Samsara, derived from Sanskrit, translates to “wander” or “to flow through,”. It is recognized within the Hindu and other Indian religions as the continuous cycle of death and rebirth. Samsara is the result of one’s karmic actions and thoughts throughout their present and pre-existing lifetimes. Samsara is a part of life based on illusion (maya) which enables a person to believe that one is autonomous instead of acknowledging one’s connection with the absolute reality (Brahman). The ignorance of believing in two separate entities leads to actions that generates Karma and then the continuous cycle of action and reincarnation. If one has a mind to understand the oneness of all things, they have the potential to break the illusion and achieve moksha from samsara. The body and senses keep the soul tied to samsara until it can realize self. Samsara is the illusion of worldly existence, constantly altering never ending or beginning. It’s contradictory to the realization of moksha, atman (soul) and the absolute reality which are eternal.
The Atman is constant which travels continuously through birth, death, and rebirth. The reincarnations of the soul can be within the widely accepted realms which are heaven, hell, or earth. According to the atman’s karmic actions it’s reborn either as an animal, plant, insect, human, or god in any of the realms. Human form is considered one of the rarest forms to be reborn into and also the most desirable, eventually it is moksa which stop the cycle of life and death.
There are three possible realms the atman can take after the physical body has perished. The ‘path of gods’ (deva yana) which leads to heaven ending the cycle of samsara, possible through meditation and the realization of atman. The second is the ‘path of ancestors’ (pitrs yana) which takes the soul to the moon, from there the soul is moved into space and then to the earth as human or any creature. The third path is when the atman travels through hell and is born as a smaller life form. With the realization of atman comes the end to all ignorance such as ego, desire, illusion, and the atman is then no longer subject to karma.
The origin of Samsara is unknown and cant be traced back. Theories of its origins amongst scholars is through Asian traditions and ancient Indian civilizations as first seen in the Upanishads. During early Buddhism and Jainism the concept of Samsara became universal, and Buddhisim Samsara picked up different views and beliefs from Hinduism.