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Parliament Trustee Arun Gandhi Condemns Violence in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Everywhere

By Arun Gandhi 

The Parliament of World Religions condemns all forms of violence any where in the world. While the world claims to be progressing toward civilization, the actions of brutal ethnic violence in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, as well as in other parts of the world, must be strongly condemned by all peace-loving people.

Growing intolerance, widening disparities, a life-style of exploitation, a burgeoning armament industry freely producing and selling weapons of mass destruction, are all the kinds of fuel that ignite people’s imagination for violence. Sri Lanka and Myanmar are the latest flash-points on the world map where ethnic violence has taken many innocent lives. But the world as a whole lives on the edge of the precipice of conflagration fueled by ethnic, economic, political, religious, national, gender and many other issues that become more contentious by the day.

It is important for all of us to understand that the path of hate and destruction destroys the very things we seek to preserve. Religious beliefs, economic progress, security and sanctity of life can only be enjoyed and preserved for future generations by respect, understanding, harmony and compassion.

The world community cannot ignore the strife in parts of the world because it does not affect us immediately. What happens in one place today will happen all over tomorrow. We are all sitting on a tinder box of intolerance that only needs a spark to ignite.

There are two main reasons for this state of affairs in the world. As Mohandas K. Gandhi said many decades ago: the more materialistic we aspire to be the less moral we become. This is reflected in the seven social sins that Gandhi said leads to violence in humanity. The world is guilty of indulging in politics without principles, in commerce without morality, in science without humanity, in religion without respect.

Massacres of people in the name of God and religion have become the norm with events like those in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and many other parts of the world. These events are not aberrations, they are a reflection of the unmitigated religious bigotry exacerbated by political chicanery.

It is this kind of religion-political exploitation and abuse that the Parliament of World Religions seeks to change. Religions is not how many times we pray, but how sincere and truthful we are in practicing our beliefs in real life and relationships.

Arun Gandhi

Arun Manalil Gandhi, Born 1934 in Durban South Africa, Arun was sent by his parents to India when he was 12 years old so that he could live with and learn from his grandfather, Mohandas Gandhi. It was then that young Gandhi learned the principles of non-violence that he continues to espouse until today. Dr. Gandhi spent much of his adult life in India working as a journalist and promoting social and economic changes for the poor and the oppressed classes. Along with his wife Sunanda he rescued about 128 orphaned and abandoned children from the streets and placed them in loving homes around the world. They also began a Center for Social Change which transformed the lives of millions in villages in the western state of Maharashtra. In 1987 Arun came to the United States and in 1991 he started the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at the Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee. In 2007, the Institute was moved to the University of Rochester, New York. In 2008 Arun resigned from the Institute to begin the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute, with its mission to build basic education schools for the very poor children of the world. The first school will open shortly in a depressed village in western India (www.gandhiforchildren.org). Arun Gandhi has taken the message of nonviolence and peace-making to hundreds of thousands of high school and university youth around the United States and much of the Western world. His publications include The Legacy of Love; The Forgotten Woman: The Life of Kastur, wife of Gandhi, and several others.

Religious Advisers Supporting Spiritually Diverse Students Aid Interfaith in U.S. Universities

At a time when inviting advisers to serve students of minority faiths at many U.S universities is still making headlines, the University of Chicago has just appointed its third successive Religious Advisor to Pagan students.

Of her new appointment, Rev. Angie Buchanan, who is a Trustee Emeritus of the Parliament, says in a statement to popular Pagan platform WildHunt,

Rev. Angie Buchanan, Parliament Trustee Emeritus, is now appointed religious advisor to Pagan students at the University of Chicago.

Having a Pagan advisor on staff at a prestigious university such as the University of Chicago supports the mainstream recognition that opens up opportunities and freedoms already available to the practitioners of other religious traditions. It also helps secure the establishment of Paganism as a world religion.

Assistant Dean of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel Jigna Shah says paying effort to supporting spiritual diversity is a long-established value of the University she herself experienced personally. In being named the first non-Christian to a deanship role at the Chapel three years ago, Shah reflects, “I am honored and humbled. I take my appointment very seriously and with great responsibility in continuing efforts to diversify and reflect the rich spiritual landscape of our campus.”

Context can be complex in these matters, and an absence of non-Abrahamic faiths in the chaplaincy does not always reflect of a university’s attention to spiritual life and student affairs. Still, in 2011, there were only 30 Muslim Chaplains serving in U.S. universities according to various media, and other prestigious universities were still inviting Hindu advisers to serve students for the first time.

By November 2013, Brandeis University brought in its first non-Abrahamic adviser to the campus chaplaincy after student appeal and expanding celebrations of Diwali and Holi in the appointment of their first Hindu advisor.

Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago

Rallying for the Muslim Students Association at Pennsylvania-based Swarthmore University, Hillel’s Jewish students and campus Christian groups are currently imploring administration to recognize a permanent staff position to advise Muslim students, citing their own benefits from their respective spiritual advisers, also crediting the presence of a temporary Muslim adviser a prevailing reason interfaith activity on campus flourished this year.

Buchanan couldn’t say it better. “With the growing ease of international travel and the advent of the internet and social media, the world is getting smaller. In the United States, we have populations within populations; there are hospitals, prisons, schools and universities, and even social, political, business and special interest groups.

“I believe that as a culture we are recognizing the need for a diverse set of spiritual advisors in multiple environments, and we are beginning to embrace a positive attitude regarding the diversity of religious traditions co-existing in society.”

With an expanded presence of interfaith organizing on college campuses, fostering increased collaborations among staff and students will strengthen actions and overall impact of the movement.

Religious communities and student groups at University of Chicago continue to nominate new advisers for recognition by the University’s Office of Spiritual Life. This year, the office also welcomes Charles Nolley as the first advisor to serve Baha’i students.

The Parliament stands in deep respect to Nolley, who holds the achievement of helping bring the 1993 Parliament to fruition as an early Board Chair, and who undoubtedly lit a fire for interfaith now so imperative to the national higher education system.

A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that the newest appointment of a Pagan religious adviser at the University of Chicago was a first for the university, and that religious advising is facilitated by Rockefeller Chapel. Spiritual Life at University of Chicago has historically extended recognition to advisers in a student-driven and inclusive manner. The Parliament thanks Rockefeller Chapel for an ongoing commitment to spiritual diversity. Parliament Communications apologizes for the error.

 

 

 

 

Reflecting from Russia on World Interfaith Harmony Week

The Parliament of the World’s Religions recently welcomed Ermolina Galina of Siberia to the Ambassadors program. The following reflection shares the story of her interreligious community in Novosibirsk, Russia, observing the United Nations Interfaith Harmony Week.

World Interfaith Harmony Week inspires community gathering and interreligious excursions for Siberian residents. Shared by Parliament Ambassador Galina Ermolina.

The world we live in is overloaded with hatred these days, and religious conflicts bring us to disasters. What we need today is to change the paradigm of thinking from confrontations to understanding that we belong to one world, to one planet, to One God, whoever God is for each one of us.

My friends and I- being very much concerned about the situation- made attempts to find a possibility of cooperation between representatives of some religious institutions in our city, Novosibirsk, Western Siberia, (Russia).

In the beginning, I would not say we were very successful. Like anywhere, some religious representatives here are not yet able to speak cooperatively about different religions.

So when news came that the United Nations proclaimed a Week of Inter-religious Harmony from February 3 up to February 9, 2014, we decided to participate in a cultural excursion program organized by one of the public organizations working for peace in our big city since we had done events together in the past.

The purpose of this project was to get acquainted with representatives of the religions, to learn more about their unique qualities, so that it would become possible to start mutual cooperation of understanding and sharing on the basis of the Golden Rule.

Every day of the week, a group of people interested in the subject planned to visit this or that religious center, or church, or cathedral, following the list:

  • Bate Menahem Synagogue
  • Catholic Cathedral
  • Mosque
  • Church of Jesus Christ (Mormons),
  • Christian Church and Center of the Vedic Culture (Krishnaits)

On one of the days, a concert for veterans was performed by the student-volunteers of the Federation for Peace.

