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Reid B. Locklin, Liturgy of Liberation: A Christian Commentary on Shankara's Upadesasahasri.

Reid B. Locklin, Liturgy of Liberation: A Christian Commentary on Shankara's Upadesasahasri. Christian Commentaries on Non-Christian Sacred Texts. Leuven, Paris, and Walpole, MA: Peeters; and Grand Rapids, MI, and Cambridge, U.K: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2011. Pp. 327. $66.00, paper.

Locklin's competent commentary (e.g., pp. 49-67) on the Upadesasahasri (hereafter, USP) of Sankara, the leading figure in Advaita Vedanta, is useful as an introduction to the thought of Sankara, although Locklin's comparative forays into Christian theology seem less effective to this reviewer. E.g., the transition (p. 202) from the acute and particularly fine exposition of Sankara's teaching in USP 2 (pp. 182-202) to a discussion of "the Christian Samvada," or dialogue, about the Lord's Supper in 1 Cor. 11:27-32, seems abrupt and lacking in a clear rationale. At some points, however, Locklin's comparative method does bear some fruit, as when he equates Christian caritas with the Vedantic atman (p. 176). In my view, this commentary works better as an analysis of Sankara's text than as an interpretation of Christian theology.

Locklin innovatively views the USP's samvadas, or student-teacher dialogues, as "performative scripts ... oriented to a variety of teaching situations" (p. 13) that "communicate a liberating truth" (p. 11). Each samvada is thus a "liturgy of liberation" (p. 32), in which the "performative scripts" become the point of the tradition (pp. 304 and 306-307). By taking these dialogues, instead of dhyana, or mystical experience (pp. 276, 301, and 305), as characteristic of Sankara's teaching method in the USE Locklin prioritizes mysncal practice" over mystical experience (p. 305). In so doing, Locklin favors what Arvind Sharma calls "doctrinal Advaita" over "experiential Advaita" (p. 252). Construing Sankara as "the leading expositor of doctrinal Advaita" (p. 252) fits in well with Locklin's reading of Sankara's practice of Advaita Vedanta as more in line with Christian notions of faith as "a fundamental conviction or orientation to one's whole life" (p. 260) than with spiritual or "mystical experience" (i.e., anubhava, cf. pp. 96, 253, and 305), which results, for the yogin in nirvikalpa samadhi (p. 250) and for the Christian mystic, in the unitive vision of God.

By thus downplaying experience, Locklin evades the possibility that doctrinal differences between Advaita Vedanta and Catholic Christianity might be effaced by reference to core mystical experiences (p. 308). This is consistent with the sort of constructivist project that was, until recently, often grounded in appeals to Katz, Lindbeck, and Wittgenstein, but which, in this book, is grounded in appeals to contemporary reworkings of the Aristotelian notion of habitus (e.g., Marcel Mauss, Talal Asad, and others) as "a matrix of internal dispositions ... [that] shapes one's expectations and even experience" (p. 270). Locklin has thus crafted a renewed constructivism in which doctrinal differences between the Christian and Vedantic "scripts" are elevated into real differences that are "neither overcome nor denied" (p. 308) through comparative theology or mystical practice (p. 306). This is a key point of this book, which seems, in part at least, designed as an apologetic strategy to prevent any mystical overcoming of the finality of religious doctrine and, in the end, to preserve Christian ultimacy and normativity (pp. 44 and 289-297) over against advaita ("nondualism"), which, however, sublates Jesus, church, and Bible as easily as devas, varnas, and Vedic injunctions (cf. Brhadaranyaka Upanisad 1.4.10 and USP 1.29).

This technical commentary, which presupposes knowledge of the relevant languages in both traditions, is suitable for graduate students and specialists in the relevant fields.

Kenneth Rose, Christopher Newport University, Newport News, VA
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Author:Rose, Kenneth
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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