If we are trapped in Cyclic Rebirth, we are then being held against our will..

If we are being held against our will, who or what has set this trap?

If I escape, where am I escaping to?

As with all of my questions, I am seeking a person who has experienced and truly knows the answer. Hopefully, and with respect I am not seeking mere recital of texts ☺️

  • Interestingly stated question, perhaps sort of a rather large 'If': Maybe this question is more from an existential viewpoint of religions other than Buddhism, since a basic observation re Buddhism is the possiblity of exiting the Cyclic situation; also, if it's part of existence, then perhaps cf breathing etc: it's simply part of existing, rather than some sort of trappyess
    – M H
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 12:25
  • 1
    I like that word "trappyness" 😊 so, my viewpoint is one relating to ultimate truth of existence. I sense we are all from a source and that perhaps our suffering is already known and accepted before re/birth. Could our source be playful, wise and knowing of suffering. Because to know happiness, one must know suffering. Much like - to know forgiveness, one must experience enemies?
    – Wayne
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 12:36
  • Thank you for further clarifying your excellent question! :)
    – M H
    Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 8:46

11 Answers 11


Who is that "we" which is trapped?

It seems to me that these questions are based on the assumption of an "I" who can be found separated from the conditions that made the perception of "I" or the constituents of beings possible. There seems to be a differenciation between the "we" and the "trap".

If the conditions are not there, no phenomena [whose arising and persistence depends on those conditions] will come to be.

As the Buddha said, there's a middle way between the extremes of existence and non-existence, namely, dependent origination.

SN 12.15

“Kaccāna, this world mostly relies on the dual notions of existence and non-existence.

But when you truly see the origin of the world with right understanding, you won’t have the notion of non-existence regarding the world. And when you truly see the cessation of the world with right understanding, you won’t have the notion of existence regarding the world.

The world is for the most part shackled to attraction, grasping, and insisting.

But if—when it comes to this attraction, grasping, mental fixation, insistence, and underlying tendency—you don’t get attracted, grasp, and commit to the notion ‘my self’, you’ll have no doubt or uncertainty that what arises is just suffering arising, and what ceases is just suffering ceasing. Your knowledge about this is independent of others.

This is how right view is defined.

‘All exists’: this is one extreme.

‘All doesn’t exist’: this is the second extreme.

Avoiding these two extremes, the Realized One teaches by the middle way:

‘Ignorance is a condition for choices. Choices are a condition for consciousness. … That is how this entire mass of suffering originates.

When ignorance fades away and ceases with nothing left over, choices cease. When choices cease, consciousness ceases. … That is how this entire mass of suffering ceases.’”

EDIT: I think a big part of this issue arises from confusion in the use of language. From reading the question, it seems to me that two problems are present: assigning human-like features to processes and entities which are not human (for instance, when stating that "truth is playful"); and taking metaphors as explanations or descriptions of reality and its parts and processes (for instance, when stating that "suffering is a trap", maybe suggesting that "we" are inside something, which can be a reification of the perception of identity).

I'd suggest to keep analysing your own question, trying to clarify to yourself the words you use and the implications underlying such meanings. Clarity of the use of language can dissolve problems, a lot of times.

Kind regards!

  • Thank you for your insight 😊
    – Wayne
    Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 20:01
  • nice helpful point re language usage variations within the same language, and there could be further amplifications of such effects from translation etc
    – M H
    Commented Sep 25, 2020 at 13:08

As with all of my questions, I am seeking a person who has experienced and truly knows the answer. Hopefully, and with respect I am not seeking mere recital of texts ☺️

I prefer people speaking from experience. It’s one thing to learn from an ancient text, and completely different to learn from another who has come to experience the truth the text was attempting to express.

If we are trapped in Cyclic Rebirth

Edit: So I think I should preface this with my belief that this teaching has become conflated over time and has become more mystical. I think the teachings of rebirth were once very grounded in personal experience, but due to translations and people not understanding the original teaching, it transformed into an expression of multiple lives. While interesting to discuss, I’m going to pass on this traditional interpretation, and explain my understanding of the concept of rebirth from personal experience alone.

First, let’s define Cyclic Rebirth from my perspective. Rebirth is a phenomena that occurs because of the transient nature of experience. Seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling, and thinking are all impermanent by nature. One sensate experience only lasts for an almost imperceptibly short length of time before it is replaced by the next, or it ends entirely. These transitory experiences are the foundation in which we build up our belief systems about the physical world. For example, a gargantuan number of short “sight” experiences occur one after another and we jump to grand conclusions. Our logic tends to look something like “There is sight. I am seeing. I see outside. Outside I see a tree. A tree exists outside.” Due to our belief systems, we went from observing a simple experience to believing in the existence of yourself as a separate entity and objects in a material world.

This process of self identifying with some aspect of your experience is what I define as Rebirth. Every moment we are experiencing, we are involved in a process of self identification. Even though these experiences last for only a moment, we continually shift what we believe ourselves to be. For example, we look in the mirror and say “that is me”. Then you walk to the left, and still think it’s you. Walk to the right, and still think it’s you. All while walking your sight is changing as you see your body from different perspectives. But in reality, you are experiencing multiple sight experiences, none related or connected to one another, and are making arbitrary decisions that “this subsection of sight is me, but that subsection isn’t”. This process happens continuously when experience is present, and what you classify as yourself has to change in every separate experience. So what is effectively happening is, every time an experience you identify with ends you die, and when a new experience arises and the process of identification happens again, you are reborn. This process of rebirth does not end until you experience Nirvana for the first time and become enlightened.

we are then being held against our will.. If we are being held against our will, what or who has set this trap?

I would say you are only being held against your will if you desire to be free of this cycle. It is your own belief systems that keep this cycle going, so if you want to blame something, that’s a better target than any other. But if you don’t care about being free from suffering or understanding the true nature of the universe, it’s your will to stay as you are. So in that situation, rebirth as it occurs is in alignment with your will.

The trap wasn’t engineered or set up by anyone. The process of self identification happens naturally, and is necessary for us to learn how to navigate life as a human being. It isn’t the optimal way to live though, in my opinion. Once the process of rebirth stops, so does suffering. There is also an unending presence of peace accessible in all experience. Also, the process of identification is absolutely exhausting. It’s insane how tiring it is. Once it stopped, I was shocked I was previously unaware of the effort. It’s like a clenched fist you hold for a long time. After a while you don’t notice the feeling. But once you open your hand and relax you can feel the exhaustion.

If I escape, where am I escaping too?

You are gaining a perspective that takes no effort to maintain. It’s a way of viewing the world that is pervaded by peace and acceptance. It’s a perspective where you are no longer a small, fragile mortal, but something much more that is unaffected by the goings on in the physical world. It’s a beautiful place that I only describe in the hopes it will motivate others to experience it for themselves.

I would not use the word “escape”. It’s more like a life of complete imperviousness and an acceptance of all things. When Rebirth ends you aren’t escaping from a prison cell, you are realizing your assumptions were wrong and the prison cell door was never locked! Stay if you want. Or don’t! It’s your life to live as you please. Life in a cell is way more comfy if you break past your belief that you are trapped.

  • Wonderful and insightful. Thank you. I am going to ponder on your reply and will likely respond in the future with some realised thoughts. In a sense it has shone a light for me, on an aspect I didn't think about before. Do you consider yourself to be enlightened in this respect?
    – Wayne
    Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 10:02
  • @Wayne Any time my friend! =] I do consider myself an Arahant. I have lived with this new perspective and wirhout suffering for over two years now. I look forward to hearing about your new insights and questions! Good luck my friend, and i pray for nothing more than your liberation. ❤
    – w33t
    Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 12:19

Good householder, also here, wanted to become here, take birth and hold on existance. Neither did one really call him, and even if, it would be finally his decision, nor was and is/could he be forced. So nobody else in charge of being bound then oneself at first place. Good householder will maintain himself here as long there are left merits to do so and as long he finds certain happiness. When those things run out, he breaks appart, then he will arise elsewhere, say on youtube... an animal womb, leaving with a low mindstate...

As for "Why bound":

From an inconceivable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. Long have you thus experienced stress, experienced pain, experienced loss, swelling the cemeteries — enough to become disenchanted with all fabrications, enough to become dispassionate, enough to be released. Anamatagga-samyutta — The unimaginable beginnings of samsara

And the only way out is just this Noble Path of practice.

If one escapes from the wheel of bound, the wheel of suffering, then such question does no more arise, having reached Unbound, [beyond measure and compare.

One, if good, would only if having reached certain level of liberation recognice one who knows and sees, having realised if by himself. So good to go for training judgement, good householder. (Link no more possible to share)

Btw, good householder, using "we" would be in most cases wrong speech, for he would hardly be able to know even himself. And who would "we" be? Yours?

