Salinger’s Spiritual Quest

1683657-poster-p-poster-salinger-documentaryWhen you commit yourself to a spiritual or philosophical outlook, it’s hard for it not to influence every aspect of your life. Indeed it seems a little hypocritical for it not to.

But it can often happen…where grand ideas remain confined to the walls of the room in which they were discussed. The Indian philosophy of Vedanta expresses the importance of internalising the ideas it extols such that it becomes a ‘lived’ rather than an ‘armchair philosophy’.

From the way you interact with your family to the way you approach your work – its teachings are really rather pointless if they fail to take effect in your personal experience of and interactions with the world.

Yet lifting ideas and philosophy from the pages of esoteric scripture into personal experience is not always easy. The spiritual path has been likened in one famous scriptural text to walking along ‘The Razor’s Edge’; an expression popularised by the book of the same name by renowned writer Somerset Maugham.

In essence, putting your philosophy into practice is like walking a tightrope. You make countless mistakes and navigate your way through a quagmire of doubt, while desperately holding on to the principles in which you’re attempting to ground yourself.

Vedanta is the philosophical aspect of the vast Hindu tradition that was brought to the west by Swami Vivekananda in the late 19th century. The way it explains the meaning of yoga is subtle yet powerful, and resonated with many great contemporary thinkers including Leo Tolstoy, William James and of course JD Salinger – detailed brilliantly by journalist Ann Louise Bardach in this Wall Street Journal article.

In gathering the interviews for a BBC Radio 4 documentary on Salinger’s Spiritual Quest – it became clear that this highly influential 20th century writer, whose iconic book ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ still sells around a quarter of a million copies each year, did more than simple dabble in mere discussion on this philosophy.

From all accounts, it seems he tried to live in accordance with Vedantic principles – at least during certain periods of his life.

We didn’t get a chance to speak to those who knew him personally, so our understanding is based on experts deciphering deeply personal letters Salinger exchanged with a New York Swami about his spiritual endeavours.

But what’s the big deal if Salinger did privately try to live his life in accordance with Indian philosophy?

According to his biographer Kenneth Slawenski – author intent matters.

When you understand what fundamentally drives a writer, perhaps you understand better the complex characters they’ve brought to countless readers.

Essentially, understanding Salinger’s deep spiritual aspirations may help shed new light on works of literature that continue to captivate millions of readers around the world.

JD Salinger’s Spiritual Quest on BBC Radio 4:
More about the project:


  1. I enjoyed your radio programme on Salinger very much. Like you, I read Catcher in the Rye as a teenager, yet I didn’t know about Salinger’s interest in practicing Indian Philosophy. I must admit though now, as an adult, re-reading Catcher in the Rye as I did recently, it didn’t really have the same impact on me. I think it is a quintessentially young person’s novel of ideas.

    However, Maugham’s book ‘The Razor’s Edge’ is a marvellous work – a thoroughly engrossing and stirring account of a young man, psychologically ravaged by the Great War, seeking truth and internal peace through a journey into Eastern mysticism. It is also a philosophical exploration of the contrasting cultures and values of the East and West. It is a cracking read and I highly recommend it, if you haven’t already discovered it.

    • Many thanks for taking the time to feedback Andy. Very glad to know you enjoyed the programme…I must read ‘The Razor’s Edge’, it is on my list!

  2. So interesting and uplifting – you have inspired me to research this further!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *