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The Buddhist way to see the Samsara, or the circle of life and death, is, according to my understanding:

Innumerable causes and effects.

Is this right?

Is there a special meaning conferred by this, to the practitioners of Buddhism? What does it mean to Buddhists?

In comparison, in my opinion, Hinduism delivers more meaning to its practitioners, with regards to Samsara, as seen in this Bhagavad Gita quote:

BG 7.14: My divine energy Maya, consisting of the three modes of nature, is very difficult to overcome. But those who surrender unto Me cross over it easily.

It gives a meaning. The existence is reflecting a super-consciousness, which is not unreal or trivial, it is a super-consciousness that reflects our actions, our feelings, our nature which create obstacles and mirror all craving for material world as the way routing far from the beginning point, the point inside a circle, the center, indeed.

I cannot perceive a reality that I should refuse for the nature of emptiness while I am living in this very reality, without at least a meaning of what it is.

After all, If it has no meaning, why would Gautama Buddha appear in this world, then disappear without saving all people inside the Samsara itself?

Isn't this a contradiction?

I would like to discuss the above peacefully. This is not a provocation. I'm sure Buddhism has a logical explanation for this and I would like to hear it from this forum.

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  • It might be helpful for non-hindi speakers to know that the word samsara literally translates as the world. Not the planet earth. It can also come to imply the entire cosmos based on certain contexts. Dec 23, 2022 at 15:47
  • And so I need to add this as well : BG 16.19: Those who are envious and mischievous, who are the lowest among men,I perpetually cast into the ocean of material existence, into various demoniac species of life. BG 16.20: Attaining repeated birth amongst the species of demoniac life, O son of Kuntī, such persons can never approach Me. Gradually they sink down to the most abominable type of existence. Dec 25, 2022 at 4:25
  • 16.19 I cast for ever those hateful, cruel, evil-doers in the worlds, the vilest of human beings, verily into the demoniacla classes. 16.20 Being born among the demoniacal species in births after births, the foods, without ever reaching Me, O son of Kunti, attain conditions lower than that. Dec 25, 2022 at 4:26
  • 16.19. These hateful, cruel, basest men, I hurl incessantly into the inauspicious demoniac wombs alone in the cycle of birth-and-death. 16.20. Having come to the demoniac womb, birth after birth, and not attaining Me at all, these deluded persons, therefore, pass to the lowest state, O son of Kunti ! Dec 25, 2022 at 4:26
  • 16.19 Those cruel haters, worst among men in the world, I hurl those evil-doers into the wombs of demons only. 16.20 Entering into demoniacal wombs and deluded, birth after birth, not attaining Me, they thus fall, O Arjuna, into a condition still lower than that. Dec 25, 2022 at 4:26

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Well, let's start with the thought that 'meaning' is part of samsara: a focal object. Wanting meaning isn't much different than wanting fame, glory, power, wealth, or beautiful partners. If you have those things it can make your existence seem meaningful and wonderful; if you don't, your world can seem cruel and miserable. The Hindu teachings you're thinking of are a bit like the Socratic teaching that wisdom is the most important thing to possess, because when one has wisdom it guides one to all the other virtues. Align atman with brahman and the troubles of the world will ease: thus we have meaning.

However, the Buddha wasn't teaching how to live within samsara (how to give meaning to it). He was teaching how to understand samsara, in a way that transcends the limitations of speech (and meaning). The difficulty with 'meaning' is that — like all things of samsara — it's dualistic, and thus a double-edged sword. If we live a quiet, beautiful existence, we think: "I've found the meaning of life!". But if we fall off a cliff and lose our life savings paying medical bills, going forward as a crippled pauper, we wonder: "What have I done wrong to end up this way? What meaning does this have?". Buddhist philosophy is that the self which thinks these things is only a construct — a meaning-making construct; a problem-solving construct — and that the true nature of our existence goes beyond that 'self' and any meanings it makes.

Meanings are pleasantries. We can make meaning with the same casual good cheer that we say "hello!" to people on the street, but making more of it than that can lead us astray. The world will not deform itself to match the meanings we give to it.

