What does SAMSARA mean

Samsara is a commonly used Sanskrit word. It is used by people, who do not even know Sanskrit, as it is present in almost every Indian language. The widely used meaning of the word ‘samsara’ is worldliness, but it is necessary to see the other meanings and the origins of this word. This is a Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is a classical language like Greek, Latin, and Persian. And in Sanskrit, as in most classical languages, most words are derived from a stem or root.  


The word ‘samsara’ is derived from the root sri, which means to run, flow, speed, glide, move, go, spring up, exert oneself, racing, blow, escape, run away, run after, pursue, go towards, betake one’s self to, go against, attack, assail, cross, traverse, begin to flow, and be gone. When the prefix sam is added to the root sri, the word samsri is born. Samsri means to flow together with, to go about, wander, walk, roam, passing through a succession of states, pass though, transmigration, enter, be diffused, spread into, come forth, introduce, push into, put off, defer, use, and employ. Samsri can also be changed to form the word samsarana, which means going about, walking or wandering through, passing through a succession of states, birth and rebirth of living beings, the world, the unobstructed march of an army, the commencement of a war or battle, a highway, a principal road, and a resting place for passengers near the gates of a city.


The same word can take a different shape of the widely used word ‘samsara’, which means going or wandering through, undergoing transmigration, course, passage, passing through a succession of states, circuit of mundane existence, transmigration, metempsychosis, the world, secular life, and worldly illusion.


Samsara’ denotes a cyclical phenomenon in general. The repeated births and deaths, the many lifetimes that a person goes through before attaining moksha or complete freedom from suffering and also from transmigration is called ‘samsara’. The universe that is essentially born out of ignorance about the ultimate Reality, is also called ‘samsara’ in the sense of a cyclical bondage. An individual soul is caught up in the cycle of samsara because of the results of actions done with the idea of an agency or the ideas of ‘I am the doer’ and ‘I am the experiencer’. Every action performed with any of these ideas leads to the production of an effect or result called karma, which in turn results in the need for producing a condition where such an effect can bring results. Since such a condition has to be produced and since such condition cannot be achieved in the same lifetime, a person has to take birth again in another lifetime, in another place and time, to provide for the conditions necessary for the effects to produce results. Till a person has the ideas of agency, this repeated cycle of births and deaths continues. 


The Vedas denounce samsara and dispassion towards samsara or the cyclical worldliness is considered to be one of the important prerequisites to spiritual practices. Buddhism considers samsara to be the wheel of existence or bhavachakra that is nothing but a cycle of suffering, which has to be transcended by attaining nirvana.


Also read

1. What is DHARMA

2. Who is a RISHI


Author is Editor Prabuddha Bharata

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This article was first published in the July 2018 issue of Prabuddha Bharata, monthly magazine of The Ramakrishna Order started by Swami Vivekananda in 1896. This article is courtesy and copyright Prabuddha Bharata. I have been reading Prabuddha Bharata for years and found it enlightening. Cost is Rs 180/ for one year, Rs 475/ for three years and Rs 2,100/ for twenty years. To know more 

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