SHRI GANESHA, SRI RAMANA, AND MAUGHAM



"Shri Ganesha sat in the attitude of meditation on a raised dais
covered with a tiger skin... 'I've been expecting you,' he said."


the Wanderling


Over and over it is claimed, and most accurately so, that the model for the holy man W. Somerset Maugham used in his novel The Razor's Edge and that he called Shri Ganesha in his book, was based on the venerated Indian sage Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. There are several reasons substantiating such speculation, the primary one being Maugham's own Travels in India just prior to writing his novel. Not only did he go to India, but he specifically went to the ashram and met the Maharshi.

Maugham points out right away in his novel that he invented nothing, but, in order to save embarrassment to people still alive at the time of the printing, he had given the various denizens of his story names of his own contriving.(see) Additionally he says he had taken pains to make sure no one should recognize them. However, despite his claims and attempts at distortions of facts, many aspects of his trip find their way into the plot line. Both the Bhagavan and the ashram --- described in the novel to the reader as Maugham saw them in 1938 and NOT as they were when the story's central character Larry Darrell was there some ten years earlier --- are basically no more than thinly veiled and clearly recognizable in passages throughout the novel to most who have even just a passing knowledge of the Maharshi.

Maugham, as narrator in conversation with Larry Darrell, asks what his Yogi was like. Darrell responds:


"In person d'you mean? Well, he wasn't tall, neither thin nor fat, palish brown in colour and clean shaven, with close-cropped white hair. He never wore anything but a loincloth and yet he managed to look as trim and well-dressed as a young man in one of our Brooks Brothers' advertisements."


Later Darrell goes on to say:


"Everyone knew of him. For many years he'd lived in a cave in the hills, but finally he'd been persuaded to move down to the plain where some charitable person had given him a plot of land and had built a little adobe house for him."


THE ASHRAM DURING DARRELL'S STAY 1928-1930

"I was given as a dwelling place the shack in which Shri Ganesha had lived in when he first came down to the plain. The hall in which he now passed both night and day had been built when disciples gathered around him and more and more people, attracted by his fame, came to visit himů I read a great deal. I meditated. I listened to Shri Ganesha when he chose to talk; he didn't talk very much, but he was always willing to answer questions and it was wonderfully inspiring to listen to him. It was like music in your ears. Though in his youth he had himself practised very severe austerities he did not enjoin them on his disciples."



THE OLD HALL FINISHED BY MAUGHAM'S 1938 VISIT


THE NEW HALL 10 YEARS AFTER MAUGHAM'S VISIT

Construction on the somewhat more conservative Old Hall, the top picture of two above, was started in 1922 and completed in 1928. The foundation for the much larger and more ornate New Hall, the second of the two graphics above, began January 25, 1945 with the cornerstone laid in presence of Bhagavan on June 25th. By February 1949, most of the construction was completed and consecration was set for March 17, 1949. By March 17th, because of his continuing illness, Ramana was too weak to turn the lock, requiring assistance to do so.


In order to fully grasp the strong comparison of Maugham's comments regarding Shri Ganesha to that of the Maharshi, the following excerpts, from the most excellent biography of Sri Ramana by T. M. P. MAHADEVAN, M. A., Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, University of Madras and linked above, is presented:


Approximately two years after his arrival in Tiruvannamalai Ramana's mother visited in an attempt to entice the young sage to return home with her. At the time he was living at Pavalakkunru, one of the eastern spurs of Arunachala. With tears in her eyes his mother, Alagammal, entreated Ramana to go back with her, but, for him, there was no going back. Disappointed, she returned to Manamadurai without him.

Sometime after his mother's departure Ramana went up the Holy Hill Arunachala and started living in Virupaksa Cave, named after a saint who once dwelt there and reportedly buried there. Ramana stayed in Virupaksa Cave sixteen years (1899-1916), then moved from Virupaksa Cave to Skandasramam Cave, a little higher up the hill (1916-1922).

In 1916 Ramana's mother returned, resolving to spend the rest of her life with him. In 1920 her health grew weak in and on May 19, 1922, the end came. Her body was taken down the hill and interred. Ramana continued to remain at Skandasramam but visited the tomb daily. After about six months he came to stay at the tomb, and as he put it, not out of his own volition but in obedience to the Divine Will. Thus was founded the Ramana ashram, which, from initial modest beginnings, continually grew and expanded to become what it is today.


Please notice Darrell, who was there during the 1928-30 period, as Maugham wrote it, "was given as a dwelling place the shack in which Shri Ganesha had lived in when he first came down to the plain." Maugham then goes on to write, "The hall in which he (Ramana) NOW passed both night and day had been built when disciples gathered around him and more and more people, attracted by his fame, came to visit him." The hall Maugham speaks of is again, how he saw it during his 1938 visit, NOT the "little adobe house" or shack as the ashram was in 1928 when Darrell was there --- a huge difference. It was not until a young man, age 22, named Annamalai Swami came upon the scene in 1928 and was directed by Sri Ramana to oversee the ongoing construction at the ashram, including the goshala (cow shed), dining hall, dispensary and other projects did the ashram indeed actually begin to grow.


