Excerpted (with apologies) from:
“I have a message to the West as Buddha had a message to the East” – Vivekananda.
“Once more the world must be conquered by India. This is the dream of my life, and I wish that each one of you who hear me today will have the same dream in your minds, and stop not until you have realised the dream.”
Ramakrishna Mission never transcended ethnicity in any absolute sense; instead, its distinctive teachings and structure brought it into complex negotiations with the various cultures it encountered, in India and in the West… Śaṅkara the Missionary.
In that book, first published in 1978 and republished in a slimmer, revised edition in 1998, Svāmī Cinmayānanda and his followers offer a creative retelling of the Śaṅkaradigvijaya as a missional narrative for the international Chinmaya Mission (Locklin and Lauwers 2009).
The authors of Śaṅkara the Missionary re-organize this narrative in distinctive ways; in particular, they lift the portraits of Śaṅkara’s four primary disciples out of there telling Śaṅkara’s vijaya for separate treatment. In one chapter, entitled “The Four Maṭha-s and the Four Disciples,” the authors connect the narratives of Padmapāda, Sureśvara, Hastāmalaka, and Toṭaka to the founding of the Daśanāmī Order in the traditional Advaita centers of Purī, Śṛṅgerī, Dvārakā and Jyotir … Thus, these authors conclude, “we have in these four great disciples of Śaṅkara an exemplification of the various levels and various paths . . .” (Śaṅkara the Missionary 1998: 79). If Śaṅkara serves as an apt symbol of the unity of the Advaita tradition, we might say, the disciples appropriately symbolize its pluralism and diversity, and thus merit separate treatment.
… Chinmāyananda goes on to specify the true essence of Hinduism as a “science of perfection” founded on the Advaita teaching (84-85). But it is clear that his is a cultural and political project as much as a gnoseological one. In the image of Padmapāda, moreover, we may find an ideal-typical representation that begins to capture both sides of this dynamic. Svāmī Chinmayānanda, like Padmapāda, assumes the role of ahaṃkāra for the tradition—that is, a role of self – assertion and personal agency. It only seems suitable that such a missionary style would draw on all available resources to advance the Advaita teaching and to reverse those social and political forces that oppose it, repositioning this teaching as a powerful agent of cultural identity and transformation.
… Hence, the authors of Śaṅkara the Missionary conclude, Hastāmalaka is aptly symbolized by Krishna’s phrase, “with mind ever concentrated upon Me” (BG 9.34, 18.65; 1998: 77)
… the received image of Toṭaka can provide a framework for situating social service in relation to other aspects of Advaita mission.
The Sureśvara Style: Polemics and Innovation… Padmapāda, who did not trust Sureśvara to write such a sub-commentary due to his prior career as Maṇḍana Miśra…
Svāmī Chinmayānanda’s teaching, for example, can be characterized as a form of cultural nationalism, but Chinmayānanda himself also polemicized harshly against brāhmaṇa priests even as he developed new institutional forms to bring the teaching of the Upaniṣads to the Indian middle-class. One of Cinmayānanda’s disciples, Svāmī Dayānanda Sarasvatī (1930- ), would eventually go on to break with the Chinmaya Mission and polemicize against the teachings of “modern teachers of Vedanta,” including such modern lights as Vivekānanda, Ramana Mahārṣi, Śivānanda and Cinmayānanda himself (1993).
Dayānanda’s disciple, the scholar Anantanand Rambachan, has in turn brought his teacher’s critique forward in two major works that seek to reclaim Śaṅkara’s teachings from these modern teachers (1991; 1994). From this ostensibly traditionalist foundation, however, in recent years Rambachan has also launched strong criticisms of caste discrimination, homophobia, gender bias and other oppressive structures in Hindu traditions and even in the teaching of Śaṅkara himself (2001; 2003; 2006: 2-3, 27-29; 2007). In his most recent work, he sets out to articulate a distinctively Advaita theology of liberation (Rambachan 2015). At each step in the paraṃparā, then, we witness successive moments of affirmation and critique, traditionalization and transformation.