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In Jainism, Saṃsāra is the worldly life characterized by continuous rebirths and reincarnations in various realms of existence. Saṃsāra is described as mundane existence, full of suffering and misery and hence is considered undesirable and worth renunciation. The Saṃsāra is without any beginning and the soul finds itself in bondage with its karma since the beginningless time. Moksa is the only liberation from saṃsāra.


Samsara and reincarnation

Jain texts describe saṃsāra as an never-ending cycle of re-birth and death. Uttarâdhyayana Sûtra describes saṃsāra as thus :

"The universe is peopled by manifold creatures, who are, in this saṃsāra, born in different families and castes for having done various actions. Sometimes they go to the world of the gods, sometimes to the hells, sometimes they become Asuras in accordance with their actions. Sometimes they become Kshattriyas, or Kandâlas and Bukkasas, or worms and moths, or (insects called) Kunthu and ants. Thus living beings of sinful actions, who are born again and again in ever-recurring births, are not disgusted with the Samsâra, but they are like warriors (never tired of the battle of life)." [1]

Mahavira's view of Samsara

Saṃsāra is described as a place of suffering and misery. Uttarâdhyayana Sûtra, which is said to contain Mahavira's last words, contains the following description of saṃsāra :

"All men who are ignorant of the Truth are subject to pain; in the endless Samsâra they suffer in many ways. Therefore a wise man, who considers well the ways that lead to bondage and birth, should himself search for the truth, and be kind towards all creatures." [2]
"By what acts can I escape a sorrowful lot in this unstable ineternal saṃsāra, which is full of misery?" [3]
"Thus the soul which suffers for its carelessness, is driven about in the saṃsāra by its good and bad Karman; Gautama, be careful all the while." [4]
"Birth is misery, old age is misery, and so are disease and death, and ah, nothing but misery is the saṃsāra, in which men suffer distress." [5]

Samsara as a place of suffering and misery

Bhaktamara Stotra: A Tirthankara is a shelter from Samsara, that is, an ocean of rebirths.

It is described as bhavsagara – an ocean of rebirths, that has to be crossed to reach the shores i.e. the Moksa. This can be achieved by enlightened perception, knowledge and conduct.

"A soul endowed with the Three Jewels constitutes an excellent ford. One can cross the ocean of transmigratory cycle (saṃsāra) with the aid of the divine boat of Three Jewels (of Right faith, Knowledge and conduct)." [6]

The Tirthankaras have crossed the ocean called saṃsāra and reached Moksa and have shown us the path. That is why they have been described as Tirthankaras or ford-makers. Ācāranga Sūtra describes the way the Tirthankaras cross the Ocean of saṃsāra:

"The great heroes (i.e. the Tirthakaras) who for a long time walked in the former years, the worthy ones bore the troubles (mentioned above); endowed with perfect knowledge they had lean arms and very little flesh and blood. He who discontinues (to sin) and is enlightened, is said to have crossed (the saṃsāra), to be liberated, and to have ceased (to act)."

Sūtrakrtanga describes the Samsara in this way :

"The Samsâra which is compared to the boundless flood of water, know it to be impassable and of very long duration on account of repeated births. Men therein, seduced by their senses and by women, are born again and again both (as movable and immovable beings)." [7]

Division of souls

The basic classification of the souls in Jainism is on the basis of the freedom from saṃsāra i.e – liberated souls or siddhas and unliberated souls i.e. saṃsāric souls. [8] Humans, plants, animals, hellish beings and demi-gods are all part of saṃsāra. [9]. Ācāranga Sūtra classifies the living being of saṃsāra in this way :

"There are beings called the animate, viz. those who are produced 1. from eggs (birds), 2. from a fetus (as elephants), 3. from a fetus with an enveloping membrane (as cows, buffaloes), 4. from fluids (as worms) 5, from sweat (as bugs, lice), 6. by coagulation (as locusts, ants), 7. from sprouts (as butterflies, wagtails), 8. by regeneration (men, gods, hell−beings). This is called the Saṃsāra" [10]


See also


  1. ^ Uttarâdhyayana Sûtra 3.2-5
  2. ^ Uttarâdhyayana Sûtra 6.1 and 2
  3. ^ Uttarâdhyayana Sûtra 8.1
  4. ^ Uttarâdhyayana Sûtra 10.15
  5. ^ Uttarâdhyayana Sûtra 19.15
  6. ^ Ācāranga Sūtra 514
  7. ^ Sūtrakrtanga 12.14
  8. ^ Uttarâdhyayana Sûtra 36.14
  9. ^ Uttarâdhyayana Sûtra. 36th Lecture
  10. ^ Ācāranga Sūtra 038


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