The following excerpts are from the
four main chapters in
Being a Buddha
Published April 2004 by Inner Directions, Carlsbad, CA.
Reflections of the Journey
Talks with Students
Pointers on the Way
REFLECTIONS OF THE
In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a
and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.
At Public School 202 in Brooklyn, I had Mrs. Braverman for music
appreciation. The class met in the school assembly hall, where Mrs.
Braverman taught us to memorize classical pieces by matching word rhymes
to the melody. I listened to her but was feeling sad as usual. I stared
down at the floor and said to myself, C’mon already, Mrs. Braverman,
let’s get it over with. I was still feeling bad about my mother’s
death and being sent to the orphan home. Little did I know what was about
As I sat there in the assembly hall, slumped in my seat, I was staring
at a beam of sunlight that shone on the head of the girl just in front of
me. I saw that the sun had moved a little bit, and now a bright beam of
light was falling across the lap of my corduroy knickers. I bent forward
and the sun hit me directly in the face. I leaned back and noticed that
rays of the sun were starting to come in through the large windows of the
assembly hall. As I continued to watch the light, I began to sense a
joyful feeling in my chest that I had never felt before.
Mrs. Braverman continued to crank the handle of the portable RCA
Victorola, explaining that the record she was about to play was the
"Morning Movement" from The Peer Gynt Suite by Edvard Greig. She
went on to tell us how Peer Gynt, who lived high in the Alps, would get up
every day at dawn to look at the sunrise over the distant peaks. At the
right moment, he would raise his arms up to heaven and the valley below
would fill with bright rays of golden sunshine, as though Peer Gynt
himself had given a command. How great, I thought. I really loved
the story and began to sing loudly in time with the music along with the
Morning is breaking and Peer Gynt is waking;
Morning from Peer Gynt by Greig.
I was so happy. I stood up and raised my arms as Peer Gynt did,
concentrated on the light shining in from the big windows and began
swaying with the music, which filled my head and heart. All of a sudden,
the entire assembly hall turned bright; everything and everybody was
glowing in a golden light. My head filled with a tangible, vibrating
feeling that I could actually hear. It sounded like a million fireflies
were in my brain. My whole body was shaking and glowing.
For the first time in my life, I was truly happy and completely
peaceful. I looked into the bright light and smiled, and something in that
golden light knew how I felt and breathed love back into my heart. I kept
Morning is breaking and Peer Gynt is waking . . .
After being discharged from military service, I spent several years
doing work that I felt was not at all suited to my nature. I quickly
discovered that most of the commercial world fell into this category—
especially the advertising business. It’s not that I had moral or other
misgivings about business; in fact, some of it was fun, and some of my
coworkers became friends. It’s just that the work didn’t feel
natural; it was always a struggle. I couldn’t seem to find the rhythm, the
"bounce" of the business. As Ella Fitzgerald sings, "It don’t mean a thing
if it ain’t got that swing." I learned early on that I’d never be able to
do the "business boogy."
How was I to bring deeper meaning to my daily work? Something a
coworker said when I showed him some drawings I’d done in Central Park
gave me a clue to the direction my life might be needing to take. After
studying my sketches, this commercial artist said, "Now I know why you’re
unhappy working in business. You’re a flower trying to grow in a vegetable
I asked him to explain. He took me to the window, pointed to an
interesting-looking five-story building, and said, "There’s your garden."
He was pointing at the Art Students League of New York, a building that
was to become my home for the next three years.
From the first day I set foot in "The League," as it had come to be
known, I knew I had found a sort of spiritual home. Art seemed so natural
that I felt a warm glow within. The perfume of the Presence lingered in
the hallways and classrooms for the entire three years of my attendance. I
was happy. This indeed was my garden. It was infused with a
mysterious beauty that would arrive unexpectedly and silence my mind for
One day, while having lunch in the League cafeteria, I mentioned these
periods of silence to a friend. It was in the context of a conversation
about Zen. This man was a Zen meditator, and I felt comfortable speaking
about my "significant event" with him. When I had finished, he smiled,
picked up the book sitting next to him, and handed it to me. It was a
pocket edition of Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha.
