The Axial Age – The Time Enlightenment Emancipated
550 B.C. is the midpoint of the great Mayan calendar cycle that began August 11, 3114 B.C. and ended on the winter solstice, December 21, 2012 A.D. It is also right in the middle of the Axial Revolution, the time enlightenment entered the religious limelight.
Religion and enlightenment are around fifty thousand years old. Wikipedia: By the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic period (50,000 BP), and likely significantly earlier, full behavioral modernity, including language, music and other cultural universals had developed.
Shamanism was the earliest form of religion and enlightenment. In the beginning, the two were still a happy couple. Where do I draw the line between religion and enlightenment? Religion concerns itself with the external world, enlightenment with the internal world. More about this later.
Shamans were tribal healers, divined, manipulated the finer forces of nature (sorcery), tamed astral entities and pursued enlightenment. You can find traces of this tradition in Carlos Castaneda’s stories:
“The problem with the old sorcerers was that they learned wonderful things, but on the basis of their unadulterated lower selves,” don Juan went on. “The inorganic beings [astral entities] became their allies, and, by means of deliberate examples, they taught the old sorcerers marvels. Their allies performed the actions, and the old sorcerers were guided, step by step, to copy those actions, without changing anything about their basic nature.” – Carlos Castaneda, The Art of Dreaming, page 64
At that time, enlightenment was more about astral projections, meaning the access to other realities, not necessarily the exploration of the totality of the human self.
The First Schism
Around 4,000 B.C., the Neolithic Revolution or Agricultural Revolution gave rise to city empires that required administration and morality and priesthoods.
The first schism divided urban and rural shamanism. In the cities, shamanism turned religion and the focus moved from the good of the individual tribe member to the good of society. The effects:
- Temples and priesthood
- Religious scriptures
- The divination of the invisible finer forces of nature for the sake of society, which developed into Astrology
- The manipulation of the invisible forces of nature by worship and sacrifices
Likely, religion did not adapt much enlightenment, since that was not on the priests’ agenda.
Rural shamanism carried on with its oral-secret tradition, in some countries to date. An interesting example is the secret tribe of the Urapmin in Papua New Guinea.
The Second Schism
Another schism developed in rural shamanism which began around the same time as the first schism (4,000 B.C.).
“You have your knowledge and I have mine,” he said. My knowledge is that the old sorcerers ruled for four thousand years, from seven thousand to three thousand years ago.* Three thousand years ago, they went to nothing. And from then on, sorcerers have been regrouping, restructuring what was left of the old ones.” – Carlos Castaneda, The Art of Dreaming, page 59
* 5,000 – 1000 BC
Enlightenment aims for two things: the exploration of the totality of the human self and access to other realities. As it turns out, accessing other realities without realizing our higher self first is a treacherous affair.
Don Juan said that after some of these men had finally learned to see – after centuries of dealing with power plants – the most enterprising of them then began to teach other men of knowledge* how to see. And that was the beginning of their end. As time passed, the number of seers increased, but their obsession with what they saw, which filled them with reverence and fear, became so intense that they ceased to be men of knowledge. They became extraordinary proficient in seeing and could exert great control over the strange worlds they were witnessing. But it was of no avail. Seeing had undermined their strength and forced them to be obsessed with what they saw.”
“There were seers, however, who escaped that fate,” don Juan continued, “great men who, in spite of their seeing, never ceased to be men of knowledge. Some of them endeavored to use seeing positively and to teach it to their fellow men. I’m convinced that under their direction, the populations of entire cities went into other worlds and never came back.
– The Fire from Within, page 5
* Seekers of enlightenment
Old-school shamanism had run into a spiritual cul-de-sac.
As we walked, don Juan told me that he wanted to warn me once again that is it very easy in the path of knowledge to get lost in intricacies and morbidity. He said that seers are up against great enemies that can destroy their purpose, muddle their aims, and make them weak; enemies created by the warrior’s path itself together with the sense of indolence, laziness, and self-importance that are integral parts of the daily world.
– The Fire from Within, page 167
Morbidity was the antithesis of the surge of energy awareness needed to reach freedom. Morbidity made sorcerers lose their way and become trapped in the intricate, dark byways of the unknown.
– Carlos Castaneda, The Power of Silence, page 264
Today, all professional enlightenment schools and teachers insist that seekers realize the higher self first, before accessing other realities. Otherwise, they can get caught up in the delusive reflections of higher realities impressed in the astral light. Mistaking a counterfeit for the real thing, they follow a reflected psychic joy into a byway of delusion from which they must laboriously return. (Ann Davis)
The first form of organized, urban religion was astrology-polytheism.
