Tenderness Towards Students
Lakṣmīnarasiṃha Śāstri was immensely fond of his students. Addressing those who were with him for a long time, he used to say: “Having students such as you all, I can happily teach Gauḍādi-gauḍānta Vedānta.”
[Ācārya Gauḍapāda was Bhagavatpāda Śaṅkara’s parama-guru. He authored the far-famed Māṇḍūkya-kārikā. Śrī Brahmānanda (end of seventeeth cen. – beginning of eighteenth cen. CE), who hailed from Gauḍa-deśa (Bengal) wrote the Laghu-candrikā commentary on Madhusūdana-sarasvatī’s Advaita-siddhi. Ācārya Gauḍapāda was the first person to propound Advaita-siddhānta on the basis of Upaniṣads; Gauḍa Brahmānanda can be thought of as the last among the illustrious line of scholars that categorically debunked the allegations levelled against Advaita by scholars subscribing to other schools of philosophy. Therefore, Vedānta is said to have its genesis in Gauḍapāda and culmination in Gauḍa Brahmānanda—Gauḍādi-gauḍāntam Vedānta-darśanam.]
Should the students request him to teach scriptural treatises other than those chosen for regular study, Śrī Śāstri would happily lecture on them.
He keenly observed his students’ progress in learning. Dr. H. V. Jayaprasad (head of Operation Section in Venlakh hospital) used to learn Śaṅkarācārya's commentary on Brahma-sūtras under him. Because Śrī Śāstri was advanced in age, he could not continue teaching after a point. A quarter of the text remained. He said to his student: “Don’t stop studies. The concluding portions of the commentary are especially important. Study them under Śrī Kṛṣṇa Jois.” And so it happened according to his arrangement.
I shall narrate another incident that illustrates Śrī Śāstri’s fondness for students. Once, in the middle of conversation, he told me: “I gave my copies of Taittirīya-saṃhitā and pada-pāṭha composed in the Grantha script to my friend ___ Śāstri.”
I did not know Lakṣmīnarasiṃha Śāstri possessed those books. In fact, I had failed in my efforts to collect them. A family of Ghana-pāṭhis from Kumbhakonam had prepared them—books previously published on this subject were not completely error-free like these. Besides, they included several ancillary components—appendices and the like—which were absent in other editions. I expressed my desire to have those books. Since Śrī Śāstri had given them as dāna, I gave up the thought and felt the matter was closed.
Two days elapsed. After our usual class on Upaniṣadic commentaries in the evening, Śrī Śāstri went inside, brought the books, held them out, and said: “Tīskoṇḍa” (Telugu for ‘please take’). I was surprised. I enquired how this was possible.
The person to whom Śrī Śāstri gave these books did not have a dire need for them. He had a copy of the same edition in his collection. Lakṣmīnarasiṃha Śāstri apparently told him: “Since you already have the book, should you agree, I wish to give these to a student of mine.” His friend readily agreed and happily returned the books.
One issue however remained unsolved. Asking for what is once given away amounts to dattāpahāra! (a transgression of dharma). To expiate this, Śrī Śāstri gave dakṣinā of twenty-five rupees—despite his friend’s frantic disapproval. I was wonderstruck by Śrī Śāstri’s magnanimity and commitment to dharma-śāstric injunctions.
Lakṣmīnarasiṃha Śāstri had wide-ranging interests, and this is a direct pointer to his ever-ebullient nature. Previously I have noted that he had a deep appreciation for music, despite him being a scholar of Vedānta. He had a good grasp of rāgas (melodic patterns). Vidvān R. K. Sūryanārāyaṇa once came to him seeking explanation on some aspects of Musicology—such was his musical expertise.
Vidvān Koḻatūru Rāmakṛṣṇa Śāstri, one his relatives, sought his help in preparing treatises on Musicology.
Lakṣmīnarasiṃha Śāstri had the innate ability to develop interest in any subject and immerse himself in it. In case there was a cricket test match being telecast, our lessons would commence only after a thorough analysis of the match! Using clay, he could beautifully sculpt the image of Gaṇapati. He had attained considerable competence in the art of painting during his youth.
Even cooking was not outside the pale of his interests. On special occasions, he prepared delectable Ciroṭis (a South Indian sweet dish) himself. If, by chance, he was happened to be free for a moment, he would attend to household chores that he could spot. He cheerfully went about routine activities like folding clothes and stacking them in place.