I'm not dismissing Hinduism here, not in deference to Buddhism at any rate. Hinduism is a sophisticated philosophy in its own right, and if you follow its path far enough you'll come to understand and leave meaning in your wake. Before that, well... it can be comforting to have a self-reflective consciousness communing with you; it can be comforting to have a god watching over you; it can be comforting to have the ordered universe of karma or dao. Make the meanings that ease you along the path, and leave them where they fall when the path changes course.

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  • so if the self is a problem-solving construct is there anything wrong with that? i have a hammer, a screwdriver, etc..there is a usefulness. i want to keep that around
    – blue_ego
    Dec 29, 2022 at 14:07
  • @blue_ego: Ah, an analogy I've used before. It's one thing if someone picks up a hammer to drive a nail. It's quite another thing if that person forgets they are holding a hammer and walks around town swinging it. That latter person is at best awkward and at worst dangerous and intimidating. Most people don't get that the problem-solving mind can be put back in the toolshed between uses — it's a difficult intuition — so they walk around making a problem out of everything so they have something to apply that tool to. Dec 29, 2022 at 16:02
  • yes it requires skillfulness...oh well
    – blue_ego
    Dec 29, 2022 at 16:13
  • i guess what i'm saying is the idea doesn't do much..it's like throwing a blanket over some stuff, eventually the blanket comes off..
    – blue_ego
    Dec 29, 2022 at 16:46
  • @blue_ego: Things are useful because they can be used by beings. But do we want to reduce beings to the status of things, so that beings are judged only by their usefulness? Dec 29, 2022 at 17:30
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To start I don't know what you think "super-consciousness" means; why you think that's "not unreal"; nor how you find it meaningful; and so I cannot answer that aspect of the question.

To me the essence of Buddhism is "suffering and cessation" -- the four noble truths, that suffering exists is various forms (including sickness and death); that suffering has a cause; that both (suffering and cause) cease; and that there's a Way which leads to that cessation.

I find that this is "meaningful" if you're suffering or vulnerable to suffering -- which I think includes "every sentient being", though perhaps there are periods when suffering is more acute/obvious, e.g. when a loved one dies.

The fact that Buddhism offers relief from (via insight into) suffering is what makes it uniquely meaningful or important -- i.e. it's not "samsara" that has meaning or is meaningful, rather it's the Buddha's message about the "ending of suffering" that's important.


As for samsara I think that, according to Buddhism, sentient beings are subject to delusion, suffering, and rebirth (samsara). The cause of suffering is related to desire, so liberation from suffering is related to liberation from desire, i.e. dispassion, and disenchantment (or literally disillusionment) -- nibbida.

As such I think that various things you might possibly find attractive -- for example "self-view", a lover's face, gold -- are analytically deconstructed and described as being "innumerable components or causes". That's an antidote so that you see that the thing you thought you loved isn't a single thing, isn't stable/permanent, and isn't something that is worth "being attached" to. This "analytic deconstruction" is my summary of the doctrine of "emptiness".

The same type of analysis deconstructs not only what we might unwisely find attractive (i.e. the cause of suffering) but also what we're averse to i.e. suffering itself.

Perhaps you're right that samsara is not described as being especially "meaningful" -- it's just the round of rebirth. That's the point i.e. to not find that attractive. Instead of chasing one unstable/composite thing after another, a Buddhist might prefer the relative stability of a "well-guarded mind", and the "refuge" offered by the Buddha's doctrine.

There's an ethical component too that I think is very important (but which you didn't mention in the question). Do good and don't do bad. That (morality) is conventionally agreeable or common-sense. We're also taught that it's a source of joy (skilful ethics -> no remorse -> joy).

Lastly though I can't say I understand the quote "But those who surrender unto Me cross over it easily" nor the sentiment behind it, perhaps there's something analogous (not identical) to that in Buddhism -- "taking refuge" in the three jewels (buddha, dhamma, and sangha).

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  • Indeed looks like the description of a Buddhist is very very similar to the one of a Vedanta! The path for liberation is anyway to exit Samsara BUT from the Buddhist perspective , Samsara has no meaning, for the Hindu perspective it is part of Vishnu's Maya. If you connect the two points,one referred above in the Gita , to the one described by yourself, the meaning is the same, the source is different. I cannot accept that Samsara can be something random where it just happen to you to "fall down within". Hope this makes sense. Dec 25, 2022 at 4:17
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This should be more of a comment, but I don't have the 50 reputation to post one. So I post this as an answer. Be gentle o buddhists 🙂.

