Life and Times of Lakshmana Sarma, 'Who'
By Meenakshi Ammal

Sri Lakshmana Sarma believed that for man to attain the highest level of perfection and happiness of which he is capable, culture and civilization are necessary and in so far as they serve this end, they are good and praiseworthy. It is when a culture degenerates that the right life values are lost and man loses character or integrity as well as the happiness which comes from doing naturally what is appropriate.
He believed that Culture has its foundations in the Supreme Spirit and though beyond the world, is the source of man himself. When there is an intimate connection with the Source, then culture is truly culture, not some hollow pretence that seemingly feeds man's spirit. The axiom that Being is the Original Source is the theme of all the Upanishads and of the teachings of all the sages, the Perfect Ones, who have lived and maintained the ancient tradition of culture. [1]
He thought that the essence of culture was character, which is best cultivated through religion, and that it was for us to learn how to pursue religion successfully by the guidance of great world teachers and sages, who have attained egolessness. The constructive culture necessary for the attainment of the right ends of life could be facilitated by the encouragement of proper conduct, unselfish devotion and a genuine quest for what is real.
It was Bhagavan himself who said that the best service anyone could do was to strive to become perfect, by becoming free of the ego.
"But if one feels a Divine Call to do some particular work for the welfare of some people, he may do that work, with humility and reliance on God for inspiration, aid and guidance. This work as taught in the Gita must be done as an offering to God. At the same time he must not neglect his sadhana for reaching the goal." [2]
Lakshmana Sarma dedicated his long and varied life to this quest for culture and civilisation by harmonising the teachings of his Sadguru, Sri Ramana Maharshi, to those of The Life Natural, which was the dynamic vision and application of his philosophy and the teachings of the Upanishads and Gita.
He was born in 1879, at Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu in the same year as Bhagavan. Throughout his childhood he was the weakest and sickliest of four brothers in the family. It was coincidental his bad health as a child helped to develop his interest in Nature Cure which allowed him to eventually reach the ripe and vigorous age of 86.
As a boy he studied at the local Intermediate College at Pudukkottai, where he showed an early interest and aptitude for Sanksrit. Later on, his studies sent him first to Tiruchchirappalli, where he gained a Bachelor of Arts, and thereafter to Madras where he completed a Law Degree.
Lakshmana Sarma worked as a civil lawyer for the Government and eventually served in Pudukkottai, the official Receiver State. At the same time he was also an active and courageous social reformer. He was committed to the Freedom Movement and discarded wearing all foreign cloth and took up the wearing of khadi in 1918. Even though he knew it would cost him his job as a Government employee, in 1920 he presided over a public meeting against the autocracy of the ruler of Pudukkottai.
In response to Mahatma Gandhi's call, Sarma gave up his lucrative legal practice, withdrew his children from Government schools and admitted them into a national gurukulam. Had it not been for the sudden death of Subrahmanya Aiyar, who as well as being a great revolutionary and a close associate of Sri V.D. Savarkar was also the head of the Bharadwaja Gurukulam, Lakshmana Sarma would probably have ended up with a career as an educationist.
It was after Aiyar's death that his concern to propagate the ideas of Nature Cure led Sarma to move, with his wife Nagamma and children, to Pondicherry where he had immediate access to a printing press for getting his books on Nature Cure printed. He lived at Pondicherry from 1920-1925. It was from there that he continued to develop and promote his involvement in Nature Cure and began regular visits to his Guru, Sri Ramana Maharshi at Tiruvannamalai.
He viewed the Maharshi as the formless, timeless and spaceless Arunachala, who dances as the 'I' in the Heart and who graciously took form so that we could be removed of the bondage of form. It is with Ramana, the true Guru, that we can repose our faith and loyalty, because: ". . . Ramana is the same as Bhagavatpada Sri Sankaracharya and Sri Dakshinamurti, . . . his words are the primary Upanishad, from which the ancient Upanishads themselves derive their authority." [3]
Sarma believed that the teachings of Bhagavan were centred on the Direct Path, the Quest (Maha Yoga) of the Self, and that Ramana did not teach the metaphysical truths of the Vedantas simply for their own sake, but they had an intrinsic value as aids for the understanding and practice of the Quest. It was the Quest itself that was the means of solving problems, because it was the direct path to the natural state, wherein problems would be resolved through harmony with one Self.
Sarma spent more than twenty years in close association with Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, and during that time made a deep study of his teachings.
"Once, some time after this writer came into the Holy presence, the Bhagavan asked him: "Have you not read the Ulladu Narpadu?" The writer replied: "No, I am unable to understand the Tamil." The fact was that he was altogether unfamiliar with classical Tamil. But then it occurred to him that here was a golden opportunity. So he said: "If the Bhagavan teaches me, I shall learn it". So the Bhagavan began to teach him. The pupil needed to proceed slowly, one verse at a time, and to make sure of not forgetting the meanings learnt, he composed verses in Sanskrit embodying the meaning of each verse, before going on to the next. And to make sure that the meanings have been faithfully rendered by the Sanksrit verses, he submitted each verse to the Bhagavan for scrutiny and approval. If the approval was not forthcoming, he recast the verse as often as was necessary until the approval was obtained. In this way all the verses were gone through and rendered into Sanksrit." [4]
Sarma went on revising his Sanskrit numerous times until he was satisfied that it conformed exactly to the Tamil original. Sri Bhagavan appreciated his sincere efforts and once remarked that it was like a great tapas for him to go on revising his translation so many times. Sarma eventually published the final version of his Sanskrit verse rendering (which included a rendering of the supplement, Ulladu Narpadu - Anubandham) under the title Sri Ramana Hridayam, together with a translation of the same in English prose.
Lakshmana Sarma was committed to maintaining the purity and integrity of Sri Bhagavan's teachings. In 1931, after reading a certain book which purported to be a commentary on Sri Bhagavan's Ulladu Narpadu, but which gave a very distorted interpretation, he approached Sri Bhagavan asking,
"If your teachings are misinterpreted like this in your lifetime, what will become of them in the future?" to which Sri Bhagavan replied, "According to the purity of the antar-karana [the 'inner organ' or mind], the same teaching reflects in different ways. If you think you can write a better commentary, you may write your own". [5]
These words prompted Sarma to write his commentary on Ulladu Narpadu in Tamil (first published in 1936) and his book Maha Yoga in English (first published in 1937), in both of which he encapsulated the understanding of Ulladu Narpadu that he had gained from the detailed explanations he received from Sri Bhagavan.
"In later years Sri Bhagavan once remarked that of all the commentaries on Ulladu Narpadu which then existed, Lakshmana Sarma's Tamil commentary was the best." [6]
Maha Yoga, which is one of Sarma's most lucid works, is an insightful exposition of Bhagavan's teachings and an eloquent, original summary of Vedantic philosophy and the Upanishads. Besides this, Sarma also rendered selected verses from Muruganar's Guru Vachaka Kovai into both Sanskrit and English under the title Guru Ramana Vachanamala.
During the years Muruganar and Lakshmana developed a close friendship in which they helped each other augment their philosophical understanding of Bhagavan's teachings. Muruganar visited Puddukottai on many occasions and from the mid 30's whenever Lakshmana Sarma visited Arunachala, while his family members stayed at the Ashram or lodgings, he himself would live at Palakottu with his close friend, Muruganar. It was during those years that Muruganar instructed Laksmana Sarma in classical Tamil so that he was better equipped to understand and translate the teachings of Sri Bhagavan.
Lakshmana was a regular contributor to The Call Divine, a Bombay monthly magazine published in the 1950's, dedicated to the works and teachings of Sri Bhagavan. It was in this magazine that Sarma's last published work, the Paravidya Upanishad appeared in monthly instalments in the mid 1950's.
Lakshmana Sarma took meticulous care with his writings and repeatedly revised his translations as he was working on a manuscript. The care that he exhibited also continued after writing and when he completed one of his works, he would, with his own hands, bind the manuscript into a neat volume. Until the manuscript went to press he would read and re-read it many times making corrections and alterations wherever needed. Some of his Sanksrit works were composed as many as thirteen times, each time in a different meter.
As well as writing expositions of Bhagavan's teachings, being a loyal freedom fighter, engaged in sadhana, and fulfilling his role as householder, Lakshmana Sarma also devoted his life to Nature Cure. This science, which has its origin in the scriptures of India, fell into general neglect and obscurity until its rebirth in Germany during the 19th Century. It was Lakshmana Sarma who discovered its Indian origin and reintroduced Nature Cure to India. He believed that the science of Nature Cure to be liberating as it sought to restore to people the independence and blessings lost due to ignorance.
". . . this science - which is to replace the empirical, blundering, pseudoscience called Medicine - the chief enemy of mankind - is by itself a Liberal Education which gives a moral and intellectual satisfaction that is not to be had elsewhere, except in the ethico-religious philosophy of our ancient sacred lore, called the Upanishads or Vedantas." [7]
His belief was that the practice of medicine was based on a policy of violence to Life and the living body and thus tended towards the ruin of health. Whereas Nature Cure proceeded on the principle of non-violence and thus was harmonious with the laws of health.
