Axial Age Thought
Spiritual Foundations of Today
Axial Age Thought: Spiritual Foundations of Today
From 900–200 BCE a new mode of thinking developed almost simultaneously in four distinct areas of the world. In each area this was a time of change, social unrest, and political upheaval.
Judaism: The Jewish People
It was while in exile in Babylon in the sixth century BCE that Jews began to conceive of Yahweh as the one true God who transcends borders and empty ritual.
The Axial-Age Prophets
Axial-Age prophets no longer saw Yahweh as a god of war, or one appeased by empty ritual, they emphasized a more individual relationship with Yahweh that involved individual responsibility, morality and justice.
The Babylonian Captivity
In exile the Jews learned that Yahweh could be worshiped away from the Temple in Jerusalem, even in a foreign land. He could be worshipped in their way of life anywhere.
Axial age Thought: Hinduism
The Hindus saw death as the passing of one’s own spirit into another new being, reincarnated in a continuous series of births, deaths and rebirths. Karma was like a physical law—what happens is a consequence of one’s own choice and behavior.
Axial age Thought: Buddhism
Siddattha Gotama—the “Awakened One”—advised pupils not to accept anything simply because it is traditional or comes from sacred text or charismatic teacher. He emphasized the need to check one’s views, test ideas, and guard against the possibility of bias.
Axial Age Thought: Zoroaster
The prophet Zarathustra, known to the Greeks as Zoroaster, lived about 1200 BCE, three hundred years before Karl Jasper’s Axial Age, yet aspects of what he taught transformed Aryan beliefs in a way that anticipated the Axial Prophets.
Greece: The European Axial Age
Something extraordinary in the history of humanity occurred 2500 years ago in Athens—they organized themselves into a radically democratic government.
The Peloponnesian War 431BC – 404BC
By the second half of the fifth century Athens and Sparta emerged as the two most powerful states in Greece.
Greek religion was part of the attempt to reinforce a common sense of purpose, civic cohesion, and community.
The Panhellenic Games
The argon or contest was at the center of life for the Greeks in their striving towards individual excellence, while preparing them both physically and mentally for conflict.
The Pre-Socratic Philosophers
Against a background of continuous strife, innovative thinkers came from both the eastern and western regions of the Greek world.
Socrates (470–399 BCE)
All that is known about Socrates, the Founder of Western Philosophy comes from the accounts of others: mainly the philosopher Plato and the historian Xenophon, who were both his pupils.
Aristotle (384–322 BCE)
Aristotle’s works shaped centuries of philosophy from Late Antiquity through the Renaissance.
The Spring and Autumn Period (770–476 BCE)
This period took its title from The Spring and Autumn Annals, collections of sayings attributed to Confucius.
The Hundred Schools of Thought
During the chaos and confusion of the bloody battles and the social disruption of the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods, a new and vital cultural and intellectual movement emerged that to this day profoundly influences the lifestyles and social consciousness of millions of people.