Raimundo (Raimon) Panikkar
RAIMON PANIKKAR - Il filo D'oro - YouTube from decaone on Vimeo.
TOWERS OF BABEL OR BRIDGES OF UNDERSTANDING?
THE ENCOUNTER OF RELIGIONS:
THE UNAVOIDABLE DIALOGUE
By Raimon Panikkar
mê phylax tou adelphou mou eimi ego?
Are we perchance responsible for our brethren?1
(Genesis, IV, 9)
Tat tu samamvayât.
Yes! Due to the mysterious and all-embracing harmony.2
(Brahma Sûtra, I, 1, 4)
The Encounter of Religions is:
I. A vital necessity
1. At the personal level
2. At the level of religious traditions
3. At the historical level
Therefore the dialogue of religions has to be:
1. Nobody is excluded a priori
2. Nothing is left out on principle
3. It is constitutively open
1. It is an innermost questioning
2. It strikes to the innermost heart of the partners
3. It takes place at the heart of reality
1. It is not a private affair
2. It is of a political nature
3. It has political contents
1. It pierces through the logos and leaves the mythos open
2. It strives to participate in the pisteuma*
Panikkar uses this Greek neologism to express something seminal to the understanding of the human being and his cultures: “The pisteuma is needed to understand the end of the human phenomenon, that is, the religious act”. The foundation of his understanding is that “the belief of the believer belongs essentially to the phenomenon of human belief, and the human self-understand belongs essentially to human being” (“Philosophy as lifestyle”).
To truly know what man is, it is necessary to know what man believes, his beliefs and his religion, since faith is a fundamental part of human being and religion a fundamental part of human cultures (The intrareligious dialogue). Moreover, for Raimon Panikkar, the religious dimension is so fundamental to the human being that it is his distinctive anthropological feature.
The religious phenomenon is not a noema, an idea or a meaning, something intellectual or intelligible, but rather a pisteuma. Thus, it does it does not pertain to the logical order of what is thought, but of what is believed. A human being is essentially a religious being, and the religious dimension has been and always will be a fundamental element of persons and cultures, both in the East and in the West in spite of the present day secularity attacks in the West.
Panikkar is convinced that human experience clearly shows that deprived of faith man would not know how to bear the weight of existence and would even end up destroying himself. This makes faith not the luxury of a chosen few, but rather an essential anthropological dimension.
In this regard, Panikkar often likes to speak of the “third eye” of the 12th century Victorines (cf. later entry), the third dimension of reality, faith as an experience and knowledge that is neither rational nor irrational, but rather of a different order.
Religion and culture are essentially related: “Religion gives to culture its ultimate content, culture gives to religion its language” (La nueva inocencia).
3. The mythos sets the limits of dialogue
1. Experience of one's own inadequacy
2. Purification of religions
3. A religious act
1. A holistic activity
2. Liturgical nature
3. Cosmic role
1. Always provisional
3. Constitutively incomplete
Although both the concept and the name 'religion' are relatively modern
and one-sided, human beings have always known something like religion. Man
is homo religiosus, insofar as the human race has always posed ultimate
questions to itself. Such questions bring about the deepest communication
between people, and questions always aim for dialogue.
A typology of the encounters between religions would point up the
following kairological moments:3
1. Isolation and ignorance
2. Indifference and contempt
3. Rejection and conquest
4. Coexistence and communication
5. Appropriation and dialogue
It is about this dialogue we wish to speak.
To be fruitful, the dialogue of religions must be a genuine dialogue.4 The
following sûtras, which portray several qualities of this dialogue, are like nine
threads (sûtra) woven into a single garland (mâlâ), which ought to be taken as
The dialogue of religions is:
I. A vital necessity
Of course the religions of the world do encounter one another, sometimes
even peaceably, though more often in confrontation and conflict. This kind of
encounter is generally due to political activities. Wars, migrations, trade, as
well as the personal encounters of travelers, slaves, merchants and
missionaries, have all contributed to the reciprocal influences of religions upon
one another. The meeting of religions is so vital that, in fact, nearly all of
today's great religions are the fruits of such encounters. What would
christianity today be without the deep syncretism stemming from its jewish,
greek, roman, irish, and germanic religious roots? What would what we call
hinduism be without the contributions of the numerous religions of the indic
But what formerly took place though slow assimilation, through osmosis
and reactions to encounters either spontaneous or consciously sought, has in
our times radically accelerated and widened. In some cases, discerning minds
have guided the dialogue. But today dialogue is not a luxury or a side-issue.
The ubiquity of modern science and technology, of world markets and
international organizations and transnational corporations, as also the
countless migrations of workers and other population strata, along with millions
of refugees -- not to mention tourists! -- renders the dialogue of cultures and
religions indispensable, unless we all want to fall into a uniform monoculture
which can only impoverish life. Our current problems of justice, ecology, and
peace-keeping require the mutual understanding of human beings. But
understanding is impossible without dialogue.
This vital necessity may be expressed at three distinct levels:
1. At the personal level
Modern individualism which, mainly in western countries, has seeped
slowly and unobtrusively into human consciousness to become an essential
ingredient of the modern myth, is gradually giving way -- in the West itself -- to
what has been called dialogical philosophy: "Esse est co-esse," "Sein ist
Dasein," "I and Thou are essentially interrelated," "Mensch is Mitmensch,"
"Welt ist Umwelt," "Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia," "Ecology is ecosophy,"
"Thinking is dialogical thinking," "Man is androgynous," "Freedom grows with
the recognition of responsibility," "There is no private language," "Reality is
cosmotheandric" -- are just some brief formulations which point to the recovery
of an ancient consciousness, although on a new level indeed.5
Perhaps we could summarize our problematic in a phrase: Man is not an
individual, a monad. Man is rather a person, a bundle of relationships. And
human relationships require dialogue.
In so many words, without dialogue, without a dialogical life, Man cannot
attain a fully human condition. Man is animal loquens. But linguisticality is not
only external communication; it is most of all inner communion.
