What is the concept of reincarnation or “endless wandering” in Buddhism?

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Buddhist texts state that on the night the Buddha attained enlightenment, he was able to recall a vast number of his former lives along with specific details like his name, profession and caste.

Reincarnation – the rebirth of the soul in different bodies – is a key concept of Buddhism. This cyclic process is known as samsara, one that all creatures will go through unless they attain nirvana or liberation of the soul from rebirth. In Buddhism, samsara is also referred to as “endless wandering”. Buddhist scriptures say that neither the beginning of this process nor its end can ever be known for sure; importantly however, the process of rebirth can go on infinitely.

Reincarnation is closely linked with the concept of karma or the moral actions we undertake during each birth. Accumulating positive karma enables a being to be reborn in higher realms, while evil or negative karma pushes a person to be reborn into the domains of lower beings. To be liberated from reincarnation however, virtue alone will not suffice; one must strive towards wisdom, a deep understanding of reality that comes only with time and reflection.

The philosophy of dharma and the teachings of Gautama Buddha are principally aimed at enabling all sentient beings to recognize the futility of “endless wandering” and at pointing the way towards breaking free from the cycle of rebirth.

 
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