THE RAZOR'S EDGE
The same way that the Larry Darrell character's name in The Razor's Edge was not his actual name in real life, so too, the real name of the Benedictine monk that Maugham calls Father Ensheim was not Father Ensheim. However, for our purposes here, he will be called Father Ensheim.
Maugham did not give Father Ensheim much face time in his novel, nor do readers give him much thought or credence as being crucial in the overall scheme of things. Most readers do so because he is so overshadowed and thus easily forgotten by the presence of the rough and tumble coal miner Kosti. Kosti is the one that initally pointed Darrell toward the possibility that the answers to the questions he sought could perhaps be found in the realm of things spiritual --- and because of that, it is often overlooked that it was Father Ensheim that suggested to Darrell to go to India for his answers.
Darrell first met Father Ensheim in Bonn, Germany sometime in the summer of 1922. Darrell stayed about a year in Bonn renting a room from a widow of one of the professors at the university who took in a couple of boarders. His fellow boarder was Father Ensheim, a Benedictine monk that had taught philosophy for a number of years. When Darrell met Father Ensheim he was on a leave of absence from his monastery to do research at the university library. Although he was French he spoke German fluently --- which was perfect for Darrell because the reason he went to Germany in the first place was to learn to speak German. Maugham describes him through Darrell as being tall, stout, with sandy hair, prominent blue eyes and a red, round face. He was shy and reserved and at first did not want want to have anything to do with Darrell. However, all that changed when Father Ensheim saw the concerted effort on Darrell's part to learn, seeing him often studying and reading day and night. Over the passage of time the two began to talk more and more and share insights. Eventually Father Ensheim had to return to the monastery and asked Darrell if he would like to join him. Darrell stayed on in Bonn until the summer of 1923, then went to the monastery in France.
In Larry Darrell's Spiritual Development, relating to Darrell's stay at the monastery, the following is found:
At the monastery Larry read much and had plenty of time to learn about himself. It was at the monastery that he began the find the questions to which he could seek answers. Though he respected the monks greatly and found their way of life to be absolutely fulfilling, Larry was unable to accept their explanations for the existence of Evil. Later, in conversation with Maugham, Darrell goes on to say:
"If an all-good and all-powerful God created the world, why did He create evil? The monks said, so that man by conquering the wickedness in him, by resisting the temptation, by accepting pain and sorrow and misfortune as the trials sent by God to purify him, might at long last be made worthy to receive His Grace. It seemed to me like sending a fellow with a message to some place and just to make it harder for him you constructed a maze that he had to get through, then dug a moat that he had to swim, and finally built a wall that he had to scale. I wasn't prepared to believe in an all-wise God who hadn't common sense."
This is not to say that Larry disliked the monastery or Father Ensheim, but he had not found the question and not the answer. He wanted to know why there was evil in the world, and though the monks were very intelligent and wise, their answers seemed quite ridiculous and inadequate.
The following appears in Doing Hard Time In A Zen Monastery and in the process clears up the WHY the real life main character in Maugham's book, thus then Maugham's Larry Darrell, ended up going to India:
In the midsummer, early fall of 1922, before going to India, my mentor met a Benedictine monk in Bonn, Germany who was on a research-study leave from his monastery in Alsace, France. At the time, the Father noticed my mentor seemed to be stuck in the beginning stages of a deep spiritual quest so he invited him to return with him to his monastery. In the summer of 1923 my mentor went, staying three or four months or more, studying and partcipating in all the monastery duties and activities. When he decided to leave, the following is said to have transpired:
"Those good fathers had no answers that satisfied either my head or my heart to the questions that perplexed me. My place was not with them. When I went to say goodbye to Father Ensheim he didn't ask me whether I had profited by the experience in the way he had been so sure I would. He looked at me with inexpressible kindness."
"I'm afraid I've been a disappointment to you, Father."
"No," he answered. "You are a deeply religious man who doesn't believe in God. God will seek you out. You'll come back. Whether here or elsewhere only God can tell."
