Levels of Being

Four Levels of Being are described by E.F. Schumacher in his book A Guide for the Perplexed (Harper Colophon edition pub 1978):

4. Self-Awareness by Human Mortals

3. Consciousness and the Animal World

2. Life and the Plant World

1. Minerals

At the lowest level of being is the world of inanimate Minerals that can be described and understood by chemistry and physics, and have neither Life nor Consciousness nor Self-awareness. Minerals and their exploitation have assumed an all-consuming importance in the modern world, and strict attention to this “bottom line” has displaced focus on the higher levels of being. Our culture even judges the “net worth” of Mortals by the amount of minerals they “own” be it in gold and silver, or bricks and mortar.

The next level—that of Life and the Plant World—is endowed with the mysterious quality of Life that we easily recognize by its presence or absence, but for which science has very little explanation. This level is receiving more attention in these times because our greedy preoccupation with and consumption of minerals is endangering life on the planet. We are witnessing the extinction of many living species as we threaten life for all living things great and small with our malignant disregard.

The Animal is on the third tier and has the power of Consciousness (for which science also has limited understanding), and an animal can lose consciousness without losing life. Our modern failure to treasure consciousness is seen in our pursuit of consciousness-numbing addictions to alcohol and to drugs of all kinds, prescription and illegal. We may also anesthetize consciousness of life in the present moment by compulsive shopping, television watching and a whole variety of electronic and other distractions that keep us preoccupied and asleep.

The fourth is the human Mortal plane. The additional power at this level is that of Self-awareness, that includes awareness of death. Science is even more helpless at this plane, and acts as though man is a machine that functions at the top of the third level or animal chain of being. Self-awareness means that the human is endowed not only with Life and Consciousness but also with the capacity for unconditional love of self and others.