Does samsara exist? Or does samsara not exists and it just looks to us that it exists, but in reality it is all the same "thing"?

Here's the updated question, to make it clearer:


Nibanna is the cessation of all that is conditioned, i.e. samsara.

As I understand it, when you attain Nibanna which is unconditioned, then you are out of samsara.

Does this mean, that when you attain Nibanna, samsara:

  1. does not exist but it exists for other beings in samsara?

  2. does not exist, and neither it exists for the other beings in samsara, because Nibanna is unconditioned, so there is no samsara, and consequently there are no beings?

Which one is it? 1 or 2?

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    the fact that you had to ask this question means that it still does? ;) – Andrei Volkov Dec 13 '15 at 14:46
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    What would be the difference between Samsara existing, and Samsara not existing, but just appearing that it exists? – Ryan Dec 13 '15 at 14:49
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    and whats "all the same thing" ? – Ryan Dec 13 '15 at 14:50
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    Note that "exists" might have different meanings, specially in the buddhist context. It might help explaining what one means by something "existing" and something "not existing" – user382 Dec 13 '15 at 17:45

The traditional Mahayana formula is that "Samsara is Nirvana". This is explained in depth in Madhyamaka literature. Here is one quote from Jay Garfield commentary on his translation of Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika:

It is [possible] to grasp after nirvana – to reify it as a state and to crave it as a phenomenon inherently different from samsara and as highly desirable since it is indeed characterized as liberation from suffering. But this grasping onto the end of grasping is itself a grasping and so precludes the attainment of nirvana. Nirvana requires, according to Nagarjuna, a complete cessation of grasping, including that onto nirvana itself. While that might seem paradoxical, it is not: To grasp onto something in this sense requires, inter alia, that one reify it. By refusing to reify liberation, in virtue of seeing it as the correlative of bondage, which itself is not inherently existent, it is possible to pursue the path to liberation without creating at the same time a huge obstacle on that path – the root delusion with regard to nirvana itself.

And from Master Dogen's Genjokoan:

When everything is buddha-dharma, there are Samsara and Nirvana, Path, birth and death, Buddhas and sentient beings. When myriad things are without self, there is no Samsara, no Nirvana, no Buddha, no sentient beings, no birth and no death.

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  • What does it mean "When everything is buddha-dharma"? What is "everything"? What is "buddha-dharma"? And what does it mean "When myriad things are without self"? How much is "myriad"? – beginner Dec 15 '15 at 19:20
  • The way I understand this, "when everything is buddha-dharma" means "when experience is interpreted in the mundane buddhist frame of reference". "Everything" means "(my) experience". Then, "when myriad things are without self" means "when every single entity and every single category without exception is seen to be a projection of mind - and when that which it was projected unto is seen as it is". Here "myriad" means "every single, without exception". This is how I understand this passage. – Andrei Volkov Dec 16 '15 at 15:58
  • This still bothers me: "When myriad things are without self" ... Does this mean that "when ONE single being sees that myriad things are without self, Samsara does not exist", or does it mean that "When ALL single beings see that myriad things are without self, Samsara does not exist"? – beginner Dec 19 '15 at 22:26

Samsara is just a word. There is seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling, smelling, and thinking. And there is the UN enlightened mind that misapprehends the true nature of these phenomenon.

edit for your edit :

does not exist but it exists for other beings in samsara?

There are four things without bounds; the knowledge of a buddha, space, the universe, and the world of beings. Therefore, samsara will never be extinguished. In this way, enlightenment is like a forest fire, burning down an endless forest.

I COULD tell you the timestamp for my reference; but instead I'll make you watch through the entire thing, enjoy!

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  • Then why is it wrong to say Samsara is permanent? – Gokul NC Dec 15 '15 at 5:50
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    1. Physically - it is changing- so nonpermanent. 2. Conceptually- Until creating (person) samara exists. 3. By experiencing (nirvana) - samara ? @GokulNC – Shrawaka Dec 15 '15 at 9:11

Samsara exists based on mind-matter phenomena. Any phenomena which is part of mind, mind content, matter comes under ultimate truths (truths that not fall apart under divisibility into its constituent components or indivisible). So it is an ultimate truth that samsara does exit when you are part of it if you are worldling.

When you attain Nirvana which is unconditioned, then you are out of samsara. For some one who attains Nirvana this also is an ultimate truth.

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If you use "exists" in the Buddhist context, you might be understood as "has own, unconditioned essence" which is the traditional use -- here, the object in question cannot suddenly become or unbecome according to circumstances, because it always "is". Or as "is real / refers to an actual experience" which is the more popular understanding. Not being explicit about how this word is being can be confusing.

Having said that, to the questions:

Does samsara exist? Or does samsara not exists and it just looks to us that it exists, but in reality it is all the same "thing"?

I'm understanding samsara here as a word to describe the cycle of birth and death.