Dialogue cannot be confined to an exchange of ideas with one's
neighbors. Man cannot be reduced to an individual. The principle of
individuation must be distinguished from the principle of singularity.6 An
unfragmented anthropology would show that Man is (and not only has) body
sôma), soul (psychê), community (polis), and world (aiôn).7
Nor can dialogue be limited to minor topics. The ultimate questions of
human existence demand more than polling the opinions of others; they require
us to enter deeply into the very mystery of reality. And precisely for this,
dialogue is necessary. It includes meditation. In a word: Man is a dialogical
being. Dialogue is a necessity for being human. To be sure, this does not
mean just empty chatter, but genuine religious dialogue.
2. At the level of religious traditions
Today all the 'Berlin Walls' of individualistic religious postures are
collapsing, along with the apartheid of exclusivistic belief systems. Not only
from a sociological point of view are people living in a 'supermarket' of ethnic
'groups,' religious 'ways,' and lifestyle 'options.' From an anthropological
viewpoint as well, people can no longer lock themselves up behind safe pillars
of orthodoxy. In the school, at the office, in the family, even on the Internet, the
most divergent religious (and also anti-religious) positions come into close
contact -- which can be unsettling.
We might prefer things to be otherwise, but it cannot be denied that
modern life challenges each of us in the religious depths of our being. To
maintain a superficial peace of mind, religious questions are often banished,
and religion excluded from the school, the office, the parliament, the
marketplace -- in a word, from public life. The religious urge then seeks outlets
in sports, works, drugs...
But this is never enough, never satisfactory. We must learn to better
handle our religious impulse in other ways.
Has the desacralized West not yet understood from the sustained protest
of Islam anything at all about the price of obliging everybody to fit into the same
flat pattern of modern commercial life?
Religions as institutions, no matter how loose and flexible their structures,
simply cannot escape the benign but also disturbing winds of ecumenism.
There arise on every level all sorts of mutual influences, bound up with the
resulting eclecticisms, syncretisms, inculturations, and also fundamentalisms,
of every stripe. All such phenomena stem from these unavoidable encounters.
There have always been mutual influences. But now the winds are
blowing not only from the most diverse corners, and often in opposing
directions, but they are redoubling their force to the extent that no single
compass can be relied upon to guide us safely through the squalls on today's
ocean of faith.
In short: Traditional religions are headed for shipwreck if they batten down
their hatches and try to ride out the storm alone in these conflicting currents.
Yet by the same token, they will lose their anchors, their very identity, if they try
to avoid the dangers of life on the open sea by seeking safe harbor in the past.
One might say that the time of religious 'party politics' is gone. But we have
also to consider that sweeping away all traditions and uprooting every deepseated
custom will not free us from further religious wars, and that new brands
of religion will arise at once to replace them.
Dialogue takes the middle way between the old and the new and makes
possible a creative transformation of historical traditions. Without dialogue,
religions become tangled up in themselves or slip their moorings altogether.
Indeed, one sees more and more clearly today that no tradition has sufficient
power within itself to fulfill its own self-acknowledged role. Either they open up
to one another, or they degenerate. And when dialogue is thwarted -- maybe
because it is taken for treason to a given tradition -- old and new species of
fundamentalisms instantly crop up. Dialogue is in fact a vital necessity.
3. At the historical level
Man is an essential dimension of the cosmos. Human beings cannot live,
in the deepest and widest sense of the word, without religion. The destiny of
humankind depends on whether a genuine religiousness at once links (religat)
people with the entire reality and safeguards their freedom (ontonomy). But
the fate of the Earth is also at stake in human destiny. Nowadays human wars
kill not only people and their cultures, but also wreak havoc upon the natural
world. Modern warfare is no longer a solely human concern. It is ecologically
irresponsible to mobilize an army of half a million soldiers to defend some
political or economic status quo. The justified alarums of ecology are today
audible everywhere on the planet.
But mere eco-logy is not enough. A dialogue with the Earth is also
required. I have called this dialogical attitude ecosophy.8 The Earth is not just
an object, it is also a Thou for us, for Man, with whom we must also learn to
enter a dialogue. Thus we discover that ecosophy has a certain revelatory
role. Our dialogue with the Earth can reveal how things are going... for the
future, for the Earth; if we listen, the Earth herself may reveal, in theistic terms,
God's will regarding Man's task on this Earth. Or, in History of Religions'
terminology: The revelation of transcendence today comes to pass not only on
Sinai, or Mt. Meru, Fuji-san, Kailash, Kilimanjaro or Popcatepetl. The whole
Earth tells us that our destiny is linked (religatum) with her.
In a word: If a truly religious encounter between ourselves and with the
Earth does not take place, we shall end by annihilating life on this Earth. The
dialogue of religions is not merely an ecclesial or an officially 'religious' affair,
nor is it just an academic subject-matter, much less some new vogue because
maybe church services have become dull or their attendance fallen off. This
dialogue is the field in which the historical destiny of humankind may be played
out in a peaceful way. It is a vital necessity, a necessity for life.
I stress this first sûtra. Without such a dialogue of religions, the world
actually will collapse. Here the praxis is decisive, and each of us must
contribute to it. But the urgency of the task should not make us neglect other
important aspects of dialogue. We must consider these with all due serenity.
Good will alone is indeed not enough.
Thus the dialogue has to be:
Dialogue must be open. Openness belongs to the essence of dialogue.
Dialogue is not instruction or teaching. Every dialogue has two poles, and
neither pole can lay down the rules for dialogue on its own. This has a
1. Nobody can be excluded a priori
Not only is every human being allowed to take part in this dialogue, but
every ideology, worldview, and philosophy has the right to participate as well.
So-called religions have no monopoly on religion -- regardless of whether the
name "religion" is the best, the only, or the most appropriate name.9 What is
understood by religion needs to be spelled out in the dialogue. If it is to be a
dialogue about the ultimate questions of life and death, then a marxist, a
humanist, or a scientist has equal speaking rights with any so-called religious
person. If one party wants to end the dialogue, the other party should,
however, always stay open to continuing it. Dialogue keeps the doors open.
