I got a notification from a Yahoo group that's made up of friends of Bernadette Roberts that Fr Raimon Panikkar has sent out a letter of farewell. It sounds like he may be on his last leg at age 92. You can read it here:


May God bless and keep him.


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Thank you for sharing that lovely letter, Joseph. Farewell, Fr. Panikkar.
Thanks, Joseph. Wow.

And thank you, Bruce. I first learned of Panikkar through you, when you posted a link to his Nine Ways Not to Talk About God on one of the integral fora.

Blessings, peace, and gratitude to you, Fr. Panikkar!
You're welcome, Mary. I have a lot of gratitude for him and his work as well.

Mary W. said:
Thanks, Joseph. Wow.

And thank you, Bruce. I first learned of Panikkar through you, when you posted a link to his Nine Ways Not to Talk About God on one of the integral fora.

Blessings, peace, and gratitude to you, Fr. Panikkar!

Did you get to Raimundo through his praising of Jiddu krishnamurti?

Balder said:
You're welcome, Mary. I have a lot of gratitude for him and his work as well.

Mary W. said:
Thanks, Joseph. Wow.

And thank you, Bruce. I first learned of Panikkar through you, when you posted a link to his Nine Ways Not to Talk About God on one of the integral fora.

Blessings, peace, and gratitude to you, Fr. Panikkar!
Hi, X, actually not, though I was glad to learn of his high regard for K. I believe I actually first discovered his work through his book, The Silence of God: The Answer of the Buddha.

Here's an excerpt from an online review of that book:

Raimundo Panikkar demonstrates once again that he is not only a master dialectician of religion and philosophy but also a major theological voice. Perhaps, in fact, he is the voice of the theological future. Many signs point that way. He is truly a person of world cultures, having embraced Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and, with The Silence of God, secular atheism in the profound humanistic sense. Native of India, professor in the United States, he writes in Spanish, Italian (this book was written in Spanish, he says, but translated into English from the Italian!), French, German, and English; he quotes Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, and Pali, among other languages. [1] His friends and connections span the globe, and he identifies with global humankind rather than with the people of any one nation. Most of us would rest somewhat easier if there were grounds for confidence that the theological future lay with someone as catholic and sympathetic as Panikkar.

The theological future lies elsewhere, however, if my hunches are right, and precisely because of the issues Panikkar raises in connection with Buddhism as a religion to contribute to that future. Because Panikkar states his position with such sophistication, and because it is attractive to so many, even to those without the sophistication, his theology is a major option in a firmament with very few options indeed, and deserves many serious analyses. His arguments are so much more serious than my hunches that it is a deep privilege for me to enter the dialogue.

First, some words about the book itself. It has three parts, the first of which is a consideration both of contemporary atheism and of the scholarly question whether Buddhism is atheistic. The world all over seems to have become atheistic, in Enlightenment secular forms and in romantic Marxist forms. Further, a point Panikkar could have stressed a bit more, even among many who continue to identify themselves as religious, indeed as theistic believers, is that their religion in practice boils down to therapies, social causes, and cultural enjoyments with nothing but rhetorical reference to the divine. Modern atheism is not only a cultural falling away from serious theism but also a philosophy among some serious thinkers, such as Sartre, who would be theists if they could.

If the world is becoming atheistic, then perhaps Buddhism, an avowedly atheistic religion, has an important contribution to make. Of course, that depends in large part on what it means to say that Buddhism is atheistic. With a delightfully cunning dialectic, Panikkar considers and rejects the views that the Buddha's atheism was just cynicism, a principled nihilism, an agnosticism, or a soteriological pragmatism. He is more sympathetic to the view that Buddha steered away from theism because either asserting or denying the reality of God creates unsolvable problems. The view that Buddha's atheism was dialectically motivated, for the end of coping with his insights "on the transcendence of reality with respect to both the phenomenological and the conceptual orders" (p.12), is even more persuasive to Panikkar. The view's limitation is that it reads much of the long history of Buddhism, especially Maadhyamika, back to Gautama Buddha himself. Panikkar takes finally to the view he calls "ontic (or ontological) apophaticism, "according to which ultimate reality not only cannot be known but has no being. Reality is not an object with existence. To realize this point is genuine enlightenment, and it requires the abandonment of all attachments that ascribe reality to a fulfilling something "out there." What does exist, described negatively, is suffering, and it can be eliminated because "existence" in that sense is unreal. Described positively (for example, on p.159), life is primordial joy precisely because there are no "ecstasies" of existence.

