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Asian Philosophy: Concept of Samsara Essay


Introduction

Eastern religious philosophy is regarded as the oldest and most advanced in the world. The major philosophies of Buddhism, Confucian and Daoism have influenced the oriental civilization for centuries. This philosophies purport to offer answers to the great questions of life and death.

By following them, people can understand life and death better and attain a higher standard of living while on earth. While the three philosophies exhibit some similarities, they also have major differences especially on the subjects of death and on how to lead a good life on earth.

This paper will therefore endeavor to draw a connection between Samsara in Buddhism with the Confucian and Daoism tradition by analyzing the three philosophies.

Overview of Buddhism

Buddhism is a prominent Eastern religion. The Buddha endeavored to give theoretical and practical solutions to the philosophical problem of being (Nagendra 38). Buddhism advances that the ultimate goal of all souls is to reach perfection.

Yen observes that humans have the opportunity to engage in Dharma and practice and attain enlightenment (108). When perfection is reached, the soul joins Brahman, a position where all the other souls are interconnected.

However, before this perfection is reached, the soul is in a continuous change through the cycle of reincarnation with each stage bringing more refinement (Mistry 32).

Concept of Samsara

From a Buddhist perspective, Samsara refers to transmigration, which is the constant movement from the state of birth and death. According to this concept, a person is at all times going through one life after another (Parkes 260). Karma plays a key role in Samsara.

Loy reveals that karma determines the rewards that one receives and determines one’s destination in the course of reincarnation (360). In the course of the evolution, Buddhism deems suffering as inevitable.

This suffering, which is duhkha, arises because of the ignorance of man, which causes him not to be able to see things as they are. Hoyu asserts, “We perceive things only as we see them” (152).

Six Realms

Samsara is made up of six Realms into which a person can be reborn following reincarnation. The six realms of Samsara are divided into two; the three lower realms where there is more suffering, and the three upper realms where there is comparatively less suffering.

The God realm is the highest realm and beings in this realm experience joy and bliss. This abundance of pleasures causes them to engage in meaningless endeavors and the sentient beings reborn in the heavenly realm do not practice Dharma since they are absorbed in pleasure and bliss.

In the Demi-God realm, the beings enjoy pleasure and bliss but they suffer due to jealously and fighting (Wilcoz 64). The human realm is made up of pleasure and suffering. Rinpochay asserts that in this realm, birth is the root of all the other sufferings (103).

In the animal realm, the being lives in a constant state of fear and anxiety. Rinpochay affirms that beings in this realm experience the suffering of being used, slaughter, or eaten by one another (102). In the hungry ghost realm, the being is plagued by insatiable hunger and thirst.

Some of the hungry ghosts see food and drink as pus and blood, which makes it impossible for them to eat it (Elman 673). In the hell realm, the being suffers from pain and suffering on an unimaginable level. Existence in the realm is tortured since the being experiences endless suffering which makes it unbearable.

Samsara is essentially the continuous process of death and rebirth within these six realms. Engaging in negative conduct leads to one being transmigrated to one of the lower realms.

Buddhism indicates that while it is better to be at a higher state of samsaric existence, the goal should be to free yourself from the root of Samsara (Dumoulin 460). Since a being can only practice Dharma in the human realm, this level offers the best opportunity to break free from the Samsara cycle.

Samsāra-chakra

Buddhism also has the concept of Samsara Chakra, which is made up of the life circle with life following death. Nagendra notes that Samsara Chakra is symbolized as a circle since it indicates the life process, which seemingly has no beginning and no end (36).

The Buddhist principle of depended origination states that all things exist because of the existence of other things; a condition known as conditioned genesis and the causal nexus. Interdependency consequently occur because beings that are caused to live as well cause others to stay alive making reliance the fundamental observable fact of survival.

There are twelve links that exist in a circular chain and they form the basis of the causes that influence other causes. The links are “birth, existence, clinging, craving, feeling, contact, the six sense-bases, name and form, consciousness, volitional activities, and ignorance” (Sutta 178).

Three Poisons

There are three poisons which are ignorance, attachment and aversion, and these are the things that keep beings trapped from Samsara. If one overcomes the three poisons, they reach the seventh step, which is nirvana. In Nirvana, there is no suffering and there is no karmic retribution (Dumoulin 460).

However, human beings exist in the six realms (samsara) and it is here that we are born, grown old, and die. Nirvana can be achieved when a person is convinced that samsara is an ocean of suffering and therefore avoiding attachment to any of its joys or qualities (Tulku 37).

Confucianism Perspective

The Chinese philosopher Confucius developed Confucianism as an idealism in which humanity is a prerequisite. Confucianism regards man as the most significant feature in the world given that he can create principles, offer rations, and further learning into posterity (Tang 52).

Confucius declares, “Man can enhance the way and not the reverse” (Tang 52). Confucianism therefore values living more than dying and people are instructed to focus more on their lives and the constructive things they can achieve while alive. With this undertone, Confucianism implores the individual to engage in acts of kindness to their fellow men.

Cultivation of virtue is integral to Confucian thought and there are three basic concepts of Ren, Yi, and Li. The concept of Ren, which involves practicing altruism, is exhorted and individuals are required to engage in acts of benevolence.

Yi entails upholding righteousness and moral conduct and Confucianism requires the individual to practice good moral conduct and act in accordance to the norms and standards of the society. Confucianism is also concerned with elevating the status of man through rites, etiquette, and customs; a concept referred to as li.

A person is supposed to practice elements of li and endeavor to obtain education and indulge in arts and music. Through the practice of li, the society will enjoy harmony and contentment.

Tang detects that a primary notion in the Confucian view of being and demise is that fate s responsible for both life and death while wealth and nobleness is influenced by the heavenly power (165). As such, the philosophy places more emphasis on life since people are able to influence their own living.

The philosophy therefore focuses on how a good life can be achieved. Confucianism places emphasis on social harmony and advice is offered on how a person can co-exist better with others. The philosophy focuses on how people relate in the society and Confucian text acts as a code of conduct instructing individuals on what would be regarded as good conduct.

Daoist Perspective

The basic believe of Daoism is living in eternity and the teachings show that man can live in eternity and get away with death. Tang observes that a key characteristic of Daoism is seeking deliverance and immortality and finally reaching the state of living in eternity (165). Through intense meditation, the Daoist can achieve immortality without dying and attain oneness with the Dao.

Daoists also consider life on earth to be interconnected with humans and nature sharing some attributes due to uniformitarianism. In Daoism, Wu-Wei (the concept of naturalness) is exhorted with the teaching suggesting that life should be lived in harmony with nature and as such, life should be lived effortlessly.

A person is supposed to develop a sense of peace get in harmony with their true nature (WIng-Tsit 140). Daoism encourages people to appreciate simplicity by flowing with nature and avoiding vices such as selfishness and jealousy.

Daoists endeavor to attain the three Treasures of compassion, moderation, and humility by allowing nature to take its course, a person is able to experience pleasure in life.

Daoism states there is a supreme spirit who sustains the universe and that this being is impersonal and does not involve himself in the affairs of the people. People can feel the presence of this deity and perceive him by intuition.

As man grows into higher consciousness by following the path of Dao, he will become enlightened. Daoism encourages people to find their own path and Daoism asserts that there are many pathways to the truth and these paths lead to the same goal and sometimes to different ultimate goals (Fowler6).

Similarities Among the Philosophies

Confucianism and Samsara agree on the fact that people can determine their own fates. In samsara, karma causes one to go to a higher or lower reign based on their actions while in the human realm. A person therefore determines where they will end up by the actions they engage in while at the human realm (Morrison 269).

Confucianism insists that man should consider it his duty to improve himself through the course of his life. Confucianism insists that if a man does his best and fulfills his responsibility, he will leave this world in peace.

Samsara and Dao are similar in that they both refer to a constant state of change. In samsara, the being is constantly undergoing change as it moves through the realms until it reaches nirvana.

Dao keeps changing and the path is never the same. Daoism reveals that just as water never flows the same way twice, life is also in a constant state of change.

The concept of endlessness is explored in both Daoism and Samsara. Daoism insists that there is no beginning or end for a person and a person is merely flowing through nature. In samsara, existence is an endless circle with beings moving from life to death and then back to life in a different realm. This cycle only ends when one attains perfection and joins other souls in Nirvana.

Samsara and Dao both agree that materialism and attachment to physical things is the cause of trouble among human beings. Samsara states that attachment to physical things is the cause of humanity’s problems. The attachment causes pain and suffering since the objects that we are attached to are of a temporary nature and we are bound to lose them. When the loss occurs, we suffer from great pain and misery.

In addition to this, the attachment keeps man from achieving a higher sense of being. Because of attachment, the soul remains bond in the reincarnation circle and it is unable to achieve Nirvana. Daoism warns against attachment and the philosophy suggests that materialism is the cause of strive among human beings. Daoism suggests that harmony can only be achieved when people stop being materialistic and refrain from worldly attachments.

Differences Among the Philosophies

There is a significant difference in the motivation behind practicing good living on earth for the individual Buddhist and the person practicing Confucianism. In Buddhism, good actions are performed so that a person will be reborn in a higher realm.

The concept of Karma applies and one is motivated to engage in good actions so that they can be rewarded when they die. From a Confucius perspective, the motivation for engaging in good acts is to foster harmony in the society. Confucianism therefore advocates for benevolent acts so that a good life may be obtained in this life and not after death.

The concept of wheel of rebirth is peculiar to Buddhism. Confucianism does not believe in reincarnation and people are required to make this life the best.

The concept of rebirth is also absent in Daoism and individuals are asked to lead a life that is in harmony with nature. Buddhism teaches that people are reborn through reincarnation and actions on earth dictate the state of rebirth.

A major difference between Daoism and Samsara is that Daoism advocates realizing immortality in the flesh while in Samsara immortality can only be achieved following death.

Daoism teaches that a person can leave bitter reality and enter the world of immortality by following the path of Dao.

In Buddhism, one can only achieve immortality is he/she practices Dharma and manages to break free from Samsara.

Conclusion

This paper set out to discuss the Buddhist concept of Samsara and analyze how it applies to the Confucian and Daoist tradition. To this end, the paper has defined the concept of samsara in Buddhist thought and analyzed some of its components including karma and the six realms.

It then proceeded to talk about relevant concepts from Confucian and Daoism with particular focus on their views of life and death. The paper has shown that the three philosophies share some similarities and differences.

Specifically, Confucianism and Buddhism agree that people determine their own fate while Buddhism and Dao agree that life is in a constant state of change and suffering is caused by attachment to physical things. The philosophies differ in that Confucianism is focused on this life while Buddhism focuses on the afterlife.

Works Cited

Dumoulin, Heinrich. “Buddhism and nineteenth-century German philosophy”. Journal of the History of Ideas 42.3 (1981): 457–470. Web.

Elman, Benjamin A. (1983). “Nietzsche and Buddhism”. Journal of the History of Ideas 44.4 (1981): 671–686. Web.

Fowler, Jean. An Introduction To The Philosophy And Religion Of Daoism: Pathways To Immortality. Boston: Sussex Academic Press, 2005. Print.

Hoyu, Ishida. “The Seventh Step in This World of Duhkha: To Be in the World but Not of the World”. Interdisciplinary Humanities 24.2 (2007): 151-162. Web.

Loy, David. “The difference between samsara and nirvana”. Philosophy East and West 33.4 (1983): 355–365. Web.

Mistry, Freny. Nietzsche and Buddhism: Prolegomenon to a comparative study. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1981. Print.

Morrison, Robert. “Response to Graham Parkes’ review”. Philosophy East and West 50.2 (2000): 267–279. Web.

Nagendra, Singh. Science and Spirituality. Beijing: Global Vision Publishing Ho, 2005. Print.

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Rinpochay, Konchok. The Jewel Ornament of Liberation: The Wish-Fulfilling Gem of the Noble Teachings. Mumbai: Snow Lion Publications, 1998. Print.

Sutta, Paccaya. “The Discourse of Conditions: Specific conditionality and ignorance as the root of dependent arising”. Social Dharma 39.12 (2012): 178-183.

Tang, Yijie. Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism, Christianity and Chinese Culture. Pecking: CRVP, 1991. Print.

Tulku, Ringu. Confusion Arises As Wisdom: Gampopa’s Heart Advice on the Path of Mahamudra. Beijing: Shambhala Publications, 2012. Print.

Wilcox, Robin. Karma on Tap: The online Buddhist Revolution. NY: Infinity Publishing, 2004. Print.

WIng-Tsit, Chan. A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. Print.

Yen, Sheng. Shattering the Great Doubt: The Chan Practice of Huatou. Beijing: Shambhala Publications, 2009. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Asian Philosophy: Concept of Samsara." June 18, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/asian-philosophy-concept-of-samsara/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Asian Philosophy: Concept of Samsara'. 18 June.

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