PAGE TWO

THE RAZOR'S EDGE Continued:



THE MENTOR



Except for several closing paragraphs below where I clarify a few unresolved issues as well as exploring what I consider DISCREPANCIES by Maugham in the novel, the following is from ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT: The Path Continues. The extract below is an abridged version, the full coverage can be found by going to the source so cited:



"People ask what leads me to believe my next door neighbor come mentor was also the same person Maugham used as a model for his novel. Since Maugham never said nor the man never told me himself, most of what I have come to know has come from observation, overheard conversation at the time, and what I have been told by what few people I met that knew him in the past.

"Sometime in the early-mid 1940s my mentor had a vague connection with the Pasadena Playhouse. There was a dowager patron of the arts that contributed to the Playhouse and in the process of that support she and my mentor became friends. She lived in a California community above Pasadena called Sierra Madre' and had an avid interest in things Indian and Asian, of which my mentor had some knowledge. I met her ten years later, sometime in the mid 1950s, she having visited the man next door various times during that period. Also, since he didn't drive, but loved riding around in my wooden Ford station wagon, he requested I take him to her house on occasion. It was she that told me that in 1944 or so, a famous English author had come to the Playhouse to talk with him about a 'sequel' and that in 1945 or 1946 he had joined the author on a one or two week trip to San Francisco and Lake Tahoe.

"The dowager also told me something regarding the Maharshi. My mentor had never mentioned him by name, only that he had studied at an ashrama in the south of India between the wars. Maugham called him Shri Ganesha from Travancore. He was actually Sri Ramana Maharshi from Triuvannamalai. In anycase, prior to my mentor buying the house next door he had been living a semi-ascetic lifestyle on one of the Channel Islands off the coast of California. He related to me he had left the mainland taking with him nothing but a toothbrush, staying seven years. The dowager told me that in September 1946, after his trip north with Maugham, my mentor left for the island on the occasion of 'his holy man's Golden Anniversary.' Later research revealed that devotees of the Maharshi gathered at the ashrama in September 1946 for a great celebration honoring the fiftieth anniversary of the Bhagavan's arrival at Tiruvannamali.

"In connection with the same, the man next door told me in passing he had arrived in India in the winter of 1925 and that the year before he arrived his teacher, that is the Maharshi, had been beaten and robbed one night by a group of thugs. He was trying to impress on me that even a revered holy man was not immune from such daily tribulations. Again, later research revealed that the Maharshi had indeed been set upon by ruffians. According to his biographers, on the night of June 26, 1924 several men broke into the ashrama, beat him and several of his devotees, along with stealing several holy relics.

"My mentor's guardian was an agnostic. I remember because it was in connection to him that I first heard the word. My mentor however, flirted with Catholicism on and off a good part of his life and there is a slight ring of Catholicism in The Razor's Edge. Maugham even weaves a thread to that effect throughout his novel. In later years the man next door told me a very interesting story regarding the Zen master he sent me to study under. The master was adopted. At age five he was sent by his adoptive parents to a Rinzai sect temple to begin study. He was sent in honor of a request by his birth mother. Apparently while she was still pregnant she decided if the baby was a boy he would become a priest. Earlier a nun had given her a bead off a rosary and instructed her to swallow it in order to ensure a safe childbirth. When the baby was born, tightly clasped in his left hand was that same bead. My mentor liked the story, and even though priest, nun, and rosary may not have been Catholic related per se', it was related.

"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. Also, when I was at the house of the dowager I saw an intricately hand carved glass-covered wood coffee table he brought back from Japan that he gave her, that had been at one time, a lid to a trunk. It is my belief it was during his travels to Japan in his continuing search for the truth that the then twenty-three year-old met the thirty-eight year-old Yasutani Hakuun Roshi.

"Another thing was his World War I adventures. He really didn't discuss it much except telling me that at age seventeen he was a fighter pilot flying for the British through Canada and that his best friend had died in front of his eyes. However, when I was growing up there was an 'old' man that tended the oil derricks not far from where I lived. Every year on the Fourth of July he would take a bunch of us kids to the top on one of the derricks to watch the fireworks being shot off in the surrounding communities. He lived in a combination caretakers shack, repair shop near the wells. One day I took my mentor to his place just for the heck of it. On his wall were several framed photographs of biplanes with men standing around in front of them dressed in WW I flight regalia. Come to find out the oil well man had been a pilot fighting for the French in the Lafayette Flying Corps and was one of the men in the photos. Next thing I knew my mentor and the oil well man were swaping war stories about everything from pulling thousand foot long Zeppelins out of the sky using twin Vickers armed with tracers to R & R in Paris. My mentor flew Sopwith Camels, the oil well man Nieuport 11s. I learned more about WW I in those few hours than all my years in school."(source)



THE DISCREPANCIES:

All of the above is well and good, but what about discrepancies? The majority of what Maugham writes unfolds fairly well. If you discard the inferences by some that the Larry Darrell character wasn't really based on an actual person in the first place and that Maugham had never heard of the Maharshi prior to going to India in the second place --- none of which shows up in the novel but infered from sources outside the novel --- the most glaring difference for me, and it IS in the novel, revolves around the three-thousand dollars a year trust fund that Maugham writes Darrell as having.

Following the stock market crash in 1929 Darrell, UNLIKE practically everybody else in the world, was left financially unscathed, that is, NOT having lost anything, saying, "Everything I had was in government bonds." The three-thousand dollar figure was accurate, my mentor having quoted me the exact same figure in the 1950s. Whether they were in 'government bonds' or not, I was never told. Toward the end of the novel Maugham says to Darrell in the form of a question, "You haven't got rid of the money?" of which Darrell responds, "Every cent except what I need to last me till my ship comes in." Darrell's response is somewhat ambiguous, because, truth be told, just what does "every cent except what I need to last me until my ship comes in" mean? The implication Maugham seems to be presenting is that Darrell "got rid of ALL his funds." Such was NOT the case. Why Maugham felt compelled to imply as much in his novel I am not sure, I think though, it was to underline Darrell as "above the fray" so to speak. However, the reason the man next door left his island lair to take up residence on the mainland after seven years in the first place was because of some legal difficulty involving his trust fund, a legal difficulty that apparently required a certain amount of personal time and long-term attention. I do not recall the specifics surrounding the situation nor when we first discussed anything about a trust fund, but, even before I knew about such a thing, it was quite apparent that he seemed to do quite well, that is, buying a house and all, and not working. On the web page What The Buddha Said I offered the following:


"When I was sixteen years old or so and had first crossed paths with things Zen, envying my soon to be mentor's lifestyle living on a trust fund, I asked him how I could do the same. He told me to faithfully put $100.00 a month into a savings account every month and never touch it. One day it would accumulate into a rather tidy sum, of from which, one could live off the interest.

"He was drawing an analogy between that and what we have been discussing above in that what one does at any given moment can produce impulses which inturn, meeting the right combination of conditions will bear fruit. Thus said, the right action, speech, and thought [right as used in the way we have previously suggested] at this moment can impact one's future positively like saving $100.00 a month faithfully might."


It was in conjunction with the above that most conversations of a trust fund came up, that is, surrounding questions of Karma, that sort of thing. The punchline being my mentor was still receiving the three-thousand dollars a year and not having given it up as written by Maugham.

Before moving on, my mentor, although having his trust fund in "government bonds" he also knew, in relation to Elliot Templeton, that the Templeton person so cited by Maugham in the novel skated through the Depression without financial harm because he had received word from the Vatican to transfer all he had invested in stocks into gold --- of which he did. Knowing that, as an aspect for financial survival, at least in Templeton's case, my mentor in drawing the same analogy used gold instead of dollars, re the following from the same source:


"For your own edification, during another conversation at another time, in drawing reference to the same analogy, my mentor used, rather that saving $100.00 every month, to instead buy and put away a $20.00 gold piece. Then he said in later years after they have appreciated in value take one out one at a time and market them as needed."


Regarding the trust fund, people often say if it is such that my mentor was truly Awakened to the Absolute as Maugham claims the Darrell character to be, then why would such an individual be concerned with everyday mundane matters as a trust fund --- implying by association thus then, that the person I speak of could not be Darrell. It is true that I do not have the facts surrounding the nature of the legal situation regarding his trust fund, primarily because he never shared them with me. However, even his own teacher the Enlightened sage of Arunachala, the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, faced legal tribulations regarding the ownership and mangagement rights of the ashrama that had to be addressed in court proceedings, proceedings that the Maharshi himself had to appear before and testify in person --- and according to court transcripts, even be cross examined. (see)







On occasion as well, the question comes up regarding references to a book that may have been written by Darrell and possibly published by friends. As the novel gets close to winding down Maugham quotes Darrell as saying he had collected a lot of material with the intention of writing a book. Darrell tells Maugham he has some American friends in Paris with a small press and that they were willing to publish it for him. Later Maugham, visiting Isabel, writes that he notices she has a copy, picks it up and reads at least the table of contents (he also writes that up to the time he left the Riviera he had not yet received a copy of the book himself, nor is it stated elsewhere that he did). I never saw a copy of the book if there ever was one. My Mentor's house, not unlike the forestry retreat high in the mountains of India where he attained his spiritual Awakening (see), 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. What happened to those journals I am not sure. I am sure there was no book in a printed or published format by my Mentor come Darrell among any of the books I saw, nor to my knowledge has a copy ever shown up among any of the thousands of items in the various Maugham archives around the world.


There was some mention by Maugham of Darrell possibly becoming a taxi driver or automobile mechanic when he returned to the states as well. Not so. For the most part he shied away from motor powered contrivances unless absolutely necessary. Except for the Howard Hughes Flying Boat my Zen mentor had not stepped foot inside an airplane of any kind since landing his last biplane in WWI. He seldom rode in private vehicles and never rode on or in anything that depended on a beast of burden to provide motive power. One time I took him to Disneyland. On Main Street they have trolly cars that are pulled up and down the street by horses. He refused to ride the trollys because he would not participate in any endeavor that placed animals into a position of being beasts of burden, conveying to me in a sense, albeit in his somewhat oblique fashion and much later appreciation in time for me, his own deep appreciation of the value of hsing-chiao, "traveling on foot" in the tradition of the Ch'an (Zen) schools of Buddhism. As a teenage boy growing up in the southern California beach culture, not only had I never heard of such a thing, I had never even thought of such a thing.


Some people have also mentioned that all of this is moot anyway because there is little or scant evidence of my mentor or anybody like him or a Darrell-like character having stayed at or visiting the ashrama for any length of time in the first place. They point out almost everything that ever happened to, about, or around Sri Ramana and the ashrama was written down or recorded in some fashion, yet except for what Maugham has to say and perhaps myself, little else if any, shows up anywhere that seems applicable to my mentor. Often cited as an example is Guy Hague. Hague shows up in photos with the Maharshi, on film, is mentioned in the official ashrama publication and shows up prominently in Mercedes De Acosta's book. There is none of that for my mentor or a Darrell-like character.

You have to remember, when my mentor first visited the ashrama the Bhagavan had only just come down from Arunachala by a few years and located himself at the foot of the sacred mountain not far from Yama Lingam, the third of the cardinal point lingams. Until then he had been secluded in a small cave about 600 feet above and behind the present day ashrama called Virupaksa Cave for sixteen years (1899-1916) followed by another six years in Skandasramam Cave (1916-1922), about 200 feet above that. During all that time he was attended to by very few people and little was recorded by anybody until well after the fact except possibly for a short series of letters by Frank H. Humphreys appearing as articles in a publication called the International Psychic Gazette in England. When things did begin to be written down the information was scattered and incomplete, often from memory and usually revolved around the person doing the writing and THEIR experiences and interactions with Ramana and not that of somebody else. In that my mentor didn't write about himself, at least for public comsumption or publication, that aspect of recording went undone. In those days the ashrama wasn't anything like it is now or even how it turned out to be only a few short years after his stay. At the time it was not much more than a mud and thatched hut stuck amongst a bunch of rocks at the foot of the mountain. It wasn't until much later when the ashrama was more established with more permanent staff that extensive records began to be kept. By the time Maugham visited the ashrama in 1938 and Guy Hauge arrived for his stay some sixteen years after Ramana came down from the mountain, the place was huge with permanent buildings and offices, an oversize kitchen to feed the multitudes and growing so large that it even had the need for its own dispensary.

As you may recall, only a few days before my mentor showed up at the ashrama he had inadvertently bumped into Swami Ramdas on a spiritual pilgrimage one night in the Meenakshi Temple in Madura.(see) Following the Swami's advice the young American traveled to Tiruvannamalai to meet Sri Ramana. The Swami himself had only just left the auspices and good graces of the Maharshi after having first stayed at the ashrama, then the caves on the mountain above the ashrama. The time period for the Ramdas visit and my mentor was the same, but, unlike my mentor who was not much more than an itinerant traveler, Ramdas was a personage of some repute and status. However, you find very little written or recorded about his visit and stay by the Ramana camp. Almost everything revolving around the meeting emanates from Ramdas supporters.

Even as late as 1948, two years before Ramana's death, Henri Le Saux, a French Benedictine monk who eventually became known as Swami Abhishiktananda met the Maharshi, was very impressed by him and ended up living for months in the caves above the ashrama as well. Again, as with Ramdas, very little is recorded by the Ramana camp, almost everything coming from the Abhishiktananda side of things.

