"Maugham leaves the ashram and immediately on his return to Madras writes in his notebook a number of things including his comparison to what the Maharshi wore (a loin-cloth) to that of what the Maharshi's biographer called it (a cod-piece). The biographer Maugham refers to is of course Narasimha and the biography on Ramana he wrote, 'Self Realization: The Life and Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi.' Since Maugham wrote what he did in his note book immediately upon leaving Ramana and arrival at Madras my question is, how would he have known Narasimha's specific use of the word/term 'cod-piece' to describe what Ramana was wearing if he had not already read the biography?"




the Wanderling

To the often asked opening question at the very top of the page, a lot of people say NO he did not know.

As the loin-cloth, cod-piece quote below the question suggests, I say YES he did know.

Although there are indeed legions of critics who in their own writings present a total opposition to what I present and who deeply cite against what I write --- and of which some of their strongest opposing views I have presented willingly below --- I still have in the end, proof on my side.

Proof, that is, that before Somerset Maugham left for India in 1938 he had in fact heard of the Sri Ramana Maharshi AND intended to visit him.

Many biographers of William Somerset Maugham, writers, authors, and others who have critiqued his novel The Razor's Edge, and especially so those who have also read his follow-up essay The Saint don't seem to think as I do, that is, that I have the proof on my side. Those saying so, via examples of what they write, have reached the conclusion and pass 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.

Although I provide a number of other examples of verifications of my viewpoint from a number of other sources in the main text below, the loin-cloth cod-piece comparison, cited above and discussed at length below, is itself from Maugham's aforementioned essay The Saint, and there for all to read. It is Maugham himself and not me that includes in and brings up in The Saint the biography of Ramana titled "Self Realization: The Life and Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi" by Narasimha, the first of the editions published in 1931, seven years before Maugham ever left for India.

The problem with 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 as well as 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 identified 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.

There is a massive 1749 page two volume book set titled "Ashrams of India" that explores over 500 ashrams, temples, and other significant sites of eastern religious and spiritual interest located throughout the Indian sub-continent. The compilers have backed up their explorations with reems of classical, historical, and recent background information. In a section regarding westerners known to have historically visited the ashram of the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi the following is presented:

"It is thought that sometime in the late 1920s a young traveller from America bumped into Swami Ramdas one night at the Meenakshi Temple in Madura, the two of them had previously met in the caves of Elephanta three years earlier. The young American would eventually gain fame, albeit anonymously, in W. Somerset Maugham's 1944 novel The Razor's Edge. Given the name Larry Darrell by Maugham in the book, that same American, in real life following the advice of Ramdas, went to see Ramana Maharshi. Through the grace and light of the Maharshi, the anonymous American awakened to the absolute."

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 his essay, 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)

I have no way of knowing how many readers out there have read Maugham's essay The Saint, but it is actually one of five essays in his 1958 book "Points of View." At the very end of what he has to say in The Saint he inserts the whole biography of the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi titled "Self Realization: The Life and Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi" by Narasimha Swami. The first edition of that biography was published in 1931 with the second, third, and fourth editions published in 1935, 1936, and 1944 respectively. At the end of his essay and just before moving onto the biography Maugham writes:

"I have given this brief and inadequate outline of Sankara's doctrine so that the reader may the better be able to understand the following pages in which I propose to relate what I have been able to learn of the Maharshi's life. It has been written, under the title of Self Realisation, by Narasimha Swami."

Since "Points of View" wasn't published until 1958 and Maugham includes a biography of Ramana first published in 1931, then republished in 1935 and 1936, all before he went to India in 1938, there's zero chance he had not been privy to it's existence and thus then it's contents, especially since he quotes the author practically word-for-word verbatim while still in India in 1938.

Interestingly enough, almost everything Narasimha used as a core to build his 1931 biography of Ramana around was siphoned off from the even earlier published works of an Englishman named Frank H. Humphreys, a policeman that had been stationed in India not far from the Ramana ashram in 1911. Both he and Narasimha sat before Ramana at the cave Ramana resided and learned the same things together at the sametime. After he returned to England he wrote a three segment article about the Maharshi that was published as a series in three consecutive issues of The International Psychic Gazette in 1913. In 1925 those articles were compiled into book form under the title Glimpses of the Life and Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. From there the information found it's way into the Ramana biography by Narasimha which in turn has became the go to source for other biographers and historians.(see) In any case, since at least as early as 1913 and 1931 for sure, Maugham could easily have had access to well written English versions of Ramana and who he was.



There is a very interesting tid-bit of information in The Saint essay, one of as I have said, five essays found in Maugham's book "Points of View." Maugham writes, and I quote:

"What follows is what I wrote in my note book immediately on my return to Madras. The Maharshi was of average height for an Indian, of a dark honey colour, with close-cropped white hair and a close-cropped white beard. He was plump rather than stout. Though he wore nothing but an exiguous loin-cloth (what his biographer somewhat inelegantly calls a cod-piece) he looked neat, very clean and almost dapper. He had a slight limp, and he walked slowly, leaning on a stick. His mouth was somewhat large, with thickish lips, and the whites of his eyes were bloodshot. He bore himself with naturalness and at the same time with dignity. His mien was cheerful, smiling, polite; he did not give me the impression of a scholar, but rather of a sweet-natured old peasant. He uttered a few words of cordial greeting and sat down on the ground not far from the pallet on which I lay."

POINTS OF VIEW: Essay Four The Saint

Maugham writes that the Maharshi wore a loin-cloth followed by and I quote, "what his biographer somewhat inelegantly called a cod-piece." So, Maugham leaves the ashram and immediately on his return to Madras, not days, weeks, or months later, but immediately and writes in his notebook a number of things including his comparison to what the Maharshi wore (a loin-cloth) to that of what the Maharshi's biographer called it (a cod-piece). The biographer Maugham refers to is of course Narasimha and the biography on Ramana he wrote, "Self Realization: The Life and Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi." How do we know Narasimha is the biographer of which Maugham speaks? Because he includes the Ramana biography Narasimha wrote at the end of his essay.

Since Maugham wrote what he did in his notebook immediately upon leaving the Ramana ashram and arrival at Madras my question is, how would he have known Narasimha's specific use of the word/term "cod-piece" to describe what Ramana was wearing if Maugham had not already read the biography? Go to the Self Realization link above, open the search on the left side sidebar, type in cod piece, and click the results. You will be taken to the page where Narasimha used the term.

(please click image>

In 1956, two years before the 1958 "Points of View" was published, and in of which contained the essay The Saint, a book written by Maugham originally published in 1908 titled "The Magician" was reprinted after having not been published since it's last edition in 1931. The reprint contained a preface the other editions didn't have titled Together With A Fragment Of Autobiography. The book, being published in 1956 with the fragment of an autobiography included, updates the book for the modern reader, making it in a sense, a contemporary of the 1958 publication of "Points of View." Maugham writes in that autobiography:

"When, a little while ago, my publisher expressed a wish to reissue it, I felt that, before consenting to this, I really should read it again. Nearly fifty years had passed since I had done so, and I had completely forgotten it. Some authors enjoy reading their old works; some cannot bear to. Of these I am. When I have corrected the proofs of a book, I have finished with it for good and all. I am impatient when people insist on talking to me about it; I am glad if they like it, but do not much care if they don't. I am no more interested in it than in a worn-out suit of clothes that I have given away. "

As the above would attest to, and mostly because of the above reasons, Maugham would not let himself be interviewed on the record regarding any of his works, the Razor's Edge included, to clarify what he wrote or his intent behind what he wrote. When he was done with it, he was done with it. That left interested parties to interpret the facts, with most interpreting them only in the milieu they existed as Maugham laid them out, rather than incorporating the broader view of Maugham himself.

Maugham had traveled the length and breadth of the country interviewing swamis, sadhus, fakirs, and holy men up and down the scale and the things he heard from them he heard over and over, and that was the crux of the matter. In "The Writer's Notebook," (1946), in sort of a last straw, of one sufi Maugham concludes:

"He said the things I had heard from others twenty times before That is the worst of the Indian thinkers, they say the same things in the same words

"(T)hey repeat it like parrots, there is no denying the fact that it is irksome to listen interminably to the same statements. You wish at least they could think of other metaphors, similes, illustrations than those of the Upanishads. Your heart sinks when you hear again the one about the snake and the rope."

In a generalization of thoughts he carried with him, Maugham writes:

"I have among my books the fifteen volumes of Baring Gould's Lives of the Saints, and now and then I take down a volume and read the account he gives of one or other of them who for some reason has aroused my curiosity. I have read the autobiography of St. Theresa and the lives, written by those who knew them, of St. Francis of Assisi, of Catherine of Siena, and of Ignatius Loyola. But it never occurred to me that I might be so fortunate as to meet a saint in the flesh."

On his trip to India, although the above regarding swamis, sadhus, fakirs, and holy men wasn't necessarily what he expected and the chances became more slim, he did need comparisons, so just in case he planned accordingly. When meeting the saint Darrell spoke of bared fruit, the meeting of a true saint rather than not, he was able to write after brushing aside the previous swamis, sadhus, fakirs, and holy men:

"But that is actually what I did."

One evening just before leaving for India Maugham was in a lengthy conversation with a woman who was an aspiring writer. She told him she was afraid she would never make it as a writer because she wrote much too slow and would get stuck for hours on end over a single word or a sentence that she couldn't get right. Maugham responded with, "My dear young woman, that is the only thing I have heard you say that makes me think you may be a writer one day." When Maugham writes "now and then I take down a volume and read" and that "it never occurred to me that I might be so fortunate as to meet a saint in the flesh" it was of course, when he was reading encrusted away in some dingy library or his reading room with a glass of sherry and a warm fireplace, not traveling through India on some creaky-wheeled, dusty bullock cart carrying a fifteen volume set of books on the lives of saints on his lap. As a writer Maugham was a master wordsmith. When he used the words "actually" and "did" in the sentence "but that is actually what I did," that is, meet a saint, he knew exactly what he was saying and what he meant. Did is the past tense of do, meaning after you do something you did it. Maugham used the words "actually" and "did" because meeting a saint (Ramana), rather than an itinerant holy man, is what he actually planned to do, or after the fact, did.

Returning now to the same basic theme as found in a previous paragraph above regarding the article The Making of a Devotee, there is an article written by Mark Hawthorne printed in the July/August 2000 issue of Hinduism Today titled "1940 Vedantic Novel Still a Hit": that has within it's contents the following:

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)

Although I didn't come across the actual, real specific notebook Maugham said he wrote in immediately upon returning to Madras wherein he mentioned Narasimha's use of the word "cod-piece" while doing my research at some of the Maugham archives I visited, I take him at his word that it existed. I didn't go to all of the Maugham archives all over the world and basically at the time my concerns were for his exact dates for being in India. which I discovered letters on almost instantly. However, if you still are of the opinion to disregard the cod-piece and Narasimha's biography, 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.[1]

Moving on to a third example. Even though my page The Mentor on Larry Darrell being based on a real person has been on the internet almost since the nets inception and is typically ranked fairly high in search engines as well as given positive credit --- and even linked to (and the only one done so in the article) --- by the highly regarded Sri Ramana author David Godman in Somerset Maugham and The Razor's Edge (First published in The Mountain Path, 1988, pp. 239-45.) doesn't seem to matter much to most people claiming to be in the know.[2]

Any person in reviewing the unusual case of The Razor's Edge --- unusual in that from the very beginning Maugham himself most forthrightly declares his book is based on real people and actual events --- would easily be able to learn the potential feasibility of such a possibility and, if not liking it, refute it. However, it is never done. Even passing beyond the first decade of the 2000s reviewers of The Razor's Edge continue the myth that what Maugham has presented in his book is totally fiction and that Larry Darrell was not, or at least by inference because of the book being fiction, not real or based on a real person. Re the quote below by the highly regarded book reviewer Tim Morris:

