Saṃsāra is a Sanskrit word that means “wandering” or “world”, with the connotation of cyclic, circuitous change. It also refers to the concept of rebirth and “cyclicality of all life, matter, existence”, a fundamental assumption of most Indian religions. In short, it is the cycle of death and rebirth. Saṃsāra is sometimes referred to with terms or phrases such as transmigration, karmic cycle, reincarnation, and “cycle of aimless drifting, wandering or mundane existence” (Wikipedia)
This is the feeling we get when we stop practicing, or grow lazy enough in it that our thoughts start to grow back old roots. It is why Zen Master Seung Sahn would end every teaching letter with, “I hope you only go straight, try try try for 10,000 nonstop, get enlightenment, and save all beings from suffering.” I like his imagery: Only go straight don’t-know — it already breaks the circular insanity of samsara.
As Arthur Schopenhauer wrote, “Suffering is essential to life, and therefore does not flow in upon us from outside, but everyone carries around within himself its perennial source.” (The World as Will and Representation)
And how does that “source” grow back its new roots? When we stop questioning, stop looking into the question of “What is this reality? When I was born, where do I come from? When I die, where do I go? What am I?” When we let go of don’t-know, we grab the circular grind of samsara again. Again. Again. Around and around and around and around. What is the definition of “insanity,” after all, but doing the same action over and over again while expecting different results.
Again, Schopenhauer: “Those who don’t wonder about the contingency of their existence are mentally deficient.” Harsh, but true!
(Graphic: More genius by Matt Semke. It is impossible to resist posting him quite often. Again and again and again! But he never, ever tires. And best of all, he has insight.)