THE RAZOR'S EDGE
The same way that the Larry Darrell character's name in The Razor's Edge was not his actual name in real life, so too, the real name of the Benedictine monk that Maugham calls Father Ensheim was not Father Ensheim. However, for our purposes here, he will be called Father Ensheim.
Maugham did not give Father Ensheim much face time in his novel, nor do readers give him much thought or credence as being crucial in the overall scheme of things. Most readers do so because he is so overshadowed and thus easily forgotten by the presence of the rough and tumble coal miner Kosti. Kosti is the one that initally pointed Darrell toward the possibility that the answers to the questions he sought could perhaps be found in the realm of things spiritual --- and because of that, it is often overlooked that it was Father Ensheim that suggested to Darrell to go to India for his answers.
Darrell first met Father Ensheim in Bonn, Germany sometime in the summer of 1922. Darrell stayed about a year in Bonn renting a room from a widow of one of the professors at the university who took in a couple of boarders. His fellow boarder was Father Ensheim, a Benedictine monk that had taught philosophy for a number of years. When Darrell met Father Ensheim he was on a leave of absence from his monastery to do research at the university library. Although he was French he spoke German fluently --- which was perfect for Darrell because the reason he went to Germany in the first place was to learn to speak German. Maugham describes him through Darrell as being tall, stout, with sandy hair, prominent blue eyes and a red, round face. He was shy and reserved and at first did not want want to have anything to do with Darrell. However, all that changed when Father Ensheim saw the concerted effort on Darrell's part to learn, seeing him often studying and reading day and night. Over the passage of time the two began to talk more and more and share insights. Eventually Father Ensheim had to return to the monastery and asked Darrell if he would like to join him. Darrell stayed on in Bonn until the summer of 1923, then went to the monastery in France.
In Larry Darrell's Spiritual Development, relating to Darrell's stay at the monastery, the following is found:
At the monastery Larry read much and had plenty of time to learn about himself. It was at the monastery that he began the find the questions to which he could seek answers. Though he respected the monks greatly and found their way of life to be absolutely fulfilling, Larry was unable to accept their explanations for the existence of Evil. Later, in conversation with Maugham, Darrell goes on to say:
"If an all-good and all-powerful God created the world, why did He create evil? The monks said, so that man by conquering the wickedness in him, by resisting the temptation, by accepting pain and sorrow and misfortune as the trials sent by God to purify him, might at long last be made worthy to receive His Grace. It seemed to me like sending a fellow with a message to some place and just to make it harder for him you constructed a maze that he had to get through, then dug a moat that he had to swim, and finally built a wall that he had to scale. I wasn't prepared to believe in an all-wise God who hadn't common sense."
This is not to say that Larry disliked the monastery or Father Ensheim, but he had not found the question and not the answer. He wanted to know why there was evil in the world, and though the monks were very intelligent and wise, their answers seemed quite ridiculous and inadequate.
The following appears in Doing Hard Time In A Zen Monastery and in the process clears up the WHY the real life main character in Maugham's book, thus then Maugham's Larry Darrell, ended up going to India:
In the midsummer, early fall of 1922, before going to India, my mentor met a Benedictine monk in Bonn, Germany who was on a research-study leave from his monastery in Alsace, France. At the time, the Father noticed my mentor seemed to be stuck in the beginning stages of a deep spiritual quest so he invited him to return with him to his monastery. In the summer of 1923 my mentor went, staying three or four months or more, studying and partcipating in all the monastery duties and activities. When he decided to leave, the following is said to have transpired:
"Those good fathers had no answers that satisfied either my head or my heart to the questions that perplexed me. My place was not with them. When I went to say goodbye to Father Ensheim he didn't ask me whether I had profited by the experience in the way he had been so sure I would. He looked at me with inexpressible kindness."
"I'm afraid I've been a disappointment to you, Father."
"No," he answered. "You are a deeply religious man who doesn't believe in God. God will seek you out. You'll come back. Whether here or elsewhere only God can tell."
