"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 seeSri Ganesha. "He will give you what you are looking for."
LARRY DARRELL to Somerset Maugham in The Razor's Edge
The Meenakshi Temple in Madura
In ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT: The Path Unfolds I write that in searching back over time and place as to who the holy man may have been talking with the Larry Darrell character that night in the temple, I indicate that for me, all clues point to Swami Ramdas. Ramdas was a highly venerated Swami that studied under the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, stayed in the caves above his ashram, and who had been traveling on pilgrimage, visiting various shrines and temples throughout India at the exact same time as my Mentor.
One of the major substantiating co-factors that convinced me that the holy man in the temple with Darrell that night in Madura was none other than Swami Ramdas is based on a nickname my mentor used regularly in identifying my godfather after the two of them met.
My godfather was quite old, quite frail, and for years it seemed, dying or near dying. He had basically saved my mother and father from going without food and being without a home during the Great Depression of the 1930s. He gave them a place to stay and my father a job --- something my dad never forgot. Inturn my dad named him as godfather over my two brothers and myself.
He had long since fallen on hard times, or at least as long as I could remember, so his role in those days had become not much more than ceremonial in nature. My dad most willingly picked up the tab each month for the small one bedroom house my godfather stayed in. He also paid for all of his food, upkeep, and medical expenses. Part of his upkeep, usually done after school, included my younger brother or myself going to his place, which was located off an alley in a quiet section of the beach town where we lived called the avenues, and picking up dirty laundry, shopping for groceries, emptying the trash, and generally keeping the place clean and aired out.
Even though it took away from my free time and goofing off with my buddies, for some reason I never totally begrudged going. To most people, myself included, my godfather was like a second grandfather and family members and friends alike always called him Pop --- except that is, my mentor. For some unknown reason, after the two met he always called him, and most affectionately so, Papa Ramdas. "Are you going to see Papa Ramdas today?" he would ask, or "Did you see Papa Ramdas today?" At the time, my mentor using the name Papa Ramdas meant nothing to me. I just considered it another quirk in a long line of quirks my mentor seemed to have.
However, one day, many years later, I ran across the following in the January 1965 issue of The Mountain Path, Volume One, Issue 2:
"And it came one morning apocalyptically - when, lo, the entire landscape changed: All was Rama, nothing but Rama - wherever Ramdas looked! Everything was ensouled by Rama - vivid, marvellous, rapturous - the trees, the shrubs, the ants, the cows, the cats, the dogs - even inanimate things pulsated with the marvellous presence of the one Rama. And Ramdas danced in joy, like a boy who, when given a lovely present, can't help breaking out into a dance. And so it was with Ramdas: he danced with joy and rushed at a tree in front, which he embraced because it was not a tree but Rama Himself! A man was passing by, Ramdas ran towards him and embraced him, calling out: 'Rama, O Rama!' The man got scared and bolted. But Ramdas gave him chase and dragged him back to his cave. The man noted that Ramdas had not a tooth in his head and so felt a little reassured: at least the loony would not be able to bite him!"
Even though the context of the paragraph was all about the Enlightenment experience of Ramdas, which paralleled almost exactly my own mentor's Awakening experience as he told me (see), what hit me most in an odd sort of way was the final sentence: "The man noted that Ramdas had not a tooth in his head and so felt a little reassured: at least the loony would not be able to bite him!" My godfather didn't have a tooth in his head either. As long as I could remember my godfather was old and all those years he never had any teeth. I Think my mentor called my godfather Papa Ramdas for that exact same reason. Since Ramdas was basically an unknown in America in those days and we didn't have the level of sharing of information that we do now, in my opinion the only way for my mentor to have drawn such an analogy was for he himself to have met or known Ramdas on a personal level.
And he did.
How do I know? Because in 1954 I had just received my first drivers license, which is something a teenager never forgets. A few months later my mentor had me drive him from the small southern California beach community where we both lived to the Hollywood/Los Angeles area to see a friend of his, a onetime modern interpretive dancer turned instructor by the name of Ruth St. Denis. She inturn took us to Ramdas, who was visiting the city at the time. Although I have hardly forgotten anything about obtaining my drivers license that year I am unable to recall many of the specifics surrounding my meeting with Ramdas to speak of.
