BEFORE SOMERSET MAUGHAM LEFT FOR INDIA IN 1938 HAD HE
HEARD ABOUT SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI AND INTEND TO VISIT HIM?



[1] FOOTNOTE: THE SAINT


WILLIAM SOMERSET MAUGHAM


the Wanderling


To the often asked opening question above, a lot of people say NO.

Me, I say YES.


The proof is on my side.

Many biographers, writers, authors, and others who have critiqued William Somerset Maugham's novel The Razor's Edge --- and especially so those who have also read his follow-up essay The Saint, DON'T seem to think I do --- have the proof on my side, that is. Those saying so, by examples of what they write, have reached the conclusion --- and pass it off AS FACT --- that until Maugham arrived in India in 1938 he had absolutely no clue, no knowledge, nor had ever heard of the venerated Indian holy man the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi --- the saint long since recognized as the role model for Shri Ganesha in his novel.

The problem with such a scenario, that is, Maugham NOT knowing about the Maharshi until AFTER arriving in India, is that the whole prospect of the Larry Darrell character being based on an actual person in real life as Maugham has written him throughout the novel, would suddenly no longer be valid. What I am getting at is, IF the Maharshi was an unknown to Maugham before going to India in 1938 it would mean in turn, that the all important Autumn of 1932 encounter at the Brasserie Graf in Paris and all the other building blocks put into place leading up to that specific point in time never happened.

If you recall, it was during that Brasserie Graf meeting, five and a half full years BEFORE Maugham Travels In India, that Darrell revealed his whole spiritual journey to Maugham, including his trip to India, meeting his holy man, and his Awakening experience. From the outcome of that meeting Maugham presents to the reader what the Darrell character told him:


"Two years later I was down south at a place called Madura. One night in the temple someone touched me on the arm. I looked round and saw a bearded man with long black hair, dressed in nothing but a loincloth, with a staff and the begging-bowl of the holy man. It was not till he spoke that I recognized him. It was my friend. I was so astounded that I didn't know what to say. He asked what I'd been doing and told him; he asked me where I was going and I said to Travancore; he told me to go and see Shri Ganesha. "He will give you what you're looking for," he said. I asked him to tell me about him, but he smiled and said I'd find out all that was necessary for me to know when I saw him. I'd got over my surprise by then and asked what he was doing in Madura. He said he was making pilgrimage on foot to the holy places of India."


It is my contention, just like the above quote intimates, that a similar conversation evolved between Darrell and a holy man in the temple in Madura in the fall of 1928 --- a holy man who I have identifed as Swami Ramdas. It is my contention as well that Darrell, just as Maugham writes, heeded the holy man's advice and went to see the Maharshi.

Four years later, in 1932, the meeting between Maugham and the Darrell character took place in Paris wherein the two of them discuss at some length Darrell's encounter with the holy man in the temple and eventual studying under the Baghavan Sri Ramana Maharshi --- and because of that 1932 Paris meeting Maugham did in fact know about the Maharshi prior to his 1938 departure for India.(see) Maugham himself writes in the very opening pages of the novel:


"I have invented nothing. To save embarrassment to people still living I have given to the persons who play a part in this story names of my own contriving, and I have in other ways taken pains to make sure that no one should recognize them."


He then goes on to say:


"I think my book, within its acknowledged limitations, will be a useful source of information for my friend's biographers."



Those who back the thesis of Maugham NOT knowing of or about the Maharshi until AFTER his arrival in India most often cite as proof of their thesis his 1958 essay The Saint, in which Maugham, in relation to his visit to India and meeting the Maharshi, writes:


In the course of my journey to India I went to Madras and there met some people who seemed interested to know what I had been doing in India.


Followed by:


I told them about the holy men who had suffered me to visit them...


which lets the reader know, although none of it is overtly slipped into the novel, that while traveling in India Maugham met or visited with a variety of gurus, holy men, and saints other than the Maharshi --- holy men he may or may not have heard of prior to going to India. Continuing the sentence, speaking of the people Maugham met in Madras who seemed interested in knowing what he was doing in India, he finishes with:


...they (the people he met in Madras) immediately proposed to take me to see a Swami who was the most celebrated and the most revered then in India. They called him the Maharshi."


injecting into by inference, it would seem, that only AFTER events in the city of Madras did Maugham hear of or DECIDE to go see the Maharshi. It is true that he went to Tiruvannamalai after visiting Madras to meet with the most "revered Swami in India, called the Maharshi" --- but NOT because he was induced to go there by a gaggle of scraggly strangers he just happened to stumble across out of the blue in Madras --- but because it was part of his overall well planned travel itinerary.

For a lot of people the sentence in quotes about being taken to meet the most revered Swami in India is interpreted to mean that Maugham did not have a clue about the Maharshi or his existence prior to his arrival in Madras, which is again, a presumption I strongly disagree with.

A good example of how Maugham's comments have been interpreted by authors, writers, and critics would be the following from an article titled "The Making of a Devotee, Chapter 5":


Ten years or so after The Razor's Edge came out Maugham wrote an essay on Ramana Maharshi called "The Saint". Maugham says he heard about the south Indian holy man when he was at Madras and decided to visit him. After a hot, bumpy ride of several hours, Maugham and party reached the Maharshi's ashrama at Tiruvannamalai.(source)


A second example continuing with the same basic theme is found in an article by Mark Hawthorne printed in the July/August 2000 issue of Hinduism Today titled "1940 Vedantic Novel Still a Hit":


When he arrived in India in 1938, British author W. Somerset Maugham was hoping to find some inspiration for a novel he planned to write incorporating Hindu philosophy. After visiting many cities and meeting many holy men--he arrived in Chennai, where he learned of, as he would later describe, "a swami who was the most celebrated and the most revered then in India. They called him the Maharshi." Maugham jumped at the chance to meet him. Armed with an insatiable curiosity and a customary fruit basket, he arrived in Tiruvannamalai at the ashram of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi--on whom the author would later model the fictional guru of his book, The Razor's Edge.

Though Maugham did not learn of him until he was in India, Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi had already gained widespread renown in the West through the Paul Brunton 1934 book, A Search in Secret India.(source)


If nothing else, even IF Maugham had never met the Darrell-like character in Paris in 1931-32 I find it hard to believe that as late as 1938 a literary artist of Maugham's repute would NOT have come into contact with, or at least been familiar with, the content of Brunton's highly popular book published in 1934 --- and thus then knowledge of the Maharshi's existence (i.e., from the above, "Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi had already gained widespread renown in the West through the Paul Brunton 1934 book, A Search in Secret India").

Be as it was, by the time Maugham went to India in 1938 Brunton's book was having a major impact in circles similar to Maugham's EVEN in the far away and great unwashed country of the United States. American socialite and author Mercedes De Acosta was so taken by the contents of the book she was driven to go to India and see the Maharshi herself, visiting the the ashram shortly after Maugham. She writes in her book Here Lies the Heart (1960):


"At one of these dinners I met Paul Brunton who had written a book called A Search in Secret India. When I read this book it had a profound influence on me. In it I learned for the first time about Ramana Maharshi, a great Indian saint and sage. It was as though some emanation of this saint was projected out of the book to me. For days and nights after reading about him I could not think of anything else. I became, as it were, possessed by him. I could not even talk of anything else."


Interestingly enough, on her arrival to the Ramana ashram in 1938 almost the very first person to speak to de Acosta was an American by the name of Guy Hague. Hague stepped up to her from out of the various followers seated around Ramana in the meditation hall offering her a few suggestions as to how to approach and conduct herself in the presence of the Maharshi. As it turned out Hague has been offered up many times as the role model for the Larry Darrell character in The Razor's Edge.



Getting back to Maugham, he is basically being nothing less than flat-out literal when he writes "...they immediately proposed to take me to see a Swami...". What is going on is what goes on over and over in third world or developing nations, and sometimes in major cities and developed nations all over the world all the time. Maugham met someone or some people that were willing, for money, to take him to the Maharshi in a mode of transportation other than the traditional travel methods such as trains, busses, and registered by the authorities legal taxies. Anybody who has ever traveled most certainly has run into similar situations. Sometimes the offers are legit, other times they are just a scam. There is a big difference between "...they immediately proposed to take me to see a Swami who was the most celebrated and the most revered then in India. They called him the Maharshi " and writing into the whole thought process sequence that Maugham had just learned of the Maharshi for the first time. The reason it is written the way it is, "A Swami" and "THEY called him the Maharshi", is because to that point in the essay --- although Maugham himself had long ago met the Maharshi --- as Maugham was laying it out for the reader, the READER had yet to be introduced to him. That is to say, in the flow of information by Maugham, IF the reader eliminates themselves as the recipient of the information, the reader automatically turns it back as being ascribed to Maugham. In such a scenario, thus then, Maugham ends up appearing as not knowing the Maharshi instead of the reader not knowing. Maugham stopped in Madura before going to Madras then onto the ashram in Tiruvannamalai for one reason and one reason only. He wanted to personally look over and explore the exact same temple that the Darrell character had described to him during their 1931-32 Paris encounters BEFORE he, Maugham, met with the Maharshi --- duplicating in essence, basically the same route as Darrell.

