The idea of Samsara is deeply rooted in the philosophical and religious traditions of India. The word itself comes from Sanskrit and translates as “flowing together” or “circular,” representing a cycle of birth, life, death and reincarnation. But beyond the conception of multiple lives in different bodies, Samsara can also be understood in a more personal way: as a reflection of the repetitions and patterns we experience throughout our lives.
Imagine your life as a great novel, with its respective chapters representing significant phases or epochs. Each chapter, though unique in details and circumstances, might repeat themes, dilemmas and challenges similar to those of other chapters. Each of these episodes can be considered a “life” in itself. These repetitions are not mere coincidence; they are reflections of Samsara in action, showing how the same lessons, until fully learned, continue to present themselves over and over again.
Inner Samsara: Repetition of Patterns
From the moment we are born, we are immersed in cycles. The daily cycle of waking, living and sleeping; the annual cycle of the seasons; the cycles of relationships that begin, blossom and often end. These cycles, when looked at more closely, can reveal recurring patterns of how we behave, what choices we make and their outcome.
For example, one person might find that he or she is always attracted to a particular type of partner, despite experiencing pain or disappointment over and over again. Another might notice that, regardless of the job or profession he or she chooses, he or she always ends up feeling unfulfilled or worthless. These patterns that repeat themselves in different settings and contexts are the manifestation of Samsara within our daily lives.
The Need to Learn
why do we live repeating these constant patterns? At the heart of Samsara is the idea of karma, the law of cause and effect. Every action has a consequence, and those consequences, both good and bad, follow us. Unlearned lessons present themselves repeatedly, waiting for us to reach a level of awareness or understanding to overcome them.
Take, for example, the individual who constantly seeks external approval, jumping from one relationship to another. Until he understands his own intrinsic worth and develops self-love, he is likely to continue to attract situations that reflect his lack of self-esteem.
Repetitive patterns in a person’s life can arise in many forms. Let’s briefly detail some examples of common patterns that some people experience:
- Toxic Relationships: A person may find themselves repeatedly drawn into relationships in which they are belittled, mistreated or devalued, reflecting an underlying pattern of believing they do not deserve genuine love or respect.
- Procrastination: Despite wanting to get ahead in life, a person may constantly procrastinate on tasks or avoid responsibilities, resulting in backlogs of work and increased stress.
- Self-destructive behavior: This can manifest in forms such as excessive alcohol consumption, drug abuse, or impulsive behaviors that lead to negative consequences.
- Fear of success: Some people may self-sabotage their opportunities when they are on the verge of a major achievement or breakthrough, due to underlying fears about their worth or the possibility of not being able to handle success.
- Conflict avoidance: Opting for silence or passivity rather than confronting and resolving a disagreement, leading to unexpressed resentments and built-up tensions.
- Need for approval: Constantly seeking validation from others, which can lead to changing behavior or decisions based on what others may think or feel.
- Financial compulsions: Whether spending compulsively or having an extreme fear of spending money, people may repeat unhealthy patterns related to their finances.
- Perfectionism: Continually striving for perfection to the point of paralysis or burnout, often without ever feeling satisfied with the results.
- Victimization: Constantly adopting a victim role, regardless of circumstances, leading to a mindset that the world or people are “against” you.
- Attachment or dependency: The inability to make decisions or act independently without the validation or presence of another person, leading to co-dependent relationships.
These patterns are often rooted in past experiences, trauma or limiting beliefs. Self-awareness is the first step in identifying and eventually breaking these patterns. With the right support, whether through therapy, coaching, meditation or other tools, it is possible to create meaningful change and address these obstacles.
Ignorance, the Axle of the Wheel
The driving force of Samsara is ignorance, known in Sanskrit as “avidya.” This ignorance does not simply refer to a lack of knowledge in a general sense, but to a lack of understanding and perception of the true nature of reality and oneself.
It is a fundamental misunderstanding of our true nature and the universe around us. This confusion leads us to misidentify ourselves with our body, mind and ego, instead of recognizing our essential and timeless nature.
This misperception gives rise to a whole series of desires, aversions and confusions that bind us to the cycle of Samsara. We crave things that we believe will bring us happiness, run away from what we fear and, in the process, create more karma, or actions and consequences, that keep us trapped in this cycle of suffering.
As a result of this ignorance, three poisons arise that feed the cycle of Samsara: desire (raga), aversion (dvesha) and confusion (moha). These mental poisons distort our perception and action in the world.
- Desire (Raga): The belief that obtaining certain objects, experiences or circumstances will bring us lasting happiness drives us to cling to things and fear their loss. However, in the impermanent nature of the universe, everything changes, and this incessant search for external satisfaction only leads to dissatisfaction.
- Aversion (Dvesha): Just as we cling to what we desire, we reject and avoid that which we believe causes us pain or suffering. This aversion may manifest in the form of anger, hatred or resentment. Avoiding pain is natural, but when this aversion is based on an erroneous understanding of reality, it only perpetuates the cycle of Samsara.
- Confusion (Moha): This poison refers to ignorance itself, the mental fog that prevents us from seeing reality as it is. It is the basis of the other two poisons and is the most important factor, the one that keeps us bound to the repetitive cycle of Samsara.
If ignorance is the root of Samsara, then wisdom and understanding are the key to freeing us from this cycle. The traditions that teach about Samsara also provide paths to liberation. These paths, whether through Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism or other spiritual traditions, emphasize the importance of self-awareness, meditation and right understanding.
Meditation, in particular, is considered a fundamental tool in the process of dispelling ignorance, as it is the first step in beginning to become aware of our own thoughts, actions and the world around us.
Breaking the Cycle
Samsara is neither an eternal condemnation nor a pessimistic view of life. Breaking the cycle implies a deep inner transformation that addresses the roots of Samsara. What is the way out of it? Let’s delve into some fundamental aspects and practices:
- Self-Awareness and Self-Inquiry: it starts by observing the mind and questioning our ingrained beliefs. Who am I? What is the nature of the self? Through meditation and reflection, we begin to see beyond our superficial identifications.
- Developing virtue: This is about cultivating qualities such as compassion, patience, generosity and truthfulness. By living according to ethical principles, we prepare our mind for deeper insights and reduce the accumulation of negative karma.
- Deep meditation: Meditation is not just a relaxation technique, but a means of understanding reality as it is. By observing the changing nature of the mind and body, we realize the impermanence of all things and begin to free ourselves from attachments.
- Wisdom: This is the true perception of the nature of reality. It is the direct recognition of the interconnectedness of all things, of the lack of a permanent and separate self, and of the cause of suffering.
- Universal compassion: Recognizing that all beings suffer and are trapped in Samsara due to ignorance, deep compassion and a desire to alleviate the suffering of all arises.
Liberation from Samsara is known by different names in different traditions. Moksha and Nirvana are the best known in Hinduism and Buddhism respectively. Although the terms and conceptualizations may vary, the essence is similar: a state of peace, understanding and bliss, free from all bondage, suffering and fundamental ignorance.