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Cosmology and cosmogony, Indian theories of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F056-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 21, 2024, from

Article Summary

Theories of the origin of the universe have been told as stories, riddles and instruction in India since early times. The three prominent religious movements, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism each had their own myths and speculations.

In the Hindu tradition there was never one single theory. Among the divergent ideas we can distinguish: an early stage, which included themes such as there being nothing at the beginning, or the universe being created by mutual birth, or creation as the dismemberment of a sacrificial victim, or the gods arriving after the first moment of creation; and a later stage, in which Viṣṇu or Brahmā was regarded as the creator of the universe. Simultaneously, the old Sāṅkhya idea of the self-creating universe, in which the original material stuff transforms itself into the different parts of the universe, coexisted with the idea of a god creating the universe.

The early Buddhist tradition neglected questions such as ‘Does the universe exist?’ The first mention of such topics occurred in the Pāli Canon, where they were condemned. A few centuries later, these cosmological ideas were taken up by Vasubandhu, who collected them and formulated them in a comprehensive way. Without a creator god, the universe is primarily a reflection of meditational experiences of the world, a Single Circular System. There are several other systems, such as the Thousand Universe System, the Immeasurable Universe System and the Pure Land.

The Jaina tradition had a very detailed theory of the spatial arrangement of the universe. This was essential for understanding where all the individual selves travel to after death, given their spiritual accomplishments (or lack of them). From earth they go to heavens or hells, the aim being eventually to reach the place of bliss and thus to gain final freedom.

Citing this article:
Clear, Edeltraud Harzer. Cosmology and cosmogony, Indian theories of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F056-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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