"samsara" meaning "life"

victor van Bijlert victorvanbijlert at KPNPLANET.NL
Thu Feb 5 09:03:28 UTC 2009

Clearly, in the light of the discussion of these other words (by Werba),
words which we (emphasis added) translate by the English containerterm
'world', the term samsara comes closest to the social world. Samsara can be
understood as a shorthand for the hierarchical social system of varna and
jati. The socio-religous order behind the hierarchy is based on a gliding
scale of increasing proximity to the ultimate impurity of death. Samsara as
the endless cycle of 'rebirth'and reaping the fruits of previous actions
(karma theory as a social ideology) denies the impurity of real actual
physical death in the socio-religious order because one does not really die
but endlessly reincarnates. Moreover, reincarnation - I wonder how seriously
and widely held this concept is among average Hindus - explains and
legitimizes the socio-religous inequality of the sacred order of
varna-society. Hence it is perfectly explicable that the word samsara
evidently means 'family' in Bengali, and also in Marathi? If I understood
Victor van Bijlert

-----Oorspronkelijk bericht-----
Van: Indology [mailto:INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk] Namens Dr. Chlodwig H. Werba
Verzonden: woensdag 4 februari 2009 15:24
Aan: INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk
Onderwerp: AW: "samsara" meaning "life"

It may not matter in the given context of sa.msaara - but, anyway which
words for 'world' are supposed to refer primarily to the social world and by
what criteria? If You take loka-, its primary denotate is the free space,
filled with light (its meaning 'people' is clearly secondary); the etymology
of jagat-, as Narten has demonstrated in India Maior more than 35 years ago,
is its being a substantivization of a Part. Pr. of gaa 'go', referring
primarily to the totality of creatures that can move; bhuu(mi)- and bhuvana-
belong to bhuu 'to become (more)' etc.
Thanking you for your attention
Chlodwig H. Werba

-----Ursprüngliche Nachricht-----
Von: Indology [mailto:INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk] Im Auftrag von Dominik
Gesendet: Mittwoch, 04. Februar 2009 12:37
An: INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk
Betreff: 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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