Whether it "exists" -- in the traditional sense -- or "not exists" is a philosophical topic whose answer might change according to the philosophy of each school (though I think no school who would declare existence of phenomena or concepts have survived).

Does this mean, that when you attain Nibanna, samsara does not exist but it exists for other beings in samsara?

from the following:

The Buddha attained nibanna, but here we are, subject to samsara.

we can conclude from our experience that samsara is "real" (insofar as the cycle of birth and death is actual -- or if one understands samsara to be simply this circumstance of being subject to suffering).

In the traditional sense of "exists", samsara either "exists" or "not exists" -- it doesn't make sense to change according to circumstances (eg. when an event happens, like attaining nibanna).

The "cessation of samsara", insofar as we are talking about the Buddha attaining nibanna, is not the cessation of our reality, nor the cessation of the samsara we are subjected to.

Does this mean, that when you attain Nibanna, samsara does not exist, and neither it exists for the other beings in samsara, because Nibanna is unconditioned, so there is no samsara, and consequently there are no beings?

Beings "don't exist" in the traditional sense; beings are anatta. But we are certainly alive -- we are not imagination.

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When we wake up from dream, does it exist for others?

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  1. Samsara exists. 2. Samsara does not exist. 3. Samsara both exists and does not exist. 4. Samsara neither exists nor not exists. All of these statements are true. All of these statements are false. All of these statements are both true and false. All of these statements are neither true nor false.
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Samsara exist because there is enlightenment- free from Samara.

Just like wealth exist because there are poor.

Only if one is free from Samsara can one see Samsara.

If everyone is in Samsara, then how can one see Samsara?

That is what Buddha is here to teach

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Excerpt from "Lamp of Mahamudra" by Tsele Natsok Rangdrol:

"Section One - Ground Mahamudra"

"The View"

"Your natural essence cannot be established as either samsara or nirvana. Not confined by any one extreme, free from the limitations of exaggeration or denigration, it is not tainted nor spoiled by such designations as pleasant or unpleasant, being or not being, existent or non-existent, permanent or annihilated, self or other, and so forth...

Yet, no matter how it manifests, ultimately this essence has no true existence...

It is the actual basis of all that appears and exists, the whole of samsara and nirvana.

When you realize its nature, knowing its real condition, you are called a Buddha. When you do not realize it, remaining ignorant of it and experiencing confusion, you are called a sentient being."

For any who are interested, "Lamp of Mahamudra" and "The Heart of the Matter", both by Tsele Natsok Rangdrol, have been combined in a single book, entitled "Heart Lamp", translated by Erik Pema Kunsang, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, North Atlantic Books.

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One of the issues is that there are two types of Samsara.

  1. Samsara as a place, a location. It is called 'external samsara'
  2. Samsara as the contaminated aggregates that are in the nature of suffering. It is called 'internal nirvana'.

One can be free from internal samsara but abide or manifest in any of the abodes of the external samsara. The two types of samsara are not that closely related. So, when you attain nirvana, you are not necessarily out of samsara as a place. When you attain nirvana, you are free from true suffering, so in this manner samsara (as a place) is not 'samsaric' anymore in the perspective of that being, because it does not act as a cause and a basis of suffering for that being. It does not make it any less samsara, though.

When we say that 'a Bodhisattva does not wander in samsara, but he comes back to samsara due to the power of prayers and compassion' we mean that 'he is free from internal samsara but can abide in external samsara', that is 'he does not come back due to the power of karma and afflictions but he comes back to the place'. It might already part of the question. As Geshe Gyaltsen said in his commentary to Maitreya's Sublime Continuum:

The continuum of the aggregates of the person is called samsara and the bodhisattva is not samsara in not being the continuity of the aggregates, but the bodhisattva abides and takes birth in samsara in taking birth in all the different realms of samsara from the hell up to the peak of existence, the different samsaric abodes[...]

Any being who has achieved the final true cessation is free from wandering in samsara in that he will not come back to take contaminated aggregates. Some say the body (even of an Arhat) transforms and becomes uncontaminated (and thus not samsara itself) from the time of achieving Arhatship but there is a lot of debate about this point. The Vaïbashika and Sautrantika schools further say that at the time of parinirvana, the continuum of a hearer or solitary realizer Arhat is severed (and thus no longer abides in any abode in samsara as a place), but Mahayana tenets refute such a position.

'A continuum being samsara' and 'a continuum being nirvana' are mutually exclusive. If it is one, it is not the other. In the same way, 'a room in which John is present' and 'a room in which John is absent' are mutually exclusive. Nirvana and samsara are are identical in that they are empty of inherent existence, as you and I are identical in that we are human beings. But they are not the same and one phenomena, in the same way you and I are not the same person. Samsara and nirvana do exist conventionally. This is another issue that is called 'the yoga of the equality of samsara and nirvana', sometimes phrased 'samsara is nirvana'.

The yoga of the equality of samsara and nirvana is achieved [from the eighth ground] which is the direct realization of the emptiness of true existence of both samsara and nirvana.

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