THE RAZOR'S EDGE: Eye Contact Sequences
WILLIAM SOMERSET MAUGHAM
"I felt that there was something within him, I don't know whether to call it
awareness or a sensibility or a force, that remained strangely aloof."
Maugham writes of Larry Darrell, post Enlightenment.
As has been mentioned previously in the main portion of the text, the eye contact experience between Larry Darrell and William Somerset Maugham that transpired at the Cafe Du' Dome in the spring of 1931 impacted Maugham in the extreme, and because of that, became a must write for the reader as well as the author.
The eye contact sequences may not seem like much to the casual purveyor of the Maugham novel --- and to my knowledge NEVER brought up or thought of as having any sort of import by most critics and reviewers of The Razor's Edge. However, I consider Maugham's observations and his attempts to clarify his own inner thoughts and feelings on the matter --- inturn so both he himself as well as the reader will have a better understanding of Larry Darrell and his Enlightenment --- to be of major importance, especially so because of my own personal experiences in similar areas. Nowhere in any of Maugham's works, plays, novels, or shortstories, does it show up that he he spent so much time emphasizing and presenting a similar sort of circumstance to the reader. It was not until he met with the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi personally in India did it get resolved. Up to that point he labored over it and over it, and for me, in the end, it is the single most important event --- in a whole overwhelming string of events --- that grabbed Maugham and sent him on his journey to India and meet with and talk to the Maharshi.
At the time, immersed in the center of it all himself, Maugham may have been naive to the importance of any eye contact sequence. However, throughout history, from unheralded, unknown incidents to classical events of major proportions, eye contact shows up regularly in a variety of spiritual encounters. In my own situation I can cite at least three instances that eye contact played a major role in a downstream spiritual unfolding beyond that of my first verbal encounter with my Mentor, described previously when I wrote:
"When we made eye contact for the first time I was set aback, almost stunned, by the overwhelming calmness and serenity that seemed to abide in his presence."
Before that, as an eight year old boy, as found in Footnote  of THE MEETING: An Untold Story of Sri Ramana, in an incident wherein I sum up the eye contact sequence between my mentor's teacher and myself I presented the following:
"He looked right into my eyes from a few feet away and somehow TIME SEEMED TO SLOW, maybe even stopping altogether. From far away I felt myself losing balance, all the while trying to brace myself with one arm while trying to hold the lantern high with the other. I weighed a ton and could barely move. In ultra slow motion the light, moving now at such an overwhelmingly reduced rate I could hear it, flickered and nearly went out. Then, just as the lantern reached the top arc of its swing and stilled to start back, the light rekindled itself. In that waffer-thin edge-on membrane of darkness the man was gone."
The above incident itself was a mirror-image replicate of an even earlier event and meant primarily to reinstigate a lost Awakening. To wit, as found in SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI: The Last American Darshan regarding that Enlightenment experience:
"A mere spark has ignited his spiritual fire. So, that casual look was a spark of tremendous power."
Again, here is Sri Ramana with no more than what is called a "casual look" that is inturn, from his look, a "spark of tremendous power."
As a ten year old, another eye contact incident similar to what happened at the stage stop occurred while traveling with my Uncle and his curandera wife. We had gone to a basically unknown at the time sacred Native American site now called Pendejo Cave and met with a tribal spiritual elder. The elder was comfortable with my uncle and his wife, but uncomfortable with me. After the curandera told him of my experience with several vultures deep in the desert one day, of which then, vultures eventually became my Totem Animal, the elder came over and looked intently into my eyes. Whatever he saw he apparently liked and I was allowed to continue to the sacred site.
Another occasion transpired many years later and found me as a grown man late one night high in the mountains of Jamaica in an encounter with an occult man of spells called an Obeah. Because I was a white man, the Obeah would not let me enter his hut...and at first refused to have anything to do with me. Mimicking almost the exact same thing that happend to me as a ten year-old boy at Pendejo Cave, the Obeah squated down without changing eye contact, peering at me with, in an almost scary comparison with what Carlos Castaneda says in an interview cited below, an astounding set of eyes that seemed to shine deeply from within with a mysterious, intense light of their own, and said, in his heavy Jamaican patois, "You have felt the breath of the Dark One." "Yes, once," I said, "many years ago," refering to an incident in the military when I literally felt the Shadow of Death brush across my soul. "Why didn't he take you with him," the Obeah asked? "I don't know," I responded, shrugging my shoulders.(source).
