Although from the point of view of the karma that causes rebirth there, the god realm is the highest realm in samsara, the human realm is said to be the most fortunate realm because it provides the best conditions for attaining liberation and enlightenment.
Buddhism holds that ordinary people undergo an endless cycle of birth and death within the threefold world (the worlds of desire, form, and formlessness) and among the six paths (the realms of hell, hungry spirits, animals, asuras, human beings, and heavenly beings).
Saṃsāra (Sanskrit, Pali; also Samsara) is a Buddhist term that literally means "circle" or "wheel" and is commonly translated as "conditioned existence", "cyclic existence", "cycle of existence", etc.
Specifically, Samsara refers to the process of cycling through one Rebirth after another within The Six Realms of existence, where each realm can be understood as physical realm or a psychological state characterized by a particular type of Suffering.
- The term Samsara, the wheel or round of existence, is used here to mean going round and round from one place to another in a circle, like a potter's wheel, or the wheel of a water mill.
When a fly is trapped in a closed jar, no matter where it flies, it can not get out.
It is said that Samsara is a circle because we turn round and round, taking Rebirth in one after another of The Six Realms as a result of our own actions, which, whether positive or negative, are tainted by clinging.
- ...beings generally rise and fall, and fall and rise through the various realms, now experiencing unhappiness, now experiencing happiness. This precisely is the nature of saṃsāra: wandering from life to life with no particular direction or purpose."
Buddhist cosmology typically identifies six realms of existence: gods, demi-gods, humans, animals, hungry ghosts and hells. These realms can be understood both as psychological states and as aspects of Buddhist cosmology.
the three higher realms are
the three lower realms are
These realms can be described briefly as follows:
- God realm: the gods lead long and enjoyable lives full of pleasure and abundance, but they spend their lives pursuing meaningless distractions and never think to practice the dharma.
When death comes to them, they are completely unprepared;
- Demi-god realm: the demi-gods have pleasure and abundance almost as much as the gods, but they spend their time fighting among themselves or making war on the gods.
- Human realm: humans suffer from hunger, thirst, heat, cold, separation from friends, being attacked by enemies, not getting what they want, and getting what they don't want.
Yet the human realm is considered to be the most suitable realm for practicing the Dharma, because humans are not completely distracted by pleasure (like the gods or demi-gods) or by pain and Suffering (like the beings in the lower realms).
- Animal realm: wild animals suffer from being attacked and eaten by other animals; they generally lead lives of constant fear.
Hungry ghosts have huge bellies and long thin necks. On the rare occasions that they do manage to find something to eat or drink, the food or water burns their neck as it goes down to their belly, causing them intense agony.
There are actually eighteen different types of hells, each inflicting a different kind of torment.
Dzongsar Khyentse explains:
- If we need to judge the value of these six realms, the Buddhists would say the best realm is the human realm. Why is this the best realm? Because you have a choice...
The gods don’t have a choice.
On the other hand, feelings of compassion and love can lead to Rebirth in the realms where these feelings are dominant (such as certain god realms, or particular situations within the human or animal realms).
- The key to understanding the Buddhist cosmological scheme lies in the principle of the equivalence of cosmology and psychology.
In fact Buddhist cosmology is at once a map of different realms of existence and a description of all possible experiences. This can be appreciated by considering more fully the Buddhist understanding of the nature of Karma.
- So we have six realms. Loosely, you can say when the perception comes more from aggression, you experience things in a hellish way.
Contemporary Buddhist teacher Thubten Chodron emphasizes that Samsara is not a place or external environment, but rather Samsara refers to one's own body and mind under the influence of Kleshas (disturbing emotions) and Karma. Thubten Chodron states:
- We tend to say, “Oh yes. This is Samsara.
Don’t we? We say, “Samsara is too much!”, meaning my job’s too much, everything around me is too much, I’ve got to get out of Samsara – where’s the airplane? But Samsara actually is not the environment we live in.
- Samsara is our body and mind under the influence of kleshas and Karma. Our body and mind that make us continually circle within The Six Realms.
