Skyline, Fall - 2010

By Diane Pendola

I Call You Friend

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"That is Wholeness, this is Wholeness,
From Wholeness comes Wholeness.
If Wholeness is taken from Wholeness,

Wholeness still remains."

Upanishadic Invocation
From "The Rhythm of Being"

By Raimon Panikkar

My dear spiritual master and friend, Raimon Panikkar died on August 26. He was 91years old. On September 4, the day of his memorial at the sacred site of the Black Madonna at Montserrat outside of Barcelona, at the very hour that his friends were gathering both in body and in spirit to remember the depth and breadth of his presence, the earth shook on the other side of the world at Christ Church, New Zealand. My friend Scott Eastham, who lives in New Zealand and was a close colleague of Panikkar, called my attention to reports about the quake and the amazing synchronicity of timing. Scott reported that geologists thought that the main shock actually consisted of three earthquakes following in quick succession, and that scientists investigating found that the 7.1 magnitude earthquake had not occurred on a known fault. Other reports were declaring it a "miracle" that such a powerful earthquake had not resulted in loss of human life.

The very reporting of these facts appears to me as a song to the life of Raimon Panikkar who, in many respects, rocked Christianity down to its radical core. He was an inter-faith philosopher who re-interpreted the Christian understanding of the Trinity, articulating it as a rich symbol of the triadic and thoroughly interrelational nature of the whole of reality. The reporting of this quake could be read as a poem to his spirit: Death of contemporary inter-faith philosopher and saint rocks Christ’s Church at its foundations. Cosmotheandric visionary makes his presence felt through a trinity of interrelated tremors, an earthquake reverberating throughout the three worlds: quaking the earth, stirring the human heart, trembling forth from the core of Mystery: A genuine cosmotheandric event. In by-gone days this story would become the stuff of myth and legend. But we do not live in a time that honors saints or listens to the whispered voices of gods or angels as the Greek hero Ulysses did in the time of his great odyssey. In my time, how will I sing the song, write the poem? Raimon’s narrative reverberates with the power of a resurrection story. How do I spell out the words of resurrection in my life?

The restful mind of the sage becomes the mirror of the universe.1

We gathered here at Skyline during the month of September for an Earth Liturgy to honor Raimon and to feel his presence, to re-member him in our hearts, minds and bodies. Yakshi, a cherished friend of Raimon’s, whose husband Roger died suddenly of a heart attack in February, articulated her growing sense of responsibility. Roger worked closely with Raimon over the least decade and both Yakshi and Roger helped with the editing of his recently published book "Rhythm of Being," considered to be the culmination of his life’s work. Yakshi shared that over recent days she had been sitting with this sense of extraordinary responsibility that was being passed to her through these two beloved men, Raimon and Roger. Life is our Being and conscious life our most primordial activity.2 She reflected how these words were reverberating in her, calling her to mindfulness, to contemplation, to a deepening of authentic life.

Authentic life, conscious life, was the invitation that all who knew him received from Raimon Panikkar. From the time I first met him as a 19 year old religious studies student, the light of his personal presence radiated with authenticity. It drew me to him but more importantly it drew me into myself, into the promise at the center of my own Being. Through him I found the confidence in myself to begin the journey towards what he called 'a new innocence', conquering the fear in my own heart, and the laziness and inertia of my own mind, to uncover the freedom that is "our personal calling."3 With Yakshi, I feel the responsibility not only to live that fullness of life which he embodied but also to share it as generously.

Now the torch has been passed. The students become the masters. We are responsible for tending the fire that has been lit within us, stirred into radiance by the spirit of this man whose luminous presence breathed confidence into our timidity and liberated us from the despair of inadequacy. Now his presence is as close as the breath, as near as the Christ with whom he is now intimately united. I am not trying to make of Panikkar a "god" except that we are all made in the image and likeness of God and to live into the fullness of our divinity is our human calling. I learned this from him, too. And to have had the opportunity to walk and talk and be anointed by this man, who realized the fullness of Life in the season of his time, is a blessing for which I am eternally grateful.

Raimon’s last words were shared, with the community of people who loved him, through Milena Carrara who was with him before he slipped into a coma. She writes: "On Saturday morning, as always, we read the Gospel for the day (Mathew 23, 1-12), which speaks of the Scribes and the Pharisees sitting on the chair of Moses, and of the exhortation of Jesus not to call anyone a teacher because there is only one teacher, Christ. Raimon commented: "You see, it doesn’t say 'me, Jesus', but Christ, that is to say the Spirit which speaks within us and whose voice can only be heard in the silence of a pure heart, emptied of the personal ego". Then he gave me some advice, which of course applies to all of us: "Continue to look with your own eyes, to listen with your own ears and to speak with your own words, without mediating or compromising: the true teacher is within you".4

This email came to me on August 31. I was struck with the resonance of Raimon’s last words to Milena with the truth I felt in my own heart after hearing of his passing. I wrote in my journal on August 27: You awakened me to the Christ within me: the one true Teacher, and Master and Friend.

I honor Panikkar by doing the work he did; by continuing his work and his spirit through my own unique contribution. To be ready to die for one’s own ideas may be fanaticism, he wrote, but not living up to one’s own convictions is cowardice. One dies for one’s faith when one lives by it.5 I think about the women I work with who are doing long prison sentences at the biggest women’s prison in the world in Central California. I pray I can be for them what Raimon has been–and still is–for me. I pray that I can catalyze their own inner spirit, awaken them to their own unique gifts, inspire self-confidence and hope in the invisible depths of their own hearts. Because this man lived and touched my life, I feel the impossible becoming possible. I feel his life coming alive in me. I feel his light radiating through me. Can we change the world? Yes! Must we change the world? Yes! Where do we start? Start where you stand!

When I first started the prison work 25 years ago, I wanted to change the "evil system" yet lacked cosmic confidence. Who was I to have any impact? I lacked degrees, credibility, experience. Now I know "I" (of the Thou) am the only one who can. This is the legacy of Panikkar. That you, as well as I, are not an insignificant quantity, a number among billions of numbers, inconsequential and impotent. You and I are expressions of the infinite potentiality of the universe actualized through our human Being.

I called Raimon Panikkar my teacher. I called him my spiritual master. I called him my spiritual father. But now, I call him friend. This is the most intimate, the most true name I have–the gift he has given–dear friend.

1 Quoted in The Rhythm of Being by Raimon Panikkar, Orbis Books, 2010, p. 13
2The Rhythm of Being, p. 276
3Ibid, p. 6
4Email correspondence, August 31, 2010
5The Rhythm of Being, p. 13



©Diane Pendola, Fall 2010. You are welcome to print or make a copy in electronic form for personal use or sharing with interested persons as long as the copyright notice is not removed or altered. Please do not print it in any other publication, or sell it, by itself or as part of another work, without express written permission of the author.

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