A New Documentary About African Refugees Was Filmed by a Refugee as He Fled to Europe

A New Documentary About African Refugees Was Filmed by a Refugee as He Fled to Europe

February 27, 2016

Images courtesy ofAbou Bakar Sidibé, Moritz Siebert, and Estephan Wagner

Of the many directors who presented films at the Berlin Film Festival this month, Abou Bakar Sidibé’s route into filmmaking is surely the most remarkable. A Malian refugee trying to get to Spain, but stuck in Northern Africa for nearly a year, Sidebé had not even thought about creating movies when he was handed a small consumer camera by two filmmakers. The duo, Moritz Siebert and Estephan Wagner, wanted to make a full-length feature about refugees traveling to Europe, but wanted it to be told on the subject’s terms.

“When I was given a camera, I thought it was a joke,” Sidibé says. At the time, he was one of approximately 1,000 men, mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa, living rough on Morocco’s Mount Gurugu, a mountain that overlooks Melilla, a Spanish city on the African mainland. From the peak of the mountain, the lights of Melilla can be seen, but they are unreachable—protected by razor-wire fences and border guards armed with pepper spray, and truncheons. Nonetheless, being one of the few land borders into the European Union makes the enclave an enticing entry point for many African refugees.

Siebert and Wagner had a hunch. By giving a refugee a camera and finally letting the life of migrants be documented by migrants themselves, they would get a different perspective on life on Mount Gurugu. The result is the remarkable Les Sauteurs (Those Who Jump), which had its world premiere at the Forum section of the Berlin Film Festival, and will screen in North America at the True/False Festival in Columbia, Missouri, in March.

Over the course of three months after he was given the camera, Sidibé, with the occasional help of his friends, filmed what was happening around him on Mount Gurugu. He filmed himself collecting rainwater to wash, he filmed men from the Ivory Coast taking on Malian men in a soccer game, he filmed what happens to men who break unwritten rules like informing the local police about the refugees’ activities. (There is a remarkable lack of women in his footage.)

Mostly, the documentary looks at how Sidebé and his friends exist on Mount Gurugu, how they live in between their attempts to jump the wall dividing Morocco and Europe. The filmmakers aim to share a slice-of-life portrait of the area, rather than impose a narrative. Indeed, much of the time, the refugees are living in a state of boredom, though the doc itself is never boring. We’re provided an arc by witnessing Sidebé transform from a barely capable cameraman to a filmmaker who frames his images. We also see the protagonist planning his escape to Europe, a gambit that involves trying to cross the border with as many men possible, in the hope that some may get through. When Sidebé finally manages to cross the wall, the film reaches a natural conclusion.

Now 30, Sidibé is currently in Germany seeking papers, though Europe isn’t what he expected. “Europe is not the same as we see on television and the media,” he tells me at a screening of the film. “When you arrive, you see the true reality of Europe, and I think it’s not as good as it’s made out.”

For more about the documentary, I spoke with Siebert and Wagner about their motivations behind the project and the oddity of editing someone else’s deeply personal footage.

VICE: Why did you want to make this film and put a camera in the hands of Sidibé?
Estephan Wagner: We have been interested in making this film for a long time, partly, in my case, because of my personal background. I come from Chile, but I have a German father who left when I was small, but he also left a passport behind, which made it possible for me to be here. I’ve always felt this—it’s not a guilt really—but a sense of injustice, that some people are lucky enough to have this piece of paper, while others don’t. It’s not that you’re a better person.

Before making this film, we have both been involved—on a personal level and as filmmakers—with migration and made different works surrounding this theme. Then in 2014, more and more, we started to read about these mass “jump” attempts, where sometimes a thousand people try to storm the fence in these big groups, in order that some may pass. We wondered: How can we go beyond whatever has been done so far about it?

How did you meet Sidibé?
Moritz Siebert: We found a journalist who lives and works in Melilla. For years, he’s covered the refugee situation. We contacted him, and said, “Listen, we have a project. We want to give away a camera to a protagonist, can you help us?” He knew the people from the Mali community living in Mount Gurugu, including Sidibé, who had already been there for 14 months when we arrived.

