by Bertram W. Salzman

NamelessnessWHILE LIVING IN FRANCE, I read various spiritual works. Among them was a book by Ludwig Wittgenstein, the great philosophical linguist. Wittgenstein argued that words can be dangerous since they have the ability to create a false reality. Words are, in fact, only symbols that represent actual things and events. Yet, think of the solid reality that words have come to possess as though they were reality. For example, look at the words “America, France, Asia, Christian, business, man, woman, tree, nature.” How solid and alive these words seem to be. They are almost as experienceable as the things they represent. (I say “almost” because one can never eat the word “apple.”) I realized that the symbol-word separates, then creates a solid unbridgeable gap between oneself and the objects of existence (“what is”) of the unnamed world that exists prior to and independent of the names we ascribe to them. This occurrence seemed to account for the feeling of a dark, slightly out-of-focus reality. Was it truly the gap between the name and the actual reality of the object itself that created this sense of separation?

Since living in France, the word “France” had acquired a certain solid reality; I lived in France. When I looked out of the studio window, all that I observed was France. Then it hit me! I heard the word “wrong” echo in my head. I had said that, All I observed was “France,” this was an error. I should have said, “What I observed was what I observed,” and what I observed happened to be named France. I wondered then what the experience of this observation would be if the word “France” did not exist. Would my reality, my sense of self, and place change? I found a small slate and wrote down the word “France” and studied it for a period of several minutes so that the word took on a solid reality. Next, I took a wet cloth and wiped the slate clean in one movement. When the word vanished, I was amazed to discover that France also vanished along with its name! What remained was a vast unnamed space containing unnamed objects. “France” had completely disappeared and could not be found either inwardly or outwardly.

I wondered, if France could disappear so easily, what about Bertram W. Salzman? I took up the slate again, wrote my name on it, then wiped it clean. There was a sudden shift in the psychological center; Bertram W. Salzman also vanished! Disappeared! What remained was an extremely subtle, centerless, and egoless “me.” I was weightless and transparent, timeless and fearless. I looked out of the window at the village where I had always been the “subject” in this scene, with either people or things as objects. Now, with this sudden shift, both the world and I had become objects. The complete psychological structure associated with my personality the very underpinnings of my identity had dissolved. In essence, the individual personality of Bertram W. Salzman had died instantly, upon being unnamed, and an all-pervading nature the only real thing about him rose to take his place. This truly was death and the resurrection!

What remained was a transparent void, an emptiness, which became instantly filled with the “things” of this world. With the ending of “me,” these things came alive both within and without. In fact, “within” and “without” were experienced as just one movement, with all of existence seemingly dying and flowering again in one timeless moment. Everything was in the sharpest focus; the colors and shapes of objects were beyond vivid, and more real and more beautiful than I had ever previously experienced. The splendor of it was beyond expression. The trees outside the window appeared to animate. I felt they were aware of my presence and would speak if they had the ability to do so. I said hello to them and I knew they heard me. They responded in their own way.

Bertram W. SalzmanI could never look at those trees again and think of them as just trees. In un-naming them, and myself, we had been freed! They rushed fully alive into my void-like consciousness. I became the world and the world became me. I saw clearly that separation is an illusion, that a separate entity was a work of fiction. Tears filled my eyes. I was awake!

That day I had been freed from the prison of words, an inner prison that separated me from the world. I had closed the mental gap between Life and myself and all was full of light. Afterwards, I never relied on words when attempting to know Reality. This insight had the effect of clearing away a final barrier to experiencing Truth directly. As a result, I always ask my students to learn to see and listen, and to refrain from conceptualizing about what they experience.

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Bertram W. Salzman is an Academy Awarding-winning director, artist, and writer. He currently lives in Sonoma, CA, with his wife Jeanne, where he spends his retirement dancing with the Infinite.

From Being a Buddha on Broadway, by Bertram W. Salzman. Copyright 2000 by Bertram W. Salzman. Published by Inner Directions.