In this sense, the expression "encounter" or "dialogue" of "religions"
should not be mistaken for the undertaking of any special group or closed- door
assembly. Religion here must at least mean agora, arena, kuruksetra, the
place where human beings -- together with the Earth below and the Sky above
-- gather to sincerely discuss what matters most to them, their ultimate (and
ultimately common) concerns. All are invited, by rights and by their own lights,
to the feast of Life.
2. Nothing should be left out on principle
The community of dialogue is not a professional society for experts. It has
to do with the most deeply human concerns. Dialogue may implicitly aspire to
certain answers, but cannot exclude any answer a priori. You have to let all
possible questions arise and take shape whatever shape they will take within
the dialogue itself.
Not everybody sees every problem the same way. Dialogue has no set
agenda, still less a hidden one. Everything may be called into question, even
the appropriateness of dialogue, and of course the initial standpoints of the
Undoubtedly dialogue represents a real risk. You could lose your own
standpoint, you could even reverse your own position. Conversion is possible,
but also confusion. Everything is at stake. So dialogue requires an enormous
confidence in Man -- and in that power, order, or reality that lets Man be Man.
One can easily understand, and even approve, the warnings made by official
institutions against the dangers of dialogue. Reverends, Eminences, and
Holinesses are well within their rights and duties to utter such warnings. Maybe
people were indeed happier before they knew how to read and write, as the
Pharoah once upon a time complained and Socrates knew all too well. But
once we have eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, once we
have been condemned by God to be a philosopher... Or should I invoke
Prometheus? There are paths you can't double-back on, as Job remarked!
We want to stress explicitly that neither "God" nor "religion" are necessary
assumptions for dialogue. But we have somehow to name this dialogue, and
old habits tend to bring such expressions to hand. Their use also hinges on
the fact that initiatives for dialogue often come from such sources. But it is all a
question, basically, of open dialogue between people concerning the ultimate
questions of reality. Whether the language of the dialogue will tend toward a
more secular idiom today remains to be seen, and is of course part and parcel
of the dialogue itself. These days, genuine religious dialogue more often than
not centers on justice, peace, technocracy, and so on, rather than on hell,
nirvâna, or God.
3. The dialogue remains constitutively open
Dialogue is not some provisional device intended to help people reach
unanimity. The goal of dialogue is not the removal of diverse opinions, or the
uniformity of the world, or the creation of a single world religion -- as if reality
itself could or should be reduced to a single principle. This might be an
unexpected outcome of the dialogue, but it cannot be an assumption.
Something would be lost if the pluralistic constitution of truth were to be
questioned. Truth can be reduced neither to unity nor to multiplicity. Truth is
always relation, connection, and admits neither singularity nor plurality.10
Dialogue is an expression of this polarity, inherent to Man and reality as
such. Truth itself does not have an exclusively objective structure, since the
seeker also belongs to it -- and there are different seekers. Truth is always
relational. Every human being is an ontonomous source of self-understanding.
The world cannot be completely seen and interpreted through any single
window: We are not only in a world, we are world. Dialogue is a fruit of the
human experience of contingency. No individual, no human group, not even all
humanity living at any given time, can embody the absolute measure of truth.
Contingency means that we touch (tangere) our limits, and that our limits touch
us (cum-tangere). The constitution of Man and reality as a whole is dialogical -
- trinitarian, I would say -- which means that it cannot be reduced to any kind of
monism or dualism.
In other words, the open character of dialogue belongs to the very nature
of reality. The polarity of reality is a feature of its liveliness. Dialogue is not
aimed at the victory of one partner over the other; it is essentially a constitutive
aspect of human life, of Life as a whole, and of Being itself.
Dialogue is not mere talk. It comes from a deeper and more internal
source than stimulation by others. This source might be called silence, or
maybe just the human thirst for truth. Its very heart is our human awareness of
the interconnectedness of all things. Without such interiority, dialogue will be
trapped in a superficial exchange of opinions. If dialogue is to be any more
than manipulating ideas, it has to issue from the deepest recesses of our
being. In so many words: The intra-religious dialogue is a necessary
foundation for inter-religious dialogue. And this interiority is also threefold:
1. Dialogue begins with an innermost questioning
The buddhist tradition calls this attitude the Great Doubt, the christian
compunctio cordis, pentos, and mumuksutva is the hindu name. A
philosophical concept that would serve is humility (De-mut), the courage (der
Mut) to be the servant of a truth that does not belong to you alone.
In other words: If I do not question myself, if I do not feel that quaestio nihi
factus sum (I have become a question to myself) of an Augustine; or if I lack a
Shankara's fervent longing for liberation; i.e., if I am not ready to give up my
security or lose my life, as the Gospel would say; if I do not cast myself down at
the feet of the master, as in vedanta; if I am not aware of my contingency or
sinfulness, ignorance, or desires, and am not ready to trust in truth with my
whole heart and mind, then I am not ready for dialogue. Dialogue is nothing to
trifle with. It requires discipline, maturity, humility. If you already know
everything, you don't need dialogue.
Genuine dialogue begins with the sincere questioning of all my certainties
-- because I have realized, on the one hand, that I am a fragile vessel and, on
the other, that there are in this world other vessels at whose contents I can
scarcely guess. Dialogue is a basic human attitude. Certainly its ultimate
content is not just doctrine. Religion is neither objective doctrine nor subjective
viewpoint. Religious dialogue is neither the comparison of two objective states
of affairs, nor the confrontation of two subjective opinions; neither scholarly
exchange alone, nor solely ecclesial confession. It arises rather from the
innermost core of our self, when we discover we are neither absolute nor alone
in this world. You begin dialogue with yourself. In a certain sense it requires
the loss of innocence, of the first (pre-reflective) innocence. No wonder
dialogue presents itself as a way to salvation, transfiguration, enlightenment...
We discover it is not the work of our ego, since it is this very ego which must be
called into question.
If you have no doubts, if your opinion is already set, if you presume that
you have already grasped the whole truth, or that you need never lose your
(first) innocence, nor hold your peace in the face of mystery, then you surely
have no need for dialogue. Dialogue requires inner awareness.
2. Dialogue touches the innermost heart of the partners
You can compare ideas much as you might play cards. You can have
rewarding conversations much as you might make a profit in business.