Samsara can refer to the present body and mind, or it can refer to our process of circling in The Six Realms, taking one body and mind after another body and mind – body and mind of a god, body and mind of A Hell Being, body and mind of a human, body and mind of a hungry ghost.
That’s cyclic existence.
- When we say we want to generate the determination to be free of Samsara, it’s not that we have to move out of Seattle.
That’s a very important point to understand.
No evident beginning
- At Savatthi. There the Blessed One said: "From an inconstruable (sic) beginning comes transmigration.
What do you think, monks:
Which is greater, the tears you have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time—crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing—or the water in the four great oceans?"
Habitual, repetitive pattern
In this process of ongoing need, we keep moving from this to that without ever getting to the root of the process.
Another aspect of this need is the need to fix things, or to fix ourselves—to make conflict or pain go away.
By this I mean an instinctive response rather than a measured approach of understanding what is possible to fix and what Dukkha has to be accommodated right now. Then there’s the need to know, to have it all figured out.
That gets us moving too.
According to The Buddha, this process doesn’t even stop with death—it’s like the habit transfers almost genetically to a new consciousness and body. But even within this life, we can see all these “births,”
And each new birth is unsatisfactory too, because sooner or later we meet with another obstacle, another disappointment, another option in the ongoing merry-go-round. High-option cultures just give you a few more spins on the wheel.
- To attain liberation from Samsara one must perfect the three higher trainings: self-discipline, meditative concentrationd the wisdom of emptiness.
He states: "one must understand the nature and patterns of the general sufferings that pervade all of Samsara, as well as the specific sufferings of the individual realms, particularly the three lower realms.
- See also:Rebirth
In the Buddhist view, there is a transfer of consciousness from one life to the next, but this consciousness is a continuum (e.g. a continually evolving stream of consciousness) rather than a permanent entity.
- See also:Karma
Sogyal Rinpoche explains:
- The truth and the driving force behind Rebirth is what is called Karma. Karma is often totally misunderstood in the West as fate or predestination; it is best thought of as the infallible law of cause and effect that governs the universe.
In the Buddhist view, therefore, the type of birth we have in this life is determined by our actions or Karma from our previous life; and the circumstances of our future Rebirth are determined by our actions in this life.
- This means taking responsibility for our own situation, which is not the same as blaming ourselves. We don’t blame ourselves. It’s not that we’re bad people because we’re in Samsara.
It’s not that we’re sinners and we deserve to suffer, or any of that kind of stuff, but it’s just when I’m not mindful, when I don’t take care of myself, when I don’t explore what’s reality and what isn’t, I continually get myself into messes.
In some ways this is very empowering because if we get ourselves into the messes, we’re also the ones who can get ourselves out of them.
All we have to do is stop creating the causes.
It’s not a question of perpetuating some external being so that they bestow grace or they move the puppet strings differently.
- At the same time as we’re doing this, we have to have a lot of compassion for ourselves. Compassion is the wish for others to be free of Suffering.
We also have to have that same wish for ourselves.
But I need to treat myself better.” So practicing Dharma is a way of treating yourself better.
- See also: Consciousness
- While the processes of Vinnana [can] grow and increase, thereby sustaining samsaric life, they can also be calmed, pacified, and brought to an end, marking the end of the cycle of birth and death.
He states: "The cessation of Vinnana is here closely identified with the destruction and cessation of "karmic activities" (anabhisankhara, S III, 53), which, we shall see, are necessary for the continued perpetuation of cyclic existence."
Later schools of Buddhist thought refined the concept of Vinnana, and identified the specific aspect of consciousness that transfers from life to life as one of eight types of conscious called the ālaya-Vijñāna.
Within the Buddhist traditions
It is common for Tibetan Buddhists to believe that while we continue to go from world to world we encounter other beings who are on the same path as us, and some also believe that all of these different worlds impact the worlds of beings who happen to share a similar place or path as us.
due to the belief that we have all been reborn so many times that every being has been our mother at some point (as a consequence of being trapped with other beings in Samsara for a near-infinite period of time).
|Cycle of rebirths||The beginningless and endless cycle of rebirths throughout The Six Realms; the confused state of Suffering from which Buddhists seek liberation.||Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen (2010). A Complete Guide to the Buddhist Path. p. 458 (from the glossary)|
|Cyclic existence||Cyclic existence; the continual repetitive cycle of birth, death, and Bardo that arises from ordinary beings' grasping and fixating on a self and experiences. All states of consciousness in The Six Realms [...], including the god realms, characterized by pleasure and Power, are bound by this process. Samsara arises out of ignorance and is characterized by Suffering.||Chögyam Trungpa. The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation. Edited by Judy L. Lief. Shambala. p. 137 (from the glossary)|
|Cyclic existence||The state of being constantly reborn due to delusions and Karma.||Tsering, Geshe Tashi (2006), Buddhist Psychology: The Foundation of Buddhist Thought, Perseus, Kindle Locations 2286-2287 (from the glossary)|
|Cycle of clinging||The cycle of clinging and taking birth in one desire after another.||Phillip Moffitt. Dancing with Life: Buddhist Insights for Finding Meaning and Joy in the Face of Suffering. Rodale, Kindle Location 2881 (from the glossary)|
|Continuous vicious cycle||[...] the continuous vicious cycle of confirmation of existence. One confirmation needs another confirmation needs another . . .||Chögyam Trungpa. The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation. Shambhala Publications. Kindle Edition. (Kindle Locations 403-405).|
|Conditioned existence||[...] the worldly realm of Suffering; conditioned existence.||Goleman, Daniel (2008). Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama. Kindle Locations 3588 and 4711.|
|Going round and round||[...] going nowhere but round and round. That’s called ‘samsāra’ – happy or unhappy, it’s the business of going round and round.||Ajahn Sucitto (2011). Meditation, A Way of Awakening. Amaravati Publications. p. 182. (from the glossary)|
|A mental trap||[When a person mistakes a striped tie for a snake, the pain and anxiety that he experiences is what Buddhists call “Samsara,” which is a kind of mental trap.||Khyentse, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse (2011). What Makes You Not a Buddhist, (p. 72). Shambhala Publications. Kindle Edition.|
|Wheel of Suffering||Wheel; in Buddhist terms, the wheel of Suffering.||Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche (2008). The Joy of Living. p. 115|
|Uncontrollably recurring Rebirth||Uncontrollably recurring Rebirth under the Power of disturbing emotions and attitudes (kleshas) and of Karma. Some translators render it as "cyclic existence."||Alexander Berzin, The Berzin Archives, Definition of samsara|
|Cyclic existence||Cyclic existence; The Six Realms: the lower realms of the hell beings, hungry ghosts and animals, and the upper realms of the humans, demigods and gods; the recurring cycle of death and Rebirth within one or other of The Six Realms. It also refers to the contaminated aggregates of a sentient being.||Lama Zopa Rinpoche (2009), How Things Exist: Teachings on Emptiness, Kindle Locations 1295-1297|
|Cyclic Rebirth||Although Buddhist doctrine holds that neither the beginning of the process of cyclic Rebirth nor its end can ever be known with certainty, it is clear that the number of times a person may be reborn is almost infinite. This process of repeated Rebirth is known as saṃsāra or ‘endless wandering’, a term suggesting continuous movement like the flow of a river. All living creatures are part of this cyclic movement and will continue to be reborn until they attain Nirvana.||Keown, Damien (2000), Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, Kindle Locations 702-706, 880|
|Vicious cycle||The Buddha taught that beings, confused as they are by ignorant desires and fears, are caught in a vicious cycle called Samsara, freedom from which—Nirvana—was the highest human end.||Smith, Huston; Novak, Philip (2009), Buddhism: A Concise Introduction, HarperOne, Kindle Edition, Kindle Location 2574|
- Conditioned existence (Daniel Goleman)
- Cycle of clinging and taking birth in one desire after another (Phillip Moffitt)
- Cycle of existence
- Cyclic existence (Jeffry Hopkins)
- Uncontrollably recurring Rebirth (Alexander Berzin)
- Wheel of Suffering (Mingyur Rinpoche)