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In Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism, Samsara is the doctrine according to which the world is seen as illusory and earthly life as an undesireable state one should strive to overcome, because of the impermanence of phenomena and disease (Buddhism) or because of separation from God (Hinduism). Samsara is the cause of reincarnation, has no beginning and can only be ended by enlightenment.

In Buddhism, samsara is believed to be perpetuated by one's desires alone. In Hinduism and Jainism, karma, anuva (ego) and the veil of maya are considered as additional factors.

Buddhism teaches that when one frees from samsara he reaches nirvana; in Hinduism and Jainism, liberation from samsara is called moksha or mukti.

The possible means of achieving enlightenment differ from tradition to tradition, and generally involve austerities and the renunciation of all worldly desires. Some Hindu traditions (see bhakti movement) hold the belief that moksha may alternatively be achieved by the mercy of God.

The Mahayana Buddhist tradition teaches in the Heart Sutra that samsara and nirvana are dual aspects of the same ultimate reality. Or in other world, freedom is not reached by renouncing the world. Because they are relative to each other, they are, each of them, ultimately unreal and empty.


Sanskrit: sam—together; sarati—it flows. While the term is sometimes translated as "course of life", a more accurate picture is that of shipwrecked sailors drifting aimlessly at the mercy of the sea.

One who is subject to samsara is called a samsari.

See also: Wheel of Life