Do you believe in rebirth? If you are a theist, then this concept of rebirth of soul (Atman) will make sense to you. It is a core belief of most Indian religions. This concept of rebirth and cyclicality of life is known as ‘Samsara’. It is a Sanskrit word that means ‘world’. It refers to the karmic cycle, reincarnation, or Punarajanama.
Roots of the concept ‘Samsara’ (Rebirth)
You must be wondering where does the concept of Samsara originates. It has its roots in post-Vedic literature. It appeared in the early Upanishads too in a developed form. There were no mechanistic details in Upanishads. The concept of Samsara is tied to the theory of Karma. The liberation from this karmic cycle is Moksha, Nirvana, or Mukti.
Hindu philosophy relies on the doctrine of rebirth. After death, the soul re-enters another body be it humans, animals, God but always in the cycle of death and resurrection. The concept of Samsara is associated with the concept of Karma, dharma, and moksha.
What is Karma?
Karma means the action that determines your consequences. Through your Karma in your current life, you can determine your next life’s condition. If your actions in your present life are good, your consequences in the next life will be good and vice-versa. If you do good to others you will be reborn in better condition and if not then in worse condition.
Significance of Dharma
‘Dharma’ signifies duty or social obligation. It gives you an opportunity to act virtuously. But, it is different for everyone. Each person has their Dharma known as sva-dharma. It is based on class and age group. For example, Dharma for Kshatriyas was different from Brahmin. Dharma for children is different from adults. Dharma encourages people of different social groups to perform their duties as best they could.
‘Moksha’ means ‘liberation’ or ‘release’. Moksha is the freedom from the never-ending circle of reincarnation. What is it that helps the soul to be released from Samsara? It all lies in the concept of Atman and Brahman.
Atman and Brahman
According to Upanishads, Atman (soul) is the core of all living beings. It is the innermost essence. Meditation is the only way to experience this when you are at the deepest level of your existence.
Another intangible essence of the entire existence is Brahman. It is an unchanging ‘Absolute Being’. It is beyond your intellectual understanding that creates and sustains everything. Brahman is the original element of the universe.
Most Hindus know that Brahman pervades everything but they do not worship Brahman. They regard particular deities as the manifestation of Brahman.
When a person achieves Moksha the Atman returns to the Brahman for e.g. a water droplet returns to the sea from where it is originated. Thus, attaining Moksha is the stage of a culmination of the life cycle. It let the soul end its journey from entering one body to another.
Moksha can be achieved through ascetic practice. It detaches one from the material world. Many Hindus often ignore this practice.
According to Bhagwad Gita, there are three paths to Salvation (Moksha). These paths are:
- The Karma-Marga(The path of duty)
- The Jnana-Marga(The path of Knowledge)
- The Bhakti-Marga(The path of devotion)
This goal is relevant to all Hindus. But, only a few like Monks or those dedicated to the service of God follow these paths to attain Moksha. The root of Indian philosophy emphasizes what one must do to release themselves from bondage (Samsara) and become spiritually emancipated.
‘Samsara’ is the journey of the Atman (soul) from one body of matter to another. It never dies. The soul is an eternal reality, imperishable and bliss. The soul does not change. Samsara is the continuous journey of rebirth and suffering in the various realms of existence. The only way to liberate self is the attainment of Moksha.