Many years well before the above incident occurred between the Obeah and me, as an inexperienced young man in my early 20s, during a period not long after high school yet before being drafted, on an occasion of me visiting the Long Beach Museum of Art, the following happened as found at the source so cited:
"(A)s I was walking around the gallery in the museum --- and totally unprepared for such an event --- I saw a woman that up to that point in time I think was absolutely the most beautiful woman I had ever personally seen in my life. Unwittingly staring at her almost as though I was frozen in a trance, she turned from the exhibit painting on the wall toward my direction and when she did the two of us made eye contact. The exact moment our gaze connected it was a though my life force had been sucked out of me, my knees even buckling from the weight of me standing. Having lost a total sense of dignity and somehow feeling a need for air I immediately went outside, crossing the short distance across a park adjacent to the museum overlooking the ocean. Within minutes if not seconds, for reasons I am yet to fathom to this day, the woman was suddenly standing next to me saying something like, 'Didn't you like the exhibit, you left so abruptly.' I don't recall what my answer was or how one thing led to the next, but soon the two of us were agreeing to have lunch together, although instead I ate breakfast, at a little restaurant she knew just a couple of blocks away called The Park Pantry.
"She said she may have been to the museum before but couldn't remember a specific instance, only stopping in for no other reason except to do so, then she saw me. She said when I left so abruptly she was overwhelmed with the strangest inner feeling, as though she had found something valuable I had lost and she had to return it --- yet she had nothing except for a strange feeling that felt so real."
The following involves the fully Awakened Suzanne Segal on Stinson Beach, California, 1996:
"Stopping for a moment, as though she was stunned, she stepped ever so slightly toward him without changing her gaze and stood before him in which could have been no more than only seconds, but seemed for both as an eternity. Unlike the meeting between Upaka and the Buddha on the road to Benares, wherein Upaka was unable to ascertain the Buddha's full level of Attainment, this meeting was like the coming together of matter and anti-matter, ending in the emanation of nothing less than a burst of pure energy. No words were said nor did any exchange occur. None was needed."
SUZANNE SEGAL: When Infinities Collide
Perhaps the most recent major momentous eye contact sequence happened in 2003 involving the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking:
"(W)ithout changing his head position much, if at all, with me in the middle, Hawking's turning eye gaze made a natural crossing-path contact with mine. It remains difficult to gage if that eye contact sequence lasted only half a yoctosecond or stretched into minutes. To me, that instant, if it was an instant, seemed like a lifetime, the stopped time interfered with only by the continuing slow motion movement of me turning away because of my underarm contact with the person I was with."
STEVEN HAWKING: Black Holes, Enlightenment, and Zen
Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi had only just moved from the caves on the side of the holy mountain to it's base and taken up residency at his newly constructed ashram, which was not much more than a thatched hut in those days, when he was visited by Swami Ramdas, a person on the cusp of great spiritual renown. About his experience Ramdas has said:
"The Maharshi, turning his beautiful eyes towards Ramdas, and looking intently for a few minutes into his eyes as though he was pouring into Ramdas his blessings through those orbs, nodded his head to say he had blessed. A thrill of inexpressible joy coursed through the frame of Ramdas, his whole body quivering like a leaf in the breeze."
In that ecstatic state he left Maharshi's presence to meditate in the caves on the slopes of Arunachala, then left on spiritual pilgrimage across India. One night in the Meenakshi Temple in Madura the person that Maugham used for Darrell, my mentor, inadvertently bumped into Ramdas. From that encounter, following the Swami's advice, the young American went to the ashram of Sri Ramana. (see).
M.A. Piggott, although not the first, was one of the earliest of western women to visit the Ramana ashram and sit before the Bhagavan. Piggott wrote the following eye contact sequence found in an article she contributed to the official ashram publication The Mountain Path. In the article she describes what transpired during her first sitting before the Maharshi:
"For a while nothing happened. I tried to concentrate my mind. Suddenly I became conscious that the Maharshi’s eyes were fixed on me. They seemed, literally, like burning coals of fire piercing through one. They glittered in the dim light. Never before had I experienced anything so devastating – in fact it was almost frightening. What I went through in that terrible half hour, in a way of self-condemnation and scorn for the pettiness of my own life, would be difficult to describe. Not that he criticized, even in silence – of that he was incapable – but in the light of perfection all imperfections are revealed. To show how little responsible he was for my feelings, he told me later on that doubting, self-distrust, and self-depreciation are some of the greatest hindrances to the realization of the Reality."