"Here, read this; it will tell you more than I can about that
experience," he said, adding, "What you’ve been experiencing is what Zen
is all about."
Since I was unfamiliar with the principles of Zen, I wasn’t sure what
he meant. These periods of Silence had come and gone on their own for many
years. I had always assumed that this was the way it was for everyone,
just as I’d assumed (wrongly, it turns out) that all of the children in
Mrs. Braverman’s music appreciation class had experienced the "significant
event" in the same manner that I had. "After all," I reasoned, "this must
be why people listen to music."
I read the book my friend had lent me. Hadn’t the transformation of
Siddhartha come at the moment of his deepest despair, as had mine? The
Presence in the light that had smiled at me during Mrs. Braverman’s music
class many years earlier was the same eternal Presence that Siddhartha had
experienced when he studied the glowing net of pearls.
After reading Siddhartha for the third time, I took up
meditation. From then on, I stayed with the practice in one form or
another— even after leaving art school, and while pursuing the demanding
career of a filmmaker. During those times, I always felt that familiar
silence. It has never abandoned me.
Over the years, I established a reputation as a filmmaker and wrote,
directed, and produced children’s educational films for television. For a
number of these films, I managed to win prestigious awards. In 1976, after
winning an Academy Award for "Best Live Action Short Film" (Angel and
Big Joe), I felt I had achieved enough in the outer world and decided
to turn my full attention inward and address the life of the soul.
The search to discover my true identity had nagged me even in the
middle of directing a film. The question Who am I? was with me when
I went to sleep at night and when I awoke the next morning. I fervently
needed a change in lifestyle that would reduce outward distractions while
giving me an opportunity to settle deeply within myself. I decided on
early retirement in order to have time to go more deeply into meditation,
an aspect of my life that had long been my central focus. My wife,
Jeannie, and I had visited France many years before and we loved the
In 1982, at the age of fifty, following a twenty-two year career in
film and television, I retired to a small farmhouse in the Loire Valley,
in central France. Jeannie created a flower garden that a visitor from New
York described as "to die for." I painted, studied, meditated, and began
creating the exercises that were to eventually become part of this
book—first by using myself as a guinea pig and then by experimenting on
Me: What happens when you put your full attention in the space
two feet in front of your body?
Guest: Okay . . . whew . . . hey, what did you do?
Me: I did nothing; you just shifted your attention from the
world of thought to the physical universe, and you woke up to your
What was encouraging was that the results of these Attention Exercises
were uniform. Each shift of attention away from thought brought with it a
sense of relief—an ending of tension and stress. Maybe, I surmised, this
could work as a sort of calming therapy.
Over the next several years, I continued to create similar Attention
Exercises, and each one again seemed to achieve uniform results as
described above. My reading of J. Krishnamurti—especially his dialogues
with the noted physicist Dr. David Bohm, and the brief but illuminating
chats I later had with both of them—confirmed what I had learned in my
experiments. The practice of choiceless awareness, which Krishnamurti
recommended, brought an ending to thought during those periods.
This made sense to me because, if anything, thought is
a choice-making "machine." When there is no work for this machine to do—
no choices available to make—it just shuts down and waits for another
choice to come along. If choiceless awareness is continued with a certain
vigor, the conditioned movement that propels uncontrolled thought (mind
chatter) may in some way atrophy, resulting in a fundamental change to the
conditioned mind. Thought would still be available when it was needed for
an appropriate purpose, such as building a house or changing a flat tire,
but it would fall silent when not needed.
All of the longing for love present in the human heart is really a deep
yearning to move from form to the unity of reality called Life. This is
our true nature; it is who and what we really are.
But why, I wondered, did infinite life create—then apparently
limit—itself as form? I waited silently. A few minutes later, the reply
rushed into my brain: In order to know itself! Life, being one, had
no other way to know its own existence, just as an eye has no way of
seeing itself without a mirror. The human mind, I suddenly realized, is
the mirror in which life can reflect upon itself. At that moment, I saw
that the entire purpose of human existence is to facilitate the awakening
of life to itself as eternal consciousness.
The question remained: Was it possible to use my experience as a
"pointer" to indicate to others what I had discovered? I hoped that those
who truly seek freedom would take this information, look for themselves,
and discover that the freedom they seek is already within them;
that it is only a matter of turning the attention inward to discover this.
It was the stark reality of this personal experience of transformation
that fueled the possibility of transformation in others and would energize
the continued pursuit of a deep and sustained inquiry.
One day, I realized upon waking that, to pursue and
share the truth of this inquiry with others, a wider venue than my little
village was necessary. During the last few years in France, I had created
a manual of Attention Exercises. If they were to be useful as a
therapeutic tool, as I had envisioned, I needed to do more work. For this
reason, and the fact that Jeannie’s parents were aging and she wanted to
live closer to them, we decided it was time to return to the States.
One night, I awoke in the early dawn to find my body
shaking and vibrating. I knew that something extraordinary was about to
happen. Getting out of bed quietly so as not to awaken Jeannie, I went
into the kitchen. I was not exactly sure what to do, so I got a pad and
pencil, sat down, and waited silently. One half hour passed before it
occurred to me that this might have something to do with the notion of
Total Freedom that had seemed to possess me lately. With this thought, I
suddenly began writing furiously:
Freedom is always total. Partial freedom, which is
anything less than total freedom, is not true freedom. Freedom is not
related to structure. Form, whether psychological or physical, must always
have a structure, which is necessary to sustain human life. The human body
is a physical structure that is maintained psychologically.
A human being can never be completely free of
structure. There can be more structure or less structure, but there can
never be a complete absence of structure. Because Total Freedom means to
be totally free of structure, it represents the death of the individual.
Total Freedom from structure is death.
With that sentence, I died! Life completely
disappeared. The structure of my entire psychological consciousness
vanished. I’m not sure how long this period lasted; probably no more than
a few minutes, but it might just as well have been a few thousand years.
For that entire period, there was a gap of utter nothingness.
For some time afterward, the following question
continued to arise: What actually had died that night? I knew that, in
that interlude, every vestige of my consciousness had vanished. Gone. In
one instant, nonbeing had replaced being! What had remained was
absence. In that experience, even the subtle center, which had
continued after my most recent previous experience, had disappeared. It
became clear that all of the notions that contributed to my sense of being
Bertram W. Salzman had died.
Immediately upon the occupation of my mind by the
silent cosmos, the bogus personality of Bertram had vacated. Because there
never really was an individual who existed in the first place, whatever
had happened was simply an activity of the infinite. Individual
transformation seemed to be but an illusory movement of the cosmos, an
eternal transformation that takes place everywhere and in every moment.
My lifelong search has revealed that the truth of our ultimate destiny
lies dormant within us. Yet, like seeds that contain the knowledge of
their ultimate flowering, we remain unaware of this knowledge. To
flourish, our inner seed must be nourished with spiritual light. This
light is conveyed through the energy of our attention, which flows and
nurtures our souls. Its fount is the silent, eternal Source of all life,
which unveils itself only in the absence of nontruth—at a time when the
mind is completely still.
TALKS WITH STUDENTS
Questioner: I’ve tried many methods to achieve happiness,
but none of them have been successful. What should I do to get rid of my
personal problems and become truly happy?
B. W. Salzman: As long as you identify with the gross mind you may
never get rid of problems or the lingering feeling of unhappiness. The
gross mind itself is the problem. Egocentric thinking will always
clash with all of the other apparent egocentric gross minds you come into
contact with, and conflict will be the result.
The solution to solving all problems is to abandon the gross mind,
which is the repository of all problems. If you live in the subtle mind,
problems will no longer be solved through confrontation, but through an
innate sense of grace and intuition. And, because problems will no longer
be perceived as "personal," their existence will no longer be accompanied
by a sense of unhappiness.
