Buddhism A–Z
What is Samsara in Buddhism?

Samsara is the cycle of life: birth, death, and rebirth in which suffering beings are trapped. Freedom from samsara is known as nirvana, a state of perfect peace and freedom from struggle that is beyond birth and death.

In Buddhist cosmology, samsara (Sanskrit, “cycle of existence”) serves as the framework for understanding the nature of suffering and how to escape it. Buddhist practice helps us understand and transcend one’s imprisonment in samsara and its suffering.

The fundamental cause of samsara is our ignorance about the actual nature of ourselves and the reality we experience. Mistakenly believing phenomena to be solid, independent, and permanent, we generate the three poisons of anger, greed, and indifference to protect ourselves, causing suffering and creating negative karma that perpetuates samsara.

Endless Cycle

Samsara represents an endless and repetitive cycle of existence. Individuals are born into various forms of life, experience suffering and pleasure, die, and are reborn again in a different form. This cycle continues until one attains enlightenment and transcends birth and death.


The cycle of samsara is driven by the law of karma, the principle of cause and effect. One’s actions and intentions have effects not only in this life, but in future rebirths. Both right now and in future lives, positive actions are understood to lead to favorable circumstances, while negative actions lead to less favorable ones.

Suffering and Unsatisfactoriness

Samsara is characterized by suffering (dukkha) and unsatisfactoriness. Life in any realm is subject to various forms of suffering, including physical and mental pain, attachment, and impermanence

Liberation and the Eightfold Path

The ultimate goal in Buddhism is to attain liberation from samsara, known as nirvana. Nirvana is a state of complete freedom from suffering. It is a state of awakening and realization of the true nature of reality.

The Eightfold Path is the historical Buddha’s teaching on the path to liberation from samsara. It consists of ethical and mental practices, including right understanding, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. By following this path, individuals can break free from the samsaric cycle and attain nirvana.

Related Reading

What Turns the Wheel of Samsara

Francesca Fremantle, from her book Luminous Emptiness, discusses the wheel of life and how the Buddha decontructed it.

Buddhism A–Z

Explore essential Buddhist terms, concepts, and traditions.