What I was told, the good Father, figuring IF my mentor was just put into the right environment, he should be able to bridge the gap between the religious aspects he was familar with and that of the potentially deeper spiritual aspects he was seeking. In so figuring, he suggested that he go to India and visit a certain monastery high in the Himalayas in a city called Himis. How it has been related back to me is that the Father told my mentor that he heard sometime in the late 1880s early 1890s a man by the name of Nicolas Notovitch had ended up in a monastery in Himis recuperating from an injury. While at that monastery he was shown an ancient manuscript that indicated Jesus of Nazaerth had been in India during the so-called missing years of his life as indicated in the bible. The manuscript Notovitch was shown was a translation of the original which was kept in the library of the monastery of Marbour near Lhasa. The original text was written in Pali, whereas the Himis manuscript was in Tibetan, consisting of fourteen chapters, of which contained a total of two hundred and twenty four verses --- all related to Jesus being in India.(see)
Some thirty-five years following Notovich's sojourn to Himis, around the sametime that my mentor arrived in India (1925) a follower of the Theosophist sect by the name of Nicholas Roerich, who would eventually go on to be nominated three different times for the Nobel Peace Prize, arrived at Himis to see the Himis manuscripts and then on to Tibet in search of the originals. White people did not travel much in Tibet in those days, especially to Lhasa, and Roerich and his party were held incognito in Tibet during the years 1927-28, during which five of his party died. He was eventually released in 1928 and returned to India. It is reported he saw the same manuscripts as Notovitch. If you recall from the above, my mentor carved the date 1926 in the tree along the stream near the rock hut. It is my belief he went in search of the same manuscripts seeking the truth. If he ever met Roerich or saw the manuscripts --- or if the manuscripts ever existed --- is not known. However, it seems to me my mentor had a massive change regarding his approach to things spiritual and religion after going to Tibet, especially so how he viewed things in a western sense. Between the time he got off the boat in Bombay and the time he arrived at the temple in Madura some two years later --- enough of a change occurred that when he went to study under Sri Ramana he was Awakened to the Absolute --- that is Enlightened in the same manner as the ancient classical masters.
The following also appears in Doing Hard Time In A Zen Monastery as well, and, following Father Ensheim's suggestion to go to India, explains part of what transpired during the two missing or unaccounted years in The Razor's Edge as well as what the the date carved in the tree in the above quote means:
One morning the old man took me down stream quite some distance. In the rough rock hewn hillside somewhat above the stream just before it tumbled down into rapids over a rather steep waterfall the Zen man showed me what appeared to be the remains of fallen-over, onetime rock shelter. I had seen a shelter built in nearly the exact same manner high in the mountains of the Sierras in California some years before. In High Mountain Zendo I described the Sierra-based shelter thus:
It is actually a natural space, like a small cave that has a handmade pile or rocks forming a "C" shaped wall that protects the inside area from the prevailing winds and allows for a small fire for warmth and cooking. There is a log with a piece of canvas that can be put over the entrance and dropped to the ground if need be as well as it can get quite cold in the altitude and the winds quite strong.
From the remains of the onetime shelter I could tell that the one in the Sierras replicated almost down to the last stone the shelter I stood before --- it was as though the same person had built both of them from the same design. If such was the case, at the moment I stood before the ruins, I did not know which one came first, although I knew the shelter in the Sierras had seemed much more recent and was still intact. A strange non-weather related cold-like chill came over me as I crouched down and looked inside, gently poking the ground beyond the rocks with a stick. The feeling was broken by the Zen man putting his hand on my shoulder followed by a gesture as though he wanted to show me something else. He walked over to a close by tree and pointed to markings carved into the trunk. I could barely make out three letters and just below them four numbers, which appeared to be the date of a year, 1926. The letters were the exact same letters as the initials of my Mentor. My mentor told me he had arrived in India a year after his future teacher to be, Sri Ramana, had been accosted by ruffians in his ashram. That incident has been dated at June 26, 1924, which would make my mentor's arrival in India somewhere just before or during the summer of 1925. However it was not until 1928 that he showed up at the ashram. He traveled in "China, Burma, India" and it has been said he showed up in the temple of the south south Indian city of Madura "two years later." It was apparently during those two years he ended up in the mountains along the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, possibly even doing study practice in the same monastery I was staying.
AND NOW THIS:
Some people read the following below, in The Razor's Edge, and question my thesis that the Father Ensheim character was actually the FIRST person who directed my mentor to go to India. They say --- as written by Maugham --- the suggestion to go happened AFTER he left Father Ensheim. In the book Maugham has Darrell take a deckhand job on a frighter apparently working his way back to America. Darrell in conversation with Maugham about that voyage says:
"An Indian had joined us at Alexandria for the passage to Bombay and the tourists were rather sniffy about him. He was a fat little man with a brown round face and he wore a thick tweed suit of black and green check and a clerical collar. I was having a breath of air on deck one night and he came up and spoke to me. I didn't want to talk to anyone just then, I wanted to be alone; he asked me a lot of questions and I'm afraid I was rather short with him. Anyhow I told him I was a student working my passage back to America.
'You should stop off in India,' he said. 'The East has more to teach the West than the West conceives.'
'Oh yes?' I said.
'At any rate, he went on, 'be sure you go and see the caves at Elephanta. You'll never regret it.'
Three things are in play here. First, I have no quarrel with how Maugham lays it out regarding Darrell traveling by ship up to a point. However, I do not think in real life my mentor was working his way as a deckhand. It is my belief he was a passenger. I say so because of all the interaction between himself and the passengers as outlined by Maugham. In those days, and it still much the same today, the lower ranking seamen and deckhand types did not interact or hob-nob with the passengers. Besides, the Indian passenger says he "should stop off in India." That may be fine for a passenger, but somewhat iffy for a deckhand --- and not that easy either as various rules of the high seas which include strict sanctions, deportation, and possible incarceration make it somewhat difficult for a crew member, especially lower ranking ones, to just stay behind whenever they choose wherever they choose.
Second, although I say that Father Ensheim suggested my mentor go to "India," he actually suggested he go to the monastery in Himis. Himis is more Tibet than India, at least travel-wise, especially in the time period we are talking about here. My mentor was not quite sure in exacty what manner he was going to accomplish the journey --- that is, what route, etc. However, he did know it was best for him to disembark in Bombay because any later stops would take him further and further away from his destination.
Third, re-read again with a little more depth what Darrell has to say about his encounter with the man from India:
"I didn't want to talk to anyone just then, I wanted to be alone; he asked me a lot of questions and I'm afraid I was rather short with him. Anyhow I told him I was a student working my passage back to America."
Darrell did not want to talk to anyone so he was rather short in reponse to the Indian man. He says, "I told him I was a student working my passage back to America." Darrell tells Maugham that he just "told" the man that he was working his way back, not that he WAS working his way back. Big difference. From that Maugham extrapolated that he was working his way back when instead he was just telling the Indian man that basically to get rid of him.
Darrell also said "the tourists were rather sniffy about him." As I see it Darrell did not want to be seen as being sniffy --- so what does he do? He says he is "working," that is, he is a deckhand, which, like I have stated above, automatically puts a buffer between the passengers and crew. So, in Darrell's case, by saying he is working he can separate himself from the man from India without appearing sniffy. Quite the ploy.
NOTE: Although the name Father Ensheim is not his real name, having been used as a cover by Maugham to ensure his privacy, it is not to imply that the Father Ensheim character was not real. It should be noted that starting with the period in time we are talking in the novel (i.e., circa mid 1920s) and continuing up through the present, monks of the Benedictine Order have had several high profile members go to, establish, participate, or become emerged in various India related religious aspects. How much the "real" Father Ensheim had in instigating any of those so involved in their decision making process is not known. However, the Darrell character followed his suggestion and the timing of the others are not totally out of reason, especially considering those who eventually ended up studying under Sri Ramana. Three to consider are Dom Benedict Apapatt, Bede Griffiths, and Henri La Saux, also known as Swami Abhishiktananda.
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.