To understand the Buddhist view point on this topic, first one must understand cause, condition and effect. Buddhists believe nothing arises on its own. There must be a cause, then conditions and then the effect will be that something arises. So, for example, a rice seed is planted in the ground (cause). It has good soil, water and sunlight (conditions). The rice plant grows (effect).
Most religions believe in a first cause, such as a god. Whereas, Buddhism does not believe in a first cause. We believe that things only arise from causes, conditions and effect. Every effect has a cause and a condition. A cause and a condition combine to make an effect. All effects have a cause. All effects have a condition. There are no exceptions.
Buddha stated: “All things appear and disappear because of the concurrence of causes and conditions. Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else.”
The cause of birth is the coming together of a man and a woman. The conditions for being born again and again are ignorance. The effect of this is a person is born. Ignorance means we do not understand the way the world truly works. In Buddhism, it is stated that everything is impermanent, things arise through causes, conditions and effects, there is no truly existing self and life is suffering – unsatisfactory and painful. Not understanding these points gets us trapped in a cycle of birth, old age, sickness and death. We call this cycle samsara.
The cause of old age, sickness and death is impermanence. We are made up of hundreds of parts and these parts are also impermanent, and so are breaking down and constantly changing. Every part, like every person, has a life span, and once this life span has come to an end we die. We are then thrown back into rebirth because of our lack of awareness regarding how the world really is.
Samsara in Buddhism is the beginning-less cycle of repeated birth, mundane existence and dying again. We simply wander from one life to another life with no direction or purpose. Every rebirth is temporary and impermanent. In each rebirth one is born and dies, to be reborn elsewhere in accordance with one’s own karma.
Buddha stated: ‘Long is the night for the sleepless. Long is the road for the weary. Long is samsara for the foolish, who have not recognised the true teaching.’
Samsara ends if a person attains nirvana, the “blowing out” of the desires and the gaining of true insight into impermanence, cause & effect and non-self.
Buddha stated this about the end of samsara: ‘I have passed in ignorance through a cycle of many rebirths, seeking the builder of the house. Continuous rebirth is a painful thing. But now, housebuilder, I have found you out. You will not build me a house again. All your rafters are broken, your ridge-pole shattered. My mind is free from active thought, and has made an end of craving.’
We spend a lot of time looking for the reason for birth (the housebuilder), but once we understand we are the reason for rebirth after rebirth, we can pull the house down and never face birth again.