Samsara is, at the end of the day, an effect of karma (moral causation): Good invites good and evil invites evil, that's the basic formula, but how it manifests, how it becomes real, is as worlds/realms (hell, heaven, etc.) and circumstances in these realms/worlds (beneficial, harmful) and these then conspire to induce states of mind & body (happy, sad, ok, etc.).

When one attains nirvana, one is liberated from samsara, from the web of karmic causation.

Me two sikkas.

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Adherents of many religions or philosophies often speak of their concepts as giving meaning to their lives, or being elegant when examined by the mind. They think this is proof that their religion must be true. Followers of those religions may look at Buddhism and think it doesn't give them enough meaning or intellectual elegance.

Sometimes religions have the concept of God as a caretaker or parent, and the provider of emotional support and comfort to the adherents. They think this is proof that their religion must be true. Followers of those religions may look at Buddhism and think Buddhists must be lonely without the emotional support provided by God.

Sometimes religions have very good music, which is pleasing to the ear and addictive to the mind, and adherents of those religion love it. They think this is proof that their religion must be true. Followers of those religions may look at Buddhism and feel Buddhists are missing out on the emotional pleasure of religious music.

As far as Buddhism is concerned, emotionally meaningful concepts, intellectually elegant concepts, emotionally soothing concepts and emotionally addictive music, are all pleasurable sensations to the six senses, including ears and mind. And they mainly appeal to emotion.

What's meaningful about Buddhism, is that it's empirical, i.e. based on experience. Here's an example below.

About consciousness, the Buddha taught the following, from MN 38:

"Just as fire is classified simply by whatever requisite condition in dependence on which it burns — a fire that burns in dependence on wood is classified simply as a wood-fire, a fire that burns in dependence on wood-chips is classified simply as a wood-chip-fire; a fire that burns in dependence on grass is classified simply as a grass-fire; a fire that burns in dependence on cow-dung is classified simply as a cow-dung-fire; a fire that burns in dependence on chaff is classified simply as a chaff-fire; a fire that burns in dependence on rubbish is classified simply as a rubbish-fire — in the same way, consciousness is classified simply by the requisite condition in dependence on which it arises. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the eye & forms is classified simply as eye-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the ear & sounds is classified simply as ear-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the nose & aromas is classified simply as nose-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the tongue & flavors is classified simply as tongue-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the body & tactile sensations is classified simply as body-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the intellect & ideas is classified simply as intellect-consciousnes

Think about it. How can the silent witness witness anything except through one of these media: eye, ear, nose, tongue, touch or mind? There was never a time, when there was consciousness being aware of something except through the eye, ear, nose, tongue, touch or mind. There is therefore no independent consciousness.

Consciousness is dependent on and conditioned upon these six media. It does not exist independently connecting all beings. The consciousness in every being may be of a similar type, but it's not the same consciousness.

For example, I can say that every candle has a similar flame, but it's not the exact same flame that appears on every candle. Each flame is different.

Also useful is MN 38, in which the Buddha makes clear that it is not the SAME consciousness that wanders through one's life:

Then he went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, the Blessed One said to him, "Is it true, Sāti, that this pernicious view has arisen in you — 'As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is just this consciousness that runs and wanders on, not another'?"

"Exactly so, lord. As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is just this consciousness that runs and wanders on, not another."

"Which consciousness, Sāti, is that?"

"This speaker, this knower, lord, that is sensitive here & there to the ripening of good & evil actions."

"And to whom, worthless man, do you understand me to have taught the Dhamma like that? Haven't I, in many ways, said of dependently co-arisen consciousness, 'Apart from a requisite condition, there is no coming-into-play of consciousness'? But you, through your own poor grasp, not only slander us but also dig yourself up [by the root] and produce much demerit for yourself. That will lead to your long-term harm & suffering."

The Buddha was very clear that there is no transcendental consciousness, that is aware of something beyond the six sense media.