What I was told, the good Father, figuring IF my mentor was just put into the right environment, he should be able to bridge the gap between the religious aspects he was familar with and that of the potentially deeper spiritual aspects he was seeking. In so figuring, he suggested that he go to India and visit a certain lamasery or monastery high in the Himalayas called Hemis (sometimes Himis). How it has been related back to me is that the Father told my mentor that he heard sometime in the late 1880s early 1890s a man by the name of Nicolas Notovitch had ended up in the monastery of Hemis recuperating from an injury. While at that monastery he was shown an ancient manuscript that indicated Jesus of Nazareth had been in India during the so-called missing years of his life as indicated in the bible. The manuscript Notovitch was shown was a translation of the original which was kept in the library of the monastery of Marbour near Lhasa. The original text was written in Pali, whereas the Hemis manuscript was in Tibetan, consisting of fourteen chapters, of which contained a total of two hundred and twenty four verses --- all related to Jesus being in India.(see)
Some thirty-five years following Notovich's sojourn to Hemis, around the sametime that my mentor arrived in India (1925) a follower of the Theosophist sect by the name of Nicholas Roerich, who would eventually go on to be nominated three different times for the Nobel Peace Prize, arrived at the Hemis monastery to see the Hemis Manuscripts and then on to Tibet in search of the originals. Westerners did not travel much in Tibet in those days, especially to Lhasa, and Roerich and his party were held incognito in Tibet a year or so, during which five of his party died. He was eventually released in 1928 and returned to India. It is reported he saw the same manuscripts as Notovitch. (As you will see in the quotes below) my mentor carved the date 1926 in the tree along the stream near the rock hut. It is my belief my mentor, following Father Ensheim's advice, went in search of the same manuscripts seeking the truth. Although he met Roerich, if he ever saw the manuscripts --- or if the manuscripts ever existed --- is not known. However, it seems to me my mentor had a massive change regarding his approach to things spiritual and religion after going to Tibet, especially so how he viewed things in a western sense. Between the time he got off the boat in Bombay and the time he arrived at the temple in Madura some two to three years later --- enough of a change occurred that when he went to study under Sri Ramana he was Awakened to the Absolute --- that is Enlightened in the same manner as the ancient classical masters.
The following also appears in Doing Hard Time In A Zen Monastery as well, and, following Father Ensheim's suggestion to go to India, explains part of what transpired during the missing or unaccounted years in The Razor's Edge as well as what the the date carved in the tree in the above quote means:
One morning the old man took me down stream quite some distance. In the rough rock hewn hillside somewhat above the stream just before it tumbled down into rapids over a rather steep waterfall the Zen man showed me what appeared to be the remains of fallen-over, onetime rock shelter. I had seen a shelter built in nearly the exact same manner high in the mountains of the Sierras in California some years before. In High Mountain Zendo I described the Sierra-based shelter thus:
It is actually a natural space, like a small cave that has a handmade pile or rocks forming a "C" shaped wall that protects the inside area from the prevailing winds and allows for a small fire for warmth and cooking. There is a log with a piece of canvas that can be put over the entrance and dropped to the ground if need be as well as it can get quite cold in the altitude and the winds quite strong.(see)
From the remains of the onetime shelter I could tell that the one in the Sierras replicated almost down to the last stone the shelter I stood before --- it was as though the same person had built both of them from the same design. If such was the case, at the moment I stood before the ruins, I did not know which one came first, although I knew the shelter in the Sierras had seemed much more recent and was still intact. A strange non-weather related cold-like chill came over me as I crouched down and looked inside, gently poking the ground beyond the rocks with a stick. The feeling was broken by the Zen man putting his hand on my shoulder followed by a gesture as though he wanted to show me something else. He walked over to a close by tree and pointed to markings carved into the trunk. I could barely make out three letters and just below them four numbers, which appeared to be the date of a year, 1926. The letters were the exact same letters as the initials of my Mentor. My mentor told me he had arrived in India a year after his future teacher to be, Sri Ramana, had been accosted by ruffians in his ashram. That incident has been dated at June 26, 1924, which would make my mentor's arrival in India somewhere just before or during the summer of 1925. However it was not until the fall of 1928 that he showed up at the ashram. He traveled in "China, Burma, India" and it has been said he showed up in the temple of the south south Indian city of Madura "two years later." (1925, the year my mentor arrived in India and 1928, the year he arrived at the ashram of Sri Ramana, translates it would seem, into being three years. However, the number of months may be somewhat less than three years since the total number of months are not known, that is, less than 36 months). It was apparently during those two to three years he ended up in the mountains along the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, possibly even doing study practice in the same monastery I was staying.(see)
THE MISSING YEARS OF THE RAZOR'S EDGE
AND NOW THIS:
Some people read the following below, in The Razor's Edge, and question my thesis that the Father Ensheim character was actually the FIRST person who directed my mentor to go to India. They say --- as written by Maugham --- the suggestion to go happened AFTER he left Father Ensheim. In the book Maugham has Darrell take a deckhand job on a frighter apparently working his way back to America. Darrell in conversation with Maugham about that voyage says:
"An Indian had joined us at Alexandria for the passage to Bombay and the tourists were rather sniffy about him. He was a fat little man with a brown round face and he wore a thick tweed suit of black and green check and a clerical collar. I was having a breath of air on deck one night and he came up and spoke to me. I didn't want to talk to anyone just then, I wanted to be alone; he asked me a lot of questions and I'm afraid I was rather short with him. Anyhow I told him I was a student working my passage back to America.
