saMsAra = Reincarnation?

mhcrxlc at mhcrxlc at
Wed Feb 15 14:37:32 UTC 1995

Lance Nelson writes:

>I notice that in most English language textbooks, the word "saMsAra" is
>given as the Indic translation of "reincarnation."  However, I notice
>that in my reading of VedAnta texts, "saMsAra" generally means something
>more like "world."  So, my question is: What is the correct translation
>for the noun "reincarnation" (or, I suppose, "transmigration") in
>Sanskrit, Hindi, and other Indian languages?  Is there a word, such as
>"punarjanma," that is actually in use to designate reincarnation without
>reference to the cyclic world in which it occurs?

In Pali and many Buddhist Sanskrit texts punabhava, etc. is far and away
the commonest term for reincarnation, although pa.tisandhi is the technical
term for the actual moment of 'relinking' at the beginning of a given

Richard Salomon writes:

It seems to me that words like jaati, janman, etc., even without the punar,
are in fact the equivalent, or "correct translation," of English
"reincarnation", and are so used, at least in Sanskrit.  Etymologically
they mean just 'birth' or 'incarnation', but since all incarnation is
reincarnation, it comes to the same thing.

I don't think I quite agree with this. Of course jaati, etc. are very
common e.g. in pubbajaati and the like, but it seems to me that this is the
equivalent of the English usage with 'life': 'in a past life' and the like.
So this is only the equivalent of the (not very correct?) English usage:
'in a (past) reincarnation'. It does not correspond to the usage of
reincarnation for the process of rebirth in general.

Lance Cousins.

Telephone (UK): 0161 434 3646


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