What is samsara?


Yesterday I drove up to Howell, NJ to Rashi Gempil Ling to listen to Ven. Gyumed Khensur Rinpoche Losang Jampa’s teaching on the Lam Rim. I had never been there before, and I was in for a joyful surprise. The temple is in an old church in a residential neighborhood of modest houses located near the highway. The interior is so beautiful — filled with many, many holy objects and offerings. In the middle, a large sky light surrounded by thangkhas allows natural light to fall on Rinpoche’s throne. As always, Rinpoche was relaxed and content, radiating good humor and compassion.  About ten monks and nuns attended the teachings along with perhaps 40 -50 lay people. This was the first time I had a chance to listen to Rinpoche teach in such a setting. I can only imagine what it must be like when he teaches in India.

Gyumed Khensur Rinpoche Losang Jampa, March 2010
Gyumed Khensur Rinpoche Losang Jampa (photo: Tendrol)

By a curious coincidence, on Saturday during our Discovering Buddhism class, Samsara & Nirvana, I had explained that samsara is defined as the continuum of the contaminated five aggregates. In class on Sunday, I learned from Rinpoche that a more accurate definition of samsara is the condition that binds us to the five aggregates — not the five aggregates themselves. He used the analogy of a goat tied to a post, where the goat is an ordinary person who has not abandoned mental afflictions, the post is the five aggregates, and the rope represents the mental afflictions that give rise to negative karma. The five aggregates serve as a basis having the quality of being bind-able by the mental afflictions. Tied by the short rope of mental afflictions, the goat can only walk helplessly in circles. Liberation is attained by severing the rope of mental afflictions.

What does samsara mean to you?

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