Notice in the article The Making of a Devotee the author emphasizes that Maugham had a hot, bumpy ride of several hours before reaching the Maharshi's ashrama at Tiruvannamalai. In The Saint Maugham goes overboard as well to mention the difficulties endured in his car ride from Madras to the ashram, which is odd in that he doesn't go to the trouble to underscore the travails of his travels at the same level elsewhere. Why? Because, aways the consummate observer and perhaps satisfying an inner need for local color, after meeting his gaggle of scraggly strangers as I call them, he probably took up the offer and rode in some sort of jitney taxi or off the books people's transportation just like I have suggested --- which for an author of such esteem would be somewhat less that first class travel. Maugham is even on record as saying that on arrival at the ashrama he passed right by the meditation hall where the Maharshi was seated with his devotees, apparently continuing to carry his customary fruit basket without even attempting to stop. He didn't enter because he had on big klunky boots and was so tired from his long journey he was just not up to taking them off --- this after "only several hours by car" from Madras (italics mine).

To be true, the ride to Tiruvannamalai from Madras, was most likely no simple piece of cake, especially in the 1938 era --- and why I have added quotation marks around only several hours by car, above. I put them there to ensure you are aware --- as found in The Making of a Devotee, Chapter 5 cited above, that several hours is quoted for the trip to the ashrama from Madras --- and where the term several hours comes from. However, truth be told, Mercedes De Acosta made the exact same trip by car a few months later and in contrast, and this is a HUGE contrast, De Acosta writes in her book Here Lies the Heart that HER trip took ELEVEN HOURS, somewhat more than what "several hours" would seem to imply. Although she had not left Madras until eight o'clock the night before she did not arrive at the ashram until seven o'clock the next morning --- without having gone to bed or necessarily sleeping in the car --- AND unlike the 64 year old Maugham upon his arrival, the 45 year old De Acosta literally jumped out of the vehicle and RAN all the way to the ashrama after being left off near the entrance. Describing the experience De Acosta writes:


In Madras I hired a car and, so anxious was I to arrive in Tiruvannamalai that I did not go to bed and traveled by night, arriving about seven o'clock in the morning after driving almost eleven hours. I was very tired as I got out of the car in a small square in front of the temple. The driver explained that he could take me no further as there was no road up the hill where Bhagavan could be found. I learned then to call the Maharshi "Bhagavan," which means Lord and is a title by which he was always addressed. A religious ceremony was in progress, and men wearing bright-colored turbans and women in their festive saris were already surging into the square, carrying garlands of flowers and images of Siva. I did not linger to watch them, but turned toward the hill of Arunachala and hurried in the hot sun along the dust-covered road to the abode about two miles from the town where the Sage dwelt. As I ran those two miles up the hill, deeply within myself I knew that I was running toward the greatest experience of my life. I was no longer tired and I was unaware of the distance and of the heat of the sun on my uncovered head. I ran the whole way and when I reached the ashram I was not even out of breath.


As you can tell from the above De Acosta was so anxious to meet the Maharshi that after arriving in Madras she didn't even bother to go to bed but instead, hired a car and traveled all night to Tiruvannamalai.

Now, if it was a matter of cost --- that is, going by car rather than train because it was less expensive --- I am not sure. Even though De Acosta said in her book she was traveling on the cheap I don't think her interest was in saving money. I think she was interested in saving time (i.e., anxious to get to Tiruvannamalai). More than likely there was no scheduled train that could get her there quick enough, so regardless of cost she went by car.

In Maugham's case I think traveling period was a matter convenience, comfort, and for sure, first class. It isn't told how he got from the ship to Madras, nor is it mentioned how he returned from the ashram after meeting with the Maharshi. We are only told how he got there from Madras and what a rough trip it was. By whatever means he arrived in Madras, it was no doubt, first class. So too, he probably had prearranged departure reservations by train to see the Maharshi, leaving from the Egmore station in Madras on the metre gauge railroad, then switching trains in Villupuram and on to Tiruvannamalai.