I managed to visit three events of the Week: Bate Menahem Synagogue, Church of Jesus Christ (Mormon) and Center of the Vedic Culture (Krishnas).

Personally, I have already been aware of diversity in interfaith relations because I have been many times during the last ten years in the Interfaith Community of the great Saint Baba Virsa Singh in Delhi and Punjab, where I have been significantly trained and acquired experience on the subject. Also, I have tried to stay active over the last three years as a member of the United Religions Initiative.

At the end of the week reflecting on the events of Harmony Week I have come to the conclusion that the event was not only interesting for the participants, but we learned a lot and gained new experiences in relations between the people of different religions. We hope that managed to make new friendships, for almost everywhere we were welcomed to come again.

“Unity in diversity” is one of most important slogans in the world, and we had an opportunity to see it in practice. Unity and oneness was manifesting itself in the warm hospitality, peaceful atmosphere of the meetings everywhere.

However, when our group approached the Russian Orthodox Church, we were given a chilly reception with the comment that special written permission was needed.  Unfortunately, many of us have faced difficult policies and responses, and this may be one of the reasons for us to join the Interfaith movement.

It was such a disappointment for all, and the situation was saved somehow by one participant who suggested to go the very special Exhibition “Holy Religious Places” of Siberia, situated quite nearby. The exposition was created by Dmitriy Dobryi who started this project a few years ago after the vision of Saint Princess Olga who told him to collect paintings, photos and other artifacts of Churches and other religious institutions of Novosibirsk region in one place for the people to see them. He himself made an incredibly beautiful embroidery portrait of St. Olga.

People like Dmitriy are those fanatics who are devoted to the values of religion, which means “connecting with the Highest.” The fact that this exhibition exists and works is a miracle itself, for there is no financial support from officials, either church or civil.

Coming back to the issue of diversity I would say that have come to the comprehending the method which every religious institution applies to attract people to their congregation.

Belonging to Synagogue, first of all, one feels protected in the midst of the surrounding world, one feels being a member of one powerful community, where one can get help if needed. It attracts even the people belonging to other religions due to the nationality or native traditional religion.

We didn’t feel any attempt to woo us into converting to this religion. Even if one can have different points of view on some fundamental things, but one can admit and accept those values which are strong within Jewish Community.

The visit to the Mormon Center was a pleasant one as well. Most of the missionaries are young smiling people from the USA speaking good Russian. From the speech of the center leader we received a lot of information about the origin of Mormon movement, its history and the development of the movement today.

We were given some materials to read at home as well. Even though the Mormon Teaching itself is difficult for me to follow, our event was devoted not to discussions or disagreements, but to finding the things which we all have in common, which can bring us to cooperation.

The Golden Rule says: “By thy God”, not by mine. It is important to Mormons to proclaim love to Jesus and God.

Chowing down on delicious Indian-style food in the vedic house of worship during World Interfaith Harmony week in Siberia!

The last event, visiting Vedic Center was quite different from what we have seen before. Most of the people present there were young, and some come with children. I have been many times in India, and at some moments felt as if I was again there. The highlight of that evening was a presence of Indian Swami Ji, who had been touring through Russia for more than a month. He addressed the audience with a nice and wise talk, speaking about love and harmony between people, despite difference in religions.

Of course, he said much about Krishna and Krishna movement all over the world. That Swami Ji is a good example for spiritual leaders; he managed to connect vedic knowledge with every day life challenges in a good, not scholastic way.

I asked him a question what way would he suggest to stop violence in the world and the answer he had given made me happy, because it completely coincided with my thinking:

we should begin with changing the way of our thinking, with cleansing our mind. That’s what Baba Virsa Singh used to say again and again.

Bombs and bullets will not change the world,at any rate –to a better world.

It is known that “joy is a special wisdom,” and appeared that the Vedic group of people sincerely follow this rule through ritual dancing and singing. I don’t want to say that this is an example for all to follow, but they enjoyed that evening.