Playing devils advocate, do you think it matters that you had an agenda from the start? This is a film made to prove something, rather than being objective.
Siebert: In a way, we had an agenda. That agenda had to do with a point of view. But we don’t live in Melilla, we don’t live on Gurugu, and we didn’t hire a cameraman who made images for us. We were far away, we were in Copenhagen and Berlin. Sidibé could completely do what he wanted, or not do anything. Of course, in the editing, we took over again. During the filming, though, it’s not like we could point and say, “Shoot this or that.”

Did you ever give Sidibe prompts of what you wanted to see in his footage?
Siebert: We tried that in the beginning. We wrote out a list of scenes, which, from our research, we thought would be great in the film. A couple of things Sidibé did shoot, but most of what was on the list he couldn’t be bothered with, and he filmed a lot of other stuff instead. That was a process for us, realizing that what he films is what he’s interested in. It’s so much better than what we thought and what our agenda was. But, yes, on a conceptual level, we had an agenda. But I think that is OK. I’m not afraid of that.

Wagner: That was part of the whole idea, the concept of the film, to say, “We are not just giving him the camera for an aesthetic reason, or to make it easier for people to identify,” or whatever. We took the choice to give up responsibility, create power, and pass it over to him so he would have the chance to talk to us.

Can you tell me more about Sidibé’s voiceovers in the film?
Siebert: We did several interviews with him, from a few days after he had jumped [the border], to when he was in Madrid, and several interviews here in Germany that we combined with his diaries. He had been writing his story down. It wasn’t approached like a journalist or filmmaker. We didn’t ask what do need to explain for the audience to understand what is happening. We wanted much more interior, insightful voiceovers. Sidibé obviously knew his story best and also, we used his turns of phrase on the voiceover so he could shape it in the way that he felt was right.

Also, I think, giving this distance gives the possibility for reflection and, therefore, the possibility to shape a different image of the migrant. When we talk about refugees, we are typically bombarded with this pitiful image of the poor man who needs our care, but we wanted to focus on the strength of people in this situation—not from a perspective of pity.

You had to pay Sidibé to film, correct? In the voiceover heard in the film, he says if he weren’t paid, he would have sold the camera.
Siebert: That, for example, was important for us to keep in the final cut. It shows our distrust in the protagonist at the time. We didn’t know if he was going to sell the camera. We didn’t know if he was going to film at all. We didn’t know him before. The relationship built up during the process. So it was important to show it was an economic relationship at the beginning.

Documentaries are traditionally about seeking objective truth. Then in recent years, with the rise of Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock, documentaries have become more subjective and are made for entertainment. Where do you see Those Who Jump in that context?
Wagner: We neither believe that we have the truth, or that the film does, nor do we want to see this film as 80 minutes of pure entertainment. This is an opportunity to try and open up a dialogue, where all too often we talk about something and we don’t listen. So here, there is a chance to listen to somebody who talks to us, not in an activist tone, but very much in a human tone.

For more on ‘Those Who Jump,’ visit the film’s website here.

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Taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be

3 kommentarer

Max More

17.02.2015 kl.18:45

Great post! I would just add the point that the fertility rate is ALREADY below 2 in many countries, especially in Europe (Eastern Europe more drastically), Japan, and Russia. Even now, 44% of the world?s population live in 83 countries and territories where fertility is below replacement levels.

Jax Rhapsody

17.03.2015 kl.10:21

Actually; extending peoples lives is the problem, there is too many people, living too long. All the diseases are simply natures way of keeping our population in check, just like with other animals, there is no reason we need to continue bending the laws of nature because we want to achieve the impossible of never dying. Simply put; in our world, there is not enough to go around, nor the room, cities are holding more than they’ve been designed to do, countries, suxh as Japan, are holding more people than they should, not enough jobs, or money, or places to live, too much traffic, crowds, et cetera. We don’t need to be curing every disease, trying to live to be 200 years old, what we need to do is embrace death, as hard as it sounds. Most of the [first] world problems would go away once there isn’t so many people, crazy or not,the things that kill us, are here to kill us. Our population has been out of check for a long time, we think ourselves the best on this planet, as we invade on other animals living space, because ours is “running out,” no, which is another thing; once oir numbers are where they should be, the numbers of other animals will also increase, once some of their land returns to them, which is real good for endangered animals. No need for everybody to live, much less live “forever.”

Leith McCombs

28.02.2016 kl.02:46

I’m all for life extension, but this is an example of the limitations of mathematical thinking without sufficient context. From a standpoint of quality of life (for humans) and the health of most other species, a reduction in human population is clearly desirable. It would also increase available resources, which would tend to increase population growth, or at least decrease the rate of population decline. These trends are regularly observed in both human and animal populations. So while mathematical models can reasonable predict that the human population will peak at 11 billion, there is no reason to expect that it will ever decline past a point of comfortable resource equilibrium.

It is actually in the best interest of humans to reduce birth rates to <2/woman until a comfortable and ecologically sustainable population level is reached, and then seek equilibrium. And, if we succeed in conquering the aging process, it becomes all the more important that we reduce population growth, because otherwise the equation changes and we replace death by aging with death by starvation.

Fortunately, even without aging or disease, people will still die, so a steady state population is still possible without a zero birth rate.

If you’re alive in 30 years, chances are good you may also be alive in 1000 years

If you’re alive in 30 years, chances are good you may also be alive in 1000 years

– Norwegian version: Hvis du lever om 30 år, er det gode sjanser for at du også kan leve om 1000 år

Sounds unlikely? It’s not – it’s actually quite likely.

The only way to get people to live for a thousand years or more is to develop advanced technologies that can manipulate our bodies down to the cellular and molecular level. So the question is whether humanity will develop the necessary technologies over the next 30 years, or not. Personally, I think it’s very close to 100% certain that we’ll manage to do this.

That is, we don’t have to perfect the technology in 30 years. What we must do is to develop technology that can make old people 10, 20 or 30 years younger, biologically speaking, so an 80-year-old, for example, can get the body of a 60-year-old. In that case, he has bought himself 20 more years of life, and in those 20 years the technology will have progressed even further, so that when he is 100 years and his body again is like an 80-year-old’s, he can rejuvenate more than 20 years. In all likelihood we will take treatments more often than once every 20 years, and if so, the remaining life expectancy can be illustrated like this:

Image by Aubrey de Grey (I think)

The figure is not entirely accurate, partly because people aged 100 years and 0 years clearly don’t have the same remaining life expectancy today, and also because the curves would be more jagged (since it might go some time between each treatment), but it still illustrates the point well: the numbers above the curves represent how old the person is today (today is all the way to the left in the figure), and if the curve hits the horizontal line at the bottom (the time axis), the person is dead. According to the figure, then, a person who’s 80 years old today will have difficulty living forever, while a typical 50-year-old might just make it.

Normally, the life expectancy of a person goes down as time passes and the person gets older. When someone is 50 years old, for example, one thinks that they have a shorter remaining life expectancy than when the person was 30. In the figure that means that the curve always slopes downward towards 0 (the horizontal line) as time passes. But in the future, better technology will cause life expectancy to start increasing: The older we get, the longer we can actually expect to live. In the figure this is illustrated by the curve turning and starting to slope upwards.

It would therefore theoretically be possible to live indefinitely without getting an old body, but not only is it possible for many of us, it is possible even if the technology isn’t progressing particularly fast. For it is, like I said, not necessary for the technology that can make us younger to be perfect in 30 years, it only needs to work well enough that we can live long enough to benefit from the technology that will be developed after that. Looking at it like this, it doesn’t really take all that much to get people to live for more than 1,000 years.

Many might still be skeptical of the notion that technology will progress fast enough over the next 30 years. Will we be able to rejuvenate people by about 20 years, biologically speaking, in such a relatively short time span? I am almost certain that the answer to that question is Yes.

Because technology will advance fast – very fast.
With a few assumptions, such as the Earth not being hit by a large asteroid, some aspects of the future can actually be predicted with a high degree of certainty. One of these is that we will have more efficient technology in the future than today. It’s even become apparent that just how much better the technology will be is also quite easy to predict – in certain areas. The best known example of this is perhaps Moore’s Law, which states that the number of transistors on an area doubles every two years. More generally, the amount of computing power we can buy for a fixed amount of money doubles in a relatively short span of time. 1) This was true long before we got transistors (Moore’s Law), and it will probably also hold true after it is no longer possible to increase the number of transistors per area. At that point another technology with significantly greater potential will take over for transistors.

The time it takes to double computers’ performance is only half the time it takes to double the number of transistors per area, for since the spacing between transistors is shorter, it also takes less time for signals to move between them. Thus, the performance of computers doubles, not every other year, but every single year!