Panikkar obviously is in the business of reformulating Buddhism as a contemporary world philosophy and religious tradition ready to address a contemporary question posed in peculiarly Western terms. [2] He rightly admits this as a necessity if Buddhism or any traditional religion is to be taken seriously in our time. He then, in the second part of the book, undertakes careful analyses of the classical texts in Buddhism using four avenues that lead to the Buddha's religious atheism: the denial of the substantial soul, aatman; Nirvana as extinction; causal immanentism or pratiityasamutpaada; and Buddha's refusal to speculate about ultimate questions. He cites and translates the important texts for each of these points, and comments in such a way as to support his interpretation of Buddhism. This is not the place, nor am I the critic, to analyze his Buddhology in detail. He recognizes that there are other ways to read the texts, and argues for his own interpretation with sophistication.

Interpretive matters aside, what has Buddhism to offer to our present situation so determined, as it is, by atheism? In his concluding three chapters, in the third major section of the book, Panikkar develops his theology for the future. As important as his specific conception of future theology are his assumptions about our present situation, and I want to focus the bulk of my remarks on the first of those last three systematic chapters in which he lays out his historical assumptions.

Not everyone in theology and philosophy takes the atheism of our day as seriously as he does. Much atheism is simply a rejection of childish notions of God occasioned by the failure of religious traditions to education people to maturity; a kind of Big Seven [3] Sunday School Failure. Other kinds of atheism are in fact the collapse of the conditions of cultural integrity required for serious religion, occasioned by modernization; the religious result is vague spiritual hunger, at best, or wild idolatry of the stomach or fevered brain. Yet other kinds of atheism are simply misnamed because theism is defined in too narrow a way; sophisticated comparative religious study can show that there are functional equivalents for divinity and divinity's call to salvation and obedience in some traditions that do not use Western theistic language (Marxism is a borderline theism, as Tillich argued). These several kinds of atheism are important to understand, but do not present themselves as serious religious or antireligious options to theism and its comparative parallels. Panikkar understands atheism in a more serious sense than these as an alternative to theism.

The heart of Panikkar's theory is that we are in something like a second axial age, with humankind evolving to a partially new nature by internalizing technology (p. 97). He understands this against the contrast with the first axial age, which he situates as follows. At its dawn, say up until the beginning of the second millennium B.C.E., humankind was preoccupied in innocent immediacy with the world of things (pp. 81-85), innocent of both transcendent deity and human subjectivity. Things were seen to point beyond themselves, however, and by the beginning of the first millennium B.C.E., human consciousness was preoccupied with the gods in, and transcendent of, the things of the world, and instead of immediate reaction to things, people understood life in terms of sacrifice:

Sacrifice is the religious moment par excellence: the presence of the numinous seems to absorb every human faculty. There is scarcely place for anything else: created things are considered unimportant, and the human being is overlooked. Human activity no longer turns to things, but to the sacred. Temples are more important than are houses. The best that society has to offer -- whether persons or things -- is dedicated to the divinity, from virgins to fields. (Pp. 82-83)