In 1938, seven years after his talks with Darrell in Paris Maugham goes by ship to the sub-continent and Travels In India. His trip lasted three months, eventually visiting the ashrama of, and meeting with the Maharshi in person. On the first day at the ashrama Maugham passed by the room where Sri Ramana was seated with his devotees. He didn't enter because he was wearing big klunky boots and, because he was tired from his long journey, was not up to taking them off (you are not allowed in with boots or shoes on). Maugham simply peeked in and observed the scene, then went to his room. Ramana was aware of his visitor, and the next day went to Maugham's room for a private meeting. As was Ramana's practice, he simply sat in silence gazing at Maugham. Maugham became uneasy and nervous after the first few minutes and asked "Is there anything that I should be doing now. Is something supposed to happen?" (an understandable western apprehension and expectation) and apparently at some point Maugham became quite overcome and fainted. (source)
Several months later, an acquaintance of Maugham that traveled in the same circles, Mercedes De Acosta, was driven by an inner need to visit Sri Ramana. After she had been sitting in the meditation hall for several hours a fellow American, Guy Hague, who many people have said was the real life role model for the Larry Darrell character in Maugham's The Razor's Edge, suggested she go and sit closer to the Maharshi. He said, "You can never tell when Bhagavan will come out of Samadhi. When he does, I am sure he will be pleased to see you, and it will be beneficial for you, at this moment, to be sitting near him."
Although she didn't faint as Maugham did in the Maharshi's presence, in her book Here Lies the Heart she related the following, similar and equally strong eye contact experience:
I moved near Bhagavan, sitting at his feet and facing him. Not long after this Bhagavan opened his eyes. He moved his head and looked directly down at me, his eyes looking into mine. It would be impossible to describe this moment and I am not going to attempt it. I can only say that at this second I felt my inner being raised to a new level--as if, suddenly, my state of consciousness was lifted to a much higher degree. Perhaps in this split second I was no longer my human self but the Self.
RAMANA'S EYES SHONE WITH AN ASTONISHING BRILLIANCE
PAUL BRUNTON at the Ramana ashram, 1931
In 1931, a predecessor by seven years to either Maugham or De Acosta visiting the Ramana ashram and their reports of astonishing eye contact sequences, the Maharshi was visited by a man of deep spritual conviction by the name of Paul Brunton. Brunton, through his critically acclaimed book A Search in Secret India (1934), is considered to be the single most important person in the opening up to the west of the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi --- possibly influencing Maugham, but De Acosta for sure.
In his book Brunton describes several instances of being highly impacted by eye contact sequences through the direct influence of the Maharshi. When Brunton first arrived at the ashram it seemed the holy man was in continual deep meditation called Samadhi. Although Brunton expected something to happen, for him he writes: "the minutes creep by with unutterable slowness." In the end, however, the sage's total quietness communicated itself to Brunton.
On Brunton's last day at the ashram, Sri Ramana Maharshi again remained incredibly silent, but this time the Maharshi rested his peaceful gaze on Brunton specifically, which he describes as follows:
"(Ramana's) eyes shone with an astonishing brilliance. Strange sensations begin to arise in me. Those lustrous orbs seem to be peering into the inmost recesses of my soul . . . I become aware that he is definitely linking my own mind with his, that he is provoking my heart into that state of starry calm which he seems perpetually to enjoy."
Time stood still. Somehow, unbeknown to Brunton one disciple after another apparently left the meditation hall until only the sage and Brunton remained. Brunton continues:
"I am alone with the Maharishee! Never before has this happened. His eyes begin to change; they narrow down to pin-points. The effect is curiously like the 'stopping-down' in the focus of a camera lens. There comes a tremendous increase in the intense gleam which shines between the lids, now almost closed. Suddenly, my body seems to disappear, and we are both out in space."
In 1936 Brunton noticed a westerner "gone native squatting along the wall" amongst the crowd in the meditation hall. That man turned out to be a person also of some eventual spritual reknown named Alfred Sorensen, known later as Shunyata. Brunton introduced him to the Maharshi and afterwards Ramana said that Shunyata was "a rare born mystic." About a year after the first visit Shunyata was sitting, along with other visitors, in front of Ramana. He had not asked a question nor made his presence known in any particular way when:
"We (became aware of) a special effulgence specially radiated and directed towards our form (from Ramana). . .five English words came suddenly upon us out of Silence. These were totally unsolicited but we took them as recognition, initiation, name and mantra: 'We are always Aware, Sunyata.'"
