What Is Samsara?

Understanding samsara can help us to understand our motivations & lead a more virtuous life…

If you’ve been studying yoga for long, you may have come across the concept of samsara. In fact, many of the yogic paths focus on escaping samsara as one of the major goals of yogic living.

But what exactly is samsara, and why should we wish to escape it? Here’s some background on this ancient yogic concept according to YogaBasics.com:

The Sanskrit term samsara translates as “wandering through,” or “aimless wandering.” Samsara is the concept of reincarnation, a cyclic existence where our spirit or individual soul is trapped in an endless wheel of life, death, and rebirth.

Yogis believe the soul reincarnates over and over again unless it has achieved moksha, or liberation. The concept of reincarnation has been around since ancient times, and is part of the beliefs of Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.

These traditions describe samsara as a cyclical state of being where we have no choice but to experience pain, sorrow, and frustration. Yet we do have the opportunity to choose how we respond to our current life experiences. The next incarnation of one’s life is dependent upon the karma taken in one’s current and previous lives. If we don’t choose wisely, we accumulate more bad karma, which will further trap us in this cycle of suffering.

In the Hindu and yoga traditions, samsara is a journey of the atman, the pure consciousness of the universal Self, through various bodies, realms, and states of being. The only way to break free from the endless cycle of reincarnation is to achieve moksha, or enlightenment.

As we become attached to “things” or our own states of being in life, we become more closely bound in samsara, leading us to further suffering. By practicing yoga, we are able to become more aware of these attachments, thus freeing ourselves from the cycle of suffering – or at least, this is the goal of the yogi:

The main goal of yoga is to free us from the cycle of samsara, yet this is an incredibly difficult practice. Yoga teaches us to let go of our egoistic desires and attachments and embrace the truth that there is no separation between us and everything else; we are one with everything. This is achieved through the cultivation of wisdom (prajna), compassion (karuna), self-inquiry (viveka) and equanimity (upeksa).

More importantly, yoga teaches us to accept and delight in the play of samsara instead of renouncing it. We learn to live in harmony with the cycles of nature, to live in the here and now, and to enjoy each moment of our lives.

Yoga was originally created to provide us a path to freedom from suffering – either here in our worldly lives, or by escaping the cycle of death and rebirth. Through regular practice, the theory goes, we will develop the skills necessary to break free from the bonds of samsara and achieve moksha or enlightenment.

However, even if you never get that far in your yoga practice, we can all benefit from learning and understanding yogic philosophies like the concept of samsara, which helps us understand how our actions affect our future lives and our physical and mental health. Understanding samsara helps to give us a deeper perspective on life and why we do what we do, and can also motivate us to lead a more virtuous life in the pursuit of a better future for ourselves and others.

Learn more at YogaBasics.com


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