'You should stop off in India,' he said. 'The East has more to teach the West than the West conceives.'
'Oh yes?' I said.
'At any rate, he went on, 'be sure you go and see the caves at Elephanta. You'll never regret it.'
Three things are in play here. First, I have no quarrel with how Maugham lays it out regarding Darrell traveling by ship up to a point. However, I do not think in real life my mentor was working his way as a deckhand. It is my belief he was a passenger. I say so because of all the interaction between himself and the passengers as outlined by Maugham. In those days, and it still much the same today, the lower ranking seamen and deckhand types did not interact or hob-nob with the passengers. Besides, the Indian passenger says he "should stop off in India." That may be fine for a passenger to do, but somewhat iffy for a deckhand --- and not that easy either as various rules of the high seas which include strict sanctions, deportation, and possible incarceration make it somewhat difficult for a crew member, especially lower ranking ones, to just stay behind or jump ship whenever or wherever they choose.
Second, although I say that Father Ensheim suggested my mentor go to "India," he actually suggested he go to the monastery of Hemis. Hemis is more Tibet than India, at least travel-wise, especially in the time period we are talking about here. My mentor was not quite sure in exacty what manner he was going to accomplish the journey --- that is, what route, etc. However, he did know it was best for him to disembark in Bombay because any later stops would take him further and further away from his destination.
Third, re-read again with a little more depth what Darrell has to say about his encounter with the man from India:
"I didn't want to talk to anyone just then, I wanted to be alone; he asked me a lot of questions and I'm afraid I was rather short with him. Anyhow I told him I was a student working my passage back to America."
Darrell did not want to talk to anyone so he was rather short in reponse to the Indian man. He says, "I told him I was a student working my passage back to America." Darrell tells Maugham that he just "told" the man that he was working his way back, not that he WAS working his way back. In other words, Darrell was not telling Maugham he was at the time, actually working his way back, he was telling Maugham he "just" told the man he was working his way back. Big difference. From that Maugham extrapolated that he was working as a deckhand when instead he was simply just telling the Indian man he was a worker on the ship basically to get rid of him. Neither, of course, was Darrell a student or on his way to America.
Darrell, speaking of the Indian man on board the ship, also said "the tourists were rather sniffy about him." As I see it Darrell did not want to be seen as being sniffy --- so what does he do? He tells the Indian man he is "working," that is, he is a deckhand, which, like I have stated above, automatically puts a buffer between the passengers and crew. So, in Darrell's case, by saying he is working he can separate himself from the man from India without appearing sniffy. Quite the ploy.
WILLIAM SOMERSET MAUGHAM
NOTE: Although the name Father Ensheim is not his real name, having been used as a cover by Maugham to ensure his privacy, it is not to imply that the Father Ensheim character was not real. It should be noted that starting with the period in time we are talking in the novel (i.e., circa mid 1920s) and continuing up through the present, monks of the Benedictine Order have had several high profile members go to, establish, participate, or become emerged in various India related religious aspects. How much the "real" Father Ensheim had in instigating any of those so involved in their decision making process is not known. However, the Darrell character followed his suggestion and the timing of the others are not totally out of reason, especially considering those who eventually ended up studying under Sri Ramana. Three to consider are Dom Benedict Apapatt, Bede Griffiths, and Henri La Saux, also known as Swami Abhishiktananda. For a totally different take on the cross transference of religions between countries and people see:
BUDDHISM IN AMERICA BEFORE COLUMBUS
Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.
ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT IN A NUTSHELL
THE FALSE GURU TEST
SPIRITUAL GUIDES: PASS OR FAIL?