AFTER BRUNTON, MAUGHAM AND DE ACOSTA
The following is found in Chapter 9, page 71 of Arthur Osborne's My Life and Quest (2001), at the link so sourced. Osborne, now deceased (1970), was a highly accomplished and well received author of a number of excellent books on Sri Ramana. In the paragraph below Osborne is writing about the first time his wife Lucia Osborne saw the Maharshi and sat before him:
"A day or two later my wife entered the hall and sat down. Immediately Bhagavan turned his luminous eyes on her in a gaze so concentrated that there was a vibration she could actually hear. She returned the gaze, losing all sense of time, the mind stilled, feeling like a bird caught by a snake, yet glad to be caught. An older devotee who watched told her that this was the silent initiation and that it had lasted about fifteen minutes. Usually it was quite short, a minute or two. She wrote to me that all her doubts had vanished; her objections no longer mattered. The idea of making a sculpture had been put aside; it seemed presumptuous. She had complete faith. She knew now that the teaching was true and that nothing else mattered."(source)
Notice a couple of things --- from his mere gaze there was a vibration she could actually hear and as well, she lost all sense of time. There is a staggering similarity between what Osborne's wife perceived and felt sitting before Ramana and my own experience cited previously above, seeing him at the stage stop. If you recall I write:
"As though an electric current was passing through me he looked right into my eyes with an intensely piercing gaze, eyes shining with an astonishing brilliance --- and somehow TIME SEEMED TO SLOW --- maybe even stopping altogether. From far away I felt myself losing balance, all the while trying to brace myself with one arm while trying to hold the lantern high with the other. I weighed a ton and could barely move. In ultra slow motion the light, moving now at such an overwhelmingly reduced rate I could hear it."
THE LAW OF VIBRATION
A little about the "vibration" both Lucia Osborne and I reported as having experienced. In recent years, vibrations in the semi-spiritual mental thought process realm have risen to be the 'in thing' in, for example, what has come to be called New Age and New Thought. Both promote a variety of purported scientific, albeit vague when applied, universal laws underlying the natural order of things given names such as the Law of Attraction and the Law of Vibration. One of the top dogs in the area is an author that pretty much moved quantum theory into popular culture, Gary Zukav, as found in Dancing Wu Li Masters. As it relates to what I am writing about specifically in this paragraph, although the original source is a little fuzzy, Zukav has been credited with the following:
"Each personality draws to itself personalities with consciousness of like frequency or like weakness. The frequency of anger attracts the frequency of anger, the frequency of greed attracts greed, and so on. This is the law of attraction. Negativity attracts negativity, just as love attracts love. Therefore, the world of an angry person is filled with angry people, the world of a greedy person is filled with greedy people, and a loving person lives in a world of loving people."
Although Zukav does brush up against a certain aspect of what both Lucia and I have experienced, I would be hard pressed to agree in totality with him or necessarily where he is coming from per se.' That is to say, if the master of quantum physics is advocating the frequency being an aspect of a quantized physical property for example --- or, if not, what then, is the connection to quantum physics?(see)
As for either law being a law, universal, natural or otherwise, I typically fall back on the works of W.D. Gann (1878-1955) who, back in the early 1900s advocated what he called the Law of Vibrations. His description of the fundamentals of the law, which at a early age I must have innately agreed with on some level because of my interest in similar areas, reads thus:
"(T)he layman may be able to grasp some of the principles when I state that the law of vibration is the fundamental law upon which wireless telegraphy, wireless telephone and phonographs are based. Without the existence of this law the above inventions would have been impossible."
What I take away from Gann, after reading his works, is that his Law of Vibration, if it were to be compared, would replicate in overlay the same outcome properties found in the physical laws of vibration he talks about above that contributes to the functional outcome required for radios et al to be successfully operational, such as electromagnetic radiation, their cause and effect, etc., except the totality of his Law of Vibration, from the grounding source to delivery ability, as opposed to being physical in nature, are incorporeal.