[Note that this isn't given for stacks, exchange, other world-binding trafes, but a gift for release from this wheel, for whom ever able to receive]

  • Interesting, and thank you for your input. There are still many unanswered questions, for example "aris[ing] elsewhere" - where is this place and why is it separate? I sense that suffering is just one aspect of happiness and that there is no 'escape' because I sense we are not trapped
    – Wayne
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 12:58

If we are being held against our will, what or who has set this trap?

The conditioned nature of, well... all things contributes to setting the trap. Conditioning is a fundamental state of the world, essentially. In conjunction, the human tendency to act on emotions also plays a role in becoming entrapped.

Together these things interact in a way that makes us suffer.

One may even speak of correlation or causation, and buddhism teaches us that the trap of suffering has an unmistakable cause, outlined above.

If I escape, where am I escaping too?

The escape would lead to renunciation of the karmic causes, replaced with increasing equanimity and stillness.

  • Some wonderful mind bending answers. I'm grateful to receive truths rather than recitals of text. I'm aware of the concepts of ignorance & therein lies an enigma, being that there is suffering caused by ignorance, in order to escape it there must be another place away from suffering? Escaping suffering is to indicate being trapped by suffering. I sense that we are indeed trapped but by an ultimate truth that is content with it. I sense that ultimate truth is playful & suffering is essential to its experience. If this is not true then we must be in some kind of purgatory held by another 'thing'
    – Wayne
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 17:56
  • If ultimate truth is playful & suffering is essential to its experience, then Truth is loaded with Sin. But Truth is ever pure and sublime. The opposite. Hence the statement is false. Commented Sep 25, 2020 at 18:27
  • I've learnt many things from everyones' replies, thank you all. One aspect, which is powerful for my understanding, is that our emotions, senses and even the way in which we think and perceive are aspects of 'a' human existence. Attachment to these is a strong force in the scope of a human, but there are many opportunities to acquire release from innate and acquired karmas and sufferings. Being Human appears to be a fortunate existence, blessed with many potential opportunities 🙂
    – Wayne
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 12:43

If we are being held against our will, what or who has set this trap?

We are not held against our will. We are deeply relishing the sensual pleasures. We are craving for sensual pleasures... we are ignorant. We are fools. From ignorance comes volitional formations , from volitional formation comes the consciousness , from consciousness comes the name and form, from name and form comes the six sense bases , from six sense bases comes the contact , from contact comes the feeling , from feeling comes comes the craving , from craving comes the clinging , from clinging comes the attachment, from attachment comes the existence , from existence comes the birth , from birth comes the ageing and death ... Thus arises the whole mass of suffering...

If I escape, where am I escaping too?

You are escaping to end of suffering, the nirvana...


If we are trapped in Cyclic Rebirth, we are then being held against our will..

If we are being held against our will, what or who has set this trap?

If I escape, where am I escaping too?

There's no such thing as being held against our will when it comes to cyclic existence in this Samsara. Every single person is both the owner and the inmate inside this prison that s/he's built for themselves. And since it was you who built your own prison, it'll be upon you and you only who will free yourself out of it.

‘I am the owner of my kamma, the heir of my kamma; I have kamma as my origin, kamma as my relative, kamma as my resort; I will be the heir of whatever kamma, good or bad, that I do’ ~~ AN 5.57 ~~


There's a bit of folklore which claims that hunters used to create monkey traps by putting a piece of fruit inside a heavy jar with a narrow opening. A monkey would slip its hand into the jar to get the fruit, but once it had the fruit its fist would be too large to fit back out through the opening. The monkey would be unable to pull its fist out, and unwilling to let go of the fruit, so a hunter could walk up and grab the monkey without any trouble.

Taking this as a parable, we're the monkeys, and the hunters. We set the traps for ourselves by deciding that 'this' or 'that' is essential to our identified self, and then we grasp onto it and get dragged along trying to maintain that grasp.

If the monkey lets go of the fruit, it doesn't 'go' or 'escape to' anywhere; it is exactly where it was before. The difference is that it isn't going to get dragged off by the hunter. It's a free monkey, not a monkey in a cage. Even if that cage is something the monkey built for itself (because the monkey in our parable is the hunter, too), that freedom means something.


I feel it is important to recognize that there is a different meaning to “trapped” than just “held against one’s will.” Samsara traps our (colloquially speaking) ignorance, the way mountains tend to trap clouds and fog. This keeps us focused on samsaric existence, so we keep returning to it.

