Change, the nature of reality, and the tattvas

Change.  Impermanence.  Transition.  Evolution.

It’s real.  In fact, it SO real that change might be at the core of what defines “real.”

I’ve been taking an online course on the “tattvas” with one of my teachers, Tantric scholar Douglas Brooks.  For those of you who have taken an Anusara Immersion, you might remember the tattvas as a complex topic you were briefly introduced to that either confused or delighted you and almost certainly left you with loads of unanswered questions.  In brief, the tattvas are a cosmological system (meaning: they are a framework for looking at how the universe is organized and why it is the way that it is) that explains how the one became the many and how the diversity of forms we see in the world evolved.  This system has its roots in the pre-Classical yoga (1st century BCE) epoch, however it came to full fruition as part of the Sankhya school of Hindu philosophy in the first and second centuries CE.

Why do we study this system?  In Douglas’ words, “to understand the nature of being is to understand our own nature as human.  As we come to understand reality, we come to know ourselves.”

So what is the nature of reality??  In the sankhya system, reality is dualistic.  It is made up of two overarching categories – purusha and prakriti.  The word “purusha” is generally defined as “spirit,” or “that which is unchangeable.” “Prakriti” is often defined as “matter” –  that which is real to us in this world.  It is everything we see and hear and feel and experience.  It is, to use a fancy term, “manifest reality.”  Yeah, okay, that’s nice, but here’s the kicker: Purusha – spirit — is unchangeable, by definition.  That makes prakriti – everything we experience — changeable, by definition.  The stuff of our daily lives is subject to change by its very nature.

That’s a pretty big idea right there!  Everything we see and hear and feel and wonder at and laugh about here on earth is, by definition, changeable.  If it were unchangeable, it would be spirit – something we experience in mediation, not through the senses.

And here we are, human beings running around the world trying to make our lives stable.  Immutable. Not subject to change.  We’re working ourselves to death trying make our material (“prakritic”) lives of houses, cars, finances, and relationships unchangeable.  We’re trying to turn matter into spirit.  What an absurd task!  No wonder it’s driving us all crazy – it’s not doable! In fact, it violates the very essence of reality, according to this system, anyway.  Manifest reality is changeable – we ought to let it be so, for as we all know, flowing with the nature of the universe is a heck of a lot easy than swimming upstream against it.

I am as guilty of this as anyone.  I look at my calendar and try to plot it out months in advance so it stays set in stone.  I recall a particularly pleasant moment in a relationship and want the dynamic to be frozen that way for all time.  I wish sunny days would never end, that my face would stay as it was at age 22, and that my finances would be predictably stable forever.  Not going to happen.  Not the nature of reality.  Give it up!

The nature of reality is change.  Flow.  Pulsation.  Motion.  Which is beautiful, right? We love staring at moving water, watching the wind tickle the aspen leaves, and admiring a loved one as a smile creeps across his face.  Sure, beauty comes and goes. But it always comes back – especially if we release it from our attempts to make it into something it isn’t.

For someone who continues to hang out in the world of transition, this is a good reminder.  I have better things to do than fight the nature of the universe!


~ by bridgetannlyons on June 25, 2012.

2 Responses to “Change, the nature of reality, and the tattvas”

  1. Thank you for sharing!!!!

  2. […] into purusha (spirit) and prakriti (matter).  [For more information on this dichotomy, see my blogpost on the tattvas.]  This is a “dualistic” view of the world – meaning, that spirit and matter are separate, […]

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