I missed blogging last week because I was in India. I went for a ‘seminar’ – a small conference really – on Raimundo Panikkar, at the beautiful India International Centre in New Delhi.
Panikkar (1918-2010) was an amazing man: a philosopher, born in Catalonia but half Indian, who ordained as a Catholic priest but then went to India to study Hinduism and Buddhism in Benares. He famously said ‘I went to India as a Christian, discovered I was a Buddhst and came back a Hindu, without ever ceasing to be a Christian.’ Not surprisingly, he became a specialist in the philosophy of comparative religion and inter-religious dialogue, as well as in ecology, the nature and future of technology (he had a Ph D in chemistry) and in thinking about the future and destiny of humanity.
I worked with him briefly on a project in 200 and 2001, and became very fond of him and very inspired by him, though I never came to regard him as a guru, though some did.
Here’s a memory of him from his time as a Professor religious studies in Santa Barbara, California (a memory from Joseph Prabhu, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the conference):
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 in Montecito, 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 Mass and 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 resembled in some respects the feast of Pentecost as described in the New Testament, where peoples of many tongues engaged in animated conversation.
And here’s one of many YouTube clips of him to give you an idea of his presence.
I’ll never forget Panikkar and he stays with me in my mind as an ever-present friend, and someone who did the kind of thinking we need for humanity’s future: broad, generous, imaginative and full of kindness and humour.