Religious cosmology

A religious cosmology (also mythological cosmology) is a way of explaining the origin, the history and the evolution of the cosmos or universe based on the religious mythology of a specific tradition. Religious cosmologies usually include an act or process of creation by a creator deity or a larger pantheon.



In Buddhism, like other Indian religions, there is no ultimate beginning nor final end to the universe. It considers all existence as eternal, and believes there is no creator god.[1][2] Buddhism views the universe as impermanent and always in flux. This cosmology is the foundation of its Samsara theory, that evolved over time the mechanistic details on how the wheel of mundane existence works over the endless cycles of rebirth and redeath.[3] In early Buddhist traditions, Saṃsāra cosmology consisted of five realms through which wheel of existence recycled.[4] This included hells (niraya), hungry ghosts (pretas), animals (tiryak), humans (manushya), and gods (devas, heavenly).[4][3][5] In latter traditions, this list grew to a list of six realms of rebirth, adding demi-gods (asuras).[4][6] The "hungry ghost, heavenly, hellish realms" respectively formulate the ritual, literary and moral spheres of many contemporary Buddhist traditions.[4][3]

According to Akira Sadakata, the Buddhist cosmology is far more complex and uses extraordinarily larger numbers than those found in Vedic and post-Vedic Hindu traditions.[7] It also shares many ideas and concepts, such as those about Mount Meru.[8][9] The Buddhist thought holds that the six cosmological realms are interconnected, and everyone cycles life after life, through these realms, because of a combination of ignorance, desires and purposeful karma, or ethical and unethical actions.[4][3]


The Hindu cosmology, like the Buddhist and Jain cosmology, considers all existence as cyclic.[10][11] With its ancient roots, Hindu texts propose and discuss numerous cosmological theories. Hindu culture accepts this diversity in cosmological ideas and has lacked a single mandatory view point even in its oldest known Vedic scripture, the Rigveda.[12] Alternate theories include a universe cyclically created and destroyed by god, or goddess, or no creator at all, or a golden egg or womb (Hiranyagarbha), or self-created multitude of universes with enormous lengths and time scales.[12][13][14] The Vedic literature includes a number of cosmology speculations, one of which questions the origin of the cosmos and is called the Nasadiya sukta:

Neither being (sat) nor non-being was as yet. What was concealed?
And where? And in whose protection?…Who really knows?
Who can declare it? Whence was it born, and whence came this creation?
The devas (demigods) were born later than this world's creation,
so who knows from where it came into existence? None can know from where
creation has arisen, and whether he has or has not produced it.
He who surveys it in the highest heavens,
He alone knows or perhaps He does not know."

Rig Veda 10. 129[15][16][17]

Time is conceptualized as a cyclic Yuga with trillions of years.[18] In some models, Mount Meru plays a central role. [19][20]

Beyond its creation, Hindu cosmology posits divergent theories on the structure of the universe, from being 3 lokas to 12 lokas (worlds) which play a part in its theories about rebirth, samsara and karma.[21][22][23]

The complex cosmological speculations found in Hinduism and other Indian religions, states Bolton, is not unique and are also found in Greek, Roman, Irish and Babylonian mythologies, where each age becomes more sinful and of suffering.[24][25]


Jain cosmology considers the loka, or universe, as an uncreated entity, existing since infinity, having no beginning or an end.[26] Jain texts describe the shape of the universe as similar to a man standing with legs apart and arm resting on his waist. This Universe, according to Jainism, is narrow at the top, broad at the middle and once again becomes broad at the bottom.[27]

Mahāpurāṇa of Ācārya Jinasena is famous for this quote: "Some foolish men declare that a creator made the world. The doctrine that the world was created is ill advised and should be rejected. If God created the world, where was he before the creation? If you say he was transcendent then and needed no support, where is he now? How could God have made this world without any raw material? If you say that he made this first, and then the world, you are faced with an endless regression."


There is a "primordial universe" Wuji (philosophy), and Hongjun Laozu, water or qi.[28][29] It transformed into Taiji and multiplied into everything.[30][31] The Pangu legend tells a formless chaos coalesced into a cosmic egg. Pangu emerged (or woke up) and separated Yin from Yang with a swing of his giant axe, creating the Earth (murky Yin) and the Sky (clear Yang). To keep them separated, Pangu stood between them and pushed up the Sky. After Pangu died, he became everything.


