Buddhism Cosmology

The skepticism about creator god in Indian religions was even carried to further extremes in Buddhism. The gods, and there are many in Buddhism, are subject to death and rebirth, thus making them incapable of creating anything, especially the cosmos.

In Buddhism this is emphatically emphasized, although there are some stories concerning Buddha, a kindly and well-disposed deity, who deceived himself into thinking he might be the cosmic creator (Digha Nikaya 1. 18); but, some hold, such stories were told to illustrate that the gods need just as much enlightenment as everyone else.

Buddhism inherited the cosmography that envisions a series of levels, all of which are open to the process of reappearance: at the summit are the four realms of purely mental rebirth (arupa-avacara); below them are the realms of pure form (pupa-avacara) where the gods dwell in sixteen heavens, five of which are known as pure abodes (suddhavasa), the remaining eleven arise out of the jhanas (meditational states).

Lower still are the sense-desire heavens, including those of the Tavatimsa gods (the thirty-three Vedic gods, the chief of whom, Indra, known as Sakka, has become a protector of Buddhism) and of the Tusita gods (where bodhisattvas spend their penultimate birth, and in which Maitteya now dwells).

In the sense-desire realms are the levels on which live the asuras, humans, and animals. Below these are pretaloka and the hells of torment (niraya/naraka). All worlds are composed of transient and impermanent moments, and are therefore the product, neither of a creator, nor even of some eternal process, as in the interaction between Purusa and Prakrti in Samkhya.

The world is simply a process, passing through cycles (kappa) of immense length. In the Mahayana, beyond the three domains, karmarupa, and arupa, there is an additional dimension of Buddha-ksetras (Buddha-fields). A.G.H.


Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 240-241