Cambridge, MA. I heard just yesterday that Raimon (Raimundo) Panikkar died on August 26 at his home in Tavertet in Spain. He was 91. Many will surely write in celebration of Fr Panikkar's long and very productive ministry as a scholar and spiritual master, and this brief blog is simply my own initial recognition of his passing. His biography can be read in many places, including his own site and at Wikipedia, but in all these accounts we find mention of his Indian Hindu father and Spanish Catholic mother, a double belonging that in some way helped symbolize his life-long intellectual and spiritual journey. From his early Unknown Christ of Hinduism to his recently published The Rhythm of Being — his 1989-90 Gifford Lectures — Panikkar wove together his knowledge of many religions, Hinduism and Catholicism in particular, with sensitivity to language, image, and subtle philosophical concepts. For beginners wishing to learn of his thought, his 2006 The Experience of God: Icons of the Mystery would be a good place to begin. I met him three times, and will never forget his aliveness, his good humor, and sparkle of intellectual acuity.
In my recent Comparative Theology, in the section discussing comparative theologians, I had occasion to refer to Fr Panikkar’s work: “Panikkar’s decision to entangle his Christian faith and theology inside the Hinduism which he inhabits demonstrates a version of the intense, engaged learning that in my view is essential to comparative theology. His preferred “mutual inhabitation” seems to me a worthy goal, the price of the engaged model of comparative theological practice… Intense particularity, becoming a part of that other tradition in some way, is the goal, rather than elegance in explanation. While we do well to avoid the wise persona he assumes in works such as The Intrareligious Dialogue — as if the comparativist, the wise man, sees what no one else sees, rising beyond each of the religions compared — I am sympathetic with his insight into how each religion is necessarily chastened and humbled by the truths of other religions. Even his idiosyncratic vocabulary suggests that his mode of intense reflection cannot be easily explained in the settled vocabulary of one or another tradition. It is nearly impossible to read Panikkar without paying special attention to the author as someone who, ever the poet, crafts his own wise speech. Panikkar wants to inspire his readers likewise to reflect on their personal location and personal choices, as they encounter the mystery of God, in person, in their embodied reality. All of this attests to what may be a shared Catholic and Hindu sacramentality… It may be that [a Catholic study of] Hinduism [always has to do] with personal engagement, loss of independence in the presence of the other, and a rediscovery of ourselves again in the home where we began.” He was, is, a kind of personal mirror in which I ponder my own meditations on Hinduism and Catholicism.
Or, more eloquently, let me close with the ancient Upanisadic words that preface The Rhythm of Being: “That is Wholeness, this is Wholeness, / From Wholeness comes Wholeness, / If Wholeness is taken from Wholeness / Wholeness will remain.” To this divine Wholeness, Fr Panikkar was an eloquent witness, and his wisdom will remain. Amen.