After talks and dancing, everyone was invited to have traditional vedic food, of course vegetarian. One of the guests belongs to the Orthodox church and came out of curiosity.

In a way the events and experiences of our project was a reflection of the situation between religions today.

In two days we came together to share experiences, reflection and for planning our future cooperation with the religious institutions of the city, taking into consideration the experiences we had during the Harmony week.

California Declares October “Hindu Appreciation Month”

Photo: Hindu American Foundation

The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions congratulates the Hindu American Foundation on their successful campaign to make October the Hindu-American Awareness and Appreciation Month in the state of California. In a release from HAF Press, State Senate Majority Leader, Ellen Corbett, was interviewed about her recent work to bring Resolution SCR 32 to a vote. “As the Senator representing the 10th State Senate District, I am honored to represent constituents from many diverse backgrounds, including a significant number of Hindu Americans,” said Majority Leader Corbett. “California is home to a thriving community of over 370,000 Hindu Americans that enrich our state’s diversity and professional assets in fields as diverse as academia, science, technology, business, arts and literature. I thank my colleagues for supporting SCR 32 today that recognizes Hindu American contributions in California, as well as designates October 2013 in their honor.” The resolution was passed unanimously.

This passage marks a great interfaith triumph as, according to the release,  “the resolution also received the support of 55 non-governmental organizations, interfaith leaders, civil rights activists, and community leaders from across the country, who previously wrote to all State Senators urging them to pass SCR 32.” As for this October, many are looking forward to the various events and opportunities for discussion as the month becomes a platform for Hindu dialogue.

For more information, please connect to The Hindu American Foundation.

 

Engaging Faith In the Neighborhood Retreat Registration Closing Soon

Registration closes July 5 for a 3-day intensive interfaith leadership development retreat for adults over July 23 – 25 with Chicago-based Seminary Consortium on Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE).

Parliament of the World’s Religion Board Trustee and SCUPE President Shanta Premawardhana says, “During these times of significant religious diversity in our communities, it is very important that we begin to understand how to relate to people of other faiths. It requires interfaith literacy, interfaith action, and it requires us to come to know each other and build community together. A lot of the time we are not able to do that because we don’t understand theologically how to make it work.”

Dr. Lucinda Mosher of Hardford Seminary will lead workshop participants on site visits to a Sikh gurdwara, a Hindu temple, and a Greek Orthodox Church, enjoying meals and accommodations just outside Chicago.  It will be an opportunity to answer critical questions by learning “what moves them, what gives them meaning and purpose of life,” says Premawardhana.

The course will begin with a day-long course in Interfaith engagement, followed by two days of site visits with meals included at houses worship. Registration tiers begin with student commuter rates and cap at full shared hotel accommodations and meals.

Workshop objectives include: empowering interfaith leaders, creating a safe space to learn, equipping the participants with teachable resources, discussing America’s religious diversity, building courage to visit new places of worship, building community among the participants, training in effective speaking about interfaith engagement, teaching the history of modern interfaith movement, practicing interfaith engagement, and developing skills to foster interfaith relationships. For more information please visit SCUPE.com.

July 1st, 2013 at 3:55 pm

3 Recent Victories Against Hate in the U.S.

FAITHS AGAINST HATE PREMIERING PUBLIC TRAINING DAY IN NEW YORK

  • In partnership with the Interfaith Institute of the Islamic Center of Long Island, CPWR Executive Director Dr. Mary Nelson and Chair Imam Malik Mujahid will join Long Island and New York City’s leaders of interfaith action against hate to deliver frontline training on hate crime and hate culture. On Saturday, June 22, 2013 – we welcome all participants to share training, inspiration, free meals, and action planning to mobilize a Faith Against Hate Task Force to overcome hate, fear, and anti-religious violence in the New York/Long Island area. Sponsors speaking at the event from The Interfaith Center of New York, The Sikh Coalition, the Holocaust Memorial Museum and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, the Muslim Consultative Network, and more will be on hand to share formal and informal time to all. The training will empower and foster interfaith relationships for concerned citizens, clergy, and civic leaders. Come concerned, leave prepared! Register Free…

