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Saṃsāra, the Sanskrit and Pāli term for "continuous movement" or "continuous flowing" refers in Buddhism to the concept of a cycle of birth (jāti) and consequent decay and death (jarāmaraṇa), in which all beings in the universe participate and which can only be escaped through enlightenment. Saṃsāra is associated with suffering and is generally considered the antithesis of nirvāṇa or nibbāna.
Saṃsāra in Nikāya Buddhism
Whereas in Hinduism some being (ātman, jīva, etc.) is regarded as being subject to Saṃsāra, Buddhism was founded on a rejection (anatta) of such metaphysical substances, and originally accounts for the process of rebirth/reincarnation by appeal to phenomenological or psychological constituents. Later schools of Buddhism such as the Pudgalavāda, however, re-introduce the concept of a "person" which transmigrates. The basic idea that there is a cycle of birth and rebirth is, however, not questioned in early Buddhism and its successors, and neither is, generally, the concept that saṃsāra is a negative condition to be abated through religious practice concluding in the achievement of final nirvāṇa.
Saṃsāra in Mahāyāna Buddhism
According to several strands of the Mahāyāna Buddhist tradition, the division of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa is attacked using an argument that extends some of the basic premises of anātman and of Buddha's attack on orthodox accounts of existence. This is found poetically in the "Perfection of Wisdom" literature and more analytically in the philosophy of Nāgārjuna and later writers. It is not entirely clear which aspects of this theoretical move were developed first in the sutras and which in the philosophical tradition.
Saṃsāra in Tibetan Buddhism
Saṃsāra is uncontrollably recurring rebirth, filled with suffering and problems (according to Kālacakra tantra as explained by Dr. A. Berzin). In this sense, Samsara may be translated "Wheel of Suffering."
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