At times, he would step out to purchase vegetables. The vendors were so drawn to his courtesies that they offered him vegetables at a much cheaper cost than they sold to other customers. For this, people of his household poke fun at Śrī Śāstri saying, “You magically allure everyone!”
Lakṣmīnarasiṃha Śāstri had great regard for D. V. Gundappa’s writings. During the days when D.V.G.’s Jñāpaka-citra-śāle was being serialized, he unfailingly read every episode.
After reading D.V.G.’s portraiture of Sir M. Visvesvaraya, he exclaimed:
“Śrī Gundappa has done a great service to society by writing these episodes. Indeed, this is profound, elevating literature. It may perhaps be said that D.V.G.’s writings on Sir M. Visvesvaraya and such luminaries are of greater significance than his writings on Vedānta. What is the use of unleashing a barrage of scriptural quotations? Vedānta finds meaning only when its teachings are observed in practice. Getting to know about Visvesvaraya’s moral righteousness, unblemished character, and competence in steering political and administrative affairs is highly uplifting for our people. We are all forever indebted to Śrī Gundappa for introducing the personality of such a noble human being to us. We cannot thank him adequately.”
Likewise, D.V.G. had great admiration for Lakṣmīnarasiṃha Śāstri. Oftentimes he used to speak in praise of him: “He is the disciple of our Navīnam Śāstri!”
A Life Committed to Values
A couple of incidents serve well to illustrate Lakṣmīnarasiṃha Śāstri’s exemplary behaviour in family life.
He had immense respect for the Mahāsvāmi of Śivagaṇgā-pīṭha (his brother in pre-ascetic life). With the help of the Yādāḻam family, he built a samādhi in his honour and there, he would perform ārādhanā of the Mahāsvāmi every year. To this, he invited scholars such as Vidvān Anantamūrti Śāstri and honour them. Every month, he used to send some money to this place.
Whenever Śrī Navīnam Veṅkaṭeśa Śāstri came to Bengaluru—to participate as examiner or on other work—he liked to stay in Lakṣmīnarasiṃha Śāstri’s house, despite the availability of alternative arrangements. Śrī Śāstri and his wife Śāradammā always looked forward to such occasions.
After the demise of his Guru (1966, approximately), Śrī Śāstri used to religiously perform his śrāddha every year. [Navīnam Veṅkaṭeśa Śāstri did not have male children]. On the day of śrāddha, he used to invite other students of his Guru—Śṛṅgagiri Narasiṃhabhaṭṭa and Śeṣācalasarmā—and offer āpośana.
‘Cidvilāsa’ played host to grand celebrations of festivals and Vedic rituals such as Mahā-śivarātri and Upākarma. Since each of Śrī Śāstri’s students gathered together on these occasions, they were times of much merry and excitement. Śāradammā used to serve coffee to everyone assembled upon completion of the ritual.
Relatives who visited him from other towns and cities stayed at his place for many days. Those who came to Bengaluru for studies also stayed here for long periods. Scholars from Navadvīpa (in Bengal) and other places who participated in the annual vidvat-sadas in Sringeri stayed at Śrī Śāstri’s house. They were both surprised and happy to witness his incessant activities of Śāstra propagation.
It is but natural that numerous awards were conferred on Lakṣmīnarasiṃha Śāstri, a redoubtable scholar who, as a tapas, disseminated knowledge throughout his life. He was the recipient of the title Paṇḍita-pravara, which is given to those who secure distinction in Vidvat examination conducted by Sringeri maṭha. He went on to become the āsthāna-vidvān of Sringeri. The Sringeri maṭha of Āvani conferred upon him the title Vyākhyāna-vācaspati. Benaras Hindu University honoured him with the tile Vibudha-siṃha. Many other educational institutions presented titles such as śāstra-ratnākara and vedānta-kesarī. In recognition of his long-standing service for the cause of Veda-śāstras, Karnataka government presented him with Rājya-praśāsti (State Award; 24.6.1983).
The President of India presented him a National Certificate of Honour in recognition of his service to Sanskrit and śāstras (24.3.1990). R. Venkataraman was the President then. Lakṣmīnarasiṃha Śāstri’s ill-health did not permit him to go to Delhi to receive the award; he received it at his home.
Until 1993, Śrī Śāstri continued the yajña of knowledge-dissemination without break. Starting from the end of that year, his health began to deteriorate. At the ripe age of eighty-one, Lakṣmīnarasiṃha Śāstri shed his mortal frame in 1994.