Māgaḍi Lakṣmīnarasiṃha Śāstri--Disseminating Dharma

This article is part 4 of 6 in the series Māgaḍi Lakṣmīnarasiṃha Śāstri

Disseminating Dharma

Once this rigorous study of the scriptures was complete, Śrī Śāstri engaged himself primarily with delivering discourses on the Purāṇas. He used to address a batch each twice in a day—one in the morning and another in the evening—at the Āñjaneya temple in Vishveshvarapura. Traders and patrons of great repute, such as Pobbati Kṛṣṇayya Śeṭṭi and Anantayya Śeṭṭi, who hailed from the Vaiśya community, organized these lectures. These large-hearted people arranged a suitable residence for Śrī Śāstri in Vishveshvarapura, at a moderate sum of rent. The house belonged to a noble brāhmaṇa of the Śrīvaiṣṇava subsect, it seems. After some years, Lakṣmīnarasiṃha Śāstri shifted to another house in the same locality. No sooner had he settled here than his lectures became extremely popular. To attend them, people—including womenfolk—came in large numbers.

Discourses were held on a variety of Purāṇa texts. Special celebrations ensued during festivals. While hymns from the Vedas were recited on all occasions, Śrī Śāstri, with a view to encourage his students, had stotras recited from them. During spells of worship in the month of Kārtika (typically overlapping October and November), students recited Vīṣṇu-sahasranāma and suchlike stotras every day. In this way, thanks to Lakṣmīnarasiṃha Śāstri’s regime, the venerable activity of dharma-propagation continued joyously for a number of years.  Alongside this, during his spare time, Śrī Śāstri used to give lessons on the scriptures to everyone interested.  Once he moved to his own permanent residence ‘Cidvilāsa’ in Basavanagudi, Vidvān Nāgeśa Śāstri took over delivering discourses in Vishveshvarapura. It behoves every lover of culture to remember with gratitude the unparalleled service rendered by the Vaiśya community in organizing all these activities.

In 1952, Lakṣmīnarasiṃha Śāstri purchased an old house located in H B Samaja road. It belonged to one Lakshmana Rao. (Back in the day, it seems, there was a horse stable in one of the portions of the house). Vaiśya patrons were of a great help to Śrī Śāstri in purchasing this house, who in turn spent the little money he had saved to renovate it. At the front, he built an expansive room meant entirely for discourses—it was twelve feet in width and thirty in height. It was here that Śrī Śāstri delivered talks on the Purāṇas and taught scriptures over the next forty years. Because of this, this space came to be known as the ‘Purāṇa room.’ Mornings were reserved for lessons on Prasthāna-traya-bhāṣya[1] and evenings for lectures on mythological texts.   

The house was ideally located. If Śrī Śāstri were to give it on rent, it would have easily fetched him around two thousand rupees a month. Many people advised him to do so. But service to culture mattered the most to him, and so he paid no heed to these words.

Several dignitaries used to invite Lakṣmīnarasiṃha Śāstri to their homes to take lessons. They would send their cars to fetch him. prominent among them were A R Nageshvara Iyer, Justice at the Karnataka High Court, A R Somanatha Iyer and other such eminences.

There must be at least two hundred people who took lessons from Śrī Śāstri over five decades. While some attended classes for a couple of years, others came for a decade, while still others stayed for around fifteen years. Thousands of people have listened to his discourses on the Purāṇas.     

People who took lessons on śāstras under him considered themselves extremely fortunate. Like his scholarship, his power of oration, too, was of a high order. The sheer sweep of his knowledge in various texts of scripture and mythology was remarkable. It is but natural, therefore, that he gained immense popularity as an orator.

Teaching Style

Teaching the commentaries authored by Śaṅkarācārya was religion with him. While entering and exiting the Purāṇa room, he would invariably recite “nārāyaṇaṃ padmabhuvaṃ vasiṣṭhaṃ...” and suchlike verses.

Unambiguity was the one quality that stood out in his exposition. “This is the exact import of this Vedic hymn; no less, no more”—of this sort was his clarity rooted in conviction. He would by himself assume doubts that are likely to arise in grasping the correct import of those ancient texts, and would clarify them masterfully.

Śrī Śāstri never taught with a stoic, expressionless face. Regardless of the complexity of the subject, his speech proceeded in majestic cadence, betraying no signs of bearing the burden of explication. Effortlessness marked it out. When the topic of Brahma propped op, he would, at times, remark that this word does not connote the Creator (masculine in Sanskrit) and then say with a smile, “This Brahma is neuter!” After basking in the warmth of the light laughter this elicited, he would proceed.

