Skyline, Summer - 2007

By Diane Pendola

Invisible Harmony

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Humanity will collapse if we do not gather together all the fragments of the scattered cultures and religions.  But togetherness does not necessarily mean unity, nor is understanding absolutely required.  What is needed is trust, a certain trust that sustains a common struggle for an ever better shaping of Reality.  (Invisible Harmony, p. 175)

Who is Raimon Panikkar?  This is a question worth asking, worth a life time of exploring.  The "who" is important.  We can begin to discern the "what" through reading his 55 books and thousand-plus articles written "and thought" in more than a half dozen languages. However, one cannot know him through the "what" alone.

I met Raimon Panikkar when I was 19 years old, a college junior with a major in religious studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara.  I had been raised and schooled in Catholicism but by my college days I had quit Christianity. I had rejected the Christian God as remote and capricious; the Catholic Church as rigid and exclusive; the resurrected Jesus as anachronistic and absurd.  And then I met Raimon Panikkar:  university professor; cross-cultural scholar; exotic mixture of Spanish Catholic and Indian Hindu;  speaker of more languages than I thought any person capable; with doctoral degrees in chemistry, philosophy and theology; and how could it be? a Catholic priest!  So began an expansion of consciousness into the mystical vision of Raimon Panikkar.  Now, over 30 years later, the journey continues.

The depth and breadth of Panikkar's work and scholarship is stunning.  His journey, which began in the conservative Catholicism of early 20th century Spain, eventually took him to India.  There he formed deep friendships with early pioneers in Hindu-Christian dialogue such as Jules Monchanin, Swami Abishiktananda (Henri Le Saux) and Bede Griffiths.  He taught Sanskrit in Madrid, philosophy in Rome, Indology in Bangalore, comparative religion at Harvard and the University of California.  He says of his own path: "I 'left' as a christian, 'found' myself a hindu and return as a buddhist without ceasing to be a christian."  This was like music to my soul, evidence of an invisible harmony at the heart of the human search for meaning. This was why I had come to study comparative religions at Santa Barbara.  If this man could still identify himself as a Catholic and a Christian perhaps there was something there that I had missed.  Perhaps I should look again.

There are many doors to walk through into Panikkar's thought. You can enter through the door of the encounter of religions.  You can enter through the door of interculturality, pluralism and dialogue.  You can enter through contemplation, ecosophy and the cosmotheandric reality.

As a University student I was privileged to approach several of these thresholds.  But it was as a participant in the extraordinary liturgies that Raimon celebrated on Easter mornings, during his tenure in Santa Barbara, that I was able to enter into the core of his mystical vision. Atop a mountain, with the dawning light breaking over the Pacific Ocean, we broke bread and shared wine.  All of reality became present: the sun, the earth, the water, the breath, the human hands and human eye and that dimension of divine mystery intersecting the human and the cosmic.

In claiming the eucharist as my entry point into understanding Panikkar, I establish myself firmly within the Christian mythos. Panikkar's understanding of mythos differentiates it from the more commonplace understanding of myth as mythic story, what Panikkar would call the mythologumenon or the narrative that gives voice to the myth.  Rather, his understanding of myth is more like that of light:  You cannot look directly at the source of light; you turn your back to it so that you may see-not the light, but the illuminated things.  Light is invisible.  So too with the myth...(Myth, Faith and Hermeneutics, p. 4) He understands faith as the dimension of our humanness that corresponds to myth, whereas belief provides the bridge by which we cross from mythos to logos, from the invisible to the visible, from the silence to the word. What expresses belief, what carries the dynamism of belief- the conscious passage from mythos to logos- is not the concept but the symbol. (MFH, p.6) 

 My participation in the ritual expression of communion called eucharist is a symbolic participation in the entire reality, a reality of which I am a microcosm, a reality which Panikkar calls cosmotheandric.  In his book The Cosmotheandric Experience Panikkar says of the eucharist:"...The consecrated bread does not cease to be bread.  On the contrary, it becomes integral bread, a bread that contains the entire reality, a bread that is divine, material and human at the same time.  It is the revelation of the cosmotheandric nature of reality.  When we break bread in everyday life, we tend to be forgetful of this fact, and we alienate ourselves from this integral experience.  The eucharist reminds us of the whole and makes it real for us: 'This is the Body of Christ'  The Mystical Body does not mean just a group of humans.  It extends to the "breadth" of the entire universe in its proper status." (p. 69)

When I speak of eucharist, I am speaking out of my own mythic horizon.  By doing so I don't mean to imply that an appreciation of Panikkar is limited by the Christian tradition, quite the contrary. Panikkar's work in the area of myth, faith and hermeneutics allows for the diversity of mythic horizons to come into dialogue and mutual fecundation.  This is a great contribution to a most urgent need of our time. Are not most of our current wars and conflicts based on what appear to be irreconcilable religious and ideological differences? Panikkar has created a philosophical bridge which neither destroys nor diminishes difference but embraces diversity and opens a pathway to dialogue, understanding and metanoia.  Nothing short of a radical "metanoia", a complete turning of mind, heart and spirit will meet today's needs. (CE p.46) Panikkar has created the philosophical foundation for such a transformative process. The work is ours.