Why do I hyphen astrology and polytheism? Because the two are intrinsically connected. This goes all the way back to Babylonian Astrology where the gods had numbers, meaning the gods were part of the astrological equation.
Astrology-polytheism is both a method of divination and an ancient form of psychology. The key to understanding: nature’s finer forces impact our mind. This is also the key to understanding Feng Shui, which shows how the vibes of our home impact our thoughts and feelings and energy. And vice versa.
Astrology is not fortune-telling. It is weather forecast or rather vibes forecast. The tales of the gods, on the other hand, provide us with inspiring psychological stories that give lucidity and meaning to the way astrological fluctuations impact the mind.
You could say that religion (morality, divination, worship, and sacrifices) is business with the gods. Or God. In the Roman Empire, for example, religion degraded to a means of strengthening political power and material success. Priestly offices were held by politicians. And the enlightenment component had completely vanished. That’s why underground enlightenment cults were in high demand at that time, for example, the Mithra cult.
The Axial Age
This was the situation when the Axial Age dawned: Enlightenment had degenerated both in rural shamanism and urban religion. Since enlightenment is the most fundamental need of the human soul, it had to be revived.
This period saw the emergence of five major thought streams springing from five great thinkers in different parts of the world: Buddha and Mahavira in India, Zoroaster in Persia, Pythagoras in Greece and Confucius in China. Pāṇini, in India, composed a grammar for Sanskrit in this century or slightly later. This is the oldest still known grammar of any language. In Western Asia, the first half of this century was dominated by the Neo-Babylonian or Chaldean empire, which had risen to power late in the previous century after successfully rebelling against Assyrian rule. The Kingdom of Judah came to an end in 586 BC when Babylonian forces under Nebuchadnezzar II captured Jerusalem, and removed most of its population to their own lands. Babylonian rule was ended in the 540s by Cyrus, who founded the Persian Empire in its place. The Persian Empire continued to expand and grew into the greatest empire the world had known at the time.
Let’s have a closer look.
Siddhartha Gautama ushered in the Axial Revolution in Asia. Unlike his religious ancestors, he didn’t bother about the external world. He even ignored its creator(s). He was interested in three things only:
- Who am I really?
- What am I doing here?
- How can I end suffering?
Siddhartha was born into a rich and influential family. He knew first hand that neither wealth, power, fame, nor entertainment can ease suffering. Wealthy people lose their loved ones, famous people get sick, powerful people die, pleasure is fleeting, and success and satisfaction leave us with new wants.
He raised the million-dollar question: How to be happy independent of what’s going on in the external world?
Logically, he could find that answer only within.
Buddhism = Meditation = Internalization
At last, he sat down under a Buddhi tree and swore not to rise before he had an answer to the mother of all questions. 528 BC, he realized the totality of his self, achieved illumination, and turned into the Buddha.
And he returned to tell the tale. To keep people on the path of righteousness, he turned people’s back on old-school religion, divination, sacrifices, worship, and prayer. Buddha made rules for how to behave, but he kept it simple: cultivate spiritual manners. That’s dharma. The most important dharma is non-violence. But don’t think of dharma as morality – morality is religion, remember? Non-violence paves the way for meditation and enlightenment. An angry mind can’t relax and a noisy mind can’t meditate. No meditation, no realization of the higher self.
“It is better to conquer your self than to win a thousand battles. Then, the victory is yours. Nobody can take it from you, not angels, nor demons, nor, heaven, nor hell.” – Buddha
Meanwhile, in the Middle East, the Babylonians dragged most of the Jewish population into slavery (587-537 BCE). Religiously speaking, this was a blessing in disguise because the Jews came in contact with Babylonian Astrology and wisdom.
The fact that Daniel became the master Astrologer in the Babylonian court – a round of applause, please! – indicates how deep they engaged. Daniel made one of the greatest predictions in human history. Read Paul Foster Case’s inspiring booklet Daniel, Master of Magicians if you’d like to know more.
That Daniel was also a prophet is proven by his vision of Palmoni, the Wonderful Numberer, who reveals the secrets of creation reserved for those who reached illumination.
Daniel had a splendid prophet as contemporary: Ezekiel, who had two world-changing visions. The first was the vision of the Celestial Chariot, the totality of the human self. Noteworthy, the description of that vision is tinged with Astrological imagery. The second was the vision of the Third Temple – perfected human personality.
It is unclear what (biblical) scriptures were available before that time, most likely a loose anthology of various religious stories. Daniel and Ezekiel compiled them into the Torah, added a few Babylonian myths, e.g. the Deluge, the Garden of Eden, and the Tree of Life, as well as the Book of Psalms – a collection of enlightenment aphorisms written sometime during the 6th century B.C.
Prophecy means enlightenment. The literal meaning of prophecy is witnessing – the totality of our self and other realities. That prophecy has a connotation of fortune-telling (divination) is a religious misunderstanding.
FYI, a slow talk about the religious misunderstanding of enlightenment scriptures:
At this juncture, a comparison between Judaism and Buddhism is interesting. While Buddhism turned agnostic, Judaism formulated monotheism. Monotheism is a step away from religion because an un-manipulable Godness defies devotional begging. The Torah’s essential message: The Godness’ will shall be done. Resistance is futile. Hence, prayer and sacrifices are futile.
After the Jews returned from the exile in Babylon, the prophets and mystics formed the Merkhavah movement, which owned its name to Ezekiel’s visions of the Celestial Chariot. This tradition was available only to initiates and likely the same as Moses’ secret, oral tradition.
Likely, the Essenes continued the tradition of Merkhavah, who called themselves Sons of Light, and the Members of the Way. They appeared around 200 B.C. and disappeared without a trace in the first century A.D.
Some believe that Jesus of Nazareth was an Essene.
The scribes took over Judaic religion, who later became the Pharisees, who, after the war, formed the Rabbinic Judaism.
The War Between Priests and Prophets
Priests and prophets don’t necessarily like each other. Priests killed Jesus
Elijah’s battle with the Baal priests is one example of the war between religion and enlightenment.
And then, there is this strange reference that Jesus made in Matthew 23.29-31:
Curse you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous. And you say, “If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.” So you testify against yourselves that you are the sons of those who murdered the prophets.
I tried to find more about the killing of prophets in ancient Israel, but couldn’t find much. If you know something, please drop me an email or comment on the post.
Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of Isaac may be exemplary of this transitory phase too. Abraham was a prophet but probably defaulted occasionally into old-school religion. One day, he got the crazy idea to make the ultimate sacrifice – his only, long-awaited son Isaac. The higher self (the guardian angel) stopped him at the last minute.
Meanwhile in Persia
In Persia, a great prophet gave rise to an enlightenment tsunami: Zoroaster, who lived between 625 and 550 B.C. As Ezekiel, he changed Persian religion into monotheism and put away with sacrifices and divination.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Zoroaster and Ezekiel knew each other, but I couldn’t find any indications of that. If you know something about that, please drop me an email or comment on the post.
Zoroaster was the first who introduced a distinct redeemer myth, that of Saoshyant, whom Jesus Christ resembles in a few details. In an enlightenment context, the redeemer is the higher self that teaches and guides us, from within, to accelerate our enlightenment. It is also a title, which we win upon illumination – the realization of and union with the higher self.
Other examples of redeemer myths: Chrishna (first stories appeared around 420 BC), Mithra, and the Judaic Meshiach.
Of course, stories of the redeemer (the higher self) weren’t new. Horus was a predecessor, and, like Jesus, perceived by divine powers. Noteworthy, Akhenaten, who died around 1335 B.C., attempted a monotheistic revolution, in the favor of Aten. Aten was a sun god and sun gods are the pantheistic predecessors of classical redeemer avatars.
Meanwhile in Asia
In China, the two great schools of Confucius (religion) and Lao-tze (enlightenment) emerged and would coexist with Buddhism.
Lao-Tze founded the Taoism. His book, the Tao Te Ching is a master piece of (agnostic) enlightenment.
Confucius was more concerned with morality.
Parsva and Mahavira founded Jainism in India. They taught, like Buddha, the principles of non-violence, karma, and samsara (escape from suffering).
Meanwhile in Central America
During the Axial Age, the Mayan civilization emerged in central America. As far as I can see, it was a mix of religion (astrology-pantheism) and enlightenment.
The mystical Mayan maze tree at the center of the world is, like the Tree of Life, circumstantial evidence of enlightenment. An echo of that tradition survived in Carlos Castaneda’s stories, who frequently referred to the fight between the old and new sorcerers or seers.
“Stalking belongs exclusively to the new seers,” he said, smiling. “They are the only seers who had to deal with people. The old ones were so wrapped up in their sense of power that they didn’t even know that people existed, until people started clobbering them on the head…”
– The Fire from Within, page 170
Meanwhile in Greece
As far as I can see, Delphi was the enlightenment epicenter in ancient Greece. The Temple of Delphi was destroyed in 548 B.C. and immediately rebuilt as the 4th temple and dedicated to Apollo. Apollo was the Greek sun god, a classical avatar of the higher self, the inner redeemer.