But none of this is dialogue. Genuine religious dialogue only sets in when one
or the other partner feels concerned, threatened, encouraged, stimulated,
provoked, deeply stirred. Nicodemus was no coward when he showed himself
willing to go to the master by night for a secret dialogue. Didn't the apostles
run away when Jesus began a dialogue with the samaritan woman? I doubt
that such life-transforming dialogues could take place on television. Dialogue
is more confession than information.
Something happens in dialogue before the logos takes center stage. In
every genuine dialogue there is a silent moment which lets the dialogue
spontaneously emerge. Real dialogue is made possible by this previous mood,
this atmosphere which conveys us to where thoughts have their source, where
words take their power, where we meet each other as we truly are. All in all,
one could say that a certain sympathy must be there. When I am deeply
moved by reading a book, I want to get to know the author. Where I am taken
only by the thoughts, I might be curious to ask the author something further,
but the desire to get to know him better would not arise. Dialogue is not merely
teaching, as we have already said. Dialogue can produce "under-standing"
only when it "stands under" both grounds, as it were, letting the subterranean
streams flow freely. Dialogue breaks new ground by journeying into both the
background and the underground, the underworld. Not Hermes but Orpheus is
3. Dialogue takes place at the heart of reality
There is more still. Modern Man has become so anthropocenteric and
anthropomorphic that we need to be reminded that the hebrew nefresh means
at once life, heart and nature, as the japanese kokoro means heart, soul,
consciousness and feeling -- just to give two wholly independent examples.
The corpus Christi mysticum, the buddhakâya and the dharmakâya could also
be adduced here as examples of different cosmologies which believe that
communication does not require computers, and that the transformation and
renovation of reality follows other laws than solely those of propaganda and
A true contemplative, whether in her forest hut or in the midst of a big city,
can undertake a dialogue with wider consequences than any item of news,
however exciting, which will probably be replaced tomorrow by a more exciting
one. Shantideva is still alive today and engages us in dialogue not just by his
dialectical power, but because he was a holy Man living at the heart of reality.
Holy and wise people, seen phenomenologically, are precisely those human
beings who hold open the possibility of dialogue with us despite all the barriers
of space and time. Nature and animals also figure in dialogues with a good
number of holy people. Were they so idiotic as not to know what we all 'know,'
that such beings have no human intelligence? Or have we, perhaps, forgotten
that dialogue is more than an exchange of what has already been thought?
Are kâma, agapê, karunâ, love... only metaphors?
Dialogue has a mystical core not visible on the surface of human
realtionships. Something happens to the heart of each partner in dialogue, and
something also happens at the inner core of the world. Dialogue lets loose a
special karman, reaching into the mystical body of reality. When two wise
people are talking the world holds its breath, as the saying goes, catching the
spirit of this ancient truth.
Man is nonetheless homo loquens. Language is our gift, and speaking
our task. But human words are more than signs or signals for our feelings.
This world is a symbolic universe, and language the main human organ for
participating in the living symbolic reality of that universe. Here also we may
make a threefold distinction.
1. Dialogue is logos-freighted
There is actually no word without the quaternitas of speaker, spoken to,
spoken about, and spoken through, i.e., without sender, receiver, message,
and medium. A word is a sound uttered to a listener by somebody about
something. One could also say: subject, object, content, and means; or: Man,
consciousness, idea, and matter.11 Here we want to concentrate on the
intellectual side of the logos.
Dialogue is an activity of the human logos. It has to do with ideas,
thoughts, interpretations, doctrines, views and insights. Each of us is,
consciously or unconsciously, the carrier of a whole tradition, conveying an
entire world. Dialogue makes this explicit. We do not say only what we guess
or what occurs to us. Genuine dialogue is freighted with the burden and the
dignity of the speaker's tradition. In dialogue I express my thoughts; but these
thoughts, though thought by me, reveal a past and an environment of which I
am scarcely even aware. The partner discovers that I live and speak with tacit
presuppositions. And our speech also reveals the unspoken. When the village
elder closes his address in the palaver of an african village, the headman says:
"We understand both what you have said and what you have not said!" Here
we should strongly emphasize that in no genuine religious dialogue can the
Anstrengung des Begriffes ("struggle with concepts") be avoided. We are
dealing with states of affairs whose intelligibility cannot be sacrificed. It would
be irresponsible to involve oneself in dialogue about some religious view or
other without being thoroughly versed in it. There cannot, for instance, be
much fruitful dialogue about God, hell, karman or sûnyatâ, if we subscribe only
to ridiculous caricatures of such notions. We speak words, but words have
their own sense -- and even their own power. No responsible speaker can
ignore this sense or neglect this power. Awe before the word is the gateway to
We cannot emphasize this point strongly enough. Man speaks about
something. What is said does not completely 'cover' this something. The
'something' itself has an intelligible core. Man is not only reason, or only
reasonable, but without reason humanness is not possible. Reason itself is
participation in a supra-individual nomos.
2. Dialogue is also duologue
Dialogue requires the encounter, and may even demand the
confrontation, of two logoi. 'Duologue' does not mean two monologues, but
entrusting to the other (without talking down) ideas, thoughts, insights,
experiences -- lives -- which really meet, although they derive from distant
sources and may even clash. This requires that the dialogue go both ways
from the outset. Dialogue is not a one-way street. Wanting to understand the
other makes up only half the platform for a genuine dialogue. I myself have to
be ready to be understood by the partner, and also prepared for possible
misunderstanding. And the same goes for the other side. The other 'side' is
neither a wall nor a projection of myself. She is a real 'I,' i.e., an autonomous
source of self-consciousness, which reacts simultaneously to me in a mutual IThou
and Thou-I relationship. But in order to recognize the other as a Thou,
many an adventure must come to pass between us. "True dialogue is not a
monologue of the lonely thinker with himself," wrote Feueurbach, in forging a
place for the Thou.12
The vedantic tradition speaks of sravana (listening), manana (reflection),
and nididhyâsana (active contemplation) as a threefold method for duologue.
