You don’t have to be a missionary to have a mission
In my mind, the true meaning of the word “missionary” is someone whose mission in life is to do good, someone who is determined to make the world a better place. Dr. Albert Schweitzer (1875 ~ 1965) is an example of a true missionary. His mission wasn’t to convert, but to heal, and his purpose wasn’t to teach doctrine, but to teach love.
We can learn a lot from him. Our challenge is to let go of the person we are today and become the person we were meant to be. We don’t have to go to Africa to change the world, we can do it right where we are. And the best way of doing that is by changing ourselves.
How should we change ourselves? We can begin by understanding the eight levels of spiritual awareness. Once we understand them, we can check where we are, and work on raising ourselves to the next level. The higher we climb, the greater our impact on the world. Now, let’s take a look at the eight levels (nine if you count Level Zero).
LEVEL ZERO: People at this (low) level care only about themselves. Completely selfish, they are not concerned about the consequences of their actions. They do whatever they want, and if others get hurt, so be it.
LEVEL 1: People at this level are nearly as bad as those in Level 1. But the difference is instead of being INDIFFERENT they are THOUGHTLESS. It’s not that they don’t CARE, but that they don’t THINK about their actions. But they are guilty of abrogating their responsibility to consider the consequences of their actions.
LEVEL 2: At this level people are beginning to experience a spiritual awakening, for after doing something wrong, they later regret it. Yet, despite their regret, they do nothing to make up for the harm they have done.
LEVEL 3: This level is a giant step forward, for after misbehaving, they not only later regret what they have done, but also later apologize or try to make up for their misconduct.
LEVEL 4: At this level, the gaps between misconduct, regret, and apology diminish, for IMMEDIATELY AFTER doing something wrong, the perpetrator regrets it and apologizes or makes restitution.
LEVEL 5: At this level, people are still tempted to say or do something nasty, but as soon as temptation arises, they STOP and THINK. They make the conscious choice not to hurt others. Therefore, there is no need to apologize.
LEVEL 6: At this high level, there is virtually no temptation, for the people at this level see good in all. They love life and are happy with the world.
LEVEL 7: Although they love life and are happy with the world, people at this level also feel the pain that others are experiencing and do whatever they can to lessen the suffering of others.
LEVEL 8: Lessening suffering becomes the only concern for the people at this level. They lead exemplary lives of service. Dr. Albert Schweitzer and Mother Teresa (1910 ~ 1997) are examples. People at this level love all, including those at Level Zero, for like Lao Tzu (6th century BCE), they say, “I find good people good. And I find bad people good when I am good enough.”
Most of us are at levels 3 ~ 5. In real life, we occupy different levels with different people. For example, one may be at Level 5 with their spouse, Level 4 with a friend, and Level 3 with a coworker. On reflection, it becomes clear that we have ample room to grow and make a greater contribution to the world. Raising our level of consciousness is not a trivial matter, for as Ram Das says:
“Remember, we are all affecting the world every moment, whether we mean to or not. Our actions and states of mind matter, because we’re so deeply interconnected with one another. Working on our own consciousness is the most important thing that we are doing at any moment.” (“Ram Das” is the spiritual name of Richard Alpert, Ph.D. The name means “Servant of God” and was given to him by his Indian Guru, Neem Karoli Baba.)
Familiarity with the degrees of spiritual consciousness allows us to find out where we are and to set goals to move upward. As we do so, we will experience at least three benefits. First, we will have fewer and fewer problems with life. This is because focusing on ME instead of WE is the cause of most problems. When we cooperate with others things go smoothly, but when our only concern is our own interest, we create friction.
The second benefit is, we will gain more and more power. After all, people are the source of our power, so the better we get along with others, the greater our power. And the third benefit is, the higher we climb the stairway of spiritual awareness, the greater our happiness, for we will be free from conflict and delighted by life.
The gateway to higher levels of consciousness is your heart. When you open it to others, you also allow the love of the universe to pour in. But how can we learn to open our heart to others? One excellent method is by practicing the easy-to-do and powerful Loving-Kindness meditation. The original name for this meditation is “mettabhavana,” which is Pali for “love” or “kindness” (metta) and “cultivation” (bhavana). To learn how to cultivate love and kindness with the Loving-Kindness meditation, please visit: http://www.care2.com/channels/solutions/bms/1227
Here’s a question posed by Richard Bach, “I gave my life to become the person I am now. Was it worth it?” When you are on your deathbed and ask yourself the same question, what will your answer be? If you practice a life of loving-kindness, your answer will be a resounding YES!
Another aid in opening your heart is the Japanese art of NAIKAN (Self-reflection). You can learn about it here: http://www.todoinstitute.org/naikan.html. The book on NAIKAN that is offered for sale on the same web page is a worthwhile investment.
While I am on the subject of books, I’ll recommend two more. 1. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s tour de force: COMING TO OUR SENSES: Healing Ourselves and the World through Mindfulness, Hyperion, 2005.
2. A Handbook for Constructive Living, David K. Reynolds, Ph.D., University of Hawaii Press, 2002. You can learn more about Constructive Living by taking the four mini lessons at http://www.constructiveliving.com/CL1.html. (All of the books mentioned in this article are available at Amazon.com.)
Since our actions have a great influence on the world, let’s engrave in our memory the words of Joan Walsh Anglund: “One seed can start a garden; one drop can start a sea; one doubt can start a hating; one dream can set us free.”
Finally, I’ll end with this Ancient Sanskrit poem: “In its brief course lie all the realities and truths of existence: the joy of growth, the splendor of action, the glory of power. For yesterday is but a memory. And tomorrow is only a vision; but today well lived makes every yesterday a memory of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well, therefore, to this day!”