FBI TRACKING CRIME AGAINST SIKH-, HINDU-, and ARAB-AMERICANS

  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation that tracks hate crimes in the United States announced on Wednesday, June 5, that it will finally include Hindu-, Sikh-, and Arab-American categories in future annual uniform hate crime reporting. This win is celebrated by hundreds of organizations which were heard en masse by the Senate Judiciary Committee last summer at the overdue hearing on domestic extremism and hate crime, which was expedited after the murders of Sikhs at the Gurdwara in the Oak Creek, WI last August.  Data on hate crimes motivated by 9/11 backlash and Islamaphobia will finally quantify widespread violence targeting several communities perceived “other-,” “Middle Eastern-”, “South Asian-.” It also signifies more attention by the U.S. government on this pervasive and complex illness in American society.

For more on this, check out our webinar with the chief organizer of the petitions and government relations at the Sikh Coalition, Rajdeep Singh, on “How Interfaith Coalitions Can Strategically Combat Hate.”

ANTI-IMMIGRANT ADS DROPPED BY PANDORA INTERNET RADIO

  • Pandora Internet Radio recently dropped hate ads against undocumented immigrants heard by 70 million listeners sponsored by an organization classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a known “hate group.” Sojourners Magazine made major moves to denounce the ads and responded by calling for funds to air counter-hate ads and asking Pandora to remove the ads from airplay. Read more…

The Tony Blair Faith Foundation’s: 2011-2012 Faiths Act Fellowship

Photography credit to the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

The 2011-2012 Faith Acts Fellows

from The Tony Blair Faith Foundation

Those who seek to cause religious conflict are small in number but highly motivated, organized and funded. While there are billions of people who are engaged in their own faith tradition, many have not yet learned how to live or work together well with those of different traditions.

The Tony Blair Faith Foundation decided to tackle this challenge through organising a year-long Fellowship that brought together young people of different faiths to work toward better interfaith action. The Foundation selected 33 outstanding future leaders, who between July 2011 and June 2012, worked in interfaith pairs around the world.  They built understanding between different religious communities by mobilising them around the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), in particular around malaria prevention.

The Fellows represented a diverse cross section of the faith traditions: 11 were Christian, 10 Muslim, 5 Jewish, 3 Hindu, 2 Buddhist, 1 Baha’i, 1 Sikh and 1 Quaker. Thirty of the Fellows were placed in multi-faith pairs in Canada, India, the United Kingdom and the USA.

Click here to read full article 

Coffee Shop Religion: Interfaith of the Everyday

Author Saumya Arya Haas. Photo from Google Images.

by Saumya Arya Haas
from Huffington Post

I never learned much about religion until I started hanging out at Muddy Waters Coffee Shop on the corner of Lyndale and 24th in Uptown, Minneapolis.

I was raised to be a priestess (of Hinduism), grew up surrounded by world scripture and philosophy, and was taught by learned scholars and mystics. But my religious education didn’t really begin until I started talking — and listening — to other people from other ways of life. I had a great foundation but it had to evolve beyond what I could experience as an individual. Understanding is a journey, and it’s nice to have company if you can get it.

When Muddy’s opened in the late 80s, it was grungy, grubby and the bathroom was frightening. The only food on the “menu” was Pop-Tarts and SpaghettiOs. Punks, goth kids and all the other wonderful misfits of Minneapolis risked splinters from the rickety picnic tables to enjoy caffeine and conversation in precious Midwestern sunlight. I would come with my friends but talked to everyone. I got over my fear of homeless people and started seeing them as just people. Some reminded me of the wandering sages of my almost-native India, people who lived by choice or necessity on the fringes and accumulated hardship wisdom the rest of us shied away from.

All the scriptural education in the world is not worth one good hour-long conversation with a stranger about their beliefs.

Click here to read the full article

Hindu Priest Lays Foundation Stone for Muslim Building in Kutch, India

by DV Maheshwari
from DNA: Daily News and Analysis, India

Another chapter was added to the history of communal harmony in secular Kutch last week when Acharya Purushottam Priyadasji Maharaj, chief of the Maninagar (Ahmedabad) Swaminaryan Gadi Sansthan, laid the foundation stone of a Muslim community hall in Kera village.

The community hall is being built in the Swaminarayan Nagar area of the village by non-resident Indian Salim Molu, a Khoja (Ismaili) Muslim philanthropist based in Mombasa, Kenya. Molu has also announced a donation of Rs50 lakh to the Aga Khani Ismaili Khoja community of the village.

Molu had met Acharya Purushottam Priyadasji last year during the latter’s visit to Kenya and the United Kingdom.

The foundation-laying ceremony took place amid a large presence of people from both the Patel and Khoja communities, which are in almost equal number in Kera. The community hall is expected to be ready by this time next year. According to Prem Patel, solicitor of Molu Firms in the UK, it will also be inaugurated by Acharya Swami.

Click here to read the full article

Adieu Raimon, A Dieu

Raimon Panikkar, known to many in this society of Hindu-Christian Studies as a teacher, scholar, mentor, or friend, died at his home in Tavertet, near Barcelona, on August 26, 2010.  He was ninety-one and had been in poor health for some time, but he did live to see the day when his Gifford Lectures, originally delivered in Edinburgh in 1989, and over which he had agonized ever since [he produced some nineteen different versions of parts of the texts], finally saw the light of day in June of this year as The Rhythm of Being (Orbis Books).

Panikkar taught and lived in the United States from 1966-1987 and was known to generations of students here and around the world through both his lectures and his many books.  What they heard and read were the arresting reflections of a multi-dimensional person, who was simultaneously a philosopher, theologian, mystic, priest and poet.

It was also that combination of personae that made him at times difficult to understand.  He was a formidable scholar with doctorates in philosophy, theology, and chemistry and an acquaintance with the worlds of learning and religious reflection in more than a dozen languages.  But at heart he was a mystic and a contemplative, who chose at the end of his academic career in 1987 to live in the small mountain village of Tavertet (population 75) in a remote part of the Pyrenees north of Barcelona.  Even there he was not easily accessible because he would shut off his phone for half the week.  The prayer and meditation room in his house was right next to his study, and he would drift imperceptibly between the two spaces both literally and in consciousness.  He once wrote

“Writing, to me, is meditation—that is medicine—and also moderation,

order for this world.  Writing, to me, is intellectual life and that in turn

is spiritual existence.  The climax of life is, in my opinion, to participate

in the life of the universe, in both the cosmic and divine symphonies to

which even we mortals are invited.  It is not only a matter of living but

also of letting life be—this life, offered to us as a gift so that we may

sustain and deepen it.” (A Dwelling Place for Wisdom, 79)

He was born the son of an Indian Hindu father and a Spanish Catholic mother on November 3, 1918.  He received a conventional Catholic education at a Jesuit high school in Barcelona before launching on his university studies in the natural sciences, philosophy, and theology, first in Barcelona and then in Madrid.  Shortly thereafter, the Spanish Civil War broke out, and Panikkar was able to take advantage of his status as the son of a father who was a British citizen to go to the University of Bonn in Germany to continue his studies.  When World War II started in 1939, Panikkar returned to Spain and completed the first of his three doctorates, this one in philosophy, at the University of Madrid in 1946.

In late 1954 when he was already 36 Panikkar visited India, the land of his father, for the first time.  It proved to be a watershed, a decisive reorientation of his interests and of his theology.  He had entered a dramatically new world, religious and cultural, from the Catholic Europe of his youth.  The transformation was aided by his meetings and close friendship with three monks, who like him were attempting to live and to incarnate the Christian life in Indian, predominantly Hindu and Buddhist, forms:  Jules Monchanin (1895-1957), Henri Le Saux, also known as Swami Abhishiktananda (1910-1973), and Bede Griffiths, the English Benedictine monk (1906-1993).  All four of them, in different ways, discovered and cherished the riches and the deep spiritual wisdom of the Indic traditions, and attempted to live out and express their core Christian convictions in Hindu and Buddhist forms.  To some extent this multiple belonging was made possible by their embrace of Advaita, the Indic idea of non-dualism, which sees the deep, often hidden, connections between traditions without in any way minimizing the differences between them.

One of Panikkar’s many striking sentences looking back on his life’s journey asserts:  “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.”  A wealth of meaning lies in that assertion.  Christianity in its historical evolution began as a Jewish tradition and then spread to the Greco-Roman world, acquiring along the way Greek and Roman cultural expressions which have given it a certain form and character.  Panikkar, having grown up and having been trained in a traditional Catholic and neo-Thomist environment, had a profound knowledge of, and respect for, that tradition.  This knowledge prepared him for discussions with some of the great minds of twentieth-century Catholicism:  Jean Danielou, Yves Congar, Hans Urs von Balthazar, and others.  He was also invited to take part in the Synod of Rome and the Second Vatican Council.  But Panikkar did not confuse or conflate historical contingency with spiritual truth.  In Hinduism and Buddhism Panikkar found other languages, in addition to Biblical Hebrew, Greek philosophy, and Latin Christianity, to express the core convictions (the kerygma) of the Christian tradition.

That was the main thesis of The Unknown Christ of Hinduism, which Panikkar originally presented as a doctoral thesis to the Lateran University in Rome in 1961, based as it was on a close textual comparison between Thomas Aquinas and Sankara’s interpretation of a canonical Hindu scripture, the Brahma-Sutras.  Christ and his teaching are not, so Panikkar argues, the monopoly or exclusive property of Christianity seen as a historical religion.  Rather, Christ is the universal symbol of divine-human unity, the human face of God.  Christianity approaches Christ in a particular and unique way, informed by its own history and spiritual evolution.  But Christ vastly transcends Christianity.  Panikkar calls the name “Christ” the “Supername,” in line with St. Paul’s “name above every name” (Phil 2:9), because it is a name that can and must assume other names, like Rama or Krishna or Ishvara.

This theological insight was crucial for Panikkar because it provided the basis of the inter-religious dialogue that he and Abhishiktananda and Bede Griffiths were both advocating and practicing themselves.  Far from diluting or in any way watering down core Christian beliefs and practices, such dialogue, in addition to fostering inter-religious understanding and harmony, provided an indispensable medium for deepening the Christian faith.  Such dialogue provides an insight and entry point into other, non-Christian names and manifestations of Christ.  This was particularly important for Panikkar because together with other Asian theologians he saw how historical Christianity had attempted, especially during its colonial periods, to convert Christ into an imperial God, with a license to conquer and triumph over other Gods.  This for Panikkar is the challenge of the post-colonial period inaugurated in the mid-to-late twentieth century and continuing into our present and the future.  In his words,  “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.”

Needless-to-say, such striking ideas carefully and rigorously argued and dramatically expressed got the attention of religious thinkers and secular institutions around the world.  Panikkar was invited to teach in Rome and then at Harvard (1966-1971) and the University of California, Santa Barbara (1971-1987).  He was now, as Leonard Swidler, occupant of the Chair of Catholic Thought at Temple University, called him, “the apostle of inter-faith dialogue and inter-cultural understanding.”

In true apostolic fashion, he traveled tirelessly around the world, lecturing, writing, preaching, and conducting retreats.  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.

At the center of these celebrations, retreats, and lectures stood Panikkar himself and his arresting personality.  People who heard or encountered him could not help but be struck by this physically small man who in his earlier days was like a cluster of fireworks exploding in an array of shapes and colors.  Here is what the great Mexico poet Octavio Paz, who was his country’s ambassador to India from 1962-1968, had to say about him:

It is impossible not to recall a Catalan Hindu, both a  theologian and

a migratory bird in all climates from Benares to Santa Barbara,

California:  Raimundo Panikkar.  A man of electric intelligence,

with whom I would spend hours discussing some controversial point

in the Gita or Buddhist sutra—I have never heard anyone attack

the heresy of Buddhism with such furious dialectics as Panikkar

(In Light of India 209).

In later life, his persona managed to combine the dignity of a sage, the profundity of a scholar, the depth of a contemplative, and the warmth and charm of a friend in his effervescent personality.  An Australian friend of his, Dr. Meath Conlan, mentions having dinner with him at his home when the phone rang.  It was the Pope calling from the Vatican, seeking Panikkar’s advice on how best to handle the aftermath caused by his ill-advised remarks about the Prophet Mohammed in his Regensburg Address of 2006.

He is well known to readers of this journal as a great scholar of both the Hindu and Christian traditions and the dialogue between them.  The 940 page translation and commentary of the Vedas and the Upanishads, published as The Vedic Experience: Mantramanjari, is a sensitive hermeneutical study that attempts to bring the ancient Vedic world alive as a resource for contemporary celebration.  Likewise, his account of Hindu myths in Myth, Faith, and Hermeneutics tries to bring out their deeper cross-cultural philosophical resonance.

Critics, of course, charged him with proffering a Christian interpretation of Hinduism to which his wry response often was that he had a Hindu interpretation of Christianity.  The point for Panikkar as a thinker was to move beyond labels and the conventional ideas they carry to deeper spiritual truth.  Indeed, one of the main purposes of inter-religious dialogue for Panikkar is the intra-religious dialogue it should spark and the discovery of often hidden treasures in one’s own tradition.

Perhaps the most daring of Panikkar’s attempts at charting a Hindu-Buddhist-Christian spirituality within a still Christian self-understanding came in his early and path-breaking little book first published in 1970 as The Trinity and World Religions.  Here he imposed a Trinitarian structure on Hinduism and an advaitic structure on Christianity, both “trinity and “advaita” being alternative symbols for the cosmotheandric Mystery.  Drawing on traditional and unacknowledged, submerged dimensions of the Christian trinity, Panikkar attempted to connect Buddhism with the silent, self-emptying dimension of the Father; Christianity, Judaism and Islam, as religions of the word, with the Son, the incarnate Word; and advaitic Hinduism with the immanent, radically inner dimension of the Spirit.  In doing so it was not his purpose imperialistically to provide a Christian grid onto which other traditions could be forced.  Rather, taking Christianity as his point of departure, he wanted to show that Christianity has no monopoly on Trinitarian understanding and that such understanding enriched by the contributions of different traditions can in fact deepen and transform all of them.

It is important, however, to balance this account of Panikkar as thinker with the stress he placed on living an authentic life.  “My aspiration,” he would often say, “does not consist so much in defending my truth, but rather in living it out.”  As one of his students speaking for many put it, “He integrated intellect, commitment, and practice in a very important and inspirational way for so many of us.  Many of our lives and paths have benefitted from his touch.”

To cite just one example of that commitment, in September 1994 at the age of 76 Panikkar made a pilgrimage of almost a month to Mount Kailash.  He had a weak heart, and the doctors were against it, but Panikkar was determined.  Anyone who has been on such a pilgrimage can vouch for its hazards—there are no resources for rescue and hardly any medical amenities.  It was in part a fulfillment of a promise to his Hindu, Saivite father.  As Panikkar wrote after the expedition

I have always been more inclined to the spiritual pilgrimage.  And

yet that memory of a hindu father telling his teen-age son

about Kailasa reverberated in him when the occasion arose to join the

last batch of sadhus the Chinese would allow in 1959.  He had then

to renounce by virtue of ‘holy’ (christian) obedience, and later on

due to other reasons, not the least his heart not supporting high altitudes.

By an inexplicable synchronicity of events he found himself this time

almost led to undertake the pilgrimage which for him was likely to

be not only ultimate but final (Setu ed. Bettina Baeumer, January 1996, 8)

Sixteen years later, Panikkar did indeed embark on a pilgrimage both ultimate and final.  May God and the gods grant him rest in the Great Source which he sought with such intensity and single-mindedness during his earthly sojourn.

Joseph Prabhu

Philosophy Department

California State University, Los Angeles

September 20, 2010