"samsara" meaning "life"

Dipak Bhattacharya dbhattacharya2004 at YAHOO.CO.IN
Wed Feb 4 06:46:59 UTC 2009

I should, perhaps, explain my translation of samsaara as 'world'. I used the word 'world' not in its strict literal sense but more in the sense of life in general ie in the sense of the relevant world. Like samasaara 'world'  too has polysemous facets. 'Lara is the greatest batsman in the world' should mean 'in the cricketing world' and not 'in the universe'. Sorry for too much advice!

--- On Tue, 3/2/09, mkapstei at UCHICAGO.EDU <mkapstei at UCHICAGO.EDU> wrote:

From: mkapstei at UCHICAGO.EDU <mkapstei at UCHICAGO.EDU>
Subject: Re: "samsara" meaning "life"
To: INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk
Date: Tuesday, 3 February, 2009, 7:29 PM

Some observations seem to confirm Peter Friedlander
and Dipak Bhattacharya's thoughts on the 
relatively recent origin of samsara in this sense:

Both Platt's Hindustani Dictionary (1884) and 
Turner's Nepali Dictionary (1931) know the
world only in its traditional Sanskrit sense:
the round of transmigration, mundane existence,
worldly concerns (but NOT "the world").

Both have the adj. samsaarik as meaning "worldly."

In Tibetan, where the word 'khor ba, "the round," is
the standard trans. of Skt. samsara, the term
can be extended to mean roughly worldly, or lay life,
in contrast with renunciate life, and can be used
to mean something like "worldly confusion," but again,
there is nothing in traditional literature that
matches the use we find in "Apu Sansar." Nevertheless,
if a modern writer were to extend the usage in this
way, I suspect that it would be readily understood.

All in all, it seems that the extension of meaning
we find in the modern use of samsar has been long 
present as a possibility, but one that only became
current in recent times.

Matthew T. Kapstein
Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies
The University of Chicago Divinity School

Directeur d'études
Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris

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