It has never been made clear publicly why Maugham changed his mind and decided to travel by car in order to see the Maharshi, but I am sure he was neither concerned with speed nor cost. Again, as I mention above, I think it was because, aways the consummate observer and perhaps satisfying an inner need for local color or possibly even, as has been conveyed to me confidentially, an inner personal lifestyle satisfaction after meeting his gaggle of scraggly strangers as I call them, he simply reconsidered his original plan of going by train. However, because of his choice, and I have been told it is so, instead of a fun-filled, smooth, uninterrupted trip as expected, he was actually abandoned some distance outside Madras, ending up stranded on his own (albeit possibly happy) in the wee hours of the morning in some obscure village miles from Tiruvannamalai --- which might give reason as to why, after Maugham arrived at the ashrama, and unlike De Acosta, he was so tired from his long journey he passed right by the meditation hall without even stopping.(see)


Although I never corresponded with, met, or talked with W. Somerset Maugham personally, I had the very good fortune of coming into contact with, meeting and knowing at least two people that either met or knew Maugham in direct relation to The Razor's Edge, and possibly a third briefly. The first of course is my Mentor who I cover quite extensively in ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT: The Path Unfolds, and the other is the person in the same coverage I call "the dowager". Now while it is true my mentor never mentioned either the 1931 meeting or the 1932 meeting specifically, nor did he ever mention or address Maugham or The Razor's Edge directly, there are a number of references cited by him in the above two links that would do nothing other than substantiate the meetings, what Maugham has written, and The Razor's Edge as being none other than being true within reason --- all of which are much to long to go into here.[1] However, the dowager's comments cut to the quick and much more presentable under our present circumstances.

The dowager, who also shows up in THE MEETING: An Untold Story of Sri Ramana, was a patron of the arts and in the 1940s contributed in some fashion to the Pasadena Playhouse. My mentor had a connection of some sort with the Playhouse during the same period as well. It was she that told me that sometime in 1944 or so, a famous English author, who she had the distinction of meeting, had come to the Playhouse to talk with my mentor about a 'sequel' and that in 1945 or 1946 he had joined the author somewhere along the way on a one or two week trip to San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. I use the words "famous English author" in my text, by the way, because if the dowager ever mentioned Maugham's name in any of our discussions it didn't register. At the time I was just a teenager in high school and unfortunately, none of it really meant anything to me one way or the other like maybe it should have. Also the word sequel didn't mean anything to me either. When the 1946 movie version of The Razor's Edge came out I was just a young boy. I had never seen it or heard of it, so any sort of a sequel to it, for me, would be quite meaningless. It was not like today when it shows up on television or DVD and you can watch it over and over a thousand times. However, Maugham was in Hollywood during the period in question and he WAS approached by the studios to write a sequel. He eventually turned down the sequel idea, although apparently, according to what the dowager told me, Maugham seemed compelled enough to explore the potential possibility with my mentor.[2] He also went on a trip to San Francisco and Lake Tahoe, which all taken together ties together my mentor being the model for the Larry Darrell character fairly well. In turn it pretty much strengthens the case for the facts as presented by Maugham in The Razor's Edge, including the meetings prior to going to India, to be accurate and the meetings to have actually transpired.

A couple paragraphs back I left unnamed a third person I met briefly who was directly connected to Maugham and The Razor's Edge, albeit totally left unheralded by most accounts. That person was Emmanuel (Alfred) Sorensen, known as Shunyata, a man of great spiritual renown. My mentor had only just left the ashrama of Sri Ramana and on his way to give thanks to Swami Ramdas for sending him to meet the Maharshi when he and Shunyata crossed paths.(see) Shunyata and my mentor then traveled together to Europe, with the two going their separate ways upon arrival. Shunyata returned a few months later, remaining in India for over forty years. In 1936 Paul Brunton noticed a westerner "gone native squatting along the wall" in the meditation hall of the Ramana ashram. It turned out to be Shunyata following the advice of my mentor to go and see the Maharshi. In 1974 Shunyata made a trip to California for a short stay and while there he and my mentor met up. I was requested by my mentor to take him to the meeting and for the most part my role was not much more than that of a chauffeur. Following brief introductions I pretty much stepped out of the picture. However, as the two slowly strolled along and talked, on and off I could overhear them recalling events from their early years, discussing the interceding period, and mentioning various friends and others they either both knew or were familiar with, including such major luminaries as Sri Ramana Maharshi mentioned previously, Lama Anagarika Govinda, and Terence Gray, known by the pseudonym Wei Wu Wei. Neither my mentor nor Shunyata said anything at all about Maugham, at least from what I was able to discern. However, everything said, all the adventures, people mentioned, places cited, and timeframe discussed put my mentor right in the middle of all of the events that transpired in The Razor's Edge.

It should be mentioned there is a huge caveat to all this number of people met in regards to The Razor's Edge, and it involves a very major player. However, other things were at work impacting the reference to that player. In the time period we are talking about here, somewhere hidden deeply below the surface of my then day-to-day Samsara mind-patterns was an unconsciously and ungrasped shadow-like footprint imprinted echo-like across a residual background-base of another state. The reason for that state is explored in:


SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI: THE LAST AMERICAN DARSHAN
RECOUNTING A YOUNG BOY'S NEARLY INSTANT TRANSFORMATION INTO THE ABSOLUTE DURING HIS ONLY DARSHAN WITH THE MAHARSHI



As for Maugham meeting holy men other than the Maharshi it is known Maugham Travels To India in January, 1938, arriving in Bombay by ship in only the time it takes to get from England. By January 25, Maugham's birthday, he was in Madura at the southern tip of India --- again, and I reemphasize as stated above, basically for NO OTHER REASON than to personally look over and explore the exact same temple that the Darrell character described as the meeting place between himself and the holy man that sent him to see the Maharshi. From Madura Maugham went north to Madras and then by car to the temple city of Tiruvannamalai and the ashram. By February 26, he was in Calcutta, visited Benares, then on to New Deli, arriving March 15, 1938. He returned to Bombay and met with Shi Nisargadatta Maharaj, a disciple OF and one of TWO major followers of, the greatest of the "unknown" Indian sages, Shri Sadguru Siddharameshwar Maharaj. Siddharameshwar had died in 1936, a year and a half before Maugham arrived in India. Maugham, always the fastidious researcher, had hoped to meet both of the Sadguru's major disciples, Sri Nisargadatta and, especially so, Sri Ranjit Maharaj. A meeting with Sri Ranjit was not to be. However, the writer did meet with Nisargadatta several times in and around his smoke shop located very close to what is known as a red light district and from which he marketed bidis (also beedee), a handmade country cigarette that usually contains a small amount of, it is said, Sacred Datura, that he sold for a living. Maugham then departed by ship to Naples, Italy March 31, 1938.(source)

The question that comes up now is, if Maugham did in fact meet with the Darrell character during that 1931-1932 period in Paris, and because of those meetings DRIVEN to go meet the Maharshi like I outline above, then why did he wait until 1938 to actually leave? See PART II of FOOTNOTE [1]:


WHY WAS SOMERSET MAUGHAM DRIVEN TO GO TO INDIA
AND MEET THE BHAGAVAN SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI?


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.


(PLEASE CLICK)


AWAKENED TEACHERS FORUM


ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT IN A NUTSHELL




GASSHO
(PLEASE CLICK)



CLICK
HERE FOR
ENLIGHTENMENT

ON THE RAZOR'S
EDGE


SEE:
THE RAZOR'S EDGE NOTES



SEE ALSO:
THE MEETING: An Untold Story of Sri Ramana


SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI TIMELINE



WILLIAM SOMERSET MAUGHAM

MAUGHAM


E-MAIL
THE WANDERLING

(please click)













[1] When I say The Razor's Edge is "true within reason" it is not to suggest it was something other than true, only that a number of discrepancies show up within the novel --- discrepancies I cite and explore fairly well on page two of THE RAZOR'S EDGE: W. Somerset Maugham, Sri Ramana Maharshi, Guy Hauge, and Zen.

SEE ALSO:
THE RAZOR'S EDGE: True or False?


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[2] Maugham's novel The Razor's Edge, was a phenomenal best selling success. The movie version was well received too, earning four Oscar nominations with a win for best supporting actress. It was only natural that the studios would ask for a sequel. Even though Maugham was a rich man he could still have earned a bundle relatively easy as well as increase his level of fame across a much wider audience. However, when Maugham sought out the real life person he used as the role model for Larry Darrell --- my Mentor --- and who Maugham wrote about by sticking very closely to a fairly interesting set of facts, facts that could have been written, rewritten or changed in another way if he had so chose, but didn't, he discovered for Darrell, post novel and post Enlightenment, there wasn't anything to write about. Maugham, driven to sticking to the underlying truth of the novel, was personally unable to violate his own conscience and create a fantasy sequel --- regardless of how much studios tried to offer him or tried to entice him.


THE BEST SELLING NOVELS OF THE 20TH-CENTURY: THE RAZOR'S EDGE