Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 26 : World-Idea > Chapter 2 : Change As Universal Activity

Change As Universal Activity

Everything changes

Like Nature, the world, I myself, all existence is subject to change. It is inevitable. What can we do except accommodate ourselves to this inexorable law?

If there is any law which governs human existence it is the law of change. We forget it at our peril. Most ancient societies forgot it and suffered.

For they cannot escape change, nor the sorrow that change brings, nor the loss of individual existence which it also brings. Such is the universal law which dominates all things and all creatures. When we try to press a permanent happiness out of this world of impermanent things, we are deceiving ourselves.

Whether he comes to this truth near the end of a lifetime after long and varied experience or early in it by intuition, the effect is salutary, if saddening: perfect and continual happiness would include perfect and continual functioning of the body, good health, good teeth, good eyesight, good digestion, and all the rest. How few of the saints and the wise in history's records had excellent bodily condition to the end? No!--Buddha's law of decay after growth is still valid.

Nothing remains; everything is subject to change. Whether you rebel against this stark fact or resignedly accept it, it stares you in the face unaffected by your personal attitude. Call it Buddhistic if you like, or call it Christian if you prefer, for Jesus said: "This world will pass away."

It is hard to bear the remembrance that whatever else may happen change is certain, in one way or another, at some time or another. This is the "eternal flow" of ancient Greek thinkers and Buddhist sages.

Not only is everything subject to change but everything also exists in relation to something else. Thus change and relativity dominate the world scene.

Even Nature, used to existences extending through millions of years, is itself subject to this ever-changing process. What chance then is there for the creations of man? How could they hope to endure? We may think of the Sphinx and the Pyramid as likely to outlast the hours--but stay! look at their neighbour, Sahara: today a vast sea of sand, but formerly a vast sea of water. So we must conclude that all is perishable--yet, to complete the picture, we must admit also that all is renewable.

The one feature of life and the universe which does not change is change itself! It is an inexorable law, as Buddha himself persistently reminded his hearers.

Wherever we look or search, probe or analyse in this universe, we find nothing that is permanent. Everything is moving slowly or swiftly to a change of condition, whether this be growth or deterioration, and moves in the end to complete disintegration.

There is no stability anywhere but only the show of it. Whether it be a man's fortunes or a mountain's surface, everything is evanescent. Only the rate of this evanescence differs but the fact of it does not.

Throughout all things in the universe and not only in the plant and animal kingdoms, Buddha found the presence of what he called "growth and decay," and later what Shakespeare called "ripe and rot."

There are no golden ages, no utopias, no heavens on earth. This world is a scene of continuous process, or diversification--which means it is an ever-changing scene. Sometimes it is better, sometimes it is worse--if looked at from a human standpoint--but none of these two conditions remains forever fixed. Only romantic dreamers or pious, wishful thinkers look or wait for one that is. What we may reasonably look for and, if fortunate, hope to find, is an inner equilibrium within ourselves which will yield a peace or a presence. Let us not lessen what we are by refusing to accept the responsibility, by practising self-pity, or by blaming environments. They have their place and may make their contribution, but in the end it is our own ignorance of our own possibilities which is the basic cause.

Whatever is done to improve human affairs and arrangements will not last. The time will come when it will need to be improved again. In just the same way even the planet itself changes its features, turns tropical zones to temperate ones and great seas to sandy deserts. Only in the Void is there no activity, no change.

If anything is perfect it cannot be improved. Whoever therefore demands perfection must understand that he is demanding finality. Could there be such a thing in this ever-changing world?

There are no permanent solutions because there are no permanent problems.

Millions of animal and human bodies have entered the earth's composition through drowning in vast floods or dying in droughts, famines, and epidemics, through earthquakes and eruptions. It has been an immense graveyard and crematorium. Yet equally it has brought into living existence millions of new beings.

Men and women terrify themselves with mental pictures of age, of its diseases and infirmities, its growing cancers and shrinking arteries. Yet they seldom relate their personal experience to the wider scheme of things, to the universe as a whole. If they did, they would soon see that not only are decay and disintegration everywhere in nature, but brutality and murder are there also on an appalling scale. Millions of animals, insects, birds, fish, and sometimes humans, attack, deform, mutilate or kill other creatures.