His face would be delightfully radiant while teaching. He could expound on any tenet of Vedānta philosophy with ease and authority. On topics such as adhyāsa, kṣaṇika-vāda, and nimitta-upādāna, he had contemplated deeply. His expositions on these subjects were particularly brilliant.  

While teaching at home, his exposition was wholesome and uninterrupted. Even so, there used to be an added shade of effulgence in his discourses before scholarly assemblies. Śrī Śāstri was himself wonderstruck by this. “Whence do I get that inspiration, that force of expression, before scholars! It beats me.” I have heard him say so with surprise on many occasions.     

He would completely forget himself while teaching commentaries on Upaniṣads and Brahma-sūtras. Once, while teaching Kaṭhopaniṣad, he lapsed into an elaborate exposition—in Sanskrit! After fifteen minutes or so he came round, said “I did not realize, sorry. I should teach in Kannada. Of course …” and continued.  

Aśikṣitānāṃ kāvyeṣu śāstrābhyāso nirarthakaḥ,” “Scriptural learning of those who have not savoured poetry is incomplete.” So says Nīlakaṇṭha-dīkṣita. Śrī Śāstri was widely read in literature. And therefore, it was his wont to quote verses of Kālidāsa and other master poets while teaching the scriptures.

Well-rounded Instruction

Thinking of the sheer number of subjects over which Śrī Śāstri had mastery, we can only stand in silent awe.

He explained to minute detail the grammatical nuance of every word featuring in the treatises he taught. Concluding one such commentary on a particularly tricky word, he said, “By the time this is done, my grandfather emerges from his grave!”   

At times, details of the almanac would come up for discussion: “today we have dagdha-yoga,” “this time around it is amṛta-siddhi-yoga,” “now it is tisroṣṭaka” and so forth. Explanation of those astronomical / astrological concepts would invariably follow.

Students would even come to him to study Poetics. He taught treatises such as Pratāpa-rudrīya to a couple of batches.

There was no place for haste and under-involvement in his teaching method. Be it a line or be it a whole text, one should teach it comprehensively. This was his conviction. It took three to four months for lessons on the slim Kenopaniṣad (having thirty-four sentences) to conclude. (Śaṅkarācārya has written two commentaries on it: pada-bhāṣya and vākya-bhāṣya). After teaching every line along with commentaries, Śrī Śāstri independently explained the essence of the text for two to three days. What do we understand by ‘upādhi’? And what does it mean to transcend it? On suchlike questions, he spoke at length. This elucidated based on mantras such as “śrotrasya śrotraṃ manaso manaḥ” and “na tatra cakṣurgacchati” seemed to us like a lesson on modern Psychology. While explaining the sentence “pratibodha-viditaṃ matam amṛtatvaṃ hi vindate,” he introduced us to the fundamentals of Epistemology, Ontology, and Buddhist philosophy.  

“Vedānta teaches us that the power of the mind is immense; that it has the ability to grasp even those things outside the pale of the senses; that knowledge of this subtle dimension is all-comprehensive because it is not bound by ordinary limitations. All activities of the senses such as hearing, seeing, and smelling are ultimately mere consequences. The flow of energy constitutes knowledge, and since this is caused by vibratory stimulation, there is no unbridgeable gap between various kinds of knowledge. Saṃjñāna is the unitary knowledge identified with that faculty, which is unique to the Self and stands in need of nothing else. Upaniṣads aver that Brahma is beyond attributes …”

He would, in this manner, teach at length, giving examples every other minute. I cannot explain in words the beauty of his teaching. One has to experience it.



[1] Commentaries on Upaniṣads, Brahma-sūtras, and Bhagavad-gītā, the three basic texts of Vedānta. By commentaries, here, are meant those authored by Bhagavatpāda Śaṅkara.

To be continued.

 

Author(s)

About:

Dr. S R Ramaswamy is a renowned journalist, writer, art critic, environmentalist, and social activist. He has authored over fifty books and thousands of articles. He was a close associate of greats like D. V. Gundappa and Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma. He is currently the honorary Editor-in-Chief of Utthana and the Honorary Secretary of the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs.

Translator(s)

About:

Shashi Kiran B N holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a master's degree in Sanskrit. His interests include Indian aesthetics, Hindu scriptures, Sanskrit and Kannada literature, and philosophy. A literary aficionado, Shashi enjoys composing poetry set to classical meters in Sanskrit. He co-wrote a translation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh’s Kannada work Kavitegondu Kathe.