NOTE: Regarding the Osborne's, both Arthur and wife Lucia, for those who may be so interested, their son Adam Osborne, from a mere toddler to around age 11, basically grew up in and around the Ramana ashram. As young boys the same age, the two of us met at the ashram. Osborne's insights and recall into those times after we eventually met years later as adults, as found in the page so linked to his name above --- and too long to go into here --- helped enormously in filling in a number of childhood gaps. For more please see:
THE CODE MAKER, THE ZEN MAKER
SHANGRI-LA, SHAMBHALA, GYANGANJ, BUDDHISM AND ZEN
EYE SEQUENCES: MISSING THE BOAT
When an "eye contact" sequence similar to the ones described above befalls someone, it should be noted that the in-depth quality of that phenomenon is not always universally experienced by everyone under every circumstance. To reach a true significance it has to be reciprocal at some level.(see)
To wit, as found in the all important Majjhima Nikaya MN 26 Sutra, when the Buddha was walking along the road to Benares following his post-Enlightenment pause he was approached by a wandering ascetic, an Ajivika, a person of certain spiritual accord himself. According to the custom of the time the ascetic, one Upaka by name, greeted him and asked who his teacher was or what doctrine he followed. In contrast to the usually quoted "To know is not to know, not to know is to know" the Buddha himself told the wanderling that he was "the Victor and Conqueror of the World, superior to gods and men, an All-Enlightened One beholden to no teacher." The wandering ascetic, although apparently a highly spiritual person in his own right known as a Parityajya Vrajati could see NO hint of anything of the Buddha's nature and wandered off as wanderlings are oft to do, mumbling under his breath something like, "If it were only so!"
Interestingly enough, Upaka was not the only one to walk away from the Buddha, under virtually the same circumstances. In the Madhupindika Sutta, known as The Ball of Honey or Honeyball Sutra a man, Dandapani the Sakyan, was out roaming in the woods and ran across the Buddha sitting under a tree. He exchanged courteous greetings with him then asked "What is the contemplative's doctrine? What does he proclaim?" The Buddha's response was not to dissimilar to the samething he told Upaka, and Dandapani, "upon hearing his response shaking his head, wagging his tongue, raising his eyebrows so that his forehead was wrinkled in three furrows -- left, leaning on his stick."
Hard to imagine a person could actually come in contact face-to-face with the Buddha himself and NOT be able to judge the level of his Attainment. So too, then, it would not be totally out of hand that a person, such as Maugham for example, or anybody else for that matter, might not fully grasp, yet still feel somehow, a certain something. That "certain something" is what drove Maugham to go to India. After his meeting with the fully Attained Maharshi, however, it appears he understood much clearer the overall concept and was thus then, able to write and complete The Razor's Edge after what was actually his THIRD major attempt using the exact same plot.(see)
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.
EYE SEQUENCES: NOT MISSING THE BOAT
In 2003 the opportunity arose for me to meet the distinguished scientist Stephen Hawking. It seems Hawking was going to be at the University of California, Davis in March of that year. I approached a friend of mine who just happened to be a person high enough up within the scientific community of the U.C. system that I was sure she would be attending some function or the other surrounding Hawking. When I requested if I could be among her party she told me that at the last minute she just happened to be attending unescorted and would be delighted if I joined her. In doing so the following eye sequence transpired as found in the source so cited:
"(B)eing the guest of a well respected science-related invitee gave me an opportunity to wend my way through the line with a more official-like status as she slowly progressed through the gathering inorder to express her regards and admiration to the scientist. I was just to the right of her at that given moment and a hand-width to the right of me was another distinguished professor or scientist. When the person I was with was given a nod of acknowledgment she courteously stepped back as did I. Instinctively Hawking turned his eye contact from her toward the man to my right who had already begun unnecessarily gushing a loud, thick layer of praise. In the process, without changing his head position much, if at all, and with me in the middle, Hawking's turning eye gaze made a sweeping cross-path contact with mine. It remains difficult to gage if that sweeping eye contact was as little as a half a yoctosecond or stretched into minutes. To me, that instant, if it was an instant, was like being hit with a hammer. The hollow ring sound of the stopped time was broken only by the continuing ultra slow motion movement of being turned away because of my underarm contact with the person I was with as well as Hawking's handler slightly tapping him as though he had fallen asleep. There was no meeting or greeting between us. No words were exchanged nor any Samsara or conventional-plane recognition or acknowledgement transpired in either direction. However, acknowledgement or not, in that brief history of time something changed."(source)
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: