Yes and no. If you say the Self is unchanging, then whatever changes is not the Self and that would be duality. The Self is all there is. Of course, the Self has changing and unchanging aspects.
Many teachers and teachings point to the substratum behind all experience and that is unchanging…that which is behind all changes and the comings/goings of things.
At the same time, one can not deny that the world happens. Even illusions happen. There is a screen and white light going through film to create the experience of a movie. You can say the movie is an illusion and there is a constant, unchanging white light and screen. But, how can you deny the film of the movie?
As it has been said in Buddhism, Emptiness is Form and Form is Emptiness. I think it points to the same thing as in the movie analogy…there is the constant/unchanging and the changing together. As there is no other, they are not separate. Emptiness is the unchanging and Form is the changing/changable. Emptiness and Form are not other than the Self.
Although there might be different containers – bowls, cups, glasses, etc. – the space is the same in each. The forms may vary, but the emptiness, which also part of its being, is the same. A bowl is as much about its emptiness as its form. These are just analogies trying to point to truth, so please don’t over analyze them.
If you were to say the world is not “real” or doesn’t really exist, then that is a kind of escapism and denying what is happening. The idea is not to escape life…there is no where to escape to…and who is trying to get out? The world that we experience is not other than the Self. The world changes. So therefore, the Self changes.
Science tells use about the law of conservation of energy. The total energy of an isolated system remains constant—it is said to be conserved over time. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it transforms from one form to another. The isolated system of energy is the Self…and it remains constant in the total energy, so it could be considered unchanging in that way. The forms within though do change. The forms are “things”, however, and so are mentally created fictions. There are no “things”, just ongoing process of transformation and flux.
Because of the way our brains work, we are often focused on what changes, the foreground, and form. What does not change, in the background, and/or formless does not pose much a threat to our continued existence. So we often forget it is even there.
Many teachers and teachings emphasize the unchanging Self. This has its merits. Once we “feel” we are that which does not change…it is easier to let go of that which changes. The unchanging Self becomes an anchor…or better yet a still center. Like an axle…everything spins around it but it remains centered and still. Like the eye of a hurricane or tornado…the outside is turbulent but the inside is still. However, the limitation or potential trap is that it can become escapism. That this unchanging, still center is what is identified with and the changing is not us…and not real or doesn’t really exist. In this way, it turns into dualistic thinking and another mind game of identifying with parts.
Some question if the world is real. Are dreams real? Some might say yes, some might say no…but the other question is do dreams exist? Of course. A movie is not “real”, but it exists…and during the experience of it you may laugh or cry. When people say – it is not real – it seems to indicate a separating/distancing oneself from it and trying to escape from it. Such people are no fun at magic shows. They yell “it’s a trick…it’s not real”…instead of just enjoying the show. Would they just sit down and do nothing when playing a virtual reality (VR) game? It’s not real…so why play at all. What fun is that?
This world happens and there is change within the world. The Self is all there is. So if the world happens…it is also the Self…and therefore the Self changes.
What if the world was like a hallucination or hypnotic suggestion? We could be hypnotized and told there is a snake in front of us and we would see it. Or if we were hallucinating, we could see a snake in front of us when there is nothing there at all.
This is just another way of trying to separate again. The Self exists, but the world does not exist…it is hallucination, pretend, etc. This is a way to put down the world. Or perhaps escape from the world. Again, if you had virtual reality goggles on, then what you are seeing doesn’t really exist as an object (only a program and image projected)…but the play/game does exist. Again, if what is seen does not really exist, should we really have the mentality of “why play at all, it doesn’t really exist”…what is the fun in that?
In this way it is like children playing pretend. The imaginary characters in their play don’t exist. What is happening – rescuing princesses, fighting arch-enemies, etc. – is not real and does not really exist. But they are totally involved and interacting with it…for the joy of it. The children are not separate or other from their creations. Their creations affect them in their play…’oh, he got me!’
Ultimately, whether you label the world as “real” or “unreal”…”existing” or “not-existing”…you will continue to experience it because it happens. Awakening is not like waking up in the morning and the dream disappears. It is not like the enlightened don’t experience anything and no world exists for them. Awakening is more akin to lucid dreaming…you realize you are dreaming while still dreaming. The enlightened – those who have realized the Self – still will see change. For starters, the body/mind will continue to age, be ill at times, and one day will cease functioning.
I don’t try to partition change away as something that is unreal or does not exist. I also recognize nonduality and that change is not other than the Self…the world is not other than the Self. It does not matter if we label the world as illusion, imaginary, unreal, non-existent, etc…it is not other than the Self. The world changes, so the Self changes.