Maugham himself writes that Darrell did not stay at the ashrama continuously. He had met a man that was a forestry officer and devotee of Ramana who would spend a few days at a time at the ashrama. According to Maugham the forestry officer gave Darrell a key to a secluded forest service bungalow that was a two-day journey by bus followed by a long hike high into the mountains. Maugham describes it as a log cabin with nothing but a trestle bed, a couple of chairs, a table, and "not a living soul within twenty miles." My mentor pretty much agreed in principle with Maugham regarding the two-day bus ride and cabin story, relating it was an "isolated cabin" and a "forester's hut" and confirming the same or similar basic interior furnishings. The cabin was not completely of logs however, but made of at least some "irregular flat stones." The two-day journey by bus and hike into the mountains indicates two things: one, his Enlightenment experience, interestingly enough, did NOT occur on Arunachala, in the caves, or at the ashrama like one might expect; and two, he was gone a good deal or at least part of the time. Taking into consideration the fact that he was at the ashrama early on in its history along with the example of what little was recorded even of two such highly regarded individuals as Swami Ramdas and Swami Abhishiktananda by the Ramana contingent, plus adding the fact that my mentor was gone a lot, it could easily be that mention of him could go unrecorded, especially if you factor in that, except for a very short stop offering his thanks and bidding farewell to the Maharshi, he left the ashrama immediately after his Awakening. [3]



Advocates and supporters of The Razor's Edge that take it's contents as if it were gospel are often upset when I bring up the fact that Maugham used --- except possibly for the Maharshi scenes and the Enlightenment scenes --- almost the exact same plot at least three different times previously, using characters with the same names; scenes, dates and locations in the same places; and plot lines and conversations over and over almost vertbatim.(see) The advocates, along with their totally opposite bedfellows of naysayers, nonbelievers, and critics of the novel ever being based on real life, ask: how could The Razor's Edge be "true" if such was the case? How could Larry Darrell be a real person? Did the events actually happen to a Darrell or a Darrell like character, or did they only just well up --- three times yet --- basically out of nowhere in Maugham's creative mind and fertile imagination? If none of it happened, then why are the ingrained spiritual aspects of Maugham's tome so convincing and long lasting? Is all of it really no more than just mere mental constructs and intellectual jostling?

For the answers you have to explore Maugham himself. It is true Maugham, on the surface at least, did not appear to be much of a spiritual person. And it is also true much that has been ascribed to him on the spiritual side of things has been done in retrospect, based not on his actions or public persona, but on his writings, The Razor's Edge being the most typically cited.

For one thing, Maugham's semi-staid upper class personality --- formed and forged by his cultural milieu, times, and background --- did not lend itself well to allow for much spirituality to surface. That doesn't necessarily mean it wasn't there. After his fainting spell in the presence of the Maharshi (see) many followers of the great Indian holy man felt Maugham had a deep spiritual experience and approached him regarding same, an outcome he vehemently denied. However, in his 1958 essay on Sri Ramama, The Saint, Maugham presented the following:


How do I know, they ask me, that I was not rapt in the infinite? To that I do not know the answer, and the only thing I can say, but refrain from saying for fear it will offend them, is that if it was, the infinite is an absolute blank. The idea of theirs is not so bizarre as at first glance it seems when one remembers their belief that in deep, dreamless sleep consciousness remains and the soul is then united with the infinite reality which is Brahman...


If Maugham had a deep spiritual nature --- hidden below the surface or otherwise --- it could be true that he drew from those sources. However, without ascribing too much to the whole situation, I think there is another answer. That answer can be found in an understanding of the meaning surrounding a Sanskrit word peripheral to the "reality which is Bhraman" that Maugham mentions above, and that many of us have or experienced --- but never really had a word for. That word: Dharmadhatu.

Dharmadhatu literally means "Realm of Dharmas." According to the correct view of Dharmadhatu all Dharmas in the past, all Dharmas at present and all Dharmas in the future are all together in the Dharmadhatu. Typically, ordinary people can experience only a minute part of all Dharmas at present, and therefore people sustain the view that Dharmas in the past are gone and the future is unpredictable.(source) Sometimes under certain circumstances, windows will open and a person is released from the bondage of a static view of space-time and it becomes possible to experience or witness, if not full-fledged at least an inkling of, Dharmas in the past as well as the future.

Again, without trying to ascribe too much to the whole situation, I think IN that Realm of Dharmas, almost paralleling a western view of a premonition, Maugham "knew." I think it was within him, within his grasp all along but just couldn't put it together. It's like when you meet someone for the first time and they end up being a lifelong friend --- yet somehow, the instant you first saw them you "knew" something was different about them out of all the people you have ever met --- even if you didn't know what that difference was. It was the same with Maugham with the plot. It kept coming back to him and coming back to him. Yet he just couldn't get it right. It was as though the Dharmadhatu was masked or veiled somehow. Then one clear spring evening, in the single most critical incident in the novel following the death of Darrell's best friend in the war, Maugham was sitting outdoors in the front row of the Cafe Du' Dome. As conditions, fate, destiny, or Karma would have it, because of the overflow crowds that fine warm night, he was FORCED as Maugham writes it, to sit in the front row --- not the back row mind you, not inside, not on the terrace where he usually sat, BUT the front row, along the sidewalk, having a drink where people can easily walk by and see you. A man walking by did just that, just at that time, just at that moment. He saw Maugham and and stopped at his table. The man was dressed in a frayed shirt, threadbare coat with holes in the elbows and shabby grey slacks. He wore no hat, had unkempt, uncut hair, his face was concealed by a thick brown beard. His forehead and neck was deeply tanned and he displayed, as Maugham writes, "a grin with a set of very white teeth." But there was something else, too. And Maugham sensed it.(see) Refer also to Footnote [2].


It should be mentioned as well that a certain amount of flack has come my way regarding what has been presented here. What upsets most people, not so much the regular folk, but mostly the literati and sometimes the Maharshi in-crowd, is that the Larry Darrell character ended up NOT being "someone." They don't like the idea that Maugham would have used somebody that was a nobody. However, ALL anyone with any amount of acumen has to do --- lay-person, fan, critic, or intelligentsia alike --- is just sit down and read what Maugham has to say and the whole thing becomes clear. It would defeat his purpose and overall thesis if Darrell was in real life a major personage of sorts. In the very beginning on the very first page of the novel Maugham writes "The man I am writing about is not famous. It may be that he never will be." Then, after the whole novel unfolds, all the trials and tribulations and all the adventures and misadventures are over, in the closing pages of the book Maugham solidifies his whole thesis and writes of Darrell and his Awakened state, presenting to reader and critic alike, the following:


He has no desire for fame. To become anything of a public figure would be deeply distasteful to him; and so it may be that he is satisfied to lead his chosen life and be no more than just himself. He is too modest to set himself up as an example to others; but it may be he thinks that a few uncertain souls, drawn to him like moths to a candle, will be brought in time to share his own glowing belief that ultimate satisfaction can only be found in the life of the spirit, and that by himself following with selflessness and renunciation the path of perfection he will serve as well as if he wrote books or addressed multitudes." (see)


In Buddhism there is what is called "the four holy states." One of those states is called: Pratyekabuddha. Pratyekabuddha is translated to mean "private buddha," that is, those who carry on solitary practice and reach Enlightenment without a teacher. The above quote by Maugham in the closing pages of his novel are what I would say as correct. Pratyekabuddha being close as well. When I first met my mentor he had just arrived on the mainland after spending seven years on an island off the coast of California. He lived next door several years, then went back to his island. Except for what I mentioned above, exactly when he arrived in Pasadena after leaving Europe and what he did in-between I have no clear idea. Again, at the time, as a teenage boy growing up in southern California in the 50s, I had no clue. Maugham writes of "a few uncertain souls, drawn to him like moths to a candle." If there were others other than myself I do not know. Except for the dowager as well as Swami Ramdas and one other person, Emmanuel (Alfred) Sorensen, known as Shunyata, an Enlightened individual in his own right, I met no one that was a "longterm" friend, although he did seem to know the venerated Japanese Zen master Yasutani Hakuun Roshi and vice versa. The same can be said for the anonymous and somewhat obscure American Zen master Alfred Pulyan and most assuredly so Pulyan's Teacher, the fully Attained mysterious woman who was responsible for Pulyan's transformation --- all of whom would be tough to classify into "a few uncertain souls, drawn to him like moths to a candle" catagory. In the end, from the previously quoted paragraph, I can only offer...


"...and that by himself following with selflessness and renunciation the path of
perfection he will serve as well as if he wrote books or addressed multitudes."



(for full length movie please click image)



SEE:

SOMERSET MAUGHAM AND THE RAZOR'S EDGE
BY DAVID GODMAN. ANOTHER TAKE ON THE LARRY DARRELL CHARACTER


THE RAZOR'S EDGE: TRUE OR FALSE?


W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM


GUY HAGUE



PART I, FOOTNOTE: Did Maugham Know About Sri Ramana Before Going To India?


PART II, FOOTNOTE: Why Was Somerset Maugham DRIVEN To Go To India and Meet Sri Ramana?


_______-FOOTNOTE: Sri Ramana and Eye Contact Sequences
















THE BEST OF THE MAUGHAM BIOGRAPHIES: