The historical Buddha delivered his message in a specific context, in India, some twenty-five centuries ago. It is a unique time in world history, when the societies of Asia and Europe are experiencing effervescence, demographic expansion and increasingly numerous commercial exchanges.
The axial moment
Let us judge! At the same time as the teachings of the Awakened are emerging, new thoughts are emerging everywhere: in China, Confucius teaches how to be a good man. Around the probably mythical character of Lao-Tseu lay the foundations of taoism. Soon after, jurists theorized about the first modern states (as well as absolutism). And in reaction, Mo-Zi implements Moism, a communitarian utopia prefiguring communist dreams.
In the Mediterranean, Pythagoras taught mysticism and mathematics, and many other Greek philosophers were preparing to disseminate ideas that would upset the planet. In Iran, the prophet Zoroaster popularized the vision of a world doomed to the Apocalypse and disputed between darkness and light. While the Hebrews, deported to Babylon (current Iraq), consolidate their invention of the unique God who will later federate Christianity and Islam. In India, it is the appearance of Buddhism, the evolution of Jainism (1) in the form it has today with the sage Mahavira, and the institutionalization of Brahmanism, later called Hinduism.
The message of the Buddha, of Confucius, of the Hebrew Prophet Isaiah and of the others is addressed, no longer to the people of their communities, but to all humans. Buddha and his contemporaries create universal wisdom, for everyone.
It must therefore be understood that the Buddha's message appears in a very specific context. Two thousand and five years ago were founded the wisdoms, religions and ideologies which are today the basis of almost all the systems of thought that we use today (putting aside the few surviving traditions of the peoples " autochthonous”, such as shamanism, which have largely become a minority). This exceptional moment was baptized by the German philosopher Karl Jaspers the “Axial Age”.
The Golden Rule
All the thoughts cited (Buddhism, Jainism, Confucianism, Taoism, Greek philosophies, Hebrew monotheism, Zoroastrianism, etc.) have in common, as Olivier Du Roy has demonstrated very well (2), that they are based on the Golden Rule: “Don't do to others what you wouldn't want them to do to you. It is no longer a simple prohibition like those that founded life before the great revelations (e.g.: "You shall not kill your neighbour"), simple commandments which made it possible to regulate cohabitation in closed societies, without great relations with the outside.
From the moment when societies become denser, exchanges much more numerous, humanity acclaims new modes of interaction. The message of the Buddha, of Confucius, of the Hebrew Prophet Isaiah and of the others is addressed, no longer to the people of their communities, but to all humans. Buddha and his contemporaries create universal wisdom, for everyone. Whence this formulation in double negative, which obliges to conceive its relations with others on the basis of reciprocity.
With the universal religions appear the universal empires, the first States structured on a truly monetized economy. Because money was invented at the same time, in at least three places in Eurasia.
Wisdom, money and States formed a founding triptych. All the societies that have existed since have combined these elements: the great philosophies and religions of coexistence, the States whose vocation is to organize the cohabitation of all, and money to ensure exchanges. It is the balance between the three forces that cements our societies. Money increases inequalities, because it is easily monopolized by the most enterprising, wisdom calls for sharing to relieve tensions, and the state arbitrates in one direction or the other, by taking and redistributing. It has been like this for 2500 years.