Document Type

Contribution to Book

Source Publication

Religion and Outer Space

Publication Date



Eric Michael Mazur and Sarah McFarland Taylor





First Page


Last Page



Comparative Humanities



Like all the major religious traditions of the world, the collection of Asian teachings, practices, and ritual behaviors known collectively since the 19th century as “Buddhism” is linked to a set of beliefs regarding the cosmos, some, if not most, of which predate the earliest forms of the tradition that emerged in the Himalayan foothills roughly 2500 years ago. Even more than other religious traditions, however, Buddhism tends to complicate—and at times radically conflate—the external and internal, such that the “cosmos” was sometimes understood to be a representation or holographic manifestation of mental and affective processes—a map of consciousness, as it were, or even a path to liberation. While it would be anachronistic to speak about a Buddhist concept of “outer space,” Buddhist cosmologies, in both classical and Mahāyāna forms, point toward the possibility of “other worlds” (spatially, not simply tempo- rally), which can be reached by advanced meditators as well as those who have achieved the status of bodhisattva or buddha. Moreover, in describing these “buddha lands,” the authors of such texts also speculated on the nature of space and time and posited various ways in which awakened beings might manipulate and even transcend these categories. In this chapter, I $rst outline the most influential cosmologies and cosmogonies associated with a few of the major Buddhist traditions, before examining these through conceptual and theoretical lenses associated with the genres of utopia and speculative fiction. Ultimately, I make the case that certain significant Buddhist texts might be best read as examples of speculative fiction.