Introduction: Axis of Primeval
Back in my time, I’d been fascinated by the texts of the magnificent teachers of the past—Buddha, Laozi and Zhuangzi, ancient Greeks… I had then rather poorly concept of the human history timeline, but one day I was struck by the discovery that the greatest teachers—the founders—lived in the same time period (around 5th-6th century BCE). You see, in my perception back then those founders were somewhat mythical figures, each one living in his own spiritual world. The fact that they walked the earth simultaneously, made them more real, more human, and by that—paradoxically—even more awe-inspiring. Since if they were flesh and blood like myself, how the hell could they come with such amazing discoveries about the world and the human nature two and a half millennia ago?
Years later, I found that I wasn’t the only one who was stunned by this historical fact. Although some scholars noticed that at least as far back as in the 18th century, the most prominent treatise was made about seventy years ago by Karl Jaspers who coined the term Axial Age (Achsenzeit in German) which refers to quite a broad time range to include Greeks from Homer to Archimedes, Buddhists from the Buddha up till Ashoka, all the Hundred Schools of Thought of China, as well as Zoroaster, Mahavira, and the Hebrew prophets.
While Jaspers and others emphasized the common denominator of the Axial Age teachings, wondering how the similar shifts in humans' worldview were made at the same time in all major Eurasian civilizations, I want to take a different path and to discuss the distinctive ideas which were introduced by the Achsenzeit thinkers, and which, I daresay, shape not only our present worldview, but, to some extent, even the future one. By worldview I mean the deepest set of ideas and conceptualizations that define our perception of all the things around and inside us. Some similar notions are Weltanschauung, root memeplex, assemblage point, reality tunnel.
Each of the three thinkers presented here contributed to (not to say founded) one of the three pillars of the worldview (the order is according to the order of presentation):
The View of/on the External (Physical) World/Reality
The View of/on the Human Society and its Organization
The View of/on the Human Internal World, the Selfdom
I start with the thinker who introduced the most powerful current worldview-shaping idea—Pythagoras. One may be surprised by my choice, especially if one’s primary, if not the only, association with the name Pythagoras is the eponymous theorem, which is as justified as associating Plato chiefly with the featherless biped definition. The genius of Pythagoras was so unique that it may even explain the Fermi paradox.
Then we will look into Confucius. For many people Confucius is associated with boring rituals and banal maxims e.g. respect to parents etc. Nothing to compare with the exciting ideas of Taoists, Chan-Buddhists, "The Art of War" and so on. As a matter of fact, however, Confucius was onto something amazing, an idea (a set of interconnected ideas, actually) that, although only partially implemented in our modern society, changed it drastically.
The last but not least is the Buddha. Everyone knows Buddha. But does everyone know what was/is his main point? And if everyone does know, how is that that virtually all the people think and act completely contrariwise? After all, if Buddha’s main point was false, why would he be so famous? Implementing Buddha’s main point would turn our life into something totally different.
There is an interesting pattern: the popularity of each of these three thinkers is inversely proportional to the degree of the implementation of their ideas in the life of an average human being today.
Although the uniqueness of each of the three is of the interest of this post, there is one common feature that worth to be mentioned. Time and again, people put Buddhism, Confucianism, and Pythagoreanism in the religion category, together with e.g. Abrahamic religions and Hinduism. However, there is a critical difference. The three thinkers were not prophets, in the sense that they did not speak in the name of god(s). While their followers (especially those of Buddha) have created some rituals and institutions similar to those of "proper" (gods-based) religions, the original ideas and their substantiations were entirely human.
- Introduction: Axis of Primeval
- Pythagoras: From Strings and Theoria to String Theory
- Confucius: The Revolution Has Not Been Televised
- I: In Which We Are Introduced to Confucius and Some Knights of the Way, and the Stories Begin
- II: In Which We Go Visiting The China of Confucius and Find It to be a Tight Place
- III: In Which Confucius Goes Revolutionizing and Nearly Catches a Job
- IV: In Which Everyone Loses The Way and Confucius Finds One
- V: In Which The Taoists Set a Heffalump Trap
- VI: In Which the First Emperor Gives Birth to Imperial China and Gets Two Presents (Legalism and Taoism)
- VII: In Which the Government Comes to Swallow Confucianism, and The Empire Has The Examination System
- VIII: In Which The Jesuits Leads The Western World to The Chinese Dream
- IX: In Which The Republic of China Is Entirely Surrounded by Water
- X: In Which Confucius Trusts The Human Race, and We Say 'Do Likewise'
- Concluding Remarks
- Buddha: def __del__(self): The Breakdown of the Polycameral Mind