/seuhm sahr"euh/, n.
1. Buddhism. the process of coming into existence as a differentiated, mortal creature. Cf. nirvana (def. 1).
2. Hinduism. the endless series of births, deaths, and rebirths to which all beings are subject. Cf. nirvana (def. 2).
[1885-90; < Skt samsara lit., running together]

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In Buddhism and Hinduism, the endless round of birth, death, and rebirth to which all conditioned beings are subject.

Samsara is conceived as having no perceptible beginning or end. The particulars of an individual's wanderings in samsara are determined by karma. In Hinduism, moksha is release from samsara. In Buddhism, samsara is transcended by the attainment of nirvana. The range of samsara stretches from the lowliest insect (sometimes the vegetable and mineral kingdoms are included) to Brahma, the highest of the gods.

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Sanskrit“the running around”

      in Indian philosophy, the central conception of metempsychosis: the soul, finding itself awash in the “sea of samsara,” strives to find release ( moksha) from the bonds of its own past deeds ( karma), which form part of the general web of which samsara is made. Buddhism, which does not assume the existence of a permanent soul, accepts a semipermanent personality core that goes through the process of samsara.

      The Samkhya (Saṃkhyā) school of Hindu philosophy assumes the existence of two bodies, a “gross” one (sthula), which is the material body, and a “subtle” one, which is immaterial. When the gross body has perished, the subtle one survives and migrates to another gross body. The subtle body consists of the higher psychomaterial functions of buddhi (“consciousness”), ahamkara (“I- consciousness”), manas (“mind as coordinator of sense impressions”), and prana (“breath”), the principle of vitality.

      The range of samsara stretches from insects (and sometimes vegetables and minerals) to the generative god Brahma. The rank of one's birth in the hierarchy of life depends on the quality of the previous life. A variety of explanations of the workings of the karmic process within samsara have been proposed. According to several, the soul after death first goes to a heaven or hell until it has consumed most of its good or bad karma. Then it returns to a new womb, the remainder of its karma having determined the circumstances of its next life. In theory this allows for the possibility of remembering one's previous lives (jatismara), a talent that great saints possess or can cultivate. Typical of this belief are the so-called Jataka (Jātaka) stories, in which the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism) gives accounts of his previous lives. The Jataka stories also illustrate the moral and salvific potential that comes with an accurate, enlightened appraisal of the vast network of interconnections described by the idea of samsara.

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Universalium. 2010.

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