“The Razor’s Edge,” made in 1984 with Bill Murray, was an instant favorite when I first saw it. It caught, in a coarse net, my own hopes as a young man, what I sought in India, aspirations I thought were universal.
College in the late 60s was full of adventure. Alan Watts turned me from an engineer to a student of Zen, though I knew even then the contradiction in rigorous study, a tight fistful of water. When I got back from India the first time, it was 1974. All my friends were in medical school or studying polymeric memory at Cal Tech. I became a waiter.
This month, I ran across the movie again. I rented it. And then the original film version, made in 1946 with Tyrone Power. And then read the book, written by W. Somerset Maugham in 1944.
The movies are very different, abstractions of a tale about the ineffable, about society, about the church and about faith, about personal values, social values, religious values, about a search for enduring truth in an age when the trappings of success were as temporary as the weather. In their abstraction it is clear the movies try not to let authenticity obscure the veracity of the tale. Very different, the essence is the same.
The book was one of the best selling in the 20th century. I don’t remember if I had read the book before my trips to India, if it is buried in my library.
The title comes from the Katha-Upanishad: “The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.”
Maugham offers gems of his own:
“Art is triumphant when it can use convention as an instrument of its own purpose.”
“I have come too late into a world too old.”
“The self ... is not part of the absolute, for the absolute, being infinite, can have no parts, but the absolute itself.”
There is no wisdom offered in this post. But young seekers should know that the path has been tread by countless sandals; returning seekers can remember with a smile: “In the present” can have its own memories.