Ten plus years after The Razor's Edge was published Maugham wrote an essay on the Maharshi titled The Saint. In the essay, according to the interpretation by many who read it, Maugham relates that the very FIRST TIME he ever heard anything at all about the Maharshi was in 1938 when he was in the southern Indian city of Madras. He intimates, they say, it was then and then only that he decided to go to the ashram and visit the holy man. How he presents it in his essay is as follows:


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


Letters in Maugham archives, information from other sources, and Maugham's own actions seem to indicate a much different scenario than simply making a first time decision out of the blue to go see the Maharshi upon reaching Madras. Even his above statement isn't necessarily that clear on the subject (i.e., "...they immediately proposed to take me to see...").[1] He does, however, make it most clear in The Razor's Edge that he started his discussions with the person he used as the model for the Darrell character regarding his spiritual attainment while in Paris during the spring of 1931. From those meetings Maugham writes, quoting Darrell, how Darrell first heard of the Maharshi:


Two years later I was down south at a place called Madura. One night in the temple someone touched me on the arm. I turned around and saw a bearded man with long black hair, dressed in nothing but a loincloth, with the staff and the begging bowl of the holy man.

He asked me what I'd been doing and I told him; he asked me where I was going and I said to Travancore; he told me to go and see Sri Ganesha. "He will give you what you are looking for."[2]


The Saint was published in 1958, twenty-seven years after those Maugham and Darrell meetings in Paris during the spring of 1931. Maugham's comments about himself deciding to go see the Maharshi, above, from The Saint, parallel very closly with what he quotes Darrell as saying so many years before. What W. Somerset Maugham seems to be doing at this late stage of his life, age 84 when The Saint was published, is a slow meshing together of facts, placing HIMSELF into the situation in a sort of overlapping whole. In reality Maugham arrived in Bombay by ship early January 1938. On his 64th birthday, January 25, 1938 he was in Madura at the southern tip of India and BY THEN he and his party were well on their way to the ashrama, traveling north a few days later to Madras followed by a few hours by car to Tiruvannamalai. His whole itinerary from the second he got on the boat in England to getting off in Bombay was directed toward the ashram and the Maharshi. After arrival in Bombay he went directly to Madura, then Madras, then Tiruvannamalai. Maugham's itinerary put him in Madura BEFORE reaching Madras. If you remember, Madura was the southern temple city that the Darrell character met the holy man, who I have identified as Swami Ramdas, and who suggested Darrell go see the Maharshi. Again, as from the above:


He asked me what I'd been doing and I told him; he asked me where I was going and I said to Travancore; he told me to go and see Sri Ganesha. "He will give you what you are looking for."



In contrast to the above "thought up in Madras" thesis, it has also been stated many times by many people that it was Paul Brunton and his popular (and at the time) readily available book A Search in Secret India (1934) that inspired Maugham to visit Sri Ramana and write The Razor's Edge. It has also been said that prior to his departure for India Maugham sought out Brunton's advice about who he should visit --- and that it was Brunton that sent him to see Sri Ramana. Of course, if such was the case, any prior suggestion by Brunton or anybody else would most certainly have a tendency to directly undermine the Madras rendition as described above by Maugham.

To show how one could be influenced by Paul Brunton's book, Mercedes De Acosta, who, in 1938, visited the ashrama and met with the Maharshi a few months after Maugham did, writes in her book Here Lies the Heart:


"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."


Speaking of De Acosta, interestingly enough, in a little sidelight, she is one of the major movers that brought to the attention of the world an American that was meditating under Sri Ramana at the ashrama the same time she was there by the name of Guy Hague. What is interesting about Hague is that he thought to be by many as being the actual real-life role model for Maugham's main character, Larry Darrell, in The Razor's Edge.


In the end, as it applies to Maugham, because of the facts and related eye witness accounts, neither the "thought up in Madras" version OR the "Brunton" version have very strong legs to stand on. In the spring of 1931 Maugham and the Darrell character met in Paris and began their talks outlining his experiences in India and with the Maharshi. Brunton's book with the insights on Sri Ramana was not published until 1934. Although not discounting totally the possibility of some sort of a meeting or interaction between Maugham and Brunton following the publication of Secret India, it is MY contention that, just as presented in the novel and how I have presented it previously (see), sometime between the time my mentor --- that is, the same person Maugham used as a model for Larry Darrell --- left India, BUT prior to his departure from Europe for the United States, he and Maugham crossed paths --- formally or informally for the first time --- instilling in Maugham the need or desire to meet with the Maharshi. So said, over and over the question is STILL asked:


BEFORE SOMERSET MAUGHAM LEFT ENGLAND FOR INDIA DID HE KNOW
ABOUT AND INTEND TO VISIT THE BHAGAVAN SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI?


To the often asked question above, a lot of people say NO. Me, I say YES.


SRI RAMANA'S WESTERN DISCIPLES



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.


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AWAKENED TEACHERS FORUM


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


THE RAZOR'S EDGE: TRUE OR FALSE?


SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI TIMELINE



SEE AS WELL:
AT THE FEET OF THE BHAGAVAN


WHEN INFINITIES COLLIDE


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ENLIGHTENMENT

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