The christian may ask the buddhist why he does not acknowledge any God, but
should also let himself be asked why he does not acknowledge any sûnyatâ
(emptiness). The hindu may ask the muslim how he can avoid theocracy, but
she in turn must allow herself to be asked how she can overcome anarchy,
especially moral anarchy. In other words: Dialogue actually has to run in two
directions. It has to be inter-cultural and inter-religious. Duologue is not aimed
at eliciting correct answers to a given set of questions. Questions are also
addressed to us, although they may not be our own original queries.
The word duologue also contains another important and often forgotten
meaning. We say duologue and not multilogue. A duologue is possible when
a common field can be established in which the discussion is meaningful.
Each language is dialogical, because it is directed to a listener -- or to those
who understand that language. The hindu-christian dialogue, for instance,
builds a language which is not suitable for a jewish-christian dialogue. Here we
have to withstand the modern temptation, originating in the natural sciences, of
wanting to arrive at universal laws by reducing all phenomena to fit scientific
parameters. People and cultures are qualitatively different and simply do not
allow themselves to be reduced to any common (even if qualitative)
3. Dialogue means bilingualism
To believe that through a single language we should have access to
universal thinking and to human experience altogether, is yet one more
remnant of a (generally unconscious) colonialistic attitude. A genuine dialogue
not only requires that each partner express herself, but that each speak her
own language. Not everything can be said in english -- leaving aside the fact
that only ten percent of humankind thinks in this language. Not even indoeuropean
languages are the measure of all things. Syntax belongs to human
thinking. The simple fact of changing the disposition of a sentence already
betrays another structure of thinking. The word religion has a dozen
homeomorphic equivalents in the indic languages, just as in turn the word
dharma has scores of english equivalents.
Languages do not easily let themselves be dismembered into words.
Each language is a way of living, a way of being in the world, and reflects an
entire cosmology. If all people were to speak only a so-called lingua
universalis, this would be a devastating cultural and human impoverishment.
And here we are obliged to mention that lately the world is losing about a
hundred languages a year. There are cultural genocides! Dialogue, I repeat,
requires at least two languages to take part. No authentic dialogue can come
about if the Thou does not show herself in it. Dialogue happens between
people and not between ideas, still less between answering machines. But to
discover the Thou one has to go to the very source of the dialogue. One has to
really know the partner, not just hear what she says. Textual hermeneutics is
not enough. Rather, one has to understand, which implies real communication,
sympathy, and also love.
That each Man speaks his own language does not mean merely that each
uses his own grammar or brings in his own feelings about the world. It also
means that each Man is to be considered a unique source of selfunderstanding.
Exactly between sheer subjectivity and pure objectivity lies the
vital space for human dialogue and encounter. Man is Man in encounter.
In many countries of the world today, academics and churches enjoy the
freedom they do provided they do not threaten the status quo of the state.
Institutionalized religions can go on relatively undisturbed, so long as they
acknowledge the unquestionable sovereignty of the state -- although,
depending on the state, the scope of their freedom may vary drastically.
Nevertheless, real religious dialogue cannot be satisfied with this. It cannot
acknowledge the political status quo as something absolutely untouchable.
Paradoxically enough, nothing enmeshed in space and time can be ultimate for
the religious spirit. Religious dialogue is also political, and therefore neither
politically neutral nor universal. Socrates was a religious sage, Jesus a
religious Man, Al-Hallaj a religious mystic. All three were engaged in dialogue.
And all three were (politically) sentenced to death.
Here also we may stress three points:
1. Dialogue is not a private affair
Religion cannot be a private matter, because Man is not a mere individual
and religion is a global human affair. Religion cannot be separated from
politics. This refers not only to religious institutions, necessarily political
structures, but also to religion as an anthropological dimension. Even if
somebody wants to defend an 'intimistic' concept of religion, religious dialogue
about it will belong to the community and display a political character. It
belongs to the polis, in both direct and indirect ways.
Dialogue changes the self-perception of the participants and so of the
religions concerned, which in turn (together with other factors) shape the life of
the polis. But dialogue is also a political activity in more direct ways. Dialogue
may have its roots in the human heart, but its fruits are visible and ready to be
harvested in the agora. We need not think only of Northern Ireland, Lebanon,
Palestine, Cuba, Ethiopia, the Vatican, and so forth, where religious dialogue is
obviously political. We mean, rather, that in principle, every inter-religious
encounter touches on human issues which directly influence the life of the
polis. Trinity also implicates social relations; death requires burial; sacraments
have equally to do with initiation, health, and weddings; God implies authority;
justification includes justice; and so on. All this belongs to public and political
In the final analysis, religion is not a private matter because Man himself
is not a private 'thing,' and indeed not only morally, insofar as we bear social
responsibilities, but ontologically, insofar as the human condition is not the
private property of any individual. What is whispered in the ear is soon
shouted from the rooftops. All the personal pronouns belong to each other:
There is no I without Thou, and without 'Him' in the masculine, feminine,
neuter, dual and plural -- and also vice-versa. Dialogue is a public activity
between people who live in the polis. Indeed, religious dialogue is an activity of
such a kind that it is related to the very foundations of any political action. To
bar dialogue on political problems would render politics entirely barren and
irrelevant. It would not only mean accepting the political status quo, but holding
it in higher regard than any religion. Israel, Iraq, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and
so many other states are not only geopolitical entities, they are also
multireligious realities. The mistake of christian missionaries in India, for
example, was to suppose that they might have a christian dialogue with indic
religions without taking into account the fact of british colonial domination. By
the same token, a hindu-muslim dialogue won't bear much fruit if it is uprooted
from the current sociopolitical situation.13
2. Dialogue is a theory-laden praxis which produces new theories
The dialectic of theory and praxis is superseded in dialogue. Dialogue is
a praxis stemming from a theory and leading to another praxis, which will in
turn serve as the basis for a new theory. Theories are tested and appraised on
the grounds of dialogical praxis, which in turn lets new theories arise. Dialogue
is a praxis which not only deepens and transforms ideas, but equally
transforms actions and attitudes. The place of dialogue is not the lecture room
or the temple, but the polis. Every dialogue, as an encounter of real people
and not just a confrontation of concepts, has a political character. Every
discussion between people engages the power, and has consequences for the
life, of the polis. The religious dialogue is, moreover, political to a higher
degree. It calls into question not merely minor means to minor ends, but the
very foundations of human existence, on which political life is also based.