RELIGION AND CATHOLICISM IN THE RAZOR'S EDGE
IN THE WAY OF ENLIGHTENMENT: The Ten Fetters of Buddhism
ON THE RAZOR'S
THE MISSING YEARS OF THE RAZOR'S EDGE
In his book The Razor's Edge, Maugham pretty much focuses on Larry Darrell's travels in Europe and India. However, in the context of the book, Chapter IV, 1, Maugham writes that in the spring of 1931, after not seeing her for ten years, he meets with Darrell's former fiancee' Isabel in Paris. During the course of their conversation Maugham asks her what she hears from 'Larry.' Isabel tells him she knew the bank manager in Chicago that handled his (Darrell's) account and he told her "...that every now and then he got a draft from some queer place. China, Burma, India."(see)
China and Burma. Other than that brief mention Maugham makes no other references as to Darrell's travels in either country. However, even though Maugham does not address the issue, it is quite clear that he knew Darrell was in BOTH countries. Why he chose not to pursue what happened during those years and make it known within the context of his book is not known --- it could be Darrell simply chose not to discuss his travels beyond those in India or Maugham chose to ignore them. It could be, in that The Razor's Edge centers around a spritual quest, Maugham, rather than clarify, wanted to incorporate a set of mysterious "missing years" for Darrell in order to parallel the missing years as attributed to Jesus as mentioned above --- especially since the missing years aspects of both individuals circle around Hemis.
As to the exact amount of years or the number of months added together that otherwise total less than three full years we can never be certain --- however, we can extrapolate the number fairly accurately using facts we have at hand. The reason it is important is because Darrell needs the time to do what he did, i.e., go to Himis, "China, Burma, and India," as well as meet Yasutani Hakuun Roshi, for example, that was not written in as part of The Razor's Edge. In the main text above, I write:
"My mentor told me he had arrived in India a year after his future teacher to be, Sri Ramana, had been accosted by ruffians in his ashram. That incident has been dated at June 26, 1924, which would make my mentor's arrival in India somewhere just before or during the summer of 1925."
In THE RAZOR'S EDGE: W. Somerset Maugham, Sri Ramana Maharshi, Guy Hague, and Zen, I write:
"I have him arriving at the ashrama in the fall of 1928. It was on his birthday two years later Maugham quotes Darrell as saying, 'When I had been at the ashrama just two years I went up to my forest retreat for a reason that'll make you smile. I wanted to spend my birthday there.' It was his thirty-first birthday and in the fall of the year 1930."
So my mentor, AKA Larry Darrell, arrived in India in June, 1925. Maugham writes that Darrell says he had been at the ashrama "just two years" then spent his birthday high in the mountains at a forest retreat. During his stay Darrell reaches Full Attainment, that is Enlightenment. The birthday in question is Darrell's thirty-first birthday which would have been in the fall of the year 1930. If two years had elasped between the time of his arrival at the ashrama and the time of his Enlightenment in the fall of 1930 two years later as Darrell relates to Maugham, it means he arrived at the ashram in the fall of 1928. If you begin with the month Darrell arrived in India, June of 1925 and go to the fall of 1928 --- up to and including November of 1928 --- a total of 31 months elapsed, five months short of three full years. Those 31 months are month after month of time and travels that are, save for a few in the early stages, left unaccounted for by Maugham in the book.
Save for a few months? What of the other months? What did he do and where did he go?(see)
THE UNACCOUNTED MONTHS?
WHERE DID HE GO, WHAT DID HE DO?
Maugham writes that immediately following Darrell's arrival in India he departs the ship in Bombay and goes to see the caves at Elephanta, which are located about an hour and a half away from Bombay by boat-launch. While observing the giant stone sculptures a man in a saffron robe strikes up a conversation with him. The man discusses Bhahma, Vishnu, and Siva being the three manifestations of Ultimate Reality. After awhile the man puts the palms of his hands together and with the slightest indication of a bow strolls off.
The conversation with the man in the saffron robe must have totally erased any residual scraps of apprehension, if any, Darrell may have been harboring about going on to Hemis because that night, without even returning to the ship, he boarded a train to Bombay, traveling third-class to Benares. He used Benares as a home base, apparently operating in and around the general area for something close to six months. From Benares he traveled to a northern Indian capital Maugham describes as a red rose city as old as time (in real life, Jaipur the rose-pink capital of Rajasthan). From that point on Darrell disappears from the novel, not showing up again until late in the year, 1928.
