The Buddhist cosmology which is presented in commentaries and works of Abhidharma in both Theravada and Mahayana traditions, is the end product of an analysis and reconciliation of cosmological comments found in the Buddhist sutra and Vinaya traditions.
No single sutra sets of the entire structure of the universe. However in several sutras the Buddha describes other worlds and states of being and other sutras describe the origin and destruction of the universe. The synthesis of these data into a single comprehensive system must have taken place early in the history of Buddhism.
The picture of the world presented in Buddhist cosmological description cannot be taken as a literal description of the shape of the universe. It is inconsistent, and cannot be made consistent with astronomical data that were already known in ancient India. However, it is not intended to be description of how ordinary humans perceive their world, rather, it is the universe seen through the "divine eye" by which a Buddha or an arhat who has cultivated this faculty can perceive all of the other worlds and the beings arising (being born) and passing away within them and can tell from what state they have been reborn and into what state they will be reborn. (jacket)