It's also about the craft of novel-writing. The Razor's Edge is about as metafictional as fiction can get. Maugham starts the novel by reflecting on the process of writing a novel: this won't be one, he explains, because it's just some stuff that happened to him. Of course it isn't; everything in The Razor's Edge is fiction, including the character of Somerset Maugham. But to frame the fiction as naturally as possible, Maugham casts it as non-fiction. If this is hard to follow, that may be a surprise; one usually thinks of Somerset Maugham, if at all, as the most conventional of throwback storytellers, a Victorian out of place in the 20th century.(source)

In 1959 a book titled "The World of Somerset Maugham," Klaus W. Jones editor, was published. The book was composed of several monographs that circulated around some phase of Maugham's life and writing career. One of those monographs, titled "Maugham and the West: the Human Condition: Bondage," was written by Fulbright Scholar and Professor Emeriti of Comparative Literature, Hunter College, City University of New York, Mildred C. Kuner. Speaking of The Razor's Edge, Kuner writes:

"(T)he oblique construction of the book is one of Maugham's happiest inventions. In Maugham's unique use of first person, the narrator (Maugham) is an entertaining host describing to his guests a series of events which HE witnessed and which are indisputably authentic."

Elsewhere regarding Kuner's remarks I write that almost any Professor of Comparative Literature, professor Kuner included, no doubt has a much wider base of resources available to them in order to clarify and delineate issues related to literature, authors, and writers than the average reader or critic. It is a given they probably know people who know people who know people and being so said, able to elicit direct access and response in the process of their research as well as have reams of literature based information to call upon if so needed. So too, in their circle of Professor of Comparative Literature peers there is most likely ample discussion to shootdown or authenticate any proposal. Hence the use of "indisputably authentic" is probably based on more than mere speculation or wishful thinking --- even though the full spectrum behind the arrival at such a distinction may not be readily available to the common layperson.

All one has to do is take into consideration what I have presented thus far as well as go to The Mentor along with the footnotes and attending backup materials and a whole different world emerges, a world based on real people and actual events.

As for Maugham, he is basically being nothing less than flat-out literal when he writes for example "...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 countries 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.

The punchline is that 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, always 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.[3]

Maugham brings forth the fact that he didn't enter the meditation hall after his long journey because he was just not up to taking his boots 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 so 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, always 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. Maugham was traveling at a fairly high level of luxury, meeting with Maharajah's and such. He tells of one Maharajah having a large orange cat that had at her ready her own chauffeur and footman. Maugham sent a letter to a friend saying that the only drawback to such a regal level of hospitality was that there was little opportunity for more private activities. "Of course no larks," Maugham wrote, "we are being as good as gold." The opportunity at Madras offered itself a chance to change the equation and as Maugham says, "I did not hesitate to fall in with the suggestion." However, because of his choice, and I have been told it is so, instead of a fun-filled, smooth, uninterrupted trip as expected, he and his male secretary come traveling companion were actually abandoned some distance outside Madras, ending up stranded (albeit possibly happy) in the wee hours of the morning in some obscure village miles from Tiruvannamalai --- which might give rise to the 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. For those who may be so interested, a more in depth clarification to what is being alluded to can be found within the first paragraph of Maugham, W. Somerset (1874-1965).

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 a third and fourth 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.[4] 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. Even though my Uncle had taken me to see it, any sort of a sequel, 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. I even offer a free no sign up link below to the movie that you could watch right now with no obligation, over and over if you liked, plus expandable to full screen

Maugham himself 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.[5] The two of them traveled to San Francisco and Lake Tahoe together for a couple of weeks to discuss the matter, in turn then, although there was no sequel made, when the facts are all put into one basket, ties together my mentor being the model for the Larry Darrell character fairly well. It also 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 for the meetings to have actually transpired.

Just inside my mentor's house on the floor was a whole row of books and pamphlets stretched out along the wall, and like a row of books on a shelf, with the title binder end facing out. Among the books were four or five matching leather bound books about an inch thick that were actually notebooks filled page after page with hand written notes, sketches, and poems. One day when something queued his memory about something he started thumbing through them one at a time until he found what he was looking for. In the meantime a letter addressed to him when he lived elsewhere fell to the floor. When I picked it up to hand to him he was so absorbed in what he was doing he didn't respond at first. While holding the letter I saw it had a return address from someone named Barbara Back.

One day when dowager was visiting and with my mentor out of earshot I told her about the envelope with a return address from Barbara Back hoping she might enlighten me as to who Barbara Back was. The dowager, although not exactly dumbfounded, didn't say anything. However, several weeks later when I took my mentor to see her she quietly slipped the same Barbara Back envelope into my hands, an envelope she had apparently purloined in some fashion, asking me to put it back to where it belonged with as much stealth as possible. Making sure my mentor didn't see I had the letter in my possession per her request or for me that I was complicit in any of it, the second I got a chance I stashed the letter in the glove compartment of my car. Then, back home and waiting for the right chance to put it back and not to get caught, over time, one thing led to the next and I simply forgot it. Barbara Back turned out to be Maugham's closest women friend and foremost overall confidant.


A couple paragraphs back I left unnamed a third and fourth person I met briefly who were directly connected to Maugham and The Razor's Edge, albeit totally left unheralded by most accounts. One 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. The fourth person was Swami Ramdas who, if you remember from the two volume set "Ashrams of India" cited previously, was the holy man Darrell met in the temple that suggested he go see the Maharshi. Although Ramdas may seem played down a little here it is only because he is fully recognized by me in his own his page, easily reached by going to:


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:


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:


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.


(for full length movie please click image)









THE MEETING: An Untold Story of Sri Ramana




(please click)

The following is written by David Godman as found in the source so cited:

The narrative of Bhagavan's enlightenment that appears in Self Realisation was written by B. V. Narasimha Swami after he had gathered pieces of the jigsaw puzzle from Bhagavan over a period of several weeks. Bhagavan did not narrate the event in the way that Narasimha Swami told the story; he simply provided snippets of information that Narasimha Swami later assembled into what he thought was a coherent narrative. Narasimha Swami was honest enough to admit this. In a footnote to the first edition he said that he had written this account himself, deriving its contents from information gleaned from Bhagavan over a period of several weeks. In later editions this note disappeared, leaving new readers with the false impression that this was how Bhagavan described the event himself. As you are probably aware, this description has been accepted as the standard and authentic one; there is even a huge signboard in the New Hall adjacent to the Mother's Temple where the whole experience is displayed for visitors to read.


Footnote [1]


When it comes to possible role models for Larry Darrell in Maugham's novel The Razor's Edge two people rise to the top, Guy Hague and Ronald Nixon. Hague is delt with quite extensively elsewhere leaving us, for those who may be so interested, Nixon to discuss.

Nixon is often confused with my mentor because of a number of similarities, especially the early years. Although my mentor and Nixon knew each other because they flew together during World War I they were two widely separate people. Nixon's nationality, life before the war, and his years relative to India after the war are just too different too reconcile.

During the four years I was in high school the president of the United States was Dwight D. Eisenhower. Just as I was graduating Eisenhower ran for a second term and won. Both times his vice presidential running mate was Richard Nixon. Just before the start of my junior year I met my mentor, with the following junior year then my senior year paralleling the last two years of the first Eisenhower-Nixon administration. Those two years, and especially the last was filled with an ever continuous onslaught of Eisenhower-Nixon re-election hoopla.

My mentor never expressed himself politically one way or the other. However, one day when we were walking together he saw a newspaper headline related to Richard Nixon and out of the blue told me that during the war he flew with a man named Nixon. Since it was always hard to get anything out of him about the war I pressed him on it.

