How’s samsara working out for you?

samsara7 mins read

One way we can understand the need for deeper refuge is by thinking about what ARE our problems, what are our sufferings, and whether our temporary sources of refuge are in fact good enough for us. If they are, fantastic. And if they’re not, then good to know, because we can then seek refuge in something more effective.

Carrying on from this refuge article.

If you’re suffering at all, chances are you’re in samsara. Samsara is what Buddha called this state of existence where we have delusions and (usually) meaty bodies. Basically, in samsara we’re suffering, one way or another. Even when we’re happy, we’re not as happy as we could be.

Samsara doesn’t come from the places and people outside us, our job or our politics, our weather or our entertainments. It is the creation and mirror of the delusions in our mind, especially our ignorance of self-grasping and self-cherishing. This is why we can run but we can’t hide.

Although there’s good bits in our mind, and nice experiences that we have, overall we’re trapped in a state of uncertainty, in a state of no satisfaction, in a state of suffering. We’re subject to physical illnesses, we’re subject to mental pain — every day, if we check. Perhaps every hour.

forsaleI’ve had a rotten cold these past 10 days for example, along with half of New York; and it’s been making me feel sad for the people I pass with no homes to go to. I find it painful even to walk for ten minutes to the subway in these frigid temperatures, the cold searing my lungs – but I have a cozy bed and warm tea to welcome me at the end of my journey, as opposed to cardboard and indifference.

There’s rarely a day goes by when a body doesn’t hurt in some way. Yours is probably already a little uncomfortable in some way as you sit reading this — you’re thinking it’s time to get up and move around. (Not that I want to put that idea in your head … hold on.)

The problem with these bodies

You could be sitting right now on a lovely comfy sofa – we try to make our body as comfortable as we can, but it is challenging given that it is a bag of bones with lots of nerve endings. Reminds me … I was so pleased with a new massage chair gifted to me that I bought a similar contraption for my father with the hope that it’d ease his aching muscles. What it actually did though was crunch his old bones and make him hurt for weeks.

A good friend of mine texted this morning from England, a yogi monk known as Rainbow to his oldest friends — been practicing Dharma as long as I have, and really meditating a lot. Anyway, he texted me this morning just to say, “How are you? I’m doing well considering I’m imputed on a bag of bones.” bodyworld

And that’s about as good as it gets in terms of physical comfort. Some days we’re relatively comfortable. Given that at the moment we identify so strongly with this bag of bones as “my body”, and even as me, it’s amazing we have any good days, really, because, and I don’t know if you have noticed?, these bodies are not set up for comfort. Everything in our body can hurt. Everything, except for maybe our hair. And even that, if someone pulls it …

There’s pretty much nothing about our bodies that can’t hurt, doesn’t hurt sooner or later. Like teeth. How many teeth do we have? 36? 2? 12? Anyway, it amazes me that every single tooth in our mouth is fine when it’s working, we don’t even think about it; but when it isn’t working, whoa, that hurts, that can ruin our day. And there’s 31 more where that came from.

And there’s nothing about our body that’s not potentially going to turn against us, either. We can get cancer all over our body, can’t we? (Maybe not in our fingernails.) And eventually the whole thing just gives out.

Incorrectly identifying ourselves

Samsara is basically when we impute ourselves on, or identify ourselves with, a meaty body and a deluded mind, thinking: “This is me, this is who I am, I’m this person, I’m a limited person. This is me, looking all ugly because of this cold. I’m capable of good things sometimes, but other times I hate myself. I’m inadequate, I’m unhappy, I’m irritated, I’m obsessed, I’m anxious, I’m sad, I’m sore, I’m hurting. Etc. etc.

pure potential

Whenever we think like that about ourselves, we’re identifying ourselves with our meaty body and/or impure states of mind. But the fact is that these are NOT who we are. We are not really (or inherently) anything. We could instead identify with our extraordinary pure potential, and, if we go for refuge to Dharma, we can completely transcend mental and physical suffering with this human life that we currently possess, traveling the entire path to liberation and enlightenment.

As Geshe Kelsang brilliantly points out in The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra, since beginningless time our way of identifying our self has been mistaken:

What does taking rebirth in samsara mean? It means that in each of our lives due to ignorance we grasp our body or mind as our self, thinking, “I” “I”, where there is no I, or self. Through this we experience the sufferings of this life and countless future lives as hallucinations endlessly.


So, when we turn for refuge, that’s what we really want — protection from all the sufferings that come up within our samsara, understanding that samsara is just the experience of a deluded mind and a meaty body, wherever they may be. According to Buddhism we’ve had countless lives in these kinds of bodies. Often far worse bodies than the one we have now, and far more polluted or negative minds.

We’ve caught a bit of a break, according to Buddha, at the moment, in this precious human life. We have a little window to practice Dharma — our sufferings are not so crushing that there’s nothing we can do about them, but they’re enough to motivate us to do something about them. We can develop the ability to get to their root, to kind of deprogram or decommission our samsara, as it were.

robotDelusions remind me a little bit of preprograms that run in our minds. Maybe I’ve been thinking too much about artificial intelligence recently. It’s kind of like when robots run around all preprogrammed, our delusions are a bit like that. We’ve arrived with this horrible software from previous lives, and are being run around by it. So we need to reconfigure our software. In fact, we need to ditch it altogether, be free!

We need to be free. Our delusions don’t let us be free. They constrict us in so many different ways, and they cause us suffering in life after life. So we need to deprogram our minds by getting rid of our delusions while we’ve got this opportunity to do so, while someone is actually saying to us, “Hey, you can do this, and this is how.” Someone who is not part of this program, and understands exactly how it is set up and how we can dismantle it.

A Buddha has appeared in our life, extraordinarily, and, as we go about our daily lives — running around trying to find happiness here, there, and everywhere — he’s kind of striding along next to us, saying, “Hey, slow down a minute, look within. You’re preprogrammed. Just ditch the entire software, stop trying to make this work, it can’t.”

(Is this analogy working for anyone other than me?!)

I have quoted this before as it is one of my favorite Shantideva sayings:

We should not let our habits dominate our behavior or act as if we were sleepwalking.

matrixI think that’s exactly what we do — we let our deluded habits dominate our behavior, we DO act as if we’re kind of sleepwalking, we’re not wide awake. We’re conditioned or pre-programmed to act in certain ways. Conditioned by what? By our delusions and karma. And with our delusions we create our messy society, and this in turn conditions us further. It is endless mirror reflections.

So we’re trapped in this kind of Matrix hallucination. And Buddha really wants to unplug us all. He wants us to log out of this preprogrammed endless horror show of samsara.

Life without suffering is possible. But not samsaric life.

More later. Meanwhile, what do you think about all this?

Related articles

Dealing with samsaric suffering

Samsara is not real 

Rewriting the stories of our lives



Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 39 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

18 thoughts on “How’s samsara working out for you?”

  1. Such a good, hold no punches, honest description of our condition, I related to lugging this bag of bones about! After all the attention we’ve given it, it degrades, sags, hurts and then stops working. Good to recognise myself as a “samsaric somnambulist” and redirect my energy from limited short term goals, to more meaningful goal. This piece articulates this need sooo clearly. Thank you /Diolch yn fawr

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the “programmed” analogy. The challenge is to get out of the program to create some distance from it in order to reprogram or ditch it. For me, alertness is the key and I spend too little of my life being alert. It’s very much like my meditations in which active alertness detects distractions quickly and brings me back to my object. I really don’t want to spend my life as a ignorantly programmed robot obsessed by my limited sense of self and physical aches and pains. We know the answers. When we’re alert.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So true, Chuck. Mindfulness and alertness are what we need — otherwise we are just allowing ourselves to be swept along day by day to a grim future, even though we actually know better. Thank you.


  3. Thank you Luna for another fab article. What I like about the preprogramming analogy is it really helps me with self blame. I often feel that I should have known better when I behave in a way that falls short of my expectations and this adds an extra layer of negativity to the already painful situation. I then feel very stuck and discouraged in a way of being that seems relentless. Recognising that I am just behaving in accordance with my programming makes it so much easier to accept the way I am at the moment whilst I’m rewriting the program. I can use it to motivate myself to get rid of the bad code that is sabotaging me, rather than feeling defeated by it. Feels very encouraging!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A Buddha has appeared in our life, extraordinarily, and, as we go about our daily lives — running around trying to find happiness here, there, and everywhere — he’s kind of striding along next to us, saying, “Hey, slow down a minute, look within. You’re preprogrammed. Just ditch the entire software, stop trying to make this work, it can’t.”

    (Is this analogy working for anyone other than me?!)

    Yes!! I enjoy the company of others(even difficult situations with individuals), when I relate to them as an emanation of Buddha or any deity. It is extremely helpful in curbing delusions.

    Thank you Luna!!


  5. In a nutshell and so accessibly put. Trying to deeply realise it as well as understand
    it as a form of words that makes sense. Thank you. ☺☺☺


  6. Imputed on a bag of bones, full of disgusting substances with a hidden nugget of gold. You couldn’t make samsara up! But we do. Stormin’ article, Luna. Keep ’em coming.

    Dreamt a couple of nights ago a nuclear war was certain and my dream mind was going crazy with fear and figuring out the best way to die with refuge. Grim stuff. Sure gave me a good kick up the pants. Wondered whether to share this but then thought to myself if I don’t get my fear levels up and get some genuine renunciation, who’s to know what horrors my own samsara will throw at me and all my mothers? Thank you.


    1. Dreams can be so helpful. If it can appear in our dreams, it can appear when we are awake. Things is to contemplate these things every day, not distract ourselves with attachment. That’s the only way we’ll get to a state where there is nothing to fear, and be able to help everyone else do the same.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Very helpful article! I’ve been thinking a lot about how there is really no Plan B. If I remain ordinary… what’s my plan? It doesn’t look good, for me or for all the people I’d like to be able to help. Hmmm. Food for thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you — it is really helpful in meditation to ask ourselves what the alternative is. We are talking about us! Really owe it to ourselves to check in our own experience and with our own wisdom to see if samsara will ever work out for us or anyone we love.

      Liked by 1 person

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