Human, know your self! – An inscription on gate of the Temple of Delphi.
Pythagoras, who lived from 570 B.C. to 495 B.C., developed sacred geometry. One of his greatest findings is the Pythagorean triangle (3, 4, 5), a glyph that sums up the secrets of enlightenment, as expounded so exquisitely by Paul Foster Case in his book The True and Invisible Rosicrucian Order (page 48).
Greek Philosophy (On a side note)
Also, classical Greek philosophy emerged during the Axial Age. It turned its back on religion – like enlightenment – but focussed on the world. Greek philosophy is the predecessors of modern science and materialistic world views. Many Greek philosophers were atheists.
Here is a list of Greek philosophers who lived during the Axial Revolution:
- Anaximander, Greek philosopher
- Anaximenes of Miletus, Greek philosopher
- Heraclitus, Greek philosopher
- Hippasus, Greek philosopher
- Pherecydes of Syros, Greek philosopher
- Pythagoras, Greek philosopher, mathematician
- Xenophanes, Greek philosopher
- Bias of Priene, Greek sage
- Chilon of Sparta, Greek sage
- Epimenides, Greek seer
Noteworthy, the first recorded atheist made his appearance in India. Ajita Kesakambali.
A Peak In Introspection
I stumbled upon an interesting TED talk from Mariano Sigman, Your Words May Predict Your Future Mental Health.
He analyzed the fossils of human thought with his Space of Word methodology and discovered a peak of introspection in Greek literature 400 to 200 B.C.
Introspection = enlightenment.
Mind, the rise begins around 550 B.C.:
When Jesus was born, the Axial Age was already burning out. Problem: While Asia was on a healthy way to enlightenment with Buddhism, Jainism, and Taoism, religion had remained strong in the Western world, likely due to the Roman Empire.
At that time, religion and shamanism were sick to the bone. Religion had degraded to a means to political ends, and shamanism had ended up in the astral coul de sac (excluding movements like the Essenes).
Europe needed enlightenment. And a New Age was dawning – the Piscean Age.
Jesus renewed the Axial Revolution and re-introduced an enlightened way of life.
The kingdom of heaven is within!
Like Buddha, he advertised non-violence:
- Love your neighbors and even your enemies as yourself!
- Don’t oppose evil!
- Give Cesar what is Cesar’s!
- Leave karma (revenge) to God!
At Jesus’ time, the Pharisees were following religious rules to the latter and deemed themselves perfect. Hence, they rejected Jesus’ concept of redemption through enlightenment.
“I hate to break it to you,” Jesus said, “but following rules doesn’t get you into Heaven.”
What does? Enlightenment does.
It was a brawl!
You damn lawmakers, academics, and better-than-thous. You lost the key to the kingdom of heaven* and all you are doing now is preventing people from finding it. – Matthew 23.13:
We all know what happened next.
According to Mariano Sigman, collective introspection peaked in the Judeo-Christian tradition 200-400 A.D. That shows clearly that Christianity was – originally – an enlightenment movement.
Noteworthy, at that time, ninety percent of Christian scriptures were gnostic. Gnosis means knowledge, knowledge of God that is, enlightenment that is.
Christianity took a fatal turn when it became the official Roman religion. Remember that for the Romans, religion was business? The Romans changed business partners. Paganism out, Christianity in.
The church adopted the hierarchical organization of the Roman priest caste with the Pontifex Maximus (the Pope) on top. They reintroduced worship. What about the tithe? Good idea! They prosecuted the gnostics and their scriptures.
What about enlightenment? Banned into the monasteries.
Today’s Schism Between Religion and Enlightenment
Who goes to church to get enlightened?
The schism between religion and enlightenment isn’t just a historical or religious-political issue. It is deeply rooted in human psychology.
We live in two worlds, the external and internal world. We are Janus, the two-faced god.
Religion concerns itself with the external world, morality, temples and churches, education, and even politics. God is in the sky.
Enlightenment concerns itself with the internal world, i. e. access to other realities and the totality of the human self. God is inside.
Can we bridge that divide? Can we align our need for success and enlightenment? Definitely! Pursue your heart’s desire, have meaningful experiences, and work on your enlightenment career.
Do you wonder what is the church’s way out of today’s crisis? I think it is the return to enlightenment. What do you think?