"samsara" meaning "life"

victor van Bijlert victorvanbijlert at KPNPLANET.NL
Wed Feb 4 12:18:31 UTC 2009

I think I would heartily concur with this opinion. Obviously the concept of
samsara is the Brahminical social hierarchy. The oldest use of the word in
this meaning is probably the Pali canon, more specifically the Nikayas. It
stands in opposition to the world of renunciation and liberation. Nagarjuna
maintains in his Mula-madhyamaka-karikas 25.19-20 that samsara is equal to
nirvana. In 11.1 he says that samsara has neither beginning nor end. It
looks like Nagarjuna took it almost in a sociological sense.

The matter of samsara is very interesting. The Bengali meaning of family or
family-life can be easily understood from the sociological meaning of
samsara as the beginningless and endless cycle of rebirth in the
hierarchical social world. The time-concept of samsara is also cyclical
whereas the time-concept of the sphere of renunciation and moksha is linear.
There is - to paraphrase the Buddha - an end to samsara with its concomitant

Victor van Bijlert

-----Oorspronkelijk bericht-----
Van: Indology [mailto:INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk] Namens Dominik Wujastyk
Verzonden: woensdag 4 februari 2009 12:37
Aan: INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk
Onderwerp: Re: "samsara" meaning "life"

There is an interesting point at stake here.  As far as I can see, most 
words for "world" in Sanskrit mean, first of all, the social world, not 
the physical, exterior world.

[I've got a feeling I've said this before ... :-(]
Dr Dominik Wujastyk

On Wed, 4 Feb 2009, Dipak Bhattacharya wrote:

> 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
>      Unlimited freedom, unlimited storage. Get it now, on

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