All this is relatively well known. But there is still more. Dialogue as a
constitutive human activity corrects the neoplatonic ideal of the purely
theoretical life as an end in itself, superior to practical life, which was
considered to be merely a means directed toward a goal. The goal then was
pure theory. In this sense, the purely contemplative life was not directly
political. It stood above politics. It goes without saying that such a view of
theoretical versus practical life would consider dialogue merely another means
for preaching the truth, that is, for converting the partner. When christianity, for
instance, recommended dialogue in the so-called mission lands, non-christians
suspected this was merely a new strategy for the old proselytism. It must be
clearly stated that such an attitude is remote from any truly dialogical spirit.
Dialogue is not a technique in the hands of either partner. This is not to say
anything against the primacy of contemplation. To the contrary, it means that
contemplation is not pure theory. Contemplatio is indeed an action so
penetrated by theory that they both, theory as well as praxis, converge in a
non-dualistic harmony -- namely, the harmony of Being being what Being itself
is: an act.
Dialogue in this sense means, on the one hand, that no single person can
possess the whole truth and, on the other hand, that truth itself is not any
purely objective 'thing.'14 In other words, human confrontation in the struggle
for truth belongs to the human polis. Politics does not mean just applying the
most effective means, but also the disclosure, realization, conquest, and
discussion of the aim of human life.
3. The contents of religious dialogues also have a political context
If an uncritical mixing of religion and politics leads to totalitarian structures
on either the religious side (theocracy) or the political side (state
totalitarianism), their separation leads to otherwordly religion (purely abstract
doctrines) and decadent party-politics (mere debate over means and power).
The solution to the dilemma lies in a non-dualistic view of both.15
It is a fact that the most burning religious dilemmas of our day also have
political contents. No religious dialogue can bypass the meaning of 'salvation'
for Man, letting 'salvation' stand here for the meaning of life. But no dialogue
on justification can leave aside the issue of justice, and no consideration of
justice can overlook the socio-political-economic dilemmas of the present-day
world. To discuss peace without considering the pax civilis is no longer
acceptable, just as talks about jihad and 'just war' cannot ignore their
respective political situation.16
Our lead sentence could equally be read the other way on: The political
problems of the world also have a religious character. The dialogue of religions
is not solely within the purview of religious institutions. The religious dimension
of Man permeates each and every political activity. To claim, for instance, that
the priests of the catholic church or the mullahs of islam or the buddhist
bhikkus should not involve themselves in politics, is already a political decision
regarding religion -- and, when issued by religious hierarchies, a religious
interference in politics. Economic problems also have a religious character,
and health, education, and human welfare as well, are never solely technical
functions for bureaucracies to service. To go back to the controversy between
Galileo Galilei and Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino: Heaven (the existential reality
in which both believed) and the heavens (the movements of which Galileo first
calculated) cannot be either totally split off from one another, nor can they
remain wholly undifferentiated. There is no theology without some
cosmological basis, just as there is no entirely untheological cosmology (in
which people actually believe). Autonomy is as unsatisfactory as heteronomy.
The healthy connection is ontonomic.17 The relationship is non-dualistic.
What I want to say is this: The dialogue of religions is not walled up in the
enclosures of 'religious' institutions. It stands or falls in the midst of life. It is not
some special area of competence for so-called theologians or religious
'leaders,' much less for academic 'experts.' Shutting out religion from the
public forum is as lethal as conceding the dominion of the clergy (just to give a
name to the various religious hierarchies). The genuine dialogue of religions
liberates Man from human fragmentation and hyperspecialization. Expertise in
delimited fields is justified and necessary. But in the domain of dialogue,
humanness itself is at stake.
A dia-logos not only means going via the logos, dealing with the logos
alone; it also means breaking through the logos -- dia ton logon, ferrying across
the logos -- to the mythos. Maybe the weakest pillar of the so-called
Enlightenment, held from Descartes to Kant to the modern natural sciences to
Bultmann, is the naive belief that in principle, everything can be cleared up
through reason, human or divine. Many people still dream of a mathesis
universalis, holding to the theoretical possibility of grasping reality with
mathematical language, as if reality could be apprehended by a
supercomputer. Reason is the critical power of Man, it is what lets us be selfconscious.
Kant spoke in an unconsciously self-defeating way about pure
reason which, to begin with, is so pure that it stays above and beyond every
critique.18 Reason is assumed from the start; it stands as a mythical Gestalt.
One always forgets or overlooks one's own mythos. And, after all, mythos and
logos belong together. The dialogue of religions, if it is at all alive, cannot
leave the mythos outside the dialogue.19 Here also, three aspects may be
1. Dialogue pierces through the logos and leaves the mythos open
Concepts are important, even necessary, but never enough to bring about
an integral encounter between people or between religious traditions. A
dialogue with concepts alone remains merely dialectics. Dialogical dialogue is
more -- not less -- than debate or rational encounter. We have to be conscious
that the concepts we use spring from a deeper source. In the dialogical
dialogue, I not only let the other know me but I come to know myself better, as I
let myself be known by the other. In this way, I can get to know my own
mythos better through the critiques and disclosures of my partner. Dialogical
dialogue strives neither for victory in the contest of ideas, nor for an agreement
which would suppress real diversity of opinions. Rather, dialogical dialogue
seeks to expand the field of understanding altogether, by each partner
deepening their own field and opening up a possible place for the
incomprehensible. This is not the scandal it was for Descartes, because
neither party absolutizes their own standpoint.
Every religion lives out of its own mythos, the cauldron of magma from
which the logos bubbles up to congeal in conceptual structures and doctrines.
This mythos as a starting point is not a logical postulate. It makes thematic,
rather, the tacit presuppositions which form each tradition's horizon of
intelligibility, over against which its ideas are seen to make sense.
