Remembering Raimon Panikkar

Photo of Raimon Panikkar

I left Europe [for India] as a Christian, I discovered I was a Hindu and returned as a Buddhist without ever having ceased to be a Christian.

— Raimon Panikkar

I am saddened to hear of the death of theologian and visionary Raimon Panikkar, who died in Spain on August 26. He was 91 years old. Born of a Indian Hindu father and Spanish Catholic mother, Panikkar became one of the most admired and renowned theologians of the great interfaith conversation between east and west in our time. Raised in Spain and educated by the Jesuits, he was a friend of some of the most renowned Christians of our time, including Jean Danielou, Yves Congar, Hans Urs von Balthazar, Bede Griffiths, and Swami Abhishiktananda.

I first learned about Panikkar when I began working at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. Several of the monks, independently of one another, suggested to me that I should read Panikkar, particularly his Christophany: the Fullness of Man. I picked up that book and found it to be electrifying: an exploration of Christ, suggesting that "Christology" is too rationalistic and, therefore, limited; Panikkar offered the far more mystical concept of "Christophany" to suggest that the point is not to talk about Christ, but rather to seek to encounter him. True to his dual heritage and his towering intellect, Panikkar drew from both Biblical and Vedic sources, as well as John of the Cross and the church fathers to articulate a vision of Christ that is rooted in Christian tradition but fully transcends it, to encompass the wisdom of science and the great mystical traditions of the east. The result is a celebration of Christ that is deeply Trinitarian, profoundly post-tribal, and thoroughly mystical. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Of course, it's not a beach read. But it's well worth approaching in a lectio divina sort of way. Incidentally, if you'd like a more accessible introduction to Panikkar's thought, check out his The Experience of God: Icons of the Mystery; and if you really want to sink your teeth in his thought, look for The Rhythm of Being, a 400-page opus in which Panikkar considers "the unity of cosmic Mystery in this distillation of the wisdom of East and West, North and South" (from the back cover of the book; I haven't read it yet).

If you don't have time to read an entire book by Panikkar, check out this article online: Nine Ways Not to Talk About God.

In The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, I finish my list of "the communion of mystics" with five living persons who I believe history will recognize as great Christian mystics. Of the five, the one I felt most confident about including was Raimon Panikkar. And now he has gone to join the communion of mystics on the other side of eternity. Rest in peace, Father Raimon. May light perpetual shine upon you.

For a more detailed account of his life work, please visit Raimon Panikkar's Obituary at National Catholic Reporter. Also, visit my Anamchara blog to see a perfectly charming Youtube video interview with Raimon Panikkar filmed in Copenhagen in 1996.