Ex nihilo

Around the time of Jesus or a little earlier, the Greek idea that God had actually created matter replaced the older idea that matter had always existed, but in a chaotic state. This concept, called creatio ex nihilo, is now the accepted orthodoxy of most denominations of Judaism and Christianity. Most denominations of Christianity and Judaism believe that a single, uncreated God was responsible for the creation of the cosmos.[32]

Genesis Creation Narrative

The universe of the ancient Israelites was made up of a flat disc-shaped earth floating on water, heaven above, underworld below.[33] Humans inhabited earth during life and the underworld after death, and the underworld was morally neutral;[34] only in Hellenistic times (after c.330 BC) did Jews begin to adopt the Greek idea that it would be a place of punishment for misdeeds, and that the righteous would enjoy an afterlife in heaven.[35] In this period too the older three-level cosmology was widely replaced by the Greek concept of a spherical earth suspended in space at the centre of a number of concentric heavens.[33]


Islam teaches that God created the universe, including Earth's physical environment and human beings. The highest goal is to visualize the cosmos as a book of symbols for meditation and contemplation for spiritual upliftment or as a prison from which the human soul must escape to attain true freedom in the spiritual journey to God.[37]

Below here there are some other citations from the Quran on cosmology.

"And the heavens We constructed with strength, and indeed, We are [its] expander." 51:47 Sahih International

"Do not the unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of creation), before We clove them asunder? We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?" 21:30 Yusuf Ali translation

"The day that We roll up the heavens like a scroll rolled up for books (completed),- even as We produced the first creation, so shall We produce a new one: a promise We have undertaken: truly shall We fulfil it." 21:104 Yusuf Ali translation


The Earth's creation, according to Mormon scripture, was not ex nihilo, but organized from existing matter. The faith teaches that this earth is just one of many inhabited worlds, and that there are many governing heavenly bodies, including a planet or star Kolob which is said to be nearest the throne of God. According to the King Follett discourse, God the Father himself once passed through mortality like Jesus did, but how, when, or where that took place is unclear. The prevailing view among Mormons is that God once lived on a planet.[38][39]

Esoteric cosmology

Esoteric cosmology is cosmology that is an intrinsic part of an esoteric or occult system of thought. Esoteric cosmology maps out the universe with planes of existence and consciousness according to a specific worldview usually from a doctrine.


Gnostic teachings were contemporary with those of Neoplatonism. Gnosticism is an imprecise label, covering monistic as well as dualistic conceptions. Usually the higher worlds of Light, called the Pleroma or "fullness", are radically distinct from the lower world of Matter. The emanation of the Pleroma and its godheads (called Aeons) is described in detail in the various Gnostic tracts, as is the pre-creation crisis (a cosmic equivalent to the "fall" in Christian thought) from which the material world comes about, and the way that the divine spark can attain salvation.[42]

