Samsara exists for living people


"If all dharmas are the Buddha-dharma, there is illusion and realization, practice, life and death, Buddhas and living beings," taught Eihei Dogen, Genjokoan. No other teaching of Buddhism is as close to the other religions with their clear concepts of good and evil as that of samsara and nirvana, which represents the eternal cycle of painful existence and the liberation from this cycle.

So the process of samsara is an endless process where the skandhas (aggregates) keep appearing and passing away. It is a cycle in which no state is permanent because everything is in constant flux. And because Zen Buddhism is a here and now religion, every moment samsara has to do with ourselves, for at any moment we can be in one or more stages of samsara, several times a day. So if samsara is present here and now, what must be done to break out of this infinite state of suffering? A question that highlights the importance of studying the cycle of samsara.

In Mahayana Buddhism, as well as in Zen or Tibetan Buddhism, samsara is often depicted as a wheel of life. In Tibetan tanka we can see samsara artfully depicted as a circle, which in turn consists of three circles, each with several areas. In the heart of the tanka, in the middle circle, are greed (represented by a rooster), hatred (symbolized by a snake) and ignorance (represented by a pig). These are the three poisons that are connected to one another and that make people blind and forget that we too are exposed to continuous change and that we too have to age and die.

In the second circle are the six kingdoms of rebirth; Realms in which we are reborn according to karma; be it as "deva" who are rich and beautiful, but are bound to laziness and defeat through their happiness; or as demigods who are blinded by pride and envy and who cannot accept the superiority of the Deva. Then comes the kingdom of men; People who do not always try to achieve something blinded by the delusion. Following the realm of men, come the lower realms, first the realm of demons, who are constantly at war with one another; then the realm of the animals and the realm of the gakis, who are eternally greedy and frustrated beings.

In the outer circle of samsara are the twelve inside ("nen" means "interdependence" in Japanese). This circle graphically explains the twelve reasons for our conditioning and attachment to samsara:

The first inside pictured in the circle is (1) Avidya, ignorance. This primarily means ignorance of the true essence of our own existence. Next, the intention (2) appears. The intention that comes before the action and that causes karma. Furthermore, we find the "I" consciousness (3). The "I" associated with memories and desires. Often this "I" consciousness is represented by a monkey jumping from one corner to the other. Next comes the name and shape (4). This state is often represented by a ship that swims through the ocean of life, samsara. Then we find the six senses (5): eyes, ear, mouth, nose, feel and awareness. They are symbolically represented by open windows. Next comes the contact (6) between form and senses.

Then we find the selection (7), which results from the contact between senses and form; the dualism that chooses between this and that. From this selection arises the attachment (8) - the thirst to satisfy a wish. Next comes the achievement of the goal (9) or the desire. Often this state is represented in the circle of life by a couple in love or a person who takes fruit from a tree. Next comes karma (10), which is often illustrated by a pregnant woman. What leads to the next inside: the birth (11) or the appearance in the world of phenomena. With the twelfth inner the circle through life (12) is closed. The life that means both life and death and therefore appears to us to be unjust and therefore follows on from ignorance.

The Buddhist teaching on samsara says that in this infinite circle nothing lasts and everything is in constant change. And because we cannot accept this fact, we suffer and find ourselves in samsara. But what happens when we let go of all categories and concepts, good and bad, suffering and happiness, life and death? Perhaps what is left is just this moment as it is. And at this moment beyond any concept, samsara and nirvana are not separate from each other, but two sides of one and the same reality.

Meiyo Pedro Perez Vargas

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