Raimon Panikka: A reflection for the Mystics, Theologians and God-botherers series at St John’s Cathedral

Raimon Panikka                                                                         ©Suzanne Grimmett

Wayfarer, your footsteps are the way, and nothing more;

Wayfarer, there is no way, you make the way while you go.

These are the words of Raimon Panikka’s favourite poem, Caminante by Antonio Machado. They capture something of the spirit of the life and thought of this trailblazing creative thinker, Raimon Panikka, a resolute seeker after truth, who found it not in objective doctrines but in lived experiences; a truth uncovered by walking in its way. Rowan Williams comments that Panikkar “declared his loyalty not to ‘Christianity’ but to ‘Christianness’”, giving his allegiance not to ‘a system of thought, but to a way of being”.[1]

Panikka was born in Spain in 1918 and died in Catalonia in 2010. Born in Barcelona of a Catalan mother and Indian father, Panikka embodies religious and cultural diversity. His regularly quoted autobiographical “I left Europe as a Christian and found myself a Hindu, and returned as a Buddhist without ever having ceased to be a Christian,” expresses the diversity of his thought but also his philosophy of ‘intra-religious’ dialogue; something far removed from the kind of comparisons of ideas and the oppositional responses to different questions about life and meaning that can develop in inter-religious discussion.

It is this intrareligious approach combined with his emphasis on the revelation of the mystery of Christ, (or Christophany), in all beings, which I think has resonance with the explosion of unity in diversity of the Spirit which we celebrate on this Feast Day of Pentecost. It is what drew me to consider speaking on Panikka on this date, despite being no expert on his work. I did find, however, as I searched his name through my past writings, that his quotes have appeared more often in my essays and sermons that I had realised. Perhaps Panikka is, as Rowan Williams suggests, a theologian and mystic who has had a great influence of contemporary Christian thought, but whose ideas have not been sufficiently celebrated and responded to in recent decades.[2] 

So maybe tonight, in a small way, we continue to rectify this situation. Panikka’s work is broad and complex, so we will barely touch the surface. He also shares the habit of other luminaries like Teilhard de Chardin of creating his own vocabulary for ideas which fail to be expressed by the limits of the languages at his disposal or else makes new use of known terms, which can leave you returning frequently to the glossary of his works for definitions. The way he understands Christophany, for example, is as a manifestation of Christ to human consciousness, where every being shows forth the Christic mystery- a mediation of the divine in human form. [3] In what I think is a spectacularly wise essay entitled “The Nine Sutras on Peace”, Panikka identifies the very first of these sequential and interdependent sutras as “Participation in the harmony of the rhythm of being.”[4] To do this requires not just an absence of violence but a reverence for the inner dignity of every being; something which is affirmed by the principle of Christ revealed in all. Panikkar explains his understanding of Christophany through Paul’s words in Colossians 1:17: “Christ is first in all things, and all things subsist in him.” Christ is the central symbol that incorporates the whole of reality and this is how for Panikka, it is Christ who is a mediating experience in other religions.[5] Christ is the human face of God and cannot therefore, be claimed as the exclusive property of Christianity. Panikka believes to our age is given the task of overcoming such exclusivism and the colonialism whereby God became a god of empire with a license to conquer. He says;

 To the third Christian millennium is reserved the task of overcoming a tribal Christology by a Christophany which allows Christians to see the work of Christ everywhere, without assuming that they have a better grasp or a monopoly of that Mystery, which has been revealed to them in a unique way.”[6]

 Panikka names Christ the “supername” in line with St Paul’s ‘the name which is above every name’ and suggests that Christ can and must assume other names around the globe and throughout history.

Christ as ‘supername’ and central mediating symbol is an entry point for understanding how Panikka understood himself to be a Hindu and a Buddhist without ever ceasing to be Christian. In the case of Hindusim, Panikka had grown up with a witness of two traditions with his Catholic mother and Hindu father and had clearly been deeply impacted by the lived experience of what he describes as the profound peace and harmony between his parents. Panikka himself found a harmony between the two in their shared understanding of the grace of received reality. If Hinduism is, as Panikkar suggests, ‘existence dedicated to truth’, then a life lived in the Spirit, making the way as we go is a place of connection between the two traditions. Panikka emphasises the great risk of subordinating love to knowledge, allowing our ego to ‘give priority to the knowledge of the path, as opposed to actually walking it.’[7] The third of Panikka’s peace sutras is that peace is neither gained or imposed by others but must be received, discovered and created. The nature of peace is grace and the way of peace is found on the way.