Through our Buddhist practice (whatever variety, but especially advanced meditation) we remove the layers of ignorance, freeing ourselves from that attachment to samsaric existence. So we are not held “against” our ‘will’—our ‘will’ is completely focused on samsara (eat, fuck, sleep, shit, etc.), thus we are holding ourselves to continued existence in samsara, in conformance with our ‘will’.

So the answer to the final part of your question: “where do we escape to” is not a ‘place’ even metaphorically. Instead, it is a freedom gained from the ignorance which once caused us to be trapped—willfully—in samsara.

This answer is based on the progressive stages of meditation in which one becomes less attached as layers of ignorance—ideas that have no basis in reality—are directly seen through, as if a gossamer sheet had been pulled aside. As each layer is removed the clear light of reality (figuratively speaking) becomes a clear light leading us along our way.

  • I love your reply, thank you..more food for thought.
    – Wayne
    Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 19:59

It's because of ignorance about you and the world.

For enlighten man there was no one who actually in bondage, no one striving for, no one gets released. What is got released then and keeps one bound here in samsara? The answer is ignorance. Well! It's you! It's your desire to clinging to life and not giving up. You keeps rolling on the wheel. You are the driving force. You don't want to come to an end. That's the tragedy, if you are looking for the guilty, you need look into the mirror. There! You find one, yourself.

Enlightened ones are not different from rest of humanity. It's that their head is different one.. Your's are the same head, but ignorantly thinks different, due to desire to life, clinging. Like belows!

Law of nature: Bring back to the original state where you were at start, unless, you die & reborn according to deeds.

Jesus: Come up what is within you. If you don't, then the same thing within destroys you. If you comes with what is within, then it will save you!

God: Errr. Thou' have forgotten thy own light. Thus thou' has to die!


OP: Why are we “trapped” in cyclic rebirth?

The short answer is ignorance.

OP: If we are being held against our will, who or what has set this trap?

The short answer is ignorance.

If you have to ask, "where does ignorance come from?", Buddhism does not answer that - please see the Parable of the Poisoned Arrow to understand why this is considered unimportant.

Former journalist Robert Wright (who wrote the book "Why Buddhism is true" and taught the Princeton University affliated Coursera course "Buddhism and Modern Psychology") argues that ignorance comes from evolution and natural selection. Evolution and natural selection is probably well explained by Prof. Richard Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene.

OP: If I escape, where am I escaping to?

Freedom from suffering and unsatisfactoriness / discontent. Please see this answer for a detailed explanation.

Let me introduce you to the old South Indian Monkey Trap (from this article):

In Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig’s bonkers-but-brilliant philosophical novel that turns 40 this year, he describes “the old South Indian Monkey Trap”. ... The trap “consists of a hollowed-out coconut, chained to a stake. The coconut has some rice inside which can be grabbed through a small hole”. The monkey’s hand fits through the hole, but his clenched fist can’t fit back out. “The monkey is suddenly trapped.” But not by anything physical. He’s trapped by an idea, unable to see that a principle that served him well – “when you see rice, hold on tight!” – has become lethal.

The monkey needs to let go of the rice in order to free himself from his suffering. The way to end his suffering, is to end his craving for rice.

But in order to end his craving for rice, he must first understand how his hand is stuck inside the coconut. When the monkey overcomes his ignorance about how the trap works, he would let go of his craving for rice, and release his clenched fist. With this, he would be free from his suffering.

Also you can say that the monkey's suffering originated with his ignorance of the trap.

Q: Why is the monkey trapped?

A: It's because of his ignorance.

Q: Who set the trap?

A: It's true that the villagers set the trap, but if the monkey was not ignorant, he would not get trapped. Hence, the trap itself is set by ignorance. The coconut merely facilitated the trap of ignorance.

Q: Where is the monkey escaping to?

A: Freedom from suffering and unsatisfactoriness / discontent.

The old South Indian Monkey Trap
(Illustration above: Paul Thurlby for the Guardian)

  • 1
    Thank you, and to everyone for the continued replies. I've learnt that there is a view which is inherently based on ignorance and it is wise to escape this view without and away from the entrapment of clinging to metaphysical beliefs..my understanding is growing 😊
    – Wayne
    Commented Oct 4, 2020 at 9:58

The painful perception of entrapment (ignorance) and the neurotic will to escape (craving) feed each upon the other. That closed feedback loop relentlessly keeps churning out the endless narratives that we call samsaric beings.enter image description here

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