There are three undeniable laws that govern the way of all things: constancy, change, and interdependence. Change is the quality of movement and alternation. Nothing stays the same. Everything is becoming something else. Transformation. The body is always changing. Thoughts are always changing. Emotions are always changing. Physical sensations, always changing. Likes, dislikes, dreams, aspirations, intuitions — all are constantly changing. The river of change is unstoppable. Not a single thing endures.
Nobody perfectly understands how or why the law of change works. Science has its ever-evolving theories. Religion postulates a god whose will is the driving force. Astrology has it explanation. Theories and elaborate equations are valid and interesting. Yet, in terms of spiritual awakening, it is not particularly relevant to understand how the law of change affects your personal story. It is essential to see how acting in contradiction to the law of change perpetuates your own Cycle of Affliction. To this end, it is helpful to investigate your relationship with change. When we pay attention to the changing dynamics within our own experience, we have the possibility of insight into the universal principles of natural law. This insight is one of the most direct pathways to awakening.
Constancy is the complementary opposite of change. The reason we can notice change is because there is a continuous background that is unchanging. Openness. Constancy is the backdrop upon which change happens — like the silver screen behind a motion picture. In terms of visual observation, we call it space. While reading this blog, you see the words on the screen and give little notice to the white background. When you enter a room, you notice what stands out. But look around the location you are in right now. What is the most plentiful thing you see? Space.
Between and around every object is space. Between your eyes and the screen, space. Can you see it? Can you see the open space?
In terms of listening, constancy is silence. The reason we can hear musical notes is because of the silence between them. In fact, silence is always there. It is a continuous medium within which sound resonates. Like space, silence doesn’t stand out unless you notice it.
In terms of thoughts, constancy is awareness. Are you aware that you are thinking right now? At first glance, thoughts appear as a continuous stream. When we observe more closely, we find that thoughts are similar to musical notes. Between each thought is a gap. Like objects in a room, thoughts stand out because of the space between them. Just as silence is continuous behind sounds, awareness is constant behind and between thoughts. In the practice of contemplation, we observe what is there and what is not there. Part of the practice is to notice the unchanging dimension behind all phenomena.
And yet constancy has two sides. On the other hand, the law of constancy refers back to the law of change. It says that change is the only constant. If that is the case, what appears to be unchanging must also change. Our dualistic mind, with its love for tidy boxes, does not like this idea at all. It threatens intellectual certainty. It rocks the boat. Change and constancy are supposed to be opposites, distinct and fundamentally separate.
But it’s not that cut and dried.
Observable things have shape, size, duration, texture, or some definable quality that stands out. These can be thoughts, sensations, emotions, plants, people, planets, galaxies. We can use the word Appearance to describe anything that has distinctive qualities. If we are uncertain whether something meets this description, we ask four questions to clarify: Is it observable? Does it have a beginning? Does it change? Does it have an end? A yes answer to one question automatically confirms the other three.
Appearances are anything observable, changing, and temporary. These parameters apply regardless of size, scope, duration, or subtlety: a passing cloud, a tree, the sun, a dream, a human body. Now for the interesting part: Appearances only arise in conjunction with their partner, Awareness. Awareness is unchanging. Awareness is non-preferential. Awareness is vital, luminous and cognizant. It is complete openness. Total acceptance.
It would seem that Awareness and Appearance are polar opposites, like Republicans and Democrats. Yet the law of continuity says that opposites are actually one continuum. Think of a magnet with two poles. Positive and negative are distinct, yet both are part of one magnet. If you cut a magnet in two, both pieces will have positive and negative poles. The law of change says that everything is becoming something else.
When we apply the laws of continuity and change to Awareness and Appearance, we discover a singular unbroken reality with two expressions. The life-matrix is “more than one, less than two,” as Indian Bhakti Yogis are fond of saying. Like a magnet with two poles, Awareness and Appearance are one body. Form-Emptiness. Shiva-Shakti. Body-Mind.
The law of Interdependence states that nothing has singular individuated existence. No single thing exists by itself. All things are interdependent. And all things are composite; made of multiple parts. Even the parts are made of parts. These are the basic elemental building blocks of the natural world, referred to as the Five Elements (Chinese wu xing, Sanskrit pancha mahabhuta). The building blocks themselves are composite and continuously changing. Think of water. All living things contain it. The human body is about 60 percent water. Yet we don’t own that water. Water doesn’t stay in the body as it would in a balloon. New water moves in and old water moves out, constantly. We know that water itself is not a singular thing. It is made of molecules. Molecules are not singular things either. They are made of atoms; in the case of water, two hydrogen and one oxygen. Atoms are made of subatomic particles. The further we zoom in, the more pieces we find.
There is no center to the onion.
When we drop our preconceptions, and look with openness and attention at the natural world, we eventually behold the place where Awareness is becoming Appearance, and Appearance is becoming Awareness. This is what science calls the time-space continuum, the quantum field of energy-consciousness. This is the heart of relatedness. That place is right Here. And there is no adequate name for it. Attempts to explain it are awkward at best. We could call it Universal Truth. Dao. God. Goddess. Quantum reality. The Way. Original Mind. But a quick scan of history shows us that the compulsive human need to understand and name things causes much confusion. We too easily mistake intellectual understanding of a concept for the direct experience of Reality. Religions and wars are based on this mistake. So maybe it’s best that we let the Unnameable remain as such, and place our efforts on the correct application of personal practice. Because, as it turns out, what can’t be explained in words can be directly experienced.
All of the world’s great wisdom traditions are based on this revelation.
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