A dialogue of religions which doesn't take into account this disparity of
horizons would find itself permanently enmired in misunderstandings, and
would never reach the ground out of which each tradition takes its own selfunderstanding.
What this means is that the encounter of religions cannot be
reduced to a comparison of doctrines. Each religion is like a galaxy,
simultaneously shaping its own criteria of thinking and its own criteria of truth
and reality as well. In order, therefore, to draw valid comparisons, one must
come to acknowledge what I call homeomorphic equivalents.20
Strictly speaking, there can be no comparative science of religions, nor
even a comparative philosophy.21 There is no neutral (a-religious or aphilosophical)
standpoint.22 All this opens us to the mythos. But myths in this
sense cannot be compared; they are literally incomparable. They are that
which makes every comparison possible, by offering the horizon within which
any comparison would have to be carried out. Of course concepts and
doctrines can be compared, but only over against the backdrop of a previously
This is why encounters not directly aimed at scholarly or dogmatic ends
are so important. Satsangs, festivals, shared meals and meetings of all kinds,
collaborations and contributions to joint projects, hospitality and the simplest
acts of sociability often turn out to be most important and empowering
instances of dialogue.
2. Dialogue between religions strives to participate in their respective
The life of religions, whether manifest in articulated dogmas, general
insights, interpreted experiences, performed rites or applied symbols, may be
summarized in a single word: belief. Religion is a matter of belief. Belief is the
overarching mythos that makes possible the various manifestations that
constitute religion. The mythos could in fact be considered the aggregate of
the tacit conditions of possibility (and thus credibility) of any given state of
affairs. Consequently, the dialogue of religions must be a dialogue of beliefs.
To understand a religion, you have to know its beliefs. Dialogue arises from
belief and is about belief. But how is such a dialogue to be sustained? Can
one make sense of belief statements without partaking in the belief?
Stimulated by Husserl's phenomenology, which speaks of the noêma as
the pure content of an eidetic consciousness, I have ventured to introduce the
notion of pisteuma. We think (noein) the thought (noêma) through the act of
thinking (noesis); that is, through the operation of noêsis we reach the noêma
as the pure intentional content of our consciousness; but the noêma does not
allow us to attribute any objective truth or existential reality to that thought.
Paralleling this, the belief (pistis) is also really a sui generis awareness,
pointing to the pisteuma of the believer. But the pisteuma of the believer will
appear to the outsider as a noêma. In other words, the non-believer can
perceive what the believer says (for instance: "Tara is the merciful divine
mother who should be worshipped"), but he cannot understand, that is, carry
out that belief. I perceive his pisteuma through my noêma. I cannot therefore
speak meaningfully about his belief, his pisteuma. What I can describe is the
contents of my own consciousness, namely my noêma, but not his pisteuma.
What the believer believes is not a rational noêma which could be
mediated (by my outsider's understanding), but his own pisteuma, which is
what he believes. If I do not penetrate to this pisteuma, I find not what he
believes but only what I, from my viewpoint, suppose he holds to be true. But I
cannot reach the pisteuma qua pisteuma if I do not believe what the believer
Should this mean that every treasure of belief (thesaurum fidei), as some
religions themselves express it, will remain unmediated and incomprehensible?
Not at all! It means only that without dialogue the way will be blocked. To
reach the pisteuma of the other I must somehow hold that pisteuma to be true,
that is, I also need to believe what the other believes. In other words, the belief
of the believer belongs essentially to that which the believer believes. If I do
not partake in this belief, we shall end up speaking at cross purposes from two
incompatible platforms: my representation and his belief; my noêma and his
pisteuma. In a word: The noêmata of religious phenomenology are in fact
We have said that I must somehow partake in the belief of the partner if I
really wish to meet him. This 'somehow' means that I have to have access to
his mythos.23 Dialogue is the way in. A new religious phenomenology comes
into view here. Many of the misunderstandings that have so often vexed the
history of religions can thus be cleared away. From this follows not only
religious tolerance, but a new interpretation of religion altogether.
Here the distinction between faith and belief explored elsewhere in this
volume becomes paramount. Belief expresses itself in statements. Faith
manifests itself in life. Faith is a constitutive human dimension. Belief is a
particular formulation of that faith. In this sense, the fact that people can
honestly express their faith in different statements of belief is but a natural
manifestation of the diversity of cultures and religions.
3. Sharing in the same mythos sets the limits of dialogue
Genuine and deep dialogue with one another is not always possible. The
partners have to share the same myth, they have to stand at least partially
under the same horizon of intelligibility. Certainly, this common myth must
emerge slowly in the encounter itself, but as long as we do not share it religious
communication will not be possible. A tree is always a tree so long as people
find it in the field of their sensory perception; but no deep understanding will
come about if for one person the tree is just a vegetable computer and for the
other it is a body inhabited by a spirit. If they were to say they do not
understand one another, they would come far closer to communicating than
when one stigmatizes the other for 'talking nonsense,' or reduces him to their
own categories. When they are aware that they do not understand each other,
and then go at it again to find a new basis for possible understanding, this is a
dialogical lesson. Success is never guaranteed, but the attempt itself is
Modernity generates intercultural myths. For instance, the humanum,
democracy, peace, secularity and so forth are myths which have a certain interreligious
validity. Only insofar as we share such a myth can we really
communicate with one another. On the other hand, a common myth tends to
make doctrinal differences all the more acute. Neighboring religions, for
instance, have often developed opposing attitudes that -- despite similarities at
the mythic level -- make dialogue particularly difficult, while it sometimes comes
more easily for distant religions where a certain reciprocal sympathy has been
cultivated. As a single example, christians and jews are often victims of mutual
antipathies in spite of the basic similarities of many of their beliefs.
The spirit of dialogue, today blowing ever stronger even as new and
higher walls are erected against it, represents far more than a new fashion or a
new strategy on the part of some old religious traditions to pull themselves out
of a certain stagnation. It has itself a religious spirit. Dialogue in and of itself is
an authentic manifestation of religiosity. And still more: Even the archconservatives
who see in dialogue only danger for the established religions,
are bearing witness to the revolutionary character of dialogue. The dialogue of
religions in fact pulls down the walls of 'creedism' and religious 'nationalisms.'
