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See: Cosmology for other approaches to the study of the Universe in its totality.
Large scale structure of the Universe according to one Hindu cosmology.
Map 2: Intermediate neighbourhood of the Earth according to one Hindu cosmology.
Map 3: Local neighbourhood of the Earth according to one Hindu cosmology.

Religious cosmologies are ways of explaining the history and evolution of the universe based, at least in part, on the acceptance of principles that cannot be justified by accepted scientific arguments (those are otherwise generally considered via physical cosmology). Most frequently, such theories begin by positing the existence of a god (or gods) who created and/or maintain(s) the universe. Some religious cosmologies have their basis in the teachings of particular religions or religious texts, whereas others are more general reactions to perceived difficulties in explaining the entire universe without the actions of a planning / coordinating intelligence.

Contents

Abrahamic

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Biblical

The main Judeo-Christian religious text, the Bible, details the story of creation. The first two chapters of the Book of Genesis describe the creation of the cosmos by Elohim (Hebrew for "god") in six successive days; the second chapter focuses on the creation of the first man and woman by god, in this chapter named as Yahweh.

The cosmos described in Genesis and a few other texts in the bible is made up of a flat, circular Earth floating like a bubble in an apparently infinite "ocean" of water (the "ocean of chaos" common to Ancient Near Eastern cultures). A solid "firmament" keeps this ocean from returning to drown the habitable world, but has openings to admit the sun, moon, and stars, as well as winds and rain. Rivers and wells draw their water from the "ocean" below the Earth.

Islamic

Muslims believe that God, or Allah, 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. [1]

South Asian

Hindu

The Rig Veda questions the origin of the cosmos in:

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 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 does not know. (Rig Veda 10. 129)

But the Rig Veda's view of the cosmos also sees one true divine principle self-projecting as the divine word, Vaak, 'birthing' the cosmos that we know, from the monistic Hiranyagarbha or Golden Womb. The Hiranyagarbha is alternatively viewed as Brahma, the creator who was in turn created by God, or as God (Brahman) himself.

The later puranic view asserts that the universe is created, destroyed, and re-created in an eternally repetitive series of cycles. In Hindu cosmology, a universe endures for about 4,320,000,000 years (one day of Brahma, the creator or kalpa) and is then destroyed by fire or water elements. At this point, Brahma rests for one night, just as long as the day. This process, named pralaya (Cataclysm), repeats for 100 Brahma years (311 trillion human years) that represents Brahma's lifespan. It must be noted that Brahma is the creator but not necessarily regarded as God in Hinduism. He is mostly regarded as a creation of God / Brahman.

We are currently believed to be in the 51st year of the present Brahma and so about 155 trillion years have elapsed since He was born as Brahma. After Brahma's "death", it is necessary that another 100 Brahma years pass until he is reborn and the whole creation begins anew. This process is repeated again and again, forever.

Brahma's day is divided in one thousand cycles (Maha Yuga, or the Great Year). Maha Yuga, during which life, including the human race appears and then disappears, has 71 divisions, each made of 14 Manvantara (1000) years. Each Maha Yuga lasts for 4,320,000 years. Manvantara is Manu's cycle, the one who gives birth and governs the human race.

Each Maha Yuga consists of a series of four shorter yugas, or ages. The yugas get progressively worse from a moral point of view as one proceeds from one yuga to another. As a result each yuga is of shorter duration than the age that preceded it. The current Kali Yuga (Iron Age) began at midnight 17 February / 18 February in 3102 BC in the proleptic Julian calendar.

Buddhist

In Buddhism, the universe comes into existence dependent upon the actions (karma) of its inhabitants. Buddhists posit neither an ultimate beginning or final end to the universe, but see the universe as something in flux, passing in and out of existence, parallel to an infinite number of other universes doing the same thing.

The Buddhist universe consists of a large number of worlds which correspond to different mental states, including passive states of trance, passionless states of purity, and lower states of desire, anger, and fear. The beings in these worlds are all coming into existence or being born, and passing out of existence into other states, or dying. A world comes into existence when the first being in it is born, and ceases to exist, as such, when the last being in it dies. The universe of these worlds also is born and dies, with the death of the last being preceding a universal conflagration that destroys the physical structure of the worlds; then, after an interval, beings begin to be born again and the universe is once again built up. Other universes, however, also exist, and there are higher planes of existence which are never destroyed, though beings that live in them also come into and pass out of existence.

As well as a model of universal origins and destruction, Buddhist cosmology also functions as a model of the mind, with its thoughts coming into existence based on preceding thoughts, and being transformed into other thoughts and other states.

Jain

According to Jain beliefs, the universe was never created, nor will it ever cease to exist. It is eternal but not unchangeable, because it passes through an endless series of cycles. Each of these upward or downward cycles is divided into six world ages (yugas). The present world age is the fifth age of one of these "cycles", which is in a downward movement. Each age is known as an "Aaro". There are no specific names assigned to each age. Instead they are referred to numerically as in "Pehelo Aaro" or First Age, "Beejo Aaro" or Second Age, "Treejo Aaro" or Third Age, "Chotho Aaro" or Fourth Age, "Paanchmo Aaro" or Fifth Age and "Chhatho Aaro" or Sixth Age. All these ages have fixed time durations of thousands of years.

When this reaches its lowest level, even Jainism itself will be lost in its entirety. Then, in the course of the next upswing, the Jain religion will be rediscovered and reintroduced by new leaders called Tirthankaras (literally "Crossing Makers" or "Ford Finders"), only to be lost again at the end of the next downswing, and so on.

In Jain thought, the shape of the inhabited universe has been described as that of the figure 8 or a man standing akimbo. The dimension from the top to bottom has been described as 14 Rajjus. At the top and at the middle point it is 1 Rajju wide but the width of the bulges varies from 5 to 8 Rajjus. Thus the distance between the two ends of the middle world is approximately 5.2 billion light years.

Sinhalese

The cosmology of traditional Sri Lankan beliefs is a complex mixture of native Vedic gods, spirits, and demons, overlaid with imported Hindu and Buddhist deities, beliefs, and practices. This pantheon is vast, filled with hierarchies and sub-hierarchies which the uninitiated finds nearly impossible to grasp. The synthesis is a spiritual landscape where Buddha reigns supreme, but where the day-to-day is fraught with danger from the yakku (devils) and other malignant forces (vas) which seem all too ready to afflict man with scourges of every description. In this word, life is a constant struggle against these forces.

See also

References


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