- For the movie by this title, see Samsara (2001).
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Saṃsāra is derived from saṃ√sṛ, "to flow together," to go or pass through states, to wander. One who is subject to Saṃsāra is called a samsarin.
Cycle of rebirth
In most Indian philosophical traditions, including the orthodox Hindu and heterodox Buddhist and Jain systems, an ongoing cycle of birth, death, and rebirth is assumed as a fact of nature. These systems differ widely, however, in the terminology with which they describe the process and in the metaphysics they use in interpreting it. Most of these traditions, in their evolved forms, regard Saṃsāra negatively, as a fallen condition which is to be escaped. Some, such as Advaita Vedanta regard the world and Saṃsāric participation in it as fundamentally illusory.
Some later adaptations of these traditions identify Saṃsāra as a mere metaphor.
Saṃsāra in Hinduism
In some types of Hinduism, Saṃsāra is seen as ignorance of the True Self, Brahman, and thus the soul is led to believe in the reality of the temporal, phenomenal world.
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 desire and the perpetual chain of karma and reincarnation. The state of illusion is known as Maya.
Hinduism had many terms for the state of liberation 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.
Saṃsāra in Jainism
In Jainism, liberation from samsara is called moksha or mukti.
Saṃsāra in Buddhism
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Saṃsāra in Nikaya Buddhism
Whereas in Hinduism some being (ātman, jiva, etc.) is regarded as being subject to Saṃsāra, Buddhism was founded on a rejection of such metaphysical substances, and originally accounts for the process of rebirth/reincarnation by appeal to phenomenological or psychological constituents. Later schools of Buddhism such as the Pudgalavada, however, re-introduce the concept of a "person" which transmigrates. The basic idea that there is a cycle of birth and rebirth is, however, not questioned in early Buddhism and its successors, and neither is, generally, the concept that saṃsāra is a negative condition to be abated through religious practice concluding in the achievement of final nirvāṇa.
Saṃsāra in Mahayana Buddhism
According to several strands of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, the division of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa is attacked using an argument that extends some of the basic premises of anatta and of Buddha's attack on orthodox accounts of existence. This is found poetically in the "Perfection of Wisdom" literature and more analytically in the philosophy of Nāgārjuna and later writers. It is not entirely clear which aspects of this theoretical move were developed first in the sutras and which in the philosophical tradition.
The term samsara is also used by Buddhists to refer to one of the five skandhas or aggregates that make up the human personality. This aspect of psychology is held to be essentially the same as the concept of samsara as the world of birth and death.