From The All Sutta:

"Monks, I will teach you the All. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak."

"As you say, lord," the monks responded.

The Blessed One said, "What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range.

The best part is that practitioners can realize this for themselves.

OP asked in the comments:

Mmm ok thanks for reply, However it doesn't explain how it happened that You , mortal being, are part of this chaotic existence , neither to say WHY You are here and what is this illusion that is around You. If it was absolutely nothing then why You are living this very existence? How You fall down to live with a body? It' all circulating around the point, but it doesn't address the real cause, hence the meaning.

In Buddhism, there is no illusion around You. The "You" is exactly the illusion. Please see the Bahiya Sutta for this.

“Therefore, Bāhiya, this is how you are to train yourself:
“In the seen, there will be just the seen.
In the heard, there will be just the heard.
In the sensed, there will be just the sensed.
In the cognized, there will be just the cognized.

This, Bāhiya, is how you are to train yourself.
Bāhiya, when it is like this for you –
In the seen, there is just the seen,
In the heard, there is just the heard,
In the sensed, there is just the sensed,
In the cognized, there is just the cognized –

Then, Bāhiya, there will be no ‘you’ in terms of this.
When there is no ‘you’ in terms of this,
Then there is no ‘you’ there;
When there is no ‘you’ there,
There is no ‘you’ here, or beyond, or in between.
Just this is the end of suffering.”
Bahiya Sutta

And the question of WHY is answered by the Parable of the Poisoned Arrow. When a man is struck by a poisoned arrow, he will not have the time to ask why and where the arrow comes from. Rather he tries to find a way to remove it as soon as possible and treat himself.

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    Samsara used to seem pretty straightforward, simple, and obvious to me, Your answer has helped me see that there is much meaning to comprehend and contemplate in the teaching of samsara. Nice answer. Dec 24, 2022 at 13:03
  • Mmm ok thanks for reply, However it doesn't explain how it happened that You , mortal being, are part of this chaotic existence , neither to say WHY You are here and what is this illusion that is around You. If it was absolutely nothing then why You are living this very existence? How You fall down to live with a body? It' all circulating around the point, but it doesn't address the real cause, hence the meaning. Dec 25, 2022 at 4:20
  • this is a good answer, but there is some confusion. first you say that consciousness is not the same amongst individuals (flame analogy) which implies each individual has their OWN consciousness, and then you say "...not the SAME consciousness that wanders through one's life"...the two statements seem to contradict each other..
    – blue_ego
    Dec 25, 2022 at 13:58
  • @DoubtfulMonk In Buddhism, there is no illusion around You. The "You" is exactly the illusion. Please see the Bahiya Sutta for this. And the question of WHY is answered by the Parable of the Poisoned Arrow. When a man is struck by a poisoned arrow, he will not have the time to ask why and where the arrow comes from. Rather he tries to find a way to remove it as soon as possible and treat himself.
    – ruben2020
    Dec 25, 2022 at 14:21
  • @blue_ego Even own consciousness is temporary and changes over time.
    – ruben2020
    Dec 25, 2022 at 14:23
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"Saṁsāra literally means “wandering-on.” Many people think of it as the Buddhist name for the place where we currently live — the place we leave when we go to nibbāna. But in the early Buddhist texts, it’s the answer, not to the question , “Where are we?” but to the question, “What are we doing?” Instead of a place, it’s a process: the tendency to keep creating worlds and then moving into them. As one world falls apart, you create another one and go there. At the same time, you bump into other people who are creating their own worlds, too."

~ Thanissaro Bhikkhu "Saṁsāra" https://www.dhammatalks.org/books/KarmaOfQuestions/Section0008.html

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Perhaps the most eloquent description of samsara I have ever read is one that was written by Ajaan Mahā Boowa from the Theravada Thai Forest Tradition. It is written with such precision, such clarity and such wisdom that one cannot escape the sheer profundity of how it gives conventional meaning to samsara. Adding to that, the focus is entirely on the mind, the six-sense organs and what they perceive, and how, in the ensuing confusion between sense organs and the world, the mind ties itself in a calamitous bundle of knots from which a beginning point is no longer discernable...

