AskDefine | Define samsara

Dictionary Definition

samsara n : (Hinduism and Buddhism) the endless cycle of birth and suffering and death and rebirth

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  1. In the context of "philosophy|religion": In Hinduism, Buddhism, and some other eastern religions, the ongoing cycle of birth, death, and rebirth endured by human beings and all other mortal beings, and from which release is obtained by achieving the highest enlightenment.
    • 1957, S. Radhakrishnan and C. A. Moore (eds.), A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy, Princeton Univ. Press, p. 38,
      Until we are released from the law of karma and reach moksha or deliverance, we will be in samsara or the time process.


  • "samsara" in Encarta® World English Dictionary [North American Edition] © & (P)2007 Microsoft Corporation.
  • "samsara" in the Wordsmyth Dictionary-Thesaurus © Wordsmyth 2002.
  • "samsara" at Rhymezone © 2006 Datamuse.
  • Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., 1989.
  • The Upanishads, abridged, translated and edited by Swami Nikhilananda, Harper Torchbooks, 1963, p. 379

Extensive Definition

Samsara or (Sanskrit: संसार; Tibetan: khor wa; Mongolian: orchilong) refers to the cycle of reincarnation or rebirth in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and other related religions.
In modern Sanskrit-derived languages, it is primarily used to mean "world".
According to these religions, karmic balance at the time of death is inherited via the state at which a person is reborn. Through an undetermined amount of lives one can spiral upwards to become one of the gods. As a deity, one exercises divine powers until the good merit is exhausted. If one lives in evil ways, one is reborn as an animal.


Samsara is derived from "to flow together," to go or pass through states, to wander. Mostly a great revolving door between life and death and a new life reincarnated cycle of life. Also known as a game in ancient India.

Cycle of rebirth

Under this concept one continues to be born and reborn and either becomes a god or an animal (depending on karma).
Some later adaptations of these traditions identify Saṃsāra as a mere metaphor.

in Hinduism

In Hinduism, it is avidya, or ignorance, of one's true self, that leads to ego-consciousness of the body and the phenomenal world. This grounds one in kāma (desire) and the perpetual chain of karma and reincarnation. The state of illusion is known as Maya.
Hinduism has many terms for the ultimate place like moksha, mukti, nirvana, and mahasamadhi.
The Hindu Yoga traditions hold various beliefs. Moksha may be achieved by love of Ishwar/God (see bhakti movement), by psycho-physical meditation (Raja Yoga), by discrimination of what is real and unreal through intense contemplation (Jnana Yoga) and through Karma Yoga, the path of selfless action that subverts the ego and enforces understanding of the unity of all. Advaita Vedanta, which heavily influenced Hindu Yoga, believes that Brahman, the ultimate Truth-Consciousness-Bliss, is the infinite, impersonal reality (as contrasted to the Buddhist concept of shunyata) and that through realization of it, all temporal states like deities, the cosmos and samsara itself are revealed to be nothing but manifestations of Brahman.

in Jainism

In Jainism, is the worldly life characterized by continuous rebirths and reincarnations in various realms of existence. is described as mundane existence, full of suffering and misery and hence is considered undesirable and worth renunciation. The is without any beginning and the soul finds itself in bondage with its karma since the beginingless time. Moksa is the only liberation from .

in Buddhism

Main article: Samsara (Buddhism)
The concept of Samsara cyclic existence is taught by many Buddhist teachers. To understand the concept of Samsara it is important to know about the six realms, what cyclic existence is, and enlightenment or the liberation from the uncontrolled cycle of existence.

in Sikhism

In Sikhism, it is thought that due to the commendable past actions and deeds (known as karma or kirat) that people obtain the chance of human birth, which is regarded in Sikhism as the highest possible on Earth and therefore an opportunity that should not be wasted. And only by continued good actions and the "Grace of the Almighty" can one obtain liberation from the continuous cycle of births and deaths of various bodily forms that the soul has been undergoing since the creation of the universe. The end of the cycle of transmigration of the soul is known as mukti. For Sikhs, the state of mukti can be achieved whilst still alive, known as "Jivan Mukat", literally "liberated whilst alive".

in Surat Shabda Yoga

In Surat Shabda Yoga, attaining self-realization results in jivan moksha/mukti, liberation/release from samsara, the cycle of karma and reincarnation while in the physical body.
Surat Shabda Yoga cosmology presents the constitution of the initiate (the microcosm) as an exact replica of the macrocosm. Consequently, the microcosm consists of a number of bodies, each one suited to interact with its corresponding plane or region in the macrocosm. These bodies developed over the yugas through involution (emanating from higher planes to lower planes) and evolution (returning from lower planes to higher planes), including by karma and reincarnation in various states of consciousness.


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