See also


  1. Blackburn, Anne M.; Samuels, Jeffrey (2003). Approaching the Dhamma: Buddhist Texts and Practices in South and Southeast Asia. Pariyatti. pp. 128–146. ISBN 978-1-928706-19-9.
  2. Harvey, Peter (2013), An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices (2nd ed.), Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 36–38, ISBN 9780521676748
  3. 1 2 3 4 Kevin Trainor (2004). Buddhism: The Illustrated Guide. Oxford University Press. pp. 62–63. ISBN 978-0-19-517398-7.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Jeff Wilson (2010). Saṃsāra and Rebirth, in Buddhism. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0141. ISBN 9780195393521.
  5. Robert DeCaroli (2004). Haunting the Buddha: Indian Popular Religions and the Formation of Buddhism. Oxford University Press. pp. 94–103. ISBN 978-0-19-803765-1.
  6. Akira Sadakata (1997). Buddhist Cosmology: Philosophy and Origins. Kōsei Publishing 佼成出版社, Tokyo. pp. 68–70. ISBN 978-4-333-01682-2.
  7. Akira Sadakata (1997). Buddhist Cosmology: Philosophy and Origins. 佼成出版社. pp. 9–12. ISBN 978-4-333-01682-2.
  8. Akira Sadakata (1997). Buddhist Cosmology: Philosophy and Origins. 佼成出版社. pp. 27–29. ISBN 978-4-333-01682-2.
  9. Randy Kloetzli (1983). Buddhist Cosmology: From Single World System to Pure Land : Science and Theology in the Images of Motion and Light. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 13, 23–31. ISBN 978-0-89581-955-0.
  10. George Michell; Philip H. Davies (1989). The Penguin Guide to the Monuments of India: Buddhist, Jain, Hindu. Penguin. p. 37. ISBN 978-0140081442.
  11. Sushil Mittal, Gene Thursby (2012). Hindu World. Routledge. p. 284. ISBN 9781134608751.
  12. 1 2 James G. Lochtefeld (2002). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: A-M. The Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 156–157. ISBN 978-0-8239-3179-8.
  13. Randall L. Nadeau (2014). Asian Religions: A Cultural Perspective. Wiley. pp. 133–137. ISBN 978-1-118-47195-1.
  14. Charles Lanman, To the unknown god, Book X, Hymn 121, Rigveda, The Sacred Books of the East Volume IX: India and Brahmanism, Editor: Max Muller, Oxford, pages 46-50
  15. Kenneth Kramer (January 1986). World Scriptures: An Introduction to Comparative Religions. Paulist Press. pp. 34–. ISBN 978-0-8091-2781-8.
  16. David Christian (1 September 2011). Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History. University of California Press. pp. 18–. ISBN 978-0-520-95067-2.
  17. Robert N. Bellah (2011). Religion in Human Evolution. Harvard University Press. pp. 510–511. ISBN 978-0-674-06309-9.
  18. Graham Chapman; Thackwray Driver (2002). Timescales and Environmental Change. Routledge. pp. 7–8. ISBN 978-1-134-78754-8.
  19. Ludo Rocher (1986). The Purāṇas. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. pp. 123–125, 130–132. ISBN 978-3-447-02522-5.
  20. John E. Mitchiner (2000). Traditions Of The Seven Rsis. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 141–144. ISBN 978-81-208-1324-3.
  21. Deborah Soiver (1991), The Myths of Narasimha and Vamana: Two Avatars in Cosmological Perspective, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0-7914-0799-8 p. 51
  22. Roshen Dalal (2010). Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide. Penguin Books. p. 83. ISBN 978-0-14-341421-6.
  23. John A. Grimes (1996). A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy: Sanskrit Terms Defined in English. State University of New York Press. p. 95. ISBN 978-0-7914-3067-5.
  24. Robert Bolton (2001). The Order of the Ages: World History in the Light of a Universal Cosmogony. Sophia Perennis. pp. 64–78. ISBN 978-0-900588-31-0.
  25. Donald Alexander Mackenzie (1915). Mythology of the Babylonian People. Bracken Books. pp. 310–314. ISBN 978-0-09-185145-3.
  26. “This universe is not created nor sustained by anyone; It is self sustaining, without any base or support” “Nishpaadito Na Kenaapi Na Dhritah Kenachichch Sah Swayamsiddho Niradhaaro Gagane Kimtvavasthitah” [Yogaśāstra of Ācārya Hemacandra 4.106] Tr by Dr. A. S. Gopani
  27. See Hemacandras description of universe in Yogaśāstra “…Think of this loka as similar to man standing akimbo…”4.103-6
  28. 《太一生水》之混沌神話
  29. 道教五方三界諸天「氣數」說探源
  30. 太一與三一
  31. 太極初探
  32. One of the severest critics of religious cosmologies from the standpoint of physics was Adolf Grünbaum, 'The Poverty of Theistic Cosmology' (2004), now in his Collected Works (edited by Thomas Kupka), vol. I, New York: Oxford University Press 2013, ch. 7 (pp. 151-200); some earlier papers on the same subject can also be found in this volume
  33. 1 2 Aune 2003, p. 119
  34. Wright 2002, pp. 117,124–125
  35. Lee 2010, pp. 77–78
  36. Zakariya al-Qazwini. ʿAjā'ib al-makhlūqāt wa gharā'ib al-mawjūdāt (The Wonders of Creation). Original published in 1553 AD
  38. "An explanation of Mormon beliefs about God", BBC – Religions, 2009-10-02.
  39. Jana Riess and Christopher Kimball Bigelow, Mormonism for Dummies (John Wiley & Sons, 2005, ISBN 978-0-7645-7195-4) ch. 3.
  40. Gravrand, Henry, "La civilisation sereer : Pangool", vol. 2, Les Nouvelles Editions Africaines du Senegal, (1990) pp 20-21, 149-155, ISBN 2-7236-1055-1
  41. Clémentine Faïk-Nzuji Madiya, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Canadian Centre for Folk Culture Studies, International Centre for African Language, Literature and Tradition (Louvain, Belgium). ISBN 0-660-15965-1. pp 5, 27, 115
  42. Guiley, Rosemary Ellen (2001). The Encyclopedia of Saints. New York, NY: Facts on File. p. 396. ISBN 1438130260.


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