He told me the man was named Ronald Nixon. They were both fairly young to be aviators, with my mentor the youngest of the two 16 when he joined age 17 by the time they began flying with Nixon one year older. They had similar experiences in the war, ending with similar yet different outcomes, both involving India.

My mentor was an American and had never been to college, Nixon was British and right after the war ended he entered one of the colleges of Cambridge University, studying English literature and philosophy. During that period my mentor traveled and learned on his own throughout Europe and into Asia, with both he and Nixon eventually ending up in India.

Nixon graduated in 1921 and after going to India was offered and accepted a lecturer position teaching literature at the University of Lucknow, located in northern India, eventually taking a high paying professorship at Banaras Hindu University, In 1925 my mentor arrived in Bombay by ship. Not long after seeing the city sights and visiting the Caves of Elephanta he took a train third-class to Benares. He used Benares as a home base, operating in and around the general area for about six months. I know he went to Japur on the way to see the Hemis Manuscripts and Lucknow. In Benares he was able to see his former flying buddy on regular occasion, then well established as a professor at the university while seeking an ever deepening spiritual awareness.

In 1928, Sri Yashoda Mai, the wife of the university vice-chancellor, initiated Nixon into the Gaudiya Vaishnavite, a religious movement within Vaishnavism, one of the main Hindu schools of thought, after which he adopted Krishna Prem as his monastic name. Two years later, in 1930, Sri Yashoda Mai and Krishna Prem founded an ashram at Mirtola, near Almora, in north-central India.

Two years earlier, in i928, after traveling throughout India and Asia my mentor showed up at the ashram of the venerated Indian holy man the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi in Tiruvannamalai south India. Two years later, in the fall of 1930, he experienced Absolute Awakening at the same level as the ancient classical masters.

There is nothing anywhere that indicates Maugham ever met, knew, or knew of Ronald Nixon other than the possibilities of my mentor mentioning him. If you remember Nixion joined the military at age 16 or 17 only to return after the war and attend college which straightforward thereafter he immediately left for India never to leave. People continue to go on-and-on about Darrell but always forget the obvious that Maugham himself said in connection to him:

"The man I am writing about is not famous. It may be that he never will be. It may be that when his life at last comes to an end he will leave no more trace of his sojourn on earth than a stone thrown into a river leaves on the surface of the water. But it may be that the way of life that he has chosen for himself and the peculiar strength and sweetness of his character may have an ever-growing influence over his fellow men so that, long after his death perhaps, it may be realized that there lived in this age a very remarkable creature."

W. Somerset Maugham, THE RAZOR'S EDGE

In 1948, twenty years after my mentor first visited Sri Ramana, Krishna Prem, aka Ronald Nixon, traveled to his ashram in Tiruvannamalai to meet with the Bhagavan. That meeting is fully recorded in "FACE TO FACE WITH SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI: Enchanting and Uplifting Reminiscences of 202 Persons" Number 117, accessible by clicking HERE.


Footnote [2]

In a quick update, it should be noted that the aforementioned David Godman page on Maugham and Ramana has been completely revamped into a new format. In it Godman, who takes a different tack than I do, i.e., not recognizing my thesis that my mentor was Larry Darrell and ignoring any of my backup material, presents in his new format page, albeit with minor changes, the use of the same Maugham quote from The Saint as I do, re the following directly from his page:

"What follows is what I wrote in my notebook on my return to Madras. The Maharshi was of average height for an Indian, of a dark honey colour with close-cropped white hair and a close-cropped white beard. He was plump rather than stout. Though he wore nothing but an exiguous loincloth he looked neat, very clean and almost dapper. He had a slight limp, and he walked slowly, leant on a stick. His mouth was somewhat large, with thickish lips and the whites of his eyes were bloodshot. He bore himself with naturalness and at the same time with dignity. His mien was cheerful smiling, polite; he did not give the impression of a scholar, but rather of a sweet-natured old peasant. He uttered a few words of cordial greeting and sat on the ground not far from the pallet on which I lay"

Please note in comparison with my direct quote from The Saint back up the page Godman has conveniently left out the all important line, and I quote "(what his biographer somewhat inelegantly calls a cod-piece)," otherwise his quote is exactly the same. Remember, I have provided a click through link to The Saint if you want to do any comparisons.

