Levels of Being
Continued from Stuck? 5 World crisis and its roots
In the 1970s E.F.Schumacher[i] was one of the voices crying in the wilderness for humanity to change direction. He diagnosed the basic philosophical problem underlying the ‘Western’ world view, suggesting that the breakthrough attributed to Descartes represented a break with the traditional wisdom of earlier societies, and its essential truth that there are different Levels of Being. These Levels are represented in the physical world by the essentially different natures of mineral, vegetable, animal and human – and by the corresponding mysteries of matter, life, consciousness and self awareness. And the wisdom tradition indicates that there are also higher levels of soul and spirit that we humans can aspire to.
This seems fundamental. If we do not recognise the possibility of higher Levels of Being then we voluntarily impoverish ourselves. Schumacher makes it clear: “The level of significance to which an observer or investigator tries to attune himself is chosen, not by his intelligence, but by his faith… his fundamental presuppositions and basic assumptions.” It seems clear that the materialists had thrown out the baby of human potential with the bath water of the religious faiths whose dominance they were trying to break away from.
Since lower Levels of Being are not aware of higher Levels, or of their significance[ii], this has encouraged the majority of people to stumble along in a materialistic trance, lemmings approaching the cliff edge of the end of the world. And all in accord with a simplistic and restricted materialistic faith, known as scientism[iii], that does not recognise our true potential.
In the world of my upbringing the word ‘faith’ was always coupled with the word ‘irrational’, conveniently ignoring the faith that underlies the materialistic view itself. An optimistic faith based on the premise of the existence of higher Levels of Being, for which there is so much testimony from our forebears and contemporaries, seems the rational response to the situation we find ourselves in. Higher Levels of Being generally correspond with a more inclusive and less selfish approach to the world (for example in my earlier heroes, M.K.Gandhi and Martin Luther King).
If we do not choose to follow the quest for those higher Levels we will certainly never achieve them, instead continuing along our present destructive path.
Accepting the concept of Levels of Being, we can see religions as being potentially in the role of providing alternative paths towards those higher spiritual Levels[iv]. There is a strong attraction to the idea that there is this common core at the heart of all the world’s religions, as confirmed, for example, by Huston Smith’s extensive research[v]. Religions become different paths towards a common aim, which is to connect with that which is highest in humanity. Each religion provides its own approach for following the path to this common spirituality, like a crutch which can be discarded when we are able to stand on our own spiritual feet.
2023 perspective: Many authors have taken up this theme. The extensive body of Ken Wilber’s work and his Integral Philosophy provide a comprehensive model of the levels of being. There are also countless modern spiritual exemplars and a huge selection of books related to various paths. Yet the materialist juggernaut trundles on and on in the ‘real world’...
Featured image shows models of Levels of Being by Sri Arobindo and Ken Wilber,
by Joshua Jonathan, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
[i] E.F.Schumacher is most well known for his work Small is Beautiful. His philosophical ideas (discussed here) were published posthumously in A Guide for the Perplexed.
[ii] Schumacher explains the Great Truth of adaequatio – nothing can be perceived without an appropriate organ of perception, and nothing can be understood without an appropriate organ of understanding. “If a man persuades himself that the only ‘data’ worth having are those delivered by his five senses, and that a ‘data processing unit’ called the brain is there to deal with them, he restricts his knowing to that Level of Being for which these instruments are adequate, and this means mainly to the level of inanimate matter.”
[iii] Scientism – a materialistic faith that everything will be explained by objective science; “the religion that thinks current equations are revealed truths agreed by God… at the beginning of the universe” (Charles Tart, tongue-in-cheek at a Mystics & Scientists conference)
[iv] The role of religions as paths to higher Levels is discussed in The Marriage of Sense and Soul, Ken Wilber.
[v] The abbreviated conclusion of Huston Smith’s extensive researches of the world’s religionsis in Forgotten Truth, Huston Smith. For illustrative texts from all the major religions see Universal Wisdom, Bede Griffiths. The 1993 Parliament of World Religions produced a draft of core values Towards a Global Ethic.