The fact that the performance of computers does not increase linearly, but actually doubles at regular intervals, is very important. Those who know the history of the inventor of the game of chess know how few doublings are needed before we get to very large numbers: If we take the number 1 as the starting point, 10 doublings take us to about 1000, 20 doublings get us to a million and 30 doublings from the number 1 take us to a little over one billion. If the price performance of computers doubles every year, the price performance will thus be a billion times better in 30 years than it is today. At that point it’s virtually just the imagination that limits what we can achieve with all that computing power.

If we examine how computing power per constant dollar has evolved since the year 1900, we will see that the time between each doubling is actually shorter now than it was 100 years ago. If this trend continues and we extrapolate the trend all the way to the end of this century, we might get a development that looks something like this: 2)

Image from Ray Kurzweil’s book The Singularity is Near – When Humans Transcend Biology

Note that the y-axis is logarithmic – each of the marked values on the y-axis is actually 100,000 times greater than the previous one. A straight line pointing upwards in a logarithmic plot corresponds to an exponential (explosive) increase. The amount of computing power we can buy for a given amount of money increases even faster than this!

Computers aren’t just getting faster, they are also becoming smarter and can do more and more of the things we previously thought only humans could do. In 1997, the world’s best chess player, Garry Kasparov was defeated in chess by a computer. In 2011, two of the world’s best Jeopardy players were defeated in Jeopardy by Watson, a supercomputer developed by IBM. So with increased computing power and better algorithms computers have become smarter and smarter. The progress has been very rapid, and if it continues, machine intelligence will at some point not only be faster, but also become smarter than human/biological intelligence. Machine intelligence will then be able to make improvements to itself without input from humans. Ray Kurzweil, whom Bill Gates has called the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence, and who works as director of engineering at Google, is perhaps the best-known futurologist, and he has said that this will happen by the year 2045. 2045 is less than 30 years away.

Sure, computers are getting better, but how’s that relevant for making people younger?
We take advantage of computers in ever more areas of our lives. According to Ray Kurzweil, as soon as something becomes an information technology, it starts progressing according to Moore’s Law. The technology thus begins to progress exponentially, with regular doublings in performance. An information technology is a technology that uses computers extensively. In recent decades, biology and medicine has to an increasing extent started to become an information technology. With computers we can now, among other things:

  • Read human genes.
  • Edit genes with CRISPR/Cas9, a revolutionary technology that has been adopted by laboratories worldwide. Still better technologies for gene editingare under development.
  • 3D print some human organs.
  • Create a physical chromosome designed on a computer. Researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute did this in 2010, before putting the chromosome into a cell where it caused the cell to start dividing.
  • Diagnose diseases better than human doctors, based on image files, description of symptoms and information about the patient. (The Watson supercomputer has, among other things, been used for this purpose after its Jeopardy victory.)
  • Measure the body’s health condition using small sensors. Do you remember that relatively small device the Star Trek doctors scanned their patients with to diagnose them? In Star Trek, they called it a Tricorder. The X Prize Foundation has an ongoing competition where the goal of the participating teams is to create a Tricorder-like device that can be used to diagnose a few diseases, 16 of them to begin with. The aim is to give people, even in poor parts of the world, easy access to their own health information. Patients must therefore be able to use the Tricorder to diagnose themselves with ease.

So medicine is about to become an information technology, and that’s the main reason why we can expect medical technology to advance exponentially in the future.

The more advanced our technology becomes, the smaller sized computers we’re able to make, and in the long term we can envisage mini computers the size of red blood cells. We can have billions of these in our blood, and they can act as an artificial immune system that continuously helps our natural immune system to fix things that have gone wrong. In the long term this may be the way we will be controlling the aging process, but fortunately it’s not necessary with technology that advanced in order to repair aging damage ‘well enough’ in the short term.

Most aging researchers agree that there’s only about seven fundamental reasons why we age. Aubrey de Grey, the best-known advocate for defeating aging and Chief Science Officer of SENS Research Foundation, a charitable organization working to fight aging, stated already more than ten years ago that even without revolutionary new technologies there was about a 50% chance that we would be able, within 25 years, to repair the seven types of aging damage well enough to increase people’s life expectancy by 25-30 years.

For this to be achievable in just 25 years, the level of funding would have to be very good, according to the Grey. Thus far, the funding has been far from as good as one might hope for, but important progress has been made, nonetheless, and2015 was a good year for aging research. Private firms are now trying to develop treatments for four (perhaps soon to be five) of the seven categories of aging damage. By simply removing old “zombie cells” (senescent cells – cells that have stopped dividing, but that aren’t being recycled by the immune system) has led to a 25% increase in longevity in mice. Actually, two different companies are now working to develop treatments to remove this type of harmful cells in humans, Unity Biotechnology and Oisin Biotechnology. The more firms competing to develop treatments, the greater the likelihood that someone succeeds, so this is very promising!

So considering how far we’ve come already and how fast technology is improving and can be expected to improve in the future, I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’ll have the aging process under control in less than 30 years. Maybe 30 years is too cautious an estimate, even. Ray Kurzweil has said that already by 2030, life expectancy will increase by one year per year, and I actually won’t be very surprised if he’s right. But everyone in the world won’t get access to the technology as early as Kurzweil estimates, which is why nearly 30 years might still be closer to the truth for most people?

Is it inevitable that we’ll be living much longer lives in the future?
Living a long time is closely linked to being healthy. As long as you have good health, you are not going to die of aging. No matter how skeptical some people are today to the idea of people living lives of more than 1,000 years, I think most of them will still choose good health if they can. No one wants to get cancer, dementia or heart problems. One would have to be pretty principled if one refuses to take the anti-aging treatments that in the future can provide us with much better health, when most other people around us are taking them. It is in everyone’s interest to develop these treatments and to have good health. 3)Technology trends indicate that the treatments will arrive soon, and, yes, it is virtually inevitable!

And we’re not going to extend human life expectancy to a mere 150 years. It may well be that new, still unknown, types of aging damage will be found to be important when people start approaching 150 years of age, but given the incredibly fast pace of technological progress, at the time when the first humans will be 150 years old, it’s going to be easy to figure out how to repair these new types of aging damage. So if you’ve made it to 150, you’re “over the hump” (a long time ago), and then there’s simply no limit to how long you can live.


1) An important reason why technological progress is speeding up as rapidly as it is, is that we’re developing more and more effective tools, and with more effective tools, we’re in turn able to develop even more effective tool.

2) But isn’t the pace of technological progress eventually going to slow down? Maybe, but Ray Kurzweil (who thinks people are going to improve themselves by “merging” with the technology we’re developing) thinks it’s going to be a very long time until that’s going to happen. In his essay The Law of Accelerating Returns, he writes:

Can the pace of technological progress continue to speed up indefinitely? Is there not a point where humans are unable to think fast enough to keep up with it? With regard to unenhanced humans, clearly so. But what would a thousand scientists, each a thousand times more intelligent than human scientists today, and each operating a thousand times faster than contemporary humans (because the information processing in their primarily nonbiological brains is faster) accomplish? One year would be like a millennium. What would they come up with?

Well, for one thing, they would come up with technology to become even more intelligent (because their intelligence is no longer of fixed capacity). They would change their own thought processes to think even faster. When the scientists evolve to be a million times more intelligent and operate a million times faster, then an hour would result in a century of progress (in today’s terms).

3) Many people might think that the Earth will be overpopulated if we stop dying. That’s far from certain.

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The Axial Age In A Spiritual Light

The Axial Age, godchild.buzz

The Axial Age In A Spiritual Light

Before 600 B.C. and the Axial Age, religion was a true child of its time. Civilizations were busy conquering nature and neighbors. As rulers evolved administration and technology, priests committed to sanction rules and anticipate/manipulate natural forces and divine powers. People resorted to worship and prayers to change the gods’ minds.

Astrology was the most developed discipline at that time, but priests used many other methods of divination.  Astrology sticks out because it has a scientific touch. Astrologers derive logical conclusions from (Astrological) premises and verify them by experiences. The Babylonians equalled gods with cosmic forces (Babylon is the birthplace of Astrology). They even assigned numbers to their gods to include them in Astrological calculations.

The Axial Age changed all that. In fact, it turned religion upside down. Siddhartha Gautama played a major role in this revolution. Unlike his religious ancestors, he didn’t bother about the world. He even ignored its Creator. He was interested in three things only:

Who am I really?