His original online page "Somerset Maugham and the Razor's Edge" first appeared in print, published in The Mountain Path, the official arm of the Sri Ramana Ashram, Volume 24, Number 4, October 1988, long before any internet craze. However, with the rise of the internet as a viable means of disseminating information, like millions of others, Godman switched his article online.

The official date that original article first went online isn't clear, but it showed up for the first time in the internet archive May 1, 2003. By that archived date Godman had already listed my site on the page using my old, albeit at the time, valid GeoCities URL. That particular URL had been archived as early as April 5, 2001, after having been transferred there earlier from another free server (possibly fortunecity.com, freeyellow.com, or angelfire.com). In April 2009, GeoCities announced they would be closing their services and by October 26, 2009 it was shut down. Sometime after their initial announcement my wanderling.com version went online and somewhere in that timeframe I notified Godman. Almost immediately, or at least by November 29, 2009, he had switched to my new URL.

You will find that by going to the original version of his page my site had the honor of being the only outside click-through link. When his new version went online, and a fine version it is at that, the link back to me, much to my dismay, was not retained, and in my view, at a loss to his readers. If you would like to see Godman's original Ramana-Maugham-Razor's Edge page that had the link back to me please visit the following:


Footnote [3]

The first time I went to the ashram I was a very young boy traveling with a foster couple, staying around four months. The following was observed and since related back about me being at the ashram, saying I was a dusty little boy, quite obviously white, barefoot and with curly hair, sitting alone in the shade along a low wall. Then, as an adult, following my second visit, as to leaving the ashram I write:

"(I) began wending my way through the streets of Tiruvannamalai hoping to locate the house of the man who assisted me getting to the ashram so I could retrieve my boots and stuff that had been left in the sun to dry on the roof of the house next to his."

In both cases it is quite clear, or at least obvious in the first, implied in the second, that while on the ashram grounds I was barefoot.

Ashram protocol as well as tradition necessitates the removal of ones shoes or footgear upon entering the grounds. The ashram even has a chappal stand or shoe stall just the left of the main gate for just such a reason. Usually when remaining overnight using ashram accommodations the guest is shown or escorted to their lodging area. Typically the person doing the escorting would ensure the guest would have removed their shoes in order to cross the ashram grounds. It is not known in Maugham's case how it is he was able to walk as far a passing the meditation hall to his room without being required to remove his footwear.

For more regarding my visits to the Ramana ashram please see:



Footnote [4]

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 MENTOR.


THE RAZOR'S EDGE: True or False?


Footnote [5]

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.

Regarding my uncle taking me as a young boy to see the movie The Razor's Edge I have written the following as found in the link directly below the paragraph:

"As for The Razor's Edge, that is another story. I do not know if my uncle read the book before seeing the movie, but he went to see it one evening without me and came back all hopped up for me to see it, mainly because I guess, the story line. The release of the movie followed right on the heels of my September 1st experience on Catalina Island, and that, in conjunction with my experiences in India, my uncle was hoping I could put it all together in some fashion. However, in those days the time I was in India was just not reachable in my everyday surface thoughts, so the whole idea was all for naught because any connection was lost and way over my head. The unusual part of it all, although my uncle was highly disappointed with the outcome of his efforts, unbeknownst to him at the time he was right on target with his intuition because the real life person Maugham wrote his main character around in the novel, Larry Darrell, turned out to be the exact same person who a few years later became the person in my life I call my mentor --- and who turned out to be the same person dressed in dark clothes on Catalina Island."

Their Life and Times Together