For all practical purposes, physically, the lamasery of Hemis is just a short jump from Jaipur. Travel-wise, especially in the time period we are talking about here is another story. In that Darrell arrived in Bombay in the summer of 1925 then spent six months in the Benares area followed by a trip and short stay in Jaipur, timewise, it makes his arrival at the Hemis monastery sometime approaching the dead of winter, 1925. Why he chose to go to Hemis in the dead of winter is not known, but the trip would not have been easy. After wintering at the monastery with perhaps some lingering into the early spring, that is the spring of 1926, Darrell began his trek toward the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, holing up somewhere along the way for a year --- possibly at the same monastery I stayed, but most certainly the rock shelter shown me by the Zen man. Then, during the spring or early summer of 1927, he crossed over the mountains into China, then on to Japan, the Philippines and eventually back to India, ending up at the temple in Madura sometime around the fall of 1928.
I can pinpoint some portions of his whereabouts during the time period cited above fairly accurately by drawing on a couple of outside facts which inturn pretty much substantiates his itinerary. The last sentence of the above paragraph outlines his itinerary thus: "Then, during the spring or early summer of 1927, he crossed over the mountains into China, then on to Japan, the Philippines and eventually back to India, ending up at the temple in Madura sometime around the fall of 1928."
From page two of the source at the end of the paragraph quoted below, I write:
"My mentor's house, not unlike the forestry retreat high in the mountains of India where he attained his spiritual Awakening, was almost completely devoid of furniture and fixtures such as lamps and tables except for the bare necessities. There was truly no furniture in the living room although he did have a few books on the floor along one of the walls. Several times out of curiosity, and usually when I was alone in the room, I thumbed through those books. The closest thing I came to anything similar to what is mentioned in the novel was a matched set of four of five leather bound books about an inch thick or so that originally had blank pages. Those books were filled page after page almost Da Vinci like with hand written notes and sketches. The volumes appeared similar to a journal and compiled as though the author may have been planning to write a book, or as the case may be, the original notes for one."(source)
Now, although I thumbed through the four or five leather bound books on many occasions, I never studied them or read them for any length of time because of not wanting to get caught. Only once in all the time I knew my mentor did he pull any of them out and share the contents with me, and then it was only a small portion of one of the volumes. It all came about one day because of a poster we saw in a book store regarding one of my favorite movies, The Day the Earth Stood Still. I brought up the fact that as a young boy I had gone with my uncle to Roswell because he wanted to see if there was any truth behind the so called Hieroglyphic Writing reported on some of the metal scraps --- and before that I had personally observed the giant airborne object of unknown origin that overflew Los Angeles, an event, because so many anti-craft rounds were fired at it, it became known as the Battle of Los Angeles.
With all those thoughts in mind, when we got back to his place he went through a couple of the leather bound volumes until he found the specific one he was looking for, then turned to the page he wanted and showed me an entry with a small drawing and the date and time: "AM August 1927." The entry, and I remember it well because a few days later I went back and copied it word for word with a ballpoint pen on the inside-back of my belt --- and saw it there many times for years afterwards, read:
"Coming in just above the horizon arcing out of the north, a huge circular object, shiny like polished metal. Not an aeroplane. No wings, no sound. Like a coffee pot lid. Very fast."