Returning again to the eucharist, from a Christian point of view it is a symbol inclusive of the entire reality.  We all have a point of view.  Neutrality is not a possibility.  We do not observe reality.  We participate in reality and we participate through the light that illumines what we see through our own window, from our own point of view. This is fundamental to Panikkar's approach to interreligious dialogue. We do not bracket our own beliefs but we also realize the dimension of faith, of mythos, underlying our beliefs.  When we enter into dialogue with another we show up fully.  And we also open fully to the mystery and the faith of the other. My mythic horizon is not that of a Buddhist but when I open, for example, to the Buddhist teaching of pratitya samutpada, (the deeply interdependent nature of reality), my own horizon expands and I am changed by the encounter.  My experience of eucharist itself deepens and my communion expands. In our encounter with other traditions as well as in the deepening understanding of our own, Panikkar is asking us to open our inner eye, the eye of which Jesus referred when he said:  "If your eye be single, your whole body will be full of light".  As Panikkar says, "Without a mystical vision, the Eucharistic reality disappears."  (Christophany, p. 172)

When I think of Raimon Panikkar and the way he has touched my life I think of the Road to Emmaus.  You remember the story:  Jesus has been crucified.  All the hopes and dreams that people had projected on him were dashed with his death.  Two people are walking along the road, depressed and dispirited, talking of all that had transpired in Jerusalem.  They are joined by a stranger.  This stranger opens up the scriptures to them.  It's as though the stranger is able to open their third eye, their mystical and single eye, so that they can see their own tradition with an enlightened perspective and understand it in a new and liberating way.  They invite the stranger into their home to stay the night with them and share their meal.  It is when the stranger takes the bread, blesses it and hands it to them that "their eyes were opened" and they recognize him to be Jesus.  In the moment of that recognition he vanishes from their sight.  They are left with their hearts burning within them as they remember the effect of his illuminating presence.

Through my encounter with Panikkar I have felt an inner illumination grow within me so that I can turn again to the tradition of my ancestors and to the mystical waters through which my spirituality was birthed and see them not only with new eyes, but recognize my own eyes and my own seeing as part of the unfolding revelation.  I have looked through the windows of the "strangers", those from other faith traditions and, in seeing from their points of view, my own perspective has changed and deepened.  The Christian God that I had rejected as remote and capricious has come as close as my deepest identity, more trustworthy than the ground I stand on.  The Catholic Church that I had rejected as rigid and exclusive, I've come to understand as co-extensive with the entire universe, inclusive by its very definition. The resurrected Jesus that I rejected as anachronistic and absurd has become the Cosmic Christ, symbol of the whole cosmic, human and divine reality.  Released from the grip of historical time this cosmotheandric reality allows the "end of time" to be reinterpreted as the "fullness of time", "which would allow the presence of the whole to fill our lives--precisely in the present". (Cosmotheandric Experience, p. 69)

Who is Raimon Panikkar?  For me he has been the carrier of the Spirit, the embodiment of Christ, the revealer of the word awakened and burning in my heart.  As Raimon so well says, we cannot know another person except through love.  And we cannot love except through coming into a kind of union, where we recognize the other as our Self and love the other as our Self.  That is why I began this article by saying you will never know Raimon Panikkar by the "what" alone.  It is "who" he is that has touched my heart.  I hope that you will allow him to touch yours.  You can enter through many doors.  I have entered through the eucharist and through the Christian mystical tradition.  You can enter through the door of interreligious dialogue (Myth, Faith and Hermeneutics, 1979; The Interreligious Dialogue, 1978).  You can enter through Hinduism (The Vedic Experience, 1977) or through Buddhism (The Silence of God: The Answer of the Buddha 1989).  You can enter through secularity (Worship and Secular Man; Cultural Disarmament: The Way to Peace, 1995) or through the contemplative life (Blessed Simplicity: The Monk as Universal Archetype, 1982; Invisible Harmony, 1995).  You can enter through Christ (Christophany, 2004), through Ecosophy (A Dwelling Place for Wisdom, 1993) or through the Trinitarian vision of reality (Trinity and the Religious Experience of Man, 1973; The Cosmotheandric Experience, 1993). 

As you can see, there are many rooms in Panikkar's house.  In his house I have found space not only for all the religious and human traditions but all of creation and the entire universe to dwell.  In his house one feels an invisible harmony at work, a harmony that exists precisely through the complexity and diversity of all the voices present and the abiding silence from which they sing.  In this house I sense the dawning of a new religious consciousness and experience the foundation, built on trust, for a dynamic and creative peace.

©Diane Pendola, Summer 2007. You are welcome to print or make a copy in electronic form for personal use or sharing with interested persons as long as the copyright notice is not removed or altered. Please do not print it in any other publication, or sell it, by itself or as part of another work, without express written permission of the author.

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