Samsara (Hinduism)

Samsara is the continuous cycle of life, death, and reincarnation envisioned in Hinduism and other Indian religions. In Hindu and Buddhist practice, samsara is the endless cycle of life and death from which adherents seek liberation. In Hinduism, the prominent belief is that samsara is a feature of a life based on illusion (maya). Illusion enables a person to think s/he is an autonomous being instead of recognizing the connection between one's self and the rest of reality. Believing in the illusion of separateness that persists throughout samsara leads one to act in ways that generate karma and thus perpetuate the cycle of action and rebirth. By fully grasping the unity or oneness of all things, the believer has the potential to break the illusion upon which samsara is based and achieve moksha—liberation from samsara.

Whereas moksha (liberation) acts as the positive motivation for Hindu religious practice, samsara is the negative motivation from which Hindus seek liberation. The undesirable nature of samsara comes from its unpredictability—people are unaware of how the actions or karma in their present life will affect their future. Because past lives affect future ones, a person is never sure about their reincarnation and the suffering that might accompany it because of past actions. As the Indian conception of human existence (prior to one’s enlightenment), samsara is a central component of all religions originating in India. Buddhists and Sikhs view samsara in much the same way as Hindus, and Buddhists particularly stress the concept that life is a form of suffering that is encountered and perpetuated through samsara. Jainism sees samsara as a base and mundane form of existence that one ought to renounce.