The previously mentioned Nicholas Roerich, which I found out about many, many years after seeing my mentor's entry, was traveling in almost the exact same general area, only in the opposite direction (i.e., headed back toward Tibet from China). In his published diary, the 1929 book Altai-Himalaya: A Travel Diary, pp. 361-62, Roerich writes the following under the date August 5, 1927:
"On August fifth - something remarkable! We were in our camp in the kukunor district, not far from the humboldt chain. In the morning about half-past nine some of our caravaneers noticed a remarkably big black eagle flying above us. Seven of us began to watch this unusual bird. At the same moment another of our caravaneers remarked: 'there is something far above the bird,' and he shouted his astonishment. We all saw, in the direction north to south, something big and shiny reflecting sun, like a huge oval moving at great speed. Crossing our camp this thing changed in its direction from south to southwest, and we saw how it disappeared in the intense blue sky. We even had time to take our field glasses and saw quite distinctly the oval form with the shiny surface, one side of which was brilliant from the sun."(source)
The odd part of it all is when I compare the two entries emphasizing the timing or the date and location it is neither of them nor the content (i.e., UFOs, flying saucers et al in 1927) that people question or seem interested in. Most people mention the fact that I say my mentor was hiking on his own and somehow made it to Madura sometime in the fall of 1928 after crossing over the Himalayas into China, then on to Japan, the Philippines and eventually back to India. Most pooh-poo the idea as though it couldn't be done --- especially in the time frame so presented. However, Thomas J. Campbell writes in The Jesuits, 1534-1921: A History of the Society of Jesus From Its Foundation To the Present Time, Chapter VIII, page 238, the following regarding a Catholic priest in 1661 of all things:
"In 1661 Father Johann Gruber, one of Schall's assistants in Pekin, reached Thibet on his way to Europe. He could not go by sea, for the Dutch were blockading Macao, so he made up his mind to go over- land by way of India and Thibet. With him was Father d'Orville, a Belgian. After reaching Sunning-fu, on the confines of Kuantsu, they crossed Kukonor and Kalmuk Tatary to the Holy City of Lhasa in Thibet, but did not remain there. They then climbed the Himalayas and from Nepal journeyed over the Ganges plateau to Patna and Agra. At the latter city d'Orville died, he was replaced by Father Roth, and the two missionaries tramped across Asia to Europe. Gruber had been two hundred and four- teen days on the road."(source)
The good father walked the whole distance across two continents from Peking through to Lhasa and on to Europe in 214 days. As far as Father Ensheim is concerned, when it comes to what I have written about him thus far I have made it abundantly clear that Maugham's main character from The Razor's Edge, Larry Darrell, and the person I call my mentor are one and the same person. From the source so cited as well as elsewhere in my works I also wrote the following in regards to Darrell come my mentor:
"In his novel Maugham pretty much focuses on Larry's travels in Europe and India. However, in the spring of 1931 Larry's former fiancee' Isabel mentions she knew the bank manager in Chicago that handled his account and he told her '...that every now and then he got a draft from some queer place. China, Burma, India.' My mentor told me he had been to China, Japan, and the Philippines, even mentioning he had a son in the Philippines."(source)
As Maugham lays it out in his book Darrell arrived at the ashram in the fall of 1928. If you begin with the very first month Darrell arrived in India, June of 1925 and go to the fall of 1928 --- up to and including November of 1928 --- again, as I have mentioned previously elsewhere, a total of 31 months elapsed, five months short of three full years. Those 31 months are month after month of time and travels that are, save for a few in the early stages, left unaccounted for by Maugham in the book. As it has been told to me, the Darrell character, that is, my mentor, prior to his return to India traversed through the Philippines in some fashion. How long he was there or the depth of is stay is not known. He did however tell me he had a son in the Philippines. The question is how would he know? On the face of it, for most, that's a nine month thing. Son or not, I do know he was in the Philippines though because some of the experiences he casually mentioned to me along the way have since proven to be so, to wit:
One of the main characters in the comic strip Terry and the Pirates, drawn by artist-cartoonist Milton Caniff, is a woman called the Dragon Lady. The name given the Dragon Lady by Caniff is however, Lai Choi San, a name not put on her by Caniff by chance. He adopted the name from a real life notorious female Chinese pirate that operated in the South China Sea and adjacent coastlines during the 1920s through the 1930s. Lai Choi San was said to have owned 12 heavily armed Chinese junks all with big bore cannons and all under her direct personal command, as well as a fleet of several thousand buccaneers independently operating other junks all with sworn allegiance to her authority. Loosely based in and around the Portuguese colony of Macau just outside of Hong Kong her realm covered the Pearl River Delta and coastal shipping routes to all of the South China Sea as far away as Palawan in the Philippines Islands.
THE DRAGON LADY
(please click image)
Neither Lai Choi San herself nor her notoriety has ever seeped into popular lexicon, nor do people ever really think of her when conjuring up thoughts of pirates or piracy. However, interestingly enough, even though the use of her name may have come up in some vague fashion in my life relative to Terry and the Pirates and the Dragon Lady, my mentor, during his return to India from China to the Philippines in the mid to late 1920s, as he told it to me, got hooked up with her in some fashion, either working in some capacity in exchange for transportation or paying his own freight.
