Raimon Panikkar was born in Barcelona, Spain on November 3, 1918. His mother was a Catholic and his father a Hindu. Due to this synthesis of the east and the west, Panikkar from an early age exhibited an openness towards other cultures and religions. His life as a Roman Catholic priest in the diocese of Varanasi enabled him to specialize himself in various Indian cultures and religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Panikkar saw the fragmentation of reality as the root cause of all the evil in the world. He makes a mention of this conviction of his as early as in 1944 where he expresses his regret in the life of modern society. He points out the defects of the worldview of modern people, in which God, self, and the universe are generally considered in isolation from each other. He argued, the need of a contemporary synthesis of the three to solve the restlessness and anxiety of modern people. Over the decades he gradually developed this theme into the cosmotheandric insight which asserts that these three realities are constitutive of each other. In other words, these realities are interconnected: we cannot speak on one aspect of reality with the exclusion of the other two.
Striving for Unity as a Constitutive Part of Being Human
Man’s innate thirst for unity and harmony can in no way be put aside as mere dreams that are debunked by analytic and positive thinking at present. Panikkar invites us to look into the old and venerable polarity that seems to lie at the very beginning of reflexive consciousness. The conflict between One and the Many, which has occupied Man at least since Plato in the West and the Upanishads in the East, is perhaps the central question of the human mind.The thinkers who followed attempted to solve the issue by choosing one position over the other and provided us with arguments to support the same. However, what was not taken into consideration was the fact that the problem lies not in unity or plurality but what joins them, in their synthesis. Panikkar says: “Is there any link between an ultimately rigid and deadly monism on the one hand and an ultimately anarchic and equally fatal plurality on the other? At our present juncture in consciousness, we cannot irresponsibly accept either of these two human experiences as a solution. We have lived through the consequences of both options long enough and intensively enough to put us on our guard lest we make the same mistakes.”
Panikkar also recognizes that this striving for unity seems to be a constitutive part of being human. “Nothing less than unity, nothing less than truth will ever satisfy Man.” Stressing that truth is not a private value he continues, “Intelligibility demands a reduction to unity, and love tends to union. This thirst for unity is not only ontological and epistemological (unity of being, unity of intellection), it is also sociological and political (unity of humankind, unity of civilizations).”  In Panikkarian view the basis for such a thirst is the tendency of people towards assimilation and socialization.
Panikkar presents some of the ways in which various philosophies attempted to solve the problem of unity and diversity. He deals with monism, dualism, non-dualism and pluralism.
Monism offers the essential oneness of God and the world; thus it denies every essential difference between the different realms of objects. In monism there is no difference between matter and spirit, living and non-living substances, etc. Monism begins with the true principle that existence is one but to say that there can be only one existent following from one existence and all things have one and the same essence cannot be accepted. It can be said that all forms of monism seem contrary to experience.
In a monistic world view, there is no legitimate place for diversity. It is at the most tolerated with kindness and patience (sometimes without them). He does not say that monism is a bad solution. But the acceptance of this view gives rise to concepts such as one Empire, one God, one Civilization, one Party, one Technology, etc. It can only speak of tolerating the other until the other is conquered, converted, convinced or indoctrinated as the weaker position. Dictatorship is a perfect example of taking monism to its end. We can also speak of a dictatorship of big brother – whatever position he holds – with all the subservient machines and bureaucratic organs to support him. Though not patent in the beginning, the situation will appear as soon as the mythical structures are called into question. So Panikkar is of the opinion that monism is ultimately explosive.
Taking dualism as a solution highlights the basic difference that exists in reality between contingent and absolute existence (world and God). In contrast to monism it often signifies a totally unrelated duality. It can also mean the distinction that is usually drawn between mind and body. For Panikkar dualism is a genuine dialectical method. Co-existence is the ground rule which enables the dialectical exchange to take place on all levels. True dualism implies that both the parties accept the dialectical game. It can function only when one and the many are more or less equally powerful. However, co-existence is allowed as long as the other does not question our existence.
“Again I am not saying that dualism is a bad or wrong option,” says Panikkar, “perhaps in some instances it is the only realistic one.” In reference to reality as a whole, dualism cannot satisfy the human longing for synthesis. The human mind thirsts for something more than mutual co-existence.
Non-dualism, according to Panikkar, is the third way of which the present generation is becoming increasingly aware, though it has existed along with the others since the very beginning. This way is only a repetition of what was emphasized in the other two cases. It validates both of the other fundamental options. Though it calls for overcoming tensions without the destruction of positive values, it leaves us with a stifling attitude ennerving us in the face of conflictive situations. As a matter of fact, dualism is praiseworthy in the absence of conflicts, but as we are aiming at a worldview that would fit into all situations non-dualism too fails to meet the standards.
Though Panikkar treats pluralism in a radical and at the same time intelligible way, his pluralism is different from most pluralists. Pluralism usually signifies that reality can be broken up into a number of different spheres which can in no way be reduced to a unity. Such a view is ultimately unstable as it will lead to chaos in society the moment it is taken to its logical consequences. It will lead to deep conflicts especially in areas where a common value system must be presupposed in order to arrive at common social and political action in a particular society. He says:”Pluralism is today a human existential problem which raises acute questions about how we are going to live our lives in the midst of so many options. Pluralism is no longer just the schoolbook question about the one and many; it has become a concrete day-to-day dilemma occasioned by the encounter of mutually incompatible worldviews and philosophies. Today we face pluralism as the very practical questions of planetary human coexistence.”
Panikkarian pluralism takes a different outlook. In his view pluralism becomes a problem “when we dismiss the other from a unity which somehow encompasses both of us even though we are unable to agree with (or even understand) the other party.” The unity that he is speaking of is a binding force that is above human nature. As a result we can neither dispense with nor break this unity. Though pluralism as understood in general cannot provide us with an ultimate solution, the Panikkarian pluralism forms the basis of his cosmotheandric vision which will be dealt with in the following chapters.
Man is faced with a terrifying dilemma. Panikkar says that the “failure of a unifying Science, Philosophy or Religion coupled with the all-too-vivid experience of fanaticism, dictatorship and human exploitation of every kind in the name of one God, truth, religion, party or system are too painful, devastating and recent for us not to be forever leary of unitarian visions and monolithic systems.” How can we, then, have a solution that can be applied to all walks of life?
Every solution that was presented as a way to solve the dilemma can work as a temporary arrangement to escape the question regarding the ultimate unity. None of them can provide a definitive solution. This calls for an open horizon. Panikkar says that it is needed all the more today when our world becomes the entire planet and technology unifies the means of handling our common human conditions.
This expanding horizon brings one to the need for preserving distinctions as well as accommodating differences between beliefs and certainties of truth. In our times there is no other way but to respect the diversities. Does this mean an open horizon will lead to relativism when it comes to questions regarding truth and objectivity? If everyone’s horizon is equally valuable is it possible to have any objective view of reality? The open horizon presented by Panikkar leads to a pluralism that accommodate every element of reality and forms them to a unified whole. He calls such a world view the Cosmotheandric Vision.
- Cf. Raimon Panikkar, “Faith and Belief: A Multireligious Experience: an Objectified Autobiographical Fragment,” in Anglican Theological Review, 53, 4 (1971) p. 222.
- Cf. Raimon Panikkar, “Vision de Sintesis del Universo,” in Arbor, 1, 1 (1944) pp. 5-12. As cited in Edward Ulrich, “Convergences and Divergences: The Lives of Swami Abhishiktananda and Raimundo Panikkar,” in Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies, 24, 9, in http://digitalcommons.butler.edu/ cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1486&context=jhcs (December 16, 2015).
- Cf. Raimon Panikkar, The Cosmotheandric Experience: Emerging Religious Consciousness (ed.) Scott Eastham (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1983) p. 6.
- Cf. Raimon Panikkar, “The Myth of Pluralism: The Tower of Babel – A Meditation on Non-violence,” in Cross Currents, 29, 2 (1979) p. 206.
- Panikkar, The Cosmotheandric Experience, p. 7.
- Cf. Ibid.
- Cf. Walter Brugger, “Monism,” Philosophical Dictionary (ed.) Kenneth Baker (Washington: Gonzago University Press, 1972) p. 254.
- Cf. Brugger, “Monism,” Philosophical Dictionary, p. 255.
- Cf. Panikkar, “The Myth of Pluralism,” p. 207.
- Cf. Ibid., p. 206.
- Cf. Panikkar, The Cosmotheandric Experience, p. 9.
- Cf. Alexander Willwol, “Dualism,” Philosophical Dictionary (ed.) Kenneth Baker (Washington: Gonzago University Press, 1972) p. 102.
- Cf. Thomas Nagel, “Dualism,” The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (ed.) Ted Honderich (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 206.
- Panikkar, “The Myth of Pluralism,” p. 207.
- Ibid., p. 208.
- Ibid., p. 209.
- Francis X. D’Sa, “Raimon Panikkar’s Pluralism,” in Jeevadhara: A Journal for Socio-Religious Research, 41, 245 (2011) p. 345.
- Walter Kerber, “Pluralism,” Philosophical Dictionary (ed.) Kenneth Baker (Washington: Gonzago University Press, 1972) p.311.
- Panikkar, The Cosmotheandric Experience, p. 8.
- Kerber, “Pluralism,” p. 312.
- Panikkar, “The Myth of Pluralism,” 201.
- Ibid., 208.
- The term ‘Man,’ as used by Panikkar denotes the androgynous human being. Here he means human being in its totality. He himself clarifies this. He says, “Two reasons compel me to write Man with a capital letter: A) to indicate that it means the human being in its totality and thus includes the male and the female; b) to imply that Man is an irreducible reality standing side by side with all the necessary ontological distinctions, with God and the world. See Panikkar, The Cosmotheandric Experience, 3, n. 8. See also Panikkar, The Unknown Christ of Hinduism, ix, n. 1.
- Panikkar, The Cosmotheandric Experience, 8.
- The term horizon is found in a philosophical sense in Husserl’s phenomenology which he used to mean a background against which other things are seen. See Kenneth Baker, “Horizon,” Philosophical Dictionary, (ed.) Kenneth Baker (Washington: Gonzago University Press, 1972) p.177.
- Cf. George Thadathil, “Raimon Panikkar: His Cosmotheandric Vision,” Raimon Panikkar: Being Being Beyond Borders, ed. Johnson J. Puthenpurackal (Bangalore: Asian Trading Corporation, 2012) p. 67.