What is Saṃsāra?

Saṃsāra refers to the cycle of death and rebirth. It is the natural cycle of creation, maintenance, and dissolution that all material things undergo. 

For nearly all philosophical systems stemming from the Indian subcontinent, the true self is viewed as pure awareness. It  is eternal and categorically different from all material things, although in each cycle of saṃsāra, it inhabits a material body and appears within one of the various species of life, including aquatics, plants, insects, reptiles, birds, mammals, and humans. According to the dharmic traditions, the type of material body the self experiences is due to karma, which is the concept that one’s birth, life experiences, and life span are the result of deeds previously performed.

Because the true self is eternal, the “natural” cycle of saṃsāra is viewed as wholly unnatural to the true nature of the self.  After all, how can the individual sentenced to death, but offered a last meal before the execution, enjoy that meal? In light of the fragility and impermanence of life, how can we find lasting happiness?

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