The subtle mind has always been available to all of humanity, yet it
only rarely manifests because the foreground noise, based on thought, has
dominated the mental structure. Just as the silence of the desert always
exists, even when a radio is played in its midst, the subtle mind always
exists in the background, regardless of the "noise" of thought. Throughout
the centuries people have gained insight into the nature of this
phenomenon and have come upon ways to silence thought and access the
Q: What is it that stops us, right now, from realizing the peace of
our real nature?
BWS: It is the cycle of compulsive thinking, which is dominated by
a false sense of identity. This compulsive movement of thought is the
nature of the gross mind. Attention (focused awareness) emanates from a
higher source, beyond thought, and has the power, when energetically
brought to bear on this compulsive movement, to bring it to an end. As a
result, thought, and with it the entire mind, is transformed from a gross
to a subtle quality.
Q: I’ve read that it’s important that we
live "in the now." Is this an actual state of mind?
BWS: Reference to "the now" can only be made in relation to ideas
of past or future. Since neither of these ideas exists outside of thought,
the concept of "now" is equally untrue.
Q: Is there anything I can do, such as a change in lifestyle, etc.,
that will help accelerate my experience of the subtle mind?
BWS: The subtle mind is
always present, no matter what activity you’re engaged in. Substituting
activities or making changes in one’s lifestyle is rarely necessary,
though it is helpful to engage in activities that don’t foster compulsive
thinking or behavior.
Q: What’s the difference between the Attention Exercises you
recommend and traditional meditation?
BWS: Traditional meditation is usually on an
object. Because of this, the false subject (the "me") continues to
function indefinitely. By using attention to step out of the role of
subject, you immediately see that both subject and object (you and the
world) depend on each other for their existence. When you’re perceiving
through the subtle mind, it becomes clear that subject and object are both
concepts that result from dualistic thinking.
Q: Turning down the mind is not always easy—especially when
problems arise. It seems to be the only place to go for answers.
BWS: Affairs of the heart and the spirit are
matters of feeling or intuition. You’re better off asking your pocket
calculator about the meaning of life than asking thought; at least the
calculator won’t mislead you. The material world is thought’s arena.
Serious questions concerning the inner life are beyond the limited
capacity of thought, which is restricted to ideas and opinions. Thought
can recite poems about what life is, or offer scientific descriptions of
what life may be, but in the end it will fail to arrive at the heart of
the matter. Whatever you may "think" will never be Truth; at best it will
be theory or speculation. In matters of the Spirit, trust your heart
rather than the opinions of others, including mine.
Q: Are you implying that there are two minds?
BWS: Not at all. The subtle and gross minds are only aspects of the
unmanifest Source, which is who we are in truth. The subtle mind is that
aspect of mind that is in natural harmony with the physical universe. The
gross, egocentric mind governs the life of the apparent "individual."
Transformation occurs when the gross mind experientially encounters the
intelligence and harmony of the eternal Source and is rendered subtle.
Remember, these are just aspects of the one unmanifest Source from
which they emerged.
Q: What about the kind of selfless love of which Jesus spoke? How
does this connect with the notion of the subtle mind?
BWS: It connects in a very direct way. Wholeness is
basic to the quality of the subtle mind. Treating others as you would have
them treat you is a reality rather than an aphorism. The first and last
step in human transformation would be from the naturally competitive sense
of the gross mind to the naturally cooperative sense of the subtle mind;
from the prevailing state of "mine is mine" to an enlightened state of
"mine is thine." In other words, the transformed state makes it entirely
natural for people to cooperate with one another, since this sense of
natural cooperation has its basis in unity and love.
POINTERS ON THE WAY
Inner transformation is the movement from the "I am
me"-oriented consciousness, which is based on a self-centered individual,
to the "I Am" consciousness, which is selfless, universally oriented
All war, hate, fear, and anxiety—in short, all
suffering of humankind—is due only to the ignorance of our divine nature.
Inner transformation is nothing more than awakening to this divine nature,
which is naturally inherent within us.
Only by turning our attention to our real nature will
we be awakened to a greater reality. That which we already are is
that which we seek. However, this must be put into practice and directly
The Breaking of Conditioning
When we see the illusory and insubstantial nature of
all of existence, then the ending of time takes place, and with it the
ending of all accumulated knowledge (the past).