Civilizations do not progress; they grow, but they crumble by their own weight, or, rather, overweight.

If anything ever impressed me with the truth of civilization's transformatory nature it was my reading of the Frenchman Volney's book The Ruins of Empires, together with my visit to the remains of two cities. One, Anuradhapura in Ceylon, sixteen miles long and sixteen miles wide stretching in the sunshine with thousands of golden and silver pillars, was eaten up by jungle growth or dissolved into dust! The other, Angkor in Cambodia, displayed huge temples rising out of the thick clogging undergrowth and broken, weather-beaten statues of the Buddhas tangled with, or root-bound in, gnarled wrinkled trees.

Metaphysical view of universal change

Despite the ever-confronting evidence that change is ceaseless throughout the universe and through all human experience, we persistently get the feeling of solidity in the universe and permanency in experience. Is this only an illusion and the world merely a phantasm? The answer is that there IS something unending behind both.

There is no stability anywhere in the universe, given enough time, and there is none in human life. Yet the craving for it exists. There is a metaphysical meaning behind this phenomenon. It exists because THAT which is behind the craving person is the only stable thing there is, or rather no-thing, because IT has no shape, no colour, is soundless and invisible and beyond the grasp of ordinary thoughts. It is this hidden contact, or connection, which keeps man seeking for what he never finds, hoping for what he never attains, refusing to accept the message of ceaseless change which Nature and Life continue to utter in his ears, and opposing the adjustments that experience and events demand periodically from him.

There is no permanency anywhere except in ourselves. And even there it is so deep down, and so hard to find, that most people accept the mistaken idea that their ego's ever-changing existence is the only real existence.

The earlier non-existence of the cosmos is only physically and not metaphysically true. Even when its form was not developed, its essence was and shall ever be. Whether as hidden seed or grown plant, the appearance and dissolution of the cosmos is a movement without beginning and without end. Science establishes that the cosmos is in perpetual movement. Philosophy establishes what is the primal substance which is moving. Although the cosmos is a manifestation of World-Mind, it is not and never could be anything more than a fragmentary and phenomenal one. The World-Mind's own character as undifferentiated undergoes no essential change and no genuine limitation through such a manifestation as thoughts.

This is a universe of unceasing change, both within its atoms and within itself--hence of unceasing movement in the same two categories. It is an active universe. Yet at the heart of each atom there is quiescence, that mysterious stillness of the unseen Power which must be, and is, the Power of God.

The new physics finds creation to be a continuous process, which has never had a dated beginning in the past. Its atoms and universes appear and disappear. What does this indicate? That the unspaced untimed No-Thing out of which all this comes is itself the Reality, and the Universe a showing-forth.

In The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga, I wrote that the one certain thing about the universe is change. This is because from the moment that Spirit began to go out into seeming time, place, form, relativity, and individual souls, it left behind the infinite stillness of Absolute Being, the motionless Void. The appearances taken could only be fleeting and changing and could only keep this same characteristic until they returned to the still Source. This restlessness was the inevitable consequence of consciousness' becoming immersed in the unconscious, of Reality's becoming the victim of illusion, of the Perfect's becoming shrunk into the imperfection. It can not be content to remain with such limitations. So desire for change begins but is never satisfied, is ever active but is ever changing its objects to new ones.

"Each [thing] is proceeding back to its origin," said Lao Tzu. This is why change is incessant in the universe, why only the Origin is without it, and why Lao Tzu further explained that "to understand the Changeless is to be enlightened."

Lao Tzu wrote: "I come back to the Beginning! I beat down to the very origin of things. It is astonishingly new. Yet it is also the End of all. It is both return and going-out. All begins in death."

There is a central calm behind the universe's agitation.

The fluidity of human life, ever moving onward and onward and carrying us all with it, is a hint that it is not the ever-real.

Energy radiates, whether in the form of continuous waves or disconnected particles--"moment to moment" Buddha called it. It is this cosmic radiation which becomes "matter."