THE RAZOR'S EDGE: TRUE OR FALSE?
THE MEETING: AN UNTOLD STORY OF SRI RAMANA
DECK GUNS SHOWN ON ONE OF LAI CHOI SAN'S 12 HEAVILY ARMED CHINESE JUNKS
(photo from page 43 of I Sailed With Chinese Pirates, linked below)
I SAILED WITH CHINESE PIRATES
The female bodhisattva Kuan Yin, known throughout Buddhism for being a compassionate saviouress for the downtrodden and those caught in unsurmountable situations is often depicted dressed fully in white riding the rough seas on the back of a dragon as shown below. So said, as cast in that role, those whose lives and livelihoods depend specifically on the sea, i.e., sailors, fishermen, the shipwrecked, and even if left unsaid, pirates et al, turn to her as their savior during times of duress.
In his book I Sailed with Chinese Pirates (1930), Aleko E. Lilius writes about sailing with the most merciless gang of high-seas robbers in the world on in an armored junk commanded by a female pirate. Conjuring up images of, or at least in tribute to Kuan Lin, speaking of Lai Choi San, Lilius writes:
"What a woman she was! Rather slender and short, her hair jet black, with jade pins gleaming in the knot at the neck, her ear-rings and bracelets of the same precious apple-green stone. She was exquisitely dressed in a white satin robe fastened with green jade buttons, and green silk slippers. She wore a few plain gold rings on her left hand; her right hand was unadorned. Her face and dark eyes were intelligent – not too Chinese, although purely Mongolian, of course – and rather hard. She was probably not yet forty.
"Every move she made and every word she spoke told plainly that she expected to be obeyed, and as I had occasion to learn later, she was obeyed."
The meeting between Maugham and Isabel as having transpired in the spring of 1931 and all the events therein as they fell into place is not wholly accaurate in how Maugham has presented it in his book. Now while it is true a conversation between Maugham and Darrell's former fiancee' may have transpired at one point in 1931 --- and it could have easily been and most likely was in the spring of 1931 --- it is my contention that Maugham never really met Darrell for the first time prior his return to Europe from India in the spring of 1931 in the first place, so any discussion of Darrell would have rung hollow.(see) More than likely Darrell's girlfriend Isabel was in Paris and may have been there all along for sometime. It could be, in that Maugham knew Elliott Templeton and Isabel was Templeton's neice, there is a small chance Maugham may have known or met her by sheer coincidence before he ever met Darrell. Even if she had mentioned her boyfriend or fiancee' being in China, Burma, and India, at the time, before the meeting with Darrell it would not have carried any weight of immediate understanding for Maugham --- unless there were two meetings surrounding a similar or like conversation --- a before he met Darrell and an after he met Darrell conversation.
I never met Somerset Maugham in person nor did I ever talk or communicate with him regarding The Razor's Edge. However, over time I have met and known many people either peripheral to or central to the story behind the story. In discussions regarding some of the issues, the spring of 1931 meeting between Maugham and Isabel and how it relates to Darrell has come up.
Like shuffling a deck of cards and out of the random shuffled cards getting the winning hand, so too if you shuffle what Maugham writes, what I write and what was brought up in the discussions, a plausible explanation, of which I am willing to embrace, emerges.
Again, Isabel was Templeton's neice. By the spring of 1931 she had been in Paris for sometime. During that 1931 spring Darrell showed up in Paris and had been in Paris about a month when he met up with Maugham, who had been in Paris the latter half of that time, or about two weeks. In the book Darrell inadvertently runs into Maugham at the Cafe Du' Dome and at the time of that meeting Darrell does not know Isabel is in Paris. How it really happened, according to my aforementioned discussions, is that in real life Darrell DID meet up with Isabel during the early part of that one month period he was in Paris, having done so prior to Maugham's arrival. Maugham writes Darrell as not knowing Isabel is in Paris, but actually he did as he went to see her almost immediately. Isabel was aghast at what she saw during their encounter, completely overiding any saintly persona Darrell may have projected following his Enlightenment. All she sees is her former fiancee' going from a dashing clean cut young man in a officers uniform with a chest full of shiny medals to some guy with unkempt, uncut hair, with a wind-burned dark face concealed by a thick brown beard. Instead of a dashing uniform, he shows up at her door in a frayed shirt, threadbare coat with holes in the elbows and shabby slacks. A few weeks later Maugham arrives in Paris and visits Templeton. There he meets Isabel who, in the course of conversation, tells Maugham about her fiancee' and how he had disintegrated from how she remembered him to becoming nothing but a bum after being in China, Burma, and India for ten years. Maugham, intrigued, has Isabel, Templeton, or both arrange a meeting, the same meeting that comes off at Cafe Du' Dome. So said, if thus done in such a manner, the meeting would not have happened as inadvertently as I have suggested or how it comes across in the book, but actually prearranged, possibly even done covertly by Maugham in collusion with Templeton and Isabel, leaving Darrell not knowing it was a set up.
In real life Maugham did NOT meet the Darrell character in 1919 as he cites in the novel. Their FIRST meeting actually occurred some eleven years AFTER the 1919 date cited, during the spring of 1931 in Paris. In clarification of same in THE RAZOR'S EDGE: W. Somerset Maugham, Sri Ramana Maharshi, Guy Hague, and Zen the following is found:
Their first encounter probably unfolded very similar to how Maugham describes it in the novel when he meets Darrell in Paris following the spiritual traveler's Awakening experience in India. His Enlightenment transpired on his birthday during the fall of 1930 and the Paris meeting some six months later, in the spring of 1931. The novel has Darrell being in Paris about a month when he and Maugham meet inadvertently at a sidewalk cafe, which in real life is most likely a fairly close portrayal of actual events. Maugham had been there only half the amount of that time himself, having arrived in Paris barely two weeks before. He was sitting outdoors one evening in the front row of the Cafe Du' Dome having a drink when a man walking by stopped at his table displaying, as Maugham notes, "a grin with a set of very white teeth." He wore no hat, had unkempt, uncut hair, his face was concealed by a thick brown beard. He wore a frayed shirt, threadbare coat with holes in the elbows and shabby grey slacks. His forehead and neck was deeply tanned. Following a short salutation Maugham writes that to the best of his belief he had never seen the man before and, in the course of the rather brief interlude, even goes so far as to quote himself as saying, "I've never set eyes on you in my life." In the novel, of course, Maugham quickly reneges on his assumption, as the man turns out to be Darrell. In real life, such was not the case --- that is, unlike as portrayed by Maugham in the novel, they had NOT met before. This was their FIRST encounter. (source)
In Doing Hard Time In A Zen Monastery, previously cited, I write, without elaboration, about leaving the monastery for an unspecified amount of time on the round trip trek high into the mountains to visit the aforementioned ancient man of Zen. Going to and from the Zen-man's abode was a very arduous several day trek, much of it through rugged and steep very high altitude territory. Also that a good portion of the trail followed along side a series of streams that may or may not have been the same one, that was sometimes rushing and other times placid depending on the steepness or flatness of the terrain. On another page I DO elaborate more specifically on the trek. For example on that page I mention on my return trip to the monastery, in that same steep very high altitude territory, I came across a young lone woman of Caucasian descent scooping water from a stream, and after a series of minor events, in conversation, the following came about:
"She also said she had stayed at a village for a few days months back many miles down the mountain trail but wasn't aware of any monastery. She had seen what looked like ruins of what may have been a monastery at one time but didn't seem habited from the distance she saw it. Wanting to stay away from any religious context or involvement she said she kept her distance. So too, she had not seen the Zen man, although she said she had been left stuff on occasion, but didn't know from who. Her not having made contact with the monastery meant she had not passed through the monastery portals to the outside we were in, so I wasn't sure if the two of us were operating on the same time reference. But for me at the moment it didn't matter because I found it exhilarating to talk with someone who knew English and having come from a similar enough background we could both share the conversation."
The person kneeling beside the stream and who I interacted with later as described in the above quote was a woman of extraordinary beauty and intelligence named Hope Savage.
THE BEST OF THE MAUGHAM BIOGRAPHIES:
- WILLIAM SOMERSET MAUGHAM
Good biography. Lots of Maugham graphics, from early childhood to late adult.
- W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM: A BIOGRAPHY
- MAUGHAM IN INDIA
- LITERARY AMBULANCE DRIVERS
Everybody knows Hemingway drove an ambulance during WWI, nobody knows Maugham did.
- THE ART COLLECTION OF W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM
SPIRITUAL GUIDES, GURUS, AND TEACHERS INFLUENTIAL IN THE RAZOR'S EDGE: