The life of young Panikkar consisted of studies and degrees in the fields of philosophy, science and theology, which led him to work as a freelance teacher and lecturer in many universities of Europe and the United States. He already was a catholic priest, when at the age of 36 he moved to Varanasi, in India, to deepen his knowledge of philosophical traditions in India . Most of the remaining part of his life he spent between India, California and Tavertet, a mountain village at the foot of the Spanish Pyrenees and the last stay of his pilgrimage in continuous studies and meditations.
The dialogic dialogue
"Dialogue is life. If dialogue breaks down, everything breaks down" (R. Panikkar in Peace and cultural disarmament)
The manifold movements of people and goods, of every kind of trade, material and immaterial (like information), and of different life-styles forced to live together in the current of globalization; all of these don't correspond, on the level of human relations, with the harmonious plurality that can unfold in a dialogue. Too often we also see..." sterile entanglement of monologues" (La Mistica en el Siglo XXI, – Mystics in the 21st century – Madrid 2002).
According to Panikkar, the key that makes live relationships between human beings is the "dia-logic" dialogue. What is it? Every day in so called dialogues we see only competitive dialectics, alternating opinions – a fact that suggests the illusive idea of some plurality. This illusion persists and often is very deluding.
To transform the dialogue into a genuine relation outside the obstacles of preconceived ideas, means to overcome dialectics and to kindle creativity – a psychically active space where the dialogue unfolds itself. What happens in this space? A ‹third way› develops, uniting the two without brutally annihilating either of them. Beyond the form, the logos, the myth is discovered, the story that lies behind the discourse, the story in which he who speaks really believes. And thus appear the veils of beliefs, of symbols which nourish creeds – but also prejudice. At this point the weapons of confrontation are blunt, and what remains is knowledge of oneself, as perceived through the eyes of the other.
This process requires confidence: not the formal or politically correct kind, but in authentic confidentiality. On a philosophical level, both absolute and dualistic visions are overcome so as to reach a totality (holism) in which processes, relations and forms are life itself; this whole not being the sum of the parts.
On the level of social conviviality, from places of school education to those for education to proper listening, it is easy to understand how very fundamental is the process itself for this dialogue.
The cosmotheandric vision
"The divine, the human and the earthly – however we like to call them – are the three unalterable dimensions constituting reality" (R. Panikkar in The Cosmotheandric Reality). Panikkar uses Greek language to talk about the World, the Creator and creatures, the three states of existence, which in the course of time have gone through infinite variants of terminology. Of course this is not meant to stir up new fragmentation, but to witness his vision of the three in their inexhaustible, dynamic relation: being never separated nor ever annihilated one by the other. A "sacred secularity", as he calls it. This is a pretty uncomfortable vision for any type of both logic for domination, and impoverishment of conscience-. Such cosmotheandric flashes of thought are rediscovered by Panikkar thanks to his studies of Vedic texts. But a similar tradition also exists in the West; just think about the plurimillennial concepts of hermetic inspiration before the latter’s resonance during the Renaissance in the works of Pico della Mirandola, with his circle of possible interrelations between Man, Cosmos and Spirit.
"The identity of Christ is not the identification which we make of him", these words of Panikkar – who graduated in Theology with a thesis about Christ misread by Hinduism – issue from his own life and open a horizon comparable to the one of the Christian texts from the first centuries of our era, luckily rediscovered in the Egyptian desert in 1945, and known as the Nag Hamadi Library:
"No word can express it, no eye can see it, no body can touch it, because of its inaccessible greatness, its infinite deepness, its height beyond any measure, its unconceivable width”. (Tripartite Treatise, 54, vv. 13 ss.). Here he speaks, or tries not to speak, about the most-inner Source, the Alfa and Omega.
With his usual deep acuteness, Panikkar, in his speech about Christ, includes the historical aspect as well as the cosmic one : "... The plenitude of humanity, the plenitude of divinity, the plenitude of corporality and matter. Christ is the symbol of what in a certain language we call the absolute : a symbol of reality" (R. Panikkar in Ecosophy: the New Wisdom). The implementation of such reflections which Panikkar directly proposes to Christians of the third millennium is "Christophany" (again in Greek): the Mystery of incarnation, and the reawakened presence of, the divine within the human being.
Allowing the Other to be
The "dialogic" encounter evolves on a deep level unknown to us: The level of "not-knowing", but which passes through whatever “knowing” we are able to bring into play. This is the strategy of cultural disarmament, as Panikkar calls it, a path that brings with it the actual essence of peace. The method is threefold. The forms of a particular vision of the world (the Christian one for example) must be made explicit, taking nothing for granted; then they are positioned within space and time, not in order to justify errors and horrors of the past – not to be forgotten – but to discover what impedes our dialogue, our readiness to receive and to share. It is the actual clothing of fear which grips the western community, choking the genuine desire to understand the Other, to understand Nature, and to open to the knowledge of oneself.
"The transformation we are talking about is not an individual process: We need to differentiate between isolation and solitude. Isolation is choking, it is deadly, it is egoistic; – solitude instead offers the space for freedom so that still being myself, I can communicate to others the part they are lacking, and which is really myself – and vice versa ……. I have to look for accomplices, groups, movements, socialities, ‹polis›, church, guerrilla – any grouping small or big ……. This is the purifying element. As soon as one encloses oneself within a group, the language degenerates. When someone from outside listens to it, one will suddenly hear the outcry: unfaithful! The reason for it is simple: we have always been talking between us ...This is how cultures are generated, which then become war cultures as we know so well" (R. Panikkar in Ecosophy: the New Wisdom).