The question of the origin the universe has remained a controversial topic through all ages with different beliefs and opinions across religions and cultures. Some believe that all things were created by a supreme being while others believe in spontaneous existence of things. The choice of this category for discussion was due to the diverse opinions in the world on the topic and the significance each religion attaches to its beliefs about cosmology. In addition, the belief of every religion on cosmology influences the lives of its followers (Fisher, 2014).
Buddhists believe that there is neither a beginning nor an end to the universe but that the universe exists in a continuous life cycle (Fisher, 2014). Each cycle consists of a formation period, period of endurance, period of disintegration, and a void period. After the void period, there is formation of a new universe out of the luminous space remaining after disintegration (Kragh, 2008). The luminous space is one with beginnigless or universal consciousness.
Cosmology is significant to Buddhism as it helps in understanding the Buddhist teachings on areas like karma, soteriological theories, and reincarnation (Krath, 2008). In addition, Buddhist metaphysics, meditation practices, theories on phenomena, and social theories are related to Buddhist cosmology. According to Krath (2008), Buddhism cosmology relates to astrology and astronomy, which permeate many practices in the life of Buddhists.
Jainism does not recognize a supreme creator but considers the universe as everlasting with neither beginning nor end. In Jainism, Jiva represents the souls and a soul inhabits a body but is separate from it while Ajiva means nonliving things which include everything apart from the souls (Fisher, 2014). In Jainism, all things in the universe are never destroy or created but keep changing from one from to another and can finally attain complete liberation to supreme abode (Kragh, 2008). The significance of the Jain cosmology to Jains is that it guides the lives of people and controls their actions. In addition, it helps Jains understand and explain various phenomena and define the relationship among various levels and forms of existence (Kragh, 2008).
The Hindus believe that the universe existed before humanity and gods. The Hindu holds a fundamental notion that the external world is produced by creative play of illusion or Maya (Kragh, 2008). The universe in Hinduism is constantly changing with diverse levels of reality and a saint must attain moksha to be completely freed from time and space (Fisher, 2014).The Hindu cosmology guides the lives of Hindus and it is the basis of their moral principles. It is also related to karma and quest for moksha. Actions of a person determine their karma and the kind of body their soul will earn in the next creation (Kragh, 2008).
Daoism and Confucianism
In Daoism and Confucianism, cosmology involves Dao or the way as the first and end of all things. Cosmology entails the laws of Ying and Yang, which is the law of opposites that cause harmonious change (Geaney, 2000). In the beginning there was an undifferentiated unity called Tao from which came vibration or Qi in Yin and Yang. The continuous transformation of Yin and Yang causes duality or polarity in the five elements of wood, fire, metal, water, and earth (Geaney, 2000). Wood is lesser yang and fire is greater yang; metal is lesser yin and water is greater yin; and earth is central phase. As Geaney (2008) states, the five elements give rise to the ten-thousand things that form the manifested existence. These principles dominate the religious practices of the Chinese and other cultures that follow Daoism and Confucianism.
According to Shinto concepts, there already existed something before creation of the universe. The gods, Kami, manifested the universe from the pre-existence and heaven and earth appeared as separate entities with matter filling the void (Williams, 2007). Shinto teaches of multiple kami or gods and among them, Izanagi and Izanami were directed by seventeen heavily kami to consolidate the drifting land (Williams, 2007). The belief is that the world is evolving of its own will. The Shinto cosmology is a significant aspect that defines it as a religion different from other eastern religions and it is the belief in those teachings that define the Shinto adherents (Williams, 2007).
In Judaism, God created the world in six days with human beings created last, and rested in the seventh. The Jews believe that by the word of God all things came into being but man was created by God himself using earth and breathed life into him (Berlin, 2011). Man was given dominion over all the creation and was given the responsibility of taking care of it. The Judaism creation theory has been significant to the religion through all centuries and it is the faith in God as creator which defines the religion (Berlin, 2011).
Christian cosmology is inherited from Jewish cosmology but adds Christ as a participant in the creation work of His Father. Christ is described as the Lord by whom all things came to be and is the purpose and end of creation (Bowker, 1997). Therefore, in Christianity, interest in creation or cosmology is based on the relationship between the creator and the subsistence. Christians base most of their faith on the belief that the universe will end and Christ will take His people to heaven to be with Him and the Father (Bowker, 1997).
Manifestation of Religious Cosmology in Social Environment
Religious cosmology influences social life in various aspects. For instance, many of my friends show respect for life and the universe due to belief in divine creation as per their Christian beliefs. Additionally, they view causing harm to other people or even animals as a violation of God’s will for His creation. The belief in God as the ultimate creator and judge guides Christians in their actions towards others and the creation in general (Bowker, 1997).
- Berlin, A. (2011). “Cosmology and Religion.” In Berlin, A. and Grossman, M. (eds.), The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion (2nd ed.) Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Bowker, J. (1997). The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Fisher, M.P. (2014). Living Religions, 9th Ed. New York: Pearson Education.
- Geaney, J. (2000). Chinese cosmology and recent studies in Confucian ethics: A review essay. Journal of Religious Ethics, 28(3), 451-470.
- Kragh, H. (2008). Entropic creation: Religious contexts of thermodynamics and cosmology. Hampshire, England: Ashgate.
- Williams, E. L. (2007). Spirit tree: Origins of cosmology in Shintô ritual at Hakozaki. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.