Peace is described by Panikkar as the emerging myth of our times and the universal symbol of all religions.[8] Where it is nurtured, the revelation of ‘the whole Christ for the whole world’ may be made visible, not in a globalising homogenising power, but in a revelation of the love, beauty, justice and integrity of creation. This revelation of radical interbeing whereby everything that is, is caught up in ‘a knot of relationships that affects and is related to everything else’ is one of the deep truths Panikka found in Buddhism. [9] The Buddha’s insight is that “whatever comes into existence goes out of existence, because everything comes into existence because of mutually dependent causation.”[10] In a world of ecological crisis, recognition of causation and interdependence has become vital not just as scientific knowledge but as a way of being in the world both individually, communally and globally. On this World Environment Day, we could do well to embrace such emphasis on change and finitude as we recognise the interconnectedness of ecosystems which are under threat. Panikka’s sixth sutra of peace is that no one religion or culture can solve the complex problems which face the world today.

This interdependence of all being fits perfectly for Panikka into his understanding of God as Trinity from which arises the inexhaustively generative source of all being. Between form ‘logos’ and life ‘spirit’ there is an unceasing interaction. Christ is the logos, the self-communicating word which ‘springs from its source in the Father but surrenders its life and its form to the Spirit.’[11] ‘Being’ is an organic whole which springs from the relationality of the trinitarian life and Panikka expresses the unity of the whole world or the cosmos, with the human and the divine in one of his most used terms; “cosmotheandric” which is drawn from the Greek word kosmos, theos and anthropos) In the self-emptying love and freedom of God, all exists only in and through relationship. Every being is in itself cosmotheandric, Panikka argues. It is something we acknowledge every Eucharistic meal, where we see the bread and wine as being at once divine, human, and material. Panikka’s call is to recognise the material and sacramental dimensions of all being.

You can hear this call in the description of the way Panikka gathered people in an experience of worship.

“His famous Easter service in his Santa Barbara days would attract visitors from all corners of the globe. Well before dawn they would climb up the mountain near his home, meditate quietly in the darkness once they reached the top, and then salute the sun as it arose over the horizon. Panikkar would bless the elements — air, earth, water and fire — and all the surrounding forms of life — plant, animal, and human — and then celebrate…the Eucharist. It was a profound “cosmotheandric” celebration with the human, cosmic, and divine dimensions of life being affirmed, reverenced, and brought into a deep harmony. The celebration after the formal service at Panikkar’s home was like the feast of Pentecost.. where peoples of many tongues engaged in animated conversation.” [12]

Panikka was a mystic, but one who did not feel the intellectual life was antithetical to the experiential spirituality. He was deeply Christian, but not in the sense of being closed to the wisdom and richness of other traditions. He was a practitioner of nonviolence, but believed utterly in the revolutionary character of love and grace. Maybe as we seek to be Pentecost people, open to all that the Spirit may cause us to become, perhaps Romain Panikkar might remind us of the humility needed before the mystery of God, and the great cosmotheandric adventure to which we are all called.

+Amen.


[1] Rowan Williams, as quoted in the foreword of Raimon Panikkar (p. xx). The Lutterworth Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Glossary of Panikkarian Terms in Phan Peter, C., Ro, Young-chan, Raimon Panikkar: A Companion to his Life and Thought, Phan Peter, C., Ro, Young-chan, eds. (Cambridge, UK, The Lutterworth Press. Kindle Edition: 2018.)

[4] Panikka, Raimon, Nine Sutras of Peace, excerpted from his pamphlet “Epistula de pace”, (Madrid: Símbolo Editorial, 1989)

[5] Phan Peter, C., Ro, Young-chan, Raimon Panikkar: A Companion to his Life and Thought, Phan Peter, C., Ro, Young-chan, eds. (Cambridge, UK, The Lutterworth Press. Kindle Edition: 2018.) p 139

[6] Ibid, p. 30.

[7] Panikkar, “Hindu Spirituality,” in HDI, p 9

[8] Panikka, Raimon, Nine Sutras of Peace, excerpted from his pamphlet “Epistula de pace”, (Madrid: Símbolo Editorial, 1989) p 122

[9] Glossary of Panikkarian Terms in Phan Peter, C., Ro, Young-chan, Raimon Panikkar: A Companion to his Life and Thought, Phan Peter, C., Ro, Young-chan, eds. (Cambridge, UK, The Lutterworth Press. Kindle Edition: 2018.)

[10] Raimon Panikkar (p. 64). The Lutterworth Press. Kindle Edition.

[11] Raimon Panikkar (p. 31). The Lutterworth Press. Kindle Edition.

[12] https://www.ncronline.org/news/spirituality/raimon-panikkar-apostle-inter-faith-dialogue-dies

Leave a comment