What am I doing here?

How can I end my suffering?

Siddhartha Gautama was born from a rich and influential family. He knew first hand that neither wealth, power, fame, nor entertainment can cease suffering. Wealthy people lose their loved ones, famous people get sick, powerful people die, excitement is as fleeting as a fart, and success leaves us with new wants. He raised the million-dollar question: How to be happy independent of what’s going on in the world?

Logically, he could find that answer only within. Weary from many years of scavenging the depths of his mind for his true self, he sat down under a Buddhi tree and swore not to rise before he had answered the mother of all questions. “I make it or I die under this tree!” he vowed and – luckily for him and mankind – he succeeded. He became enlightened, discovered his true self, and turned into the Buddha.

Afterwards he taught other people how to be themselves. To keep people on the path of righteousness, he prohibited old-school religion – divination, sacrifices, worship, and even prayer.

Spirituality Is Conversation With God

Buddha kept rules simple: meditate an cultivate spiritual manners – that’s dharma. Meditation is the key, but we can’t have our eyes closed all the time. That’s where dharma comes in. The most important dharma is non-violence. But don’t think of it as a matter of morality – morality is old-school religion, remember? Non-violence paves the way for meditation. An angry or resentful mind can’t be calm, a calm mind can’t meditate, and a mind that can’t meditate can’t discover it’s true self.

Meanwhile in the Middle East, the Babylonians dragged half of the Jewish population into slavery (597-550 BCE). Spiritually speaking, this disaster was a blessing in disguise. The Jews came in contact with Babylonian Astrology and wisdom.

That they engaged with the Babylonians is indicated by the fact that Daniel became the master Astrologer in the Babylonian court. Paul Foster Case’s little book on this subject Daniel, Master of Magicians is inspiring.

Daniel had a splendid prophet as contemporary: Ezekiel, who had two great spiritual visions, which moved the focus from God to mankind. The first was the Celestial Chariot, which illustrates human personality as it exists in the four worlds. Mind that this vision is tinged with Astrological imagery. The second was the vision of the Third Temple – that’s perfected human personality. Mind that the key to the secrets of the Temple-Not-Made-With-Hands is hidden in its proportions, meaning spiritual math is involved.

It appears that Ezekiel and Daniel took Judaic religion to a new level. It is unclear what scriptures were available before their time, most likely a loose anthology of various religious stories. They took those and compiled them into the Torah. Also, they added a few Babylonian themes, e.g. the deluge, the Garden of Eden, and the Tree of Life and Knowledge. The religious aura changed too: no more sacrifices, no more divination, and images of God were prohibited. Last but not least, Judaism got a monotheistic stamp – the break with old school religion was complete.

The Torah doesn’t discourage prayers explicitly, but it stands to reason that its un-manipulable God defies devotional begging. All stories of the Torah scream one basic message: God’s will shall be done and resistance is futile. Hence, prayers are futile as well. Do you dare to attempt changing God’s mind? Be my guest!

Picture attribution: copyright/ lisafx / 123RF Stock Photo

 

Buddha and Ezekiel agree: instead of chewing God’s ear off, better open your mind and listen to the still voice inside your heart. Let God pull you out (Moses) from a materialistic life-style (Egypt/suffering), free your from the tyranny of your ego (the pharaoh), and liberate your from the plagues (conquer karma).

At this juncture a comparison between Judaism and Buddhism is interesting. While Buddhism took on an atheistic flair, Judaism turned into a monohumanism. In Judaism meditation and way of life (dharma) went separate ways. The first became the way of the prophets and mystics, an esoteric-oral tradition accessible to initiates only. The oral tradition at that time became known asMerkhavah, honoring Ezekiel’s vision. The way of life, on the other hand, was seized by the scribes, who later became known as the Pharisees. We will revisit this schism in a minute.

Interestingly, something similar happened in China. The two great schools of Confucius (dharma) and Lao-tze (enlightenment) emerged and went separate ways.

Meanwhile in the neighbor country Persia, a great prophet gave rise to a religious tsunami: Zoroaster, who probably lived sometime between 625 and 550 BCE. As Ezekiel and Daniel, he changed Persian religion into a monotheism and put away with sacrifices and divination. Zoroaster moved the focus from God to enlightenment as well. He even came up with a redeemer myth, that of Saoshyant that resembles Jesus Christ’s story in a few details.

On a side note: I wouldn’t be surprised if Zoroaster and Ezekiel knew each other, but I couldn’t find any indications during my research.

Similar religious reformations occurred in many other countries during the Axial Age. In the 6th Century B.C. also the founders ofJainism lived and worked, who taught, like Buddha, the principles of non-violence, karma, and samsara (escape from suffering).

Noteworthy is also the rise of humanism in Greek philosophy, which put mankind at the center of concern. Priests inscribed the dictum Know Your Self on the pronaos (forecourt) of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.

Mankind, know thyself, then thou shalt know the Universe and God! – An ancient Greek saying.

And let’s not forget Pythagoras, who lived from 570 B.C. to 495 B.C. In 414 B.C. he discovered sacred geometry and the Pythagorean triangle, a glyph that sums up the spiritual evolution of human personality as expounded so exquisitely by Paul Foster Case in his book The True and Invisible Rosicrucian Order (page 48).

Fast forward: around five hundred years after the Axial Age, Jesus was born. At that time the schism between prophecy and religion has widened to a severe spiritual crisis. The Pharisees were following religious rules to the latter and thus deemed themselves perfect. Logically they rejected Jesus’ redemption teaching. But meditation is the key to enlightenment, not following rules. This ethical arrogance may have been Jesus’ greatest antagonist. His irritating rings in Matthew 23.13: You damn lawmakers, academics, and better-than-thous. You lost the key to the kingdom of heaven [enlightenment] and all you are doing now is preventing people from finding it.

It is possible that Jesus was educated by the Essenes, who were one of the few remaining custodians of the oral, mystical Judaic tradition. Jesus renewed the great religious synchronicity and re-introduced a spiritual way of life. That he agrees with Buddha on the ultimate value of meditation shows this remark: The kingdom of heaven is within!

Like Buddha, Jesus advertised non-violence and passive resistance:

Love your neighbors and even enemies as yourself!

Don’t oppose evil!

Give Cesar what is Cesar’s!

Leave karma (revenge) to God!

Ironically, the Pharisees were pedantic moralists, but not peaceful. They expressed resentment towards all non-Jews. TheseSeparatists even resented non-Phariesee-Jews. And they were quick to stone people who cherished different opinions. Well, they liked to crucify prophets too.

Jesus’ new way of life inspired countless people in the Roman Empire and for a while it seemed that the West would experience a rebirth of spirituality. Unfortunately, this did not last. When the church seized Christianity, the Gnostics (those who want to know God) were persecuted, enlightenment was banned into monasteries, and rules dictated religion again. Not surprisingly, the custom of praying – the attempt to manipulate God’s mind – was restored. Even worse, the church called upon God to justify wars and the persecution of spiritually minded people.

What now – 2,500 years after the Axial Age? After 2,000 years of spiritual suppression? Is prophecy possible in modern times? Do we need another Axial Age? What to do about bad old religious ways?

Let’s ignore them. Shadows on cave walls. Societies haven’t been as liberal as this since the rise of the Roman Empire. Of course, it could be better and there is still a lot of work to do, but the way is already paved. The Light has already won.

And we have all religious and spiritual traditions at our disposal: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, paganism, Zoroastrianism – you name it. It’s ours for the taking. We just need to keep at meditation and practice peaceful manners.

Mind that the schism between religion and spirituality isn’t just a historical issue. This conflict is rooted deeply in human psychology. Everybody who witnessed God and higher states of awareness came back with the same message: “Have a chat with God on a daily basis,  realize who you truly are, and promote peace.” It sounds so logical and simple, but why don’t we follow suit? Because of die-hard subconscious patterns. Customs are older than religion and derived from experience. They are responses to nature’s harsh reality. Prophecy, on the other hand, reveals inner values that contradict common sense and can’t be proven. In short: we lack faith in intangibles.

Thus, the schism between religion and customs lingers strong. The result is cynicism. What people do during and between Sunday sermons are two different affairs.

A good example for the great divide between our weak religious faith and stubborn customs are feuds that still linger strong in Islamic and Christian countries. They may even be one of the emotional roots of terrorism. Yes – why on earth are Christians still revengeful?