The citta, the mind’s essential knowing nature, has been dominated by fundamental ignorance (avijjã) since time immemorial. This fundamental ignorance has created within the citta a center or focal point of the knower. The existence of that false center engenders an individual perspective which is the nucleus of self-identity. This “self” forms perceptions of duality (the knower and the known) and from there awareness flows out to produce the world of the 5 khandhas and of all sensory experience, which in turn reinforce the knower’s sense of individuality. It all begins with the currents of the citta, which flow out to create the entire sensory world, the world of conditioned phenomena.

Because of this, it is said that all physical and mental phenomena are relative, conventional realities (sammuti). They exist only relative to the knower, the one who perceives them. As such they are merely conventions that the citta has brought into being and given a subjective identity to in order to experience its own manifestations. In turn, these manifestations become incorporated into the citta’s sense of its own identity. Thus the known becomes indistinguishable from the knower, and duality comes full circle, trapping the citta in a web of self-delusion. The citta is reduced to depending on its manifestations to assess the nature of its own existence.

When fundamental ignorance has been destroyed, the focal point of the knower disintegrates, which causes the “self” perspective to disappear from the citta altogether. With the disappearance of self-identity, all manifestations of the citta, all relative, conventional realities, are divested of their power to deceive and no longer appear within the citta. Although they do continue to play a role, in the form of the 5 khandhas, as long as the Arahant remains alive, they are no longer incorporated into the citta’s identity and have no part in conditioning its outlook. This is called vimutti – absolute freedom from all conditions. No conditions whatsoever exist for this freedom.

What you describe as enumerable causes and effects are but one of many Buddhist teachings that aim to address the fundaments of the mind's myriad of quandaries caused by the way in which it misperceives sensory information. In the Zen tradition, the wild fox koan, for instance, encourages one to understand cause and effect as a means to understand how the mind has tied itself up. The Theravada tradition typically uses Pratītyasamutpāda to understand cause and effect.

Initially, meaning is important because one first needs to understand the context, that the mind is lost in its own turmoil such that it cannot see outside its own maddening vortex. In the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, this context was first laid bare before the Buddha embarked upon a solution:

"There are these two extremes that are not to be indulged in by one who has gone forth. Which two? That which is devoted to sensual pleasure with reference to sensual objects: base, vulgar, common, ignoble, unprofitable; and that which is devoted to self-affliction: painful, ignoble, unprofitable. Avoiding both of these extremes, the middle way realized by the Tathagata — producing vision, producing knowledge — leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding.

I cannot perceive a reality that I should refuse for the nature of emptiness while I am living in this very reality, without at least a meaning of what it is.

Later in the search, this is perhaps thee most difficult conundrum for the seeker; that the very notion of language, words and the vocabulary do not refer to anything substantial whatsoever. At a bare minimum, words provide a function in the world, and that is it! It had taken me over a year to let go of my own words, and now all that is seen is a hole that opens and closes from time-to-time. The perimeter of that hole flaps around sometimes, and in doing so it articulates various sounds. There are these figures in this place called the outside world who claim to have the ability to cognize these sounds. In cognizing these sounds, the words linger in their minds and span outwards into their spectrum of time, whereupon they contemplate conceptual ideas about being enlightened at some point in the future - but the Japanese Zen Master, Hakuin, points out with succinct beauty:

“People see it as if it is far away. What a pity! They are like a man who, standing in water, complains of thirst”

Meaning itself serves various functions in the world, but because of the ever-changing nature of phenomena, meaning will always lose its longevity. There's a fine line between where this points and nihilistic tendencies. In the irony of nihilism, the mind tries to create meaning from non-meaning. It's another mental object. Basically, you can choose any meaning you like, but you'll soon tire of it and look for another one, then another and another. If there is a purpose, it is in how everything appears for you in this instant.

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    Ajaan Mahā Boowa's quote is quite amazing, thank you.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Dec 23, 2022 at 20:15
  • Yes all good, but doesn't explain why you are here and you have a body Dec 25, 2022 at 4:13
  • @Doubtful Monk - thank you. I've included a respone in the last paragraph. Hope that's helpful.
    – user17652
    Dec 26, 2022 at 4:48

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