But, then, the meaningful concerns of the gods seem always to be an orientation to human beings. In that most transformative of centuries, the sixth B.C.E., termed by Jaspers the Axial Age, the logos of humankind replaced the mythos of divinities and represented both the world and divinity in the symbols of the primal human reason or speech, vac, logos. Prophetic Judaism had so replaced the centrality of the mythic sacrifice religion of the Temple that the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 did not destroy the tradition but strengthened it. Zarathustra in Iran represented the struggle between the cosmic forces of good and evil to turn on the free responsibility of human life. Both Confucius and Lao-tzu in China dethroned the transcendent divinities in a process Panikkar calls "personalization," albeit in different ways, Confucius by an emphasis on self-conscious behavior, Lao-tzu by an emphasis on "mystical union with the Tao, on a level superior to all ritual apparatus" (p. 87). In Greece, the pre-Socratic philosophers instituted the critical examination of the grounds of mythopoeic thought and made "man the measure of all things." In India, besides heterodox Buddhism and Jainism, which arose around this time, even "at the heart of orthodoxy itself we witness a whole movement of interiorization, antiritualism, and antitraditionalism" (p. 88). In his summary description, Panikkar says:

In all the cases I have cited from that remarkable sixth century, there is a common denominator: on the one hand, a reaction against pure objectivity, whether that objectivity goes by the name of ritualism, transcendence, God, tradition, custom, or what have you, and on the other hand, the ascent of humankind. The great prophets of Israel, the sages of the Upanisads, the great Chinese reformers, the Greek philosophers, and so on, only turn the searching regard of humankind inward, to discover that the intention is essential in any activity, and that a critical attitude is indispensable for any genuinely human act....What counts are not things, but humankind, Greece will say. The essential is not external sacrifice and ritual worship, but the human intention, and interiorization, the Upanishads will preach. The essential is consciousness of the harmony of humankind with the all, China will teach. The fundamental thing is conscious personal salvation, Zarathustra will preach. Yahweh does not save or hear unless our heart is pure, the prophets of Israel will cry.... Humanism, with its peaks and troughs, begins its course through human history. (Pp. 89-90)

The Buddha, of course, was part of the sixth-century axial revolution; and he carried it a step farther. Whereas the main burden of the axial century was to effect or begin to effect a transition from mythos to logos, the Buddha relativized both in terms of what Panikkar calls spirit.

If there is a single concept in which we might capsulize the contribution that the Buddha could make to our times, it is the conviction that the logos cannot be divinized in any of its forms, either ontological or epistemological or cosmic. Mythos and logos can exist only in spirit. But spirit cannot be "manipulated," either by mythos or by logos.
The spirit is freedom, and freedom may not be converted into either mythos or logos, or indeed into both at once. And if the sixth century largely represents the awakening of the logos in the word of its great reformers, the Buddha's share in this great religious upheaval is all but unique, for it is the Buddha who directly stresses the importance of the silence of the spirit. (Pp. 84-85)

The culture of logos gives rise to human self-consciousness, as Thomas J. J. Altizer has made abundantly clear. [4] The Buddha rejected the substantial self -- anaatman. The culture of logos gives rise to a scientific naming and description of things. The Buddha rejected the substantiality of things -- pratiityasamutpaada. The culture of logos gives rise to an equation of divinity with substantial being as such. The Buddha enjoined silence about any reference to transcendent substance or being. Rather than all these, the Buddha abandoned all substantialist thinking in favor of what Panikkar calls functionalist thinking. With regard to the functions of things, gods, and human life, their problem is that they give rise to suffering. Salvation is thus finding the functions that do not cause suffering. It is not that the Buddha asserts that there are no substances -- about that he is audibly silent. It is that living with joy, that is, without suffering, is simply a way of functioning, and Buddha's religion is about that.

Full review available here.
HI Balder

THX for that exposition.
Raimon is a well known person in progressive christians circles in France.
hi Balder

Did Raimon depict Jesus as a Boddhisatwa? did he discuss intrisic phenomenologies like comparing different samadhis aspects in relating christianity, hinduism or buddhism? or did he have a mere stricy "theologico-hermeneutical" approach?
Hi, X, ol' Liver and Chianti's response here bumped this post up and reminded me that I hadn't answered your question.

Raimon does attempt some cross-cultural comparisons, both theological and mystical/phenomenological. He explores what he calls the homeomorphic equivalencies between certain Christian and Hindu theological notions and figures, for instance, in The Hidden Christ of Hinduism. And in The Experience of God and Christophany, he discusses phenomenological experiences of the divine in multiple religious contexts, primarily Hindu and Christiaan but also Buddhist.

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