One can tease out political differences quite simply — how individuals view the role of government, freedom, and a just society is directly related to their level of moral reasoning. Your racist uncle behaves in that way because of how he reasons morally and no amount of statistics or appeals to decency will change his outlook.
Not too long ago, I along with a woman was part of a panel discussion at a college. We were addressing college students, and what struck me about this particular person was the extent of her self-centeredness. I found it interesting because she sought me out before we spoke and mentioned that she too was a “practicing Buddhist.” However, her version of Buddhism, it seemed to me, was simply meditation. I had a teacher who once joked that practicing Buddhism without ethics was like trying to row a boat without first untying it from the pier.
From what I gathered, her whole existence centered on her and she was oblivious to how she was connected to her environment; how her actions reverberated and caused ripples. In her world, what mattered was the conscious cultivation of her ego. In fact she could actually see the “logic” in the needless death of an infant. This is what happens when you mix Ayn Rand with meditation! LOL Nothing could be further from my vision of Buddhist practice.
Two people, two different worlds.
This got me to thinking and I have come to realization that “practicing meditation” or any set of practices isn’t enough. I have come to realize that we perceive our world according to the level of consciousness/ awareness from which operate. It’s the same with love. For some people, love’s reason is the satisfaction of the individual. Love is something that you go “out there” to get in order to satisfy a hunger for connection. Similarly, religion, politics, ethics, and everything else is filtered — distilled — according to where you stand in terms of growth.
I’ll explain. Let’s take moral development as a starting off point. Let’s say, for the sake of this post, that moral development has three distinct stages. At birth an infant hasn’t been socialized into its culture’s ethics, standards, and conventions; let’s call this thepreconventional stage. It’s also known as the egocentric, in that the infant’s awareness is largely consumed with self — self-absorbed. But as the young child begins to internalize its culture’s rules and norms, it grows into the conventional stage of morals. This stage is also known as ethnocentric, in that it’s focused on the child’s particular group, tribe, clan, or nation, and therefore tends to exclude those not of its group. But at the next major stage of moral development, the post-conventional stage, the individual’s identity expands to include care and concern for all peoples, regardless of race, color, sex, or creed, which is why this stage is also known as worldcentric.
If you’re still with me, you can see that moral development tends to move from “me” (egocentric) to “us” (ethnocentric) to “all of us” (worldcentric). This is an example of unfolding waves of consciousness.
Using this consciousness “map,” one can see how religion, or love for that matter, will manifest itself differently in a person who’s at the egocentric stage than a person who’s at a worldcentric stage. Both people can be just as devout or “in love”, but spiritual practice or love consciousness will evolve according to any one individual’s level of moral development.
To further illustrate, imagine love from a morally egocentric perspective. Love at this stage resembles a yearning — something like an addict’s need for a fix — an ego boost. Same thing with almost anything you look at in life: perception and meaning changes according to the level you are engaging the world. Religion from an egocentric perspective resembles the global wave of fundamentalism currently threatening our existence. And I mention fundamentalism in all its manifestations — including our own home-grown Christian fundamentalism.
I find all this quite interesting because a lot of my work involves helping people move from one stage to another. But it’s also interesting because it helps me tease out the idiosyncrasies when someone says, “I love you.” Perhaps we need to know a little more about others and ourselves as we travel on our journey. For what may sound like “I loveyou” may in actuality mean “I love me.”
What would our national or global dialog resemble as people moved up the ladder of the stages of moral reasoning?
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…