To test this proposition, we need only imagine
"deleting" all of our knowledge that currently exists in the form of words
and concepts and see what occurs.
The Way to Enlightenment
All ideas and concepts about yourself are false and are
responsible for creating the illusion that keeps you from actually
being who you really are, right now. Actually seeing this truth
is the expression of enlightenment.
Enlightenment is knowing that, other than a few thousand years of other
people’s explanations about life, you know absolutely nothing!
Transformation and the Subtle Mind
The transformation from the gross mind to the subtle
mind provides a much greater context to our lives. Then, all of humanity
becomes our family and we are no longer limited to a particular race,
religion, or community.
This transformation brings with it an intuitive way of
being that is untouched by the divided nature of thought. It is
all-inclusive and reveals the only true "common ground" between all of
Our True Nature
Living in the subtle mind will enable you to discover
your own perfection and the perfection of the entire world. It cannot be
otherwise, because perfection is your very nature.
Wake up! Live in the subtle mind right now. The joy of
your perfection will permeate the hearts of those around you. They cannot
resist it because it is their nature also.
You arrived in this world wrapped in perfection. By
turning your attention inward, you can recover that subtle flawlessness
which you always are.
The worrisome ego is nothing more than a bogus
"you." See the truth of this condition this very moment and your joyous
nature will inundate every part of your life.
The Power of Attention
Without awareness there is no world to be seen. Awareness allows us to
view the spectacle of life through the eyes of God.
No matter what kinds of illusions the gross mind creates, these
instantly vanish when viewed through the divine power of attention.
Attention (focused awareness) turned outward creates
this apparent world. When it is turned inward, we are able to perceive the
eternal, unmanifest source of "what is."
By turning your vision inward, you will see that God has always
been right here. Where else could the divine reside?
Only when attention is removed from its obsession with thought can it
operate with full power as a healing agent. The gross mind, because of its
mechanical nature, will always respond to commands you give it, in the
same way that applying the brakes will stop a car. The only difference is
that, in this case, the energy of attention is the driver.
The benefits of these exercises are twofold: they help to resolve the
problem of overactive thought, which in turn provides a sense of relative
peace and calm. More importantly, they also give us the tools to move into
the much greater space of pure awareness, the perspective from which
apparent problems are still viewed but are no longer "owned" as one owns
personal property. It is in this state that we truly awaken to the full
implications of our humanity.
Why This Works
The twenty-one exercises in this book make use of the transformative
power of awareness known as "attention," and their application calls for
an introverted and intensified use of one’s attentiveness. As Carl Jung
has suggested, the introverted mind carries within it an inherent
"self-liberating power." When the full power of attention is brought to
bear, in a concentrated manner, it has the ability to bring the content of
the mind into order. When thought is in order, a reality that is vast and
timeless becomes available to us. This is sometimes called "Presence,"
"the Now," or "the Timeless State." I simply use the words "subtle mind."
About This Exercise
This is the primary exercise that you’ll use throughout the program.
The Locate/Be Still procedure should be done just before
beginning any exercise. The sequence is very important and must be
followed. (The words "Locate/Be Still" are purposely set in italics
to remind you.
1. Take several deep breaths, then silently but emphatically say to
yourself, Slow down, slow down, be still! Wait silently for
several moments to allow the mind to become quiet.
2. Project your attention to a spot about two feet in front of your
face. Without looking down, notice that you can see several parts of
your body, such as arms and legs.
3. Notice that your peripheral vision has broadened to include the
objects in the room. Open your peripheral vision still more widely and
notice the adjacent walls. This is called "Open Attention."
4. Keeping your head still and with gentle Open Attention, slowly
study the objects in the room. Include the object you call your body,
which has now fallen into your field of vision.
5. Without turning your head become aware of the space behind your
6. Sit for five minutes with this effortless Open Attention, keeping
your peripheral vision as widely open as possible. Pay particular
attention to how silent the space is!