For sure, during the rather short interlude in which I met Ramdas I do not remember my mentor either refering to or calling him "Papa Ramdas." Nor do I remember any sort of a pronounced overbite or lack of teeth on his part --- which does not mean it was not so, only that, until I saw his picture years later did it mean anything. So too, my mentor never really told me one way or the other how he knew Ramdas, how the two of them met, got to be friends, or how he fit into the overall scheme of things relative to my mentor. Describing the meeting Ramdas and myself, on the second page of ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT: The Path Unfolds, linked above, I write the following:
"The man he went to see was Swami Ramdas. All I really remember was he was "old" and I was cold, hence my hands between my knees and looking for the sunlight. For the most part I have never counted the meeting between us as a real meeting --- at least in the classical sense --- because the encounter was so brief. But I did meet him. Ramdas asked me if I had ever been to India, almost as though he knew me or something. When he asked, looking into his eyes I had the strangest feeling come over me. Much later in the scheme of things I came to know why, but at the time I was way to naive to understand or grasp any significance."
THE VENERATED INDIAN SAGE SWAMI RAMDAS
Even though, as I mention above, that I do not recall a pronounced overbite or lack of teeth on his part I know the day I saw him he did not have a beard or long black hair. He was, as typically seen, bald and dressed all in white.
Because of the notable visual discrepancies between how I remember Ramdas as well as most photographs of him, and how Maugham describes the holy man in the quote at the top of the page, that is, "...a bearded man with long black hair, dressed in nothing but a loincloth, with the staff and the begging bowl of the holy man..." people question if the holy man could have really been Ramdas. In concert it should be brought to your attention that on the very first page of his novel The Razor's Edge, Maugham writes:
"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."
Maugham goes on to say:
"I have done this for the same reasons as the historians have, to give liveliness and verisimilitude to scenes that would have been ineffective if they had been merely recounted."
Maugham's attempt to cover the identities or rewrite scenes as they transpired with a thin transparency falls short with the holy man in the temple as it did with attempt with Sri Ramana. It IS a recorded fact that Ramdas DID present himself in such a manner as Maugham describes the holy man in the temple during the 1928 period.
In a continuing theme, Maugham writes that immediately following Darrell's arrival in India he departs the ship in Bombay and goes to see the caves at Elephanta, which are located about an hour and a half away from Bombary by boat-launch. While observing the giant stone sculptures a man in a saffron robe strikes up a conversation with him. The man discusses Bhahma, Vishnu, and Siva being the three manifestations of Ultimate Reality. After awhile the man puts the palms of his hands together and with the slightest indication of a bow strolls on. Maugham writes that Darrell had actually met the same man earlier during the voyage to India, only that on board the ship, instead of being in saffron, he always wore a checkered suit.
That night, rather than return to the docks Darrell travels third-class by train to Benares with the man. He stays in Benares six months. From Benares he travels to a northern Indian capital and is introduced to another person. Later on, in the novel, the other person turns out to be the holy man Darrell eventually meets in the temple in Madura.
All along the way each man has something to tell Darrell about India, Hinduism, and the Absolute --- information that is really intended for the reader to know. Maugham is taking a simple literary device called the novelist's privilege and using a few straight-line sequential facts told to him by the Darrell character in real life, and dividing, scrambling, and puffing them up in order to impart information he wants the reader to know. As quoted above, Maugham writes that while Darrell is in the temple at Madura he was touched on the arm by someone. When he turns around he sees it is a holy man. Maugham goes on to write:
"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."
It is the word "friend" in the above sentence that sometimes confuses a lot of people when I bring up the idea that the holy man in the temple that night was Swami Ramdas. If it was a friend of Darrell's, they say, then how could it be Ramdas? Two things are in play here. First, the Darrell character is talking about Ramdas after the fact. That is, at the time Darrell is telling his story to Maugham, Ramdas has long since become a friend, so he calls him a friend even though at the time of Madura, maybe some five years before or so, they may not have been friends in the classical sense. After all, like I write in ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT, following Darrell's Awakening experience under the auspices of the Maharshi, but prior to his departure for Europe, he travels to Kanhangad where the present Anandashram is located to seek out, pay homage, and thank Ramdas for sending him to see Ramana.
Secondly, in real life I question if everything unfolded nearly as smoothly as Maugham presents to us --- rearranging events as he says in the quote above "...to give liveliness and verisimilitude to scenes that would have been ineffective..." For one thing, between the time Darrell got off the boat in Bombay and the time he showed up in Madura, THREE years had elapsed. Maugham tells the reader through the narrative of the story that the bank manager in Chicago that handled Darrell's account said every now and then he got a draft from some weird place besides just India, places like China and Burma. My mentor told me himself that in addition to India he had been to China, Japan, and the Philippines. What I am getting at is, IF the holy man in the temple at Madura was Darrell's "friend" like he says in the sentence above, then more than likely it was the same person that spoke to him at Elephanta, that is, similary a holy man (i.e., saffron robe), not the man who Maugham describes as a Minister of Finance living in a red rose city as old as time in a northern capital (in real life, Jaipur the rose-pink capital of Rajasthan). Some would argue that the holy man wearing a saffron robe in Elephanta does not accurately describe Ramdas in that he was invariably dressed in white. With the holy man in the temple at Madura, Maugham either incorporates his "I have in other ways taken pains to make sure that no one should recognize them" thesis OR Darrell's description is accurate. Again, please refer to Footnote . Accordingly, the holy man Darrell went to Benares with was NOT the same person he met in the caves. He may well have met a person of Indian descent on the ship and went with him to Benares by train, but it wasn't the same person in the saffron robe that talked to him at Elephanta. Nor was he, inturn, the person who recognized him enough to attract his attention by touching him on the arm in the temple at Madura either. True, it was three years later so one might ask if they were NOT really friends, or even acquaintances on some formal level, then how would the holy man recognize him if he only met him in passing at Elephanta?
After Ramdas left the Ramana ashram and completed his meditation in the caves of the holy hill to his own satisfaction, he traveled throughout India on foot:
"Following his experience in the caves of Arunachala, Ramdas continued his travels for nearly eight years (1923-1931), travels which took him to many parts of India many times, including the caves of Elephanta, the southern temple city of Madura, the sacred shrines of the Himalayas, the city of Bombay, as well as Mangalore, where he spent three months in the Panch-Pandava Caves at Kadri. It was here that he had his first experience of nirvikalpa samadhi." (source)
It was during that eight year pilgrimage that Ramdas and the Darrell character crossed paths at least twice. Once at Elephanta and a second time three years later in Madura. Unlike Elephanta, which is not a temple in the classical sense, the inner sanctums of the temple at Madura are restricted to Hindus only, but everyone can go anywhere else on the temple grounds. In the novel Darrell says:
"I stayed in Madura for some time. I think it's the only temple in India in which the white man can walk about freely so long as he doesn't enter the holy of holies."
In those years it was highly unusual to find a white man under such circumstances, and most especially so in a temple, and the Darrell character in real life was white --- in other words he stuck out like a sore thumb --- so he would have easily been recognizable and memorable, no matter how "native" he may have gone, particularly so if any such previous meeting had occurred in another sacred place such as Elephanta.
There is also another prospect one might entertain or ascribe to in regards to the meeting or string of meetings described by Maugham that falls into an area or realm not simply so physical in nature. It is connected more with the concept of Karma than what one might understand or find in the day-to-day Samsara world. There is a Sanskrit word Dharmadhatu that 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. 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. I think the meeting in Elephanta to that in Madura was a string of events in a whole series of events that somehow included Swami Ramdas that brought the two together. Of all the people in the temple at the time, in a premonition sort of way related to the Darrell character, Ramdas sensed it.
Years later, my mentor, in telling me how he met the person he studied under, said when he was in the south of India he had met a holy man not unlike his teacher and that the holy man told him that he had lived and meditated in a mountain cave near a highly revered teacher. The holy man suggested that it might be beneficial for my mentor to seek out the same teacher, which in fact my mentor did.(see) What he meant by a holy man not unlike his teacher is interpreted as meaning that it was Sri Ramana, known to be Abiding in the Self as was Ramdas. Abiding in the Self there is no Space-Time, hence my interjection of Dharmadhatu.(source)
Why is all this important? As outlined in the opening paragraphs of the Maugham related page titled Razor's Edge Notes, there are four major tangent points in Darrell's and Maugham's life, each as important as the other and of which I am in agreement with, that had to come together for The Razor's Edge to be.
The first is the Darrell character HAD to be the right chronological age to participate in the war. Second, he HAD to see his best friend die so he would be driven to go on his spiritual quest. Third, he HAD to meet that specific holy man (Ramdas) in the temple at Madura so he could be sent to see the Maharshi inorder that his Enlightenment would transpire. Fourth, Darrell HAD to cross paths with Maugham at the Cafe Du' Dome along the sidewalk in Paris following his Enlightenment experience in order to tell his story. I cover all four HADs one way or the other in my offerings and various footnotes. Take away or change any link in the chain and most likely you wouldn't be reading this right now. See: What the Buddha Said.
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.
AWAKENED TEACHERS FORUM
ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT IN A NUTSHELL
ON THE RAZOR'S
SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI: THE LAST AMERICAN DARSHAN
RECOUNTING A YOUNG BOY'S NEARLY INSTANT TRANSFORMATION INTO THE ABSOLUTE DURING HIS ONLY DARSHAN WITH THE MAHARSHI
THE MEETING: An Untold Story of Sri Ramana
THE RAZOR'S EDGE: TRUE OR FALSE?
WHEN INFINITIES COLLIDE
SEE AS WELL:
WILLIAM SOMERSET MAUGHAM
In the text above, regarding how Ramdas may or may not have presented himself in how he dressed I write:
Maugham describes the holy man in the quote at the top of the page (as) "...a bearded man with long black hair, dressed in nothing but a loincloth, with the staff and the begging bowl of the holy man..." --- and it is not known if Ramdas ever presented himself in such a manner as Maugham describes the holy man in the temple during the 1928 period or any other time for that matter.
It should be noted that Vijayananda (Adolphe Jacques Weintrob), a French doctor who at age 37, met Swami Ramdas in the Autumn of 1952. In In the Steps of the Yogis (First Edition 1978), Part III: Sages and Yogis of Contemporary India, Chapter III, Ramdas, Vijayananda writes, from a personal conversations with Ramdas himself, says the following:
"Ramdas was once a Sannyassi (a monk) and used to wear the orange robe. "I had a beard and long hair like you," he told me one day. But now he dresses simply in a white dhoti, "like everybody else," for he has transcended the monastic state and has become an ativarnashrami (one who has risen above social castes and stages of existence)."
As well, on the cover of his book In Quest of God Ramdas is depicted through a black and white photograph in what appears to be a saffron robe --- which more or less should substantiate such attire.
A reader of my works with the name Ken Jaegers tells me there a photo of Swami Ramdas found in an Anandashram publication titled "With My Master," that was probably taken sometime in the early 1930's, just when the Larry Darrell character was in India and Ramdas was on his pilgrimage, clearly showing Ramdas with a full beard and long hair --- albeit gray and not black.
In the Holy Order of Sannyasa, the two lifestyles of Hindu renunciates are described as follows:
- Some among them are sadhus, anchorites living in the seclusion of distant caves and remote forests or wandering as homeless mendicants, itinerant pilgrims to the holy sanctuaries of Saivism.
- Others dwell as cenobites, assembled with their brothers, often in the ashrama, aadheenam or matha of their satguru, but always under the guru's aegis, serving together in fulfillment of a common mission. These devotees, when initiated into the Holy Order of Sannyasa, don the Saffron Robes and thereby bind themselves to a universal body of Hindu renunciates.(source)