also a sinner has a future. Through the doctrine of rebirth and the law of karma, Hinduism seeks an ethical interpretation of life. The theory of the evolution of species describes the process of how life evolves. But the purpose of this evolution can be explained only by the doctrine of rebirth and the law of karma. The destiny of the soul is immortality through Self-realization. Existence-knowledge bliss-absolute being its real nature, nothing limited ca n give it abiding satisfaction. Through its repeated births and deaths it is seeking that supreme fulfillment of life. [1]

84 Lakhs Species of Births

The ignorant undergo the 84 lakhs (8.4 million) of species of births, not knowing the essence of things.

Breaking the Bond Of Samsara

The chains that tie you to this wheel of Samsara or Bhava-Chakra or round of births and deaths, are your desires. So long as you desire objects of this world, you must come back to this world in order to possess and enjoy them. But, when all your desires for the mundane objects cease, then the chains are broken and you are free. You need not take any more births. You attain Moksha or the final emancipation.

You wander in this Samsara as you think that you are different from the Lord. If you unite yourself with Him through meditation and Yoga, you will obtain immortality and eternal bliss. Cut the bonds of Karma through Knowledge of the Eternal and enjoy the Supreme Peace of the Atman, thy innermost Self and Inner Ruler. You will be freed from the round of births and deaths. Freed from sin, freed from passion, you will become a Jivanmukta or liberated sage. You will see the Self in the self and see the Self as all.


1. Hinduism (Part 3), Hinduism by Swami Adiswarananda

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