You know deep in your bones you have a choice in what you think, right?
You believe that your choices are meaningful, and that you have individual autonomy in making such choices, true?
Before the Axial Age your capacity as an individual to choose your own way, good or bad, wasn’t even considered. This fundamental understanding of individual responsibility — that you as a person choose for yourself which direction you take — emerged across vast distances in this era.
Before the Axial Age, approximately 800 to 200 BCE, tribal consciousness reigned. According to Karl Jaspers, civilization’s spiritual principles were established in the East, the Middle East and the West during this fertile period.
Startling insights in philosophy, spirituality and consciousness burst forth across the globe (in areas where we have written records; unfortunately this excludes the Americas and much of Africa).
Extraordinarily this conceptual flowering occurred across Greece, Judea, India, Persia and China more or less independently of each other. (!)
Axial means pivotal in German . . . meaning the entire age was a pivot point for humanity.
The concepts of individual consciousness, monotheism, the unity of all things, reincarnation, ahimsa (nonviolence), karma, inquiry into the meaning of existence, personal choice and much more lurched to life in this span of six hundred-ish years.
Pre-Axial age, rituals were to get the gods to bestow favor upon the tribe. Rituals had nothing to do with how you behaved morally.
That changed with the Axial Age, where individual thought became paramount. People came to understand they had the responsibility to choose for themselves good or ill. Now there was a choice to be made — right or wrong, moral or immoral — and the choice was each person’s alone to make.
The individual and her ability to choose were born.
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