23.6 LAST MOMENTS OF A ROLE-MODEL HINDU, MY FATHER
(Extracted from my blog on 'Flashes of my life')
Part I : His life in a nutshell
Shri R. Visvanatha Sastri (1882 – 1956), (my father), worked in the judicial department of South Arcot District in the erstwhile Madras Province of British India and retired as Sub-Court Sheristadar, Cuddalore, in 1939. Even when he was in his twenties he had been, during summer vacations, studying under the feet of Shri Shri Vasudeva Brahmendra of Ganapati Agraharam, Tanjore District. He had his training in the Bhashyas of Adi Sankaracharya in the conventional manner of Guru-kula-vasam under the lotus feet of that Guru of his. Perhaps he was then also a sahapathi (student-contemporary) of the famous Shri S. Kuppusweamy Sastri of Madras. He had also been sitting as a public witness-listener to the Bhashya teachings given to Shri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati (now called Kanchi Mahaswamigal) in the second (or first?) decade of the 20th century at the Kanchi mutt, Kumbakonam. Further he used to study and write vigorously (literally till the last day of his 74-year life) all the 24 hours from any scriptural book that he can bring from the Library. By age 32 or so he had already started his Vedantic expositions. His first such exposition was on SUta-samhitA! During his lifetime he gave numerous lectures and expositions of the scriptures including several SaptAhas (seven-day expositions) of the Shrimad Bhagavatam. andnavAhas (nine-day expositions) of the Valmiki Ramayana at various places in the present Tamilnadu and Kerala and also in some north Indian locations. One such event is recalled by him with pride in his autobiographical notes. In the early thirties (15thOctober 1934) he gave a fifteen-day exposition of the Bhagavatam at the Mani-karnikaghat in Varanasi in the beatific presence of His Holiness the Kamakoti Sankaracharya Shri Shri Chandrasekharendra Swamigal (now known as the Kanchi Maha Swamigal) who was then on his first all-India tour.
Father has left 27 original manuscripts expounding the advaita school of thinking and its symbiosis with Bhakti. The longest of them all is Gita-amrita-mahodadhi. It is a marathon treatise on advaita through the medium of the Gita and the Upanishads. It consists of 2400 Anushtup slokas divided into five chapters. He wrote the whole manuscript as was his custom always, in the Grantha script of the Sanskrit language. While transcribing the manuscript for being sent (in May - August, 1954) to the Kanchi mutt, under his dictation, it was pointed out to him by me that his shlokas need a commentary by himself since he seemed to be putting meanings and significance into them which were very profound. Fortunately for posterity, the father took this only comment of the son seriously and spent another two months or so writing a prose commentary of his own work. All this was finished by October 1954. The resulting manuscript (running up to 879 pages of notebook size writing) now contains therefore both the original shlokas of the author and his own Sanskrit commentary (vyakhyana) in prose. This original copy in grantha characters is in my possession. The copy of the original manuscript of 2400 slokas alone is with the Kanchi Mutt Library. Before his passing away I asked him: Which ones of your manuscript would you like to have published, ultimately? The answer was that Gitamritamahodadhi was his magnum opus, it contained his lifetime of studies and research and it was the one that should see the light of day, if nothing else. In order that the work may have a wider reading, the whole work has now been transcribed into Devanagari script by me. A copy of this has been deposited (Nov.1998) with the Kuppusami Sastri Research Institute, Tiru Vi Ka Salai, Mylapore, Chennai, 600004, India, so that posterity may not miss it. A scanned copy as written originally in Grantha script is available in the files section of the advaitin yahoo-group. By God's Grace The book has now (in January 2018) been published as 'GITAMRITAMAHODADHIH' by the Sanskrit Academy, Mylapore, thanks to the benefaction of my grandson Guhan Subramanian.
My father's daily living as a karma-bhakti-jnAna-yogI was a role model for every one who knew him. For all this the circumstances in the family (though not the family itself) were anything but concordant. He was not a renunciate (Sannyasi) in the physical sense. He lived all his life in the midst of family and household. He had two widowed, issueless sisters (elder to him, both without financial stability). He was supporting both of them ever since his age 25 when he lost his father. One of these widowed sisters was being supported by him by allowing her to remain in her own village. The other sister and a widowed sister-in-law of his were alternately taking care of the household (after the demise of my mother) and in their absence, with the help of hired help of maid-servant-cooks. Of the ten issues he had only two sons (I am the younger son) and two daughters who lived into adulthood. The two daughters would keep coming in alternate years for their next delivery. One of them had a husband, a non-believer in frugality, so that through him there would be always financial challenges presented to the father who was himself a meagre earner as an employee in the local Sub-court.
Amidst all the overweighing family problems, in his later years (he lost his wife when he was 50), I remember he was teaching Gita Bhashya pAtham at home to a few friends every morning – except five anadhyayana days in the month. (I was not yet ten then, but I used to sit in those classes). He was always a picture of karma-bhakti-jnAna in action. On his big table in the office, any office paper that needed his attention or signature would be disposed off then and there, leaving the table free for his vedantic books and non-stop writing. His elaborate puja never stopped even for a single day. You would be surprised to know that in one of his travels by train from Madras to Calcutta, his train stopped at a major station on the banks of the Godavari and it appears he had a quick bath in the river, came back to the platform, spread out his puja paraphernalia, finished his puja and got back into the same train in which he was travelling. His advaita knowledge and pursuit of advaita was so convincing from his behaviour as well as his reactions to events. He would take everything as God’s will -- good or bad, honour or dishonour, praise or blame, pain or pleasure, blame or insult, success or failure, small or big. I have seen it day by day, hour by hour. I have learnt most of my advaita more by observing him than from scriptures. His writings tell me now that all the time he was ‘experiencing advaita’. I cannot describe it because it was his experience. But I can ‘feel’ his experience even now, long after he left me!