Prescientific Indian cosmology was much more complex than prescientific ideas in the West. As well as many lives, there are many worlds. Theravada cosmology describes 31 levels to the universe in three categories, the lower realm of desire (shared by the six states of human, gods, jealous gods, animals, ghosts and beings in hell), then more rarified forms of existence in the realm of form and the formless realm. All are impermanent, and although the historical Buddha refused to answer questions about eternity or infinity, the impression is given of beginningless change without need for a starting point, whether creation or big bang. Mahayana cosmology is even more complex. There are many universes, some are ‘Buddhafields’, universes in which a Buddha dwells, such as the Pure Land of Amida. As to whether any of this is even real, whereas Theravada tends to give the impression of relatively real but ever changing, Mahayana concepts such as ‘mind-only’ or ‘emptiness’ query the reality of the perceived cosmos more strongly, so that it might be more accurate to say it is unreal, or neither real nor unreal, or only relatively real.

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Buddhist worldview traditions


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