"From our sacred lore we learn that Nature (prakriti) is just the Divine Power that creates, sustains, destroys and recreates the universe. She is immanent in all creatures and maintains them in health so long as they do not seriously transgress Her laws, which are the laws of God, because She is not separate from God. So it must be understood that this blessed science is a Divine Science, and that God Himself is the Indwelling Healer in all creatures, and also the Teacher of this True Science." [8]
Lakshmana Sarma founded The Indian Institute of Natural Therapeutics, was founder of Sarma's Nature-Cure Sanatorium, founder-editor of The Life Natural, [9] the only English Nature Cure monthly journal published in India, and also author of Practical Nature Cure. As well as his writings on Nature Cure, Sarma, who was renowned as a foremost authority, also conducted training camps and travelled the country giving consultations.
Maurice Frydman, the Polish devotee who later complied the series of talks with Nisargadatta Maharaj entitled "I Am That", was a friend of Lakshmana Sarma. Frydman was closely associated with Mahatma Gandhi during the Indian Freedom Struggle. In 1942, Vallabhai Patel, one of the principal leaders of the Freedom Struggle, became seriously ill while staying at Gandhi's Ashram at Wardha. For some months Gandhi himself tried unsuccessfully to treat Patel with Nature Cure methods, but Patel's health continued to fail. Maurice Frydman recommended to Gandhi, his friend Lakshmana Sarma, as an authority on Nature Cure. Sarma subsequently took the case on, and Patel's health quickly improved.
Lakshmana Sarma's life was always conducted with courage, enthusiasm and a tireless energy. At the advanced age of eighty he started and completed a monumental treatise in Sanskrit verse on Vedanta, entitled Vedanta Saram. Even at the age of eighty-five he spent some twelve to sixteen hours reading and writing and rarely missed his two-mile morning and evening walks.
Some two years before his death speaking to his friend Brij Mohan Lal, Sarma admitted: " . . . I have finished my work in this life. Then why should I drag on? It is better for me to have a new start and this cannot come in the present life." [10]
Step by step, he completed his work. He re-wrote the whole of his magnum opus, Practical Nature Cure, which comprised 720 pages and also completed two monumental works in Sanskrit verse, the above-mentioned Vedanta Saram and Svadhena-Svasthya-Mahavidya. [11] After completing those works he neatly bound the manuscripts by hand and submitted them for publication. He then said that he definitely had nothing further to do and would like to shed his mortal body. There was no remorse only a sense of spiritual consummation and he calmly started preparing himself for the inevitable.
His work was over and the will to live disappeared. From then on his decline started and he no longer took any interest in the world around him and old age finally began to make its appearance.
Sometime towards the end of February 1965, he stopped eating cereal food. A month later he stopped all solid food and was subsisting on juices alone. Steadily he reduced the quantity of juice and thirteen days before the end he stopped all juice, taking only water. The day before his death he only had a few spoonfuls of Ganga water. The end came at 6.50 a.m. on May 3, 1965.
"Those who believe in the influence of the positions of the stars and planets of human destiny say that it is difficult to find a more auspicious combination of circumstances. The sun was moving towards the northern hemisphere (Uttarayana), the Moon waxing, the time was just after daybreak and the preceding star was Krittika. Each of these circumstances, they say, has an auspicious significance." [12]
Thus ended the long and blessed life of Lakshmana Sarma. A man who died in much the same way as he lived, with auspicious graciousness.

[1] The Call Divine, January 1960, p.291 - paraphrase
[2] The Call Divine, January 1960, p. 293
[3] The Mountain Path, January 1966, p.11
[4] The Call Divine, 1st August 1954 p.572-573
[5] Maha Yoga by 'Who', preface, p.vii
[6] Maha Yoga by 'Who', preface, p.vii
[7] Practical Nature Cure by Lakshmana Sarma, p. 20
[8] Practical Nature Cure by Lakshmana Sarma, p. 9
[9] Founded in 1940, but publication stopped in 1995
[10] Practical Nature Cure, by Lakshmana Sharma, Ch.XXIII, App.1
[11] The philosophy and practice of Nature Cure explained in 1,500 Sanskrit slokas
[12] Excerpt from a speech delivered by Sri L. Ramachandra Sarma on May 15, 1965 at Pudukkottai