Primal Duty of Compassion

From the Summer 2003 issue of Tricycle magazine, in an interview with Karen Armstrong by Andrew Cooper:

... The term Axial Age was coined by the German philosopher Karl Jaspers to describe the period from 800 to 200 B.C.E., when all the great world traditions came into being in four core regions of the world: Confucianism and Taoism in China; Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism in the Indian subcontinent; monotheism in the Middle East; and rationalism in Greece. This period proved to be pivotal to the spiritual development of humanity. We have never progressed beyond the insights achieved at this time, though they have often been restated and reinterpreted over the years. What is striking about these traditions is their similarity, beneath the obvious surface differences. You can see a clear resemblance between Socrates and the Buddha, for example. All these world traditions stress the importance of the inner life, of compassion; all put human suffering at the heart of their agenda and devised means of exploring the inner world. All emphasize the importance of thinking for yourself, of questioning everything, even the most cherished doctrines and traditions, and of never taking anything "on faith." In the modern world, we have also been undergoing a period of major transformation, similar to the Axial Age. But our insights have been mainly scientific or technological. We have produced no spiritual geniuses of the stature of the Buddha, Confucius, Isaiah, or Lao-tzu. And the spiritual approach of the Axial sages will challenge the way that many people are religious today.

How so? Often, contemporary institutional faiths seem to go out of their way to reproduce exactly the kind of religiosity that the Axial sages were trying to abolish: there is an excessive reliance upon doctrine (an approach that is alien to all Axial faiths) and on tradition (which must never be questioned); people are urged to accept things "on faith" in a way that the Buddha would have deplored; and the primal virtue of compassion is often ignored and quite inessential doctrines and practices put forward as the kernel of the faith.

... and Armstrong's conclusion:

... all the faiths need to go back to the primal duty of compassion. This is what the world needs from religion right now. We do not need more certainty–we have seen too much certainty recently–but we need greater respect for the sacred rights of others, including our enemies. ...

(cf "The Freelance Monotheist", Steadiness of Heart (2011-07-13), Wings of Acceptance (2015-05-26), Edgeless Sea of Compassion (2015-10-10), Kindness, Gentleness, Compassion (2017-04-05), ...) - ^z - 2020-10-10