In spite of latter-day changes, the old saying -- cuius regio eius religio -- is still
valid: Religion goes along with whoever holds the power. The dialogue of
religions frees spiritualities from rigid doctrinal frames and creates new
connections which vault over all these boundaries so finely drawn between
religions. For too long religions, while claiming to connect (religio) us to the
divine, have tended to neglect the human connections. One all too easily
forgets the "religion of Man."24 Religion has to do not only with God, but also
and preeminently with Man. This opens up the way for a new religiosity whose
forms are yet to be found. By no means does this demean the genuine
1. An ultimate source of dialogue is the experience of one's own
We have already mentioned the experience of contingency, that is, our
touching (cum-tangere) of the boundaries, the experience of our own inability to
know the human condition fully. This does not mean that a person cannot find
their own salvation in their own, relatively isolated tradition. Not everybody is
obliged to explicitly undertake dialogue. But since the traditions themselves
are the fruits of past dialogues, the roots of religious dialogue grip down to the
very origins of humankind itself.
What we mean rather is that the mature or contemplative person
renounces any absolute claims. The religion of one's neighbor becomes a
personal matter, the diversity of religions a philosophical (or theological)
problem, the situation of the world something that deeply concerns us all.
Salvation, liberation, bliss, realization, enlightenment, redemption -- as well as
justice, peace, human fulfillment, or whatever -- are not just individual
problems. They require collaboration, solidarity, a growing awareness of
human and cosmic interdependence. Dialogue is the way to overcome
solipsisms and egoisms of every kind. We realize our own selves insofar as
we actively participate in the fate of the entire cosmos. Is this not a religious
2. The new dialogue contributes to the purification of religions
The history of religions shows, without exception to my knowledge, that
not only have the most sublime achievements of the human spirit been
accomplished in the name of religion, but the darkest deviations from human
dignity as well. Fanaticism is a well-known religious weed. The dialogue of
religions today offers a medication and represents a purification.
Institutionalized religions have too often been hindrances to peace and given
their blessings to wars -- even in our own lifetimes. The dialogue of religions
does not seek to abolish religions. It does not intend to reduce all religions to
the lowest common denominator or to establish some generalized and
superficial religiosity. This should be stressed once more. The dialogue of
religions opens up a middle way between, on the one side, all the well-guarded
religious fortresses waging war with one another from their high hills -- where
every castle claims that salvation lies solely within its walls -- and, on the other
side, a tedious stay in the shallow valleys of human indolence and indecision
where every religion loses its identity and specific values. This middle way
avoids war, hot or cold, open or treacherous, and at the same time avoids
indifference, as if all religions amounted to the same or said the same things.
Dialogue opens wide the way of conversation -- precisely because religions are
different, and often seem to be opposed and incompatible. Dialogue smoothes
out the ways, and may also build bridges over the trenches which separate the
various religious castles. It invites new people into the common life of the
human family, without uprooting them from the native soil of their own
traditions. It weaves a net of connections which relates and transforms the
world of religions. And this open character of the dialogue belongs to the
dynamic of the religious spirit altogether.
3. Dialogue is itself a religious act
When we engage ourselves in the dialogue of religions we are also
undoubtedly striving for the salvation -- the healing and making whole -- of the
entire world. Love for one's fellows, patience, humility, gentleness,
forgiveness, asceticism, renunciation, belief, trust, honesty -- the list is endless
-- are essential virtues for performing an authentic religious dialogue. Is this in
itself not enough to demonstrate the religious character of dialogue?
In this sense, dialogue has its own meaning and it is impossible to turn it
awry or misuse it as some sort of strategy for proselytism. Dialogue is itself a
kind of conversion, not a means for winning the other over to our point of view.
I strive for truth and am even inclined to believe that I have found the truth in
my religion. But I am not the only seeker of truth. If in my seeking I am
humble, that is to say honest, I will not only feel respect for the others' search,
but would even like to join them -- not just because more eyes see better than
two, but for a deeper reason: The others are not only seekers of truth, but
sources of knowledge. Man is not only an object or a bare subject looking for
objectivity; Man is also a microcosm and a microtheos, a temple of the Holy
Spirit, a vessel able to give and receive, a contributor to the shaping of reality,
someone who can, just as I can, receive enlightenment and revelation. I am
not interested in the others out of idle curiosity. The pilgrimage of the others
crosses my own path. The search for truth is not about stalking an object, it is
about letting oneself be known and, as far as possible, partaking in the fate of
all the others.
I would go one step further still. For many people, if not for all, bringing
about peace among the religions and promoting mutual trust amounts to a
genuine religious activity, undisturbed by the fact of one's belonging to a
particular tradition. Whether the highest name be tao, kami, sûnyatâ, God,
Shiva, Allah, Yahweh, Truth, Justice, Freedom or Humanity, is important and
helps us keep our identity. But it is no less important to avoid invoking those
names which bring people to hate, to fight, and to slaughter one another.
Beyond this, many people today do not feel capable of sorting out all those
names and may fall prey to an indifference which is not always healthy. But
the one thing they are sure of is that all this bickering between religions is not
salutary, and that peace and harmony are human imperatives of the highest
order. Maybe we have here a new myth in statu nascendi. Again, dialogue is
a manifestly religious activity.
From what we have said so far, it should be clear that the encounter of
religions is not a task for specialists. The praxis of dialogue is a way of being
religious, it is a religious activity, and this also applies to reflections on the
theory of dialogue. In our day, when so many human concerns have been
hyperspecialized, this ought to be properly stressed. Here again, three
headings will suffice:
1. Dialogue is a holistic activity
Nobody is an expert at dialogue, because each dialogue is unique. You
cannot specialize in religious dialogue. It belongs to religious life in the
present. It is the whole Man, precisely as Man (anthropos), who is engaged in
dialogue. In a genuine dialogue, you do not defend ideologies or orthodoxies.
You stand there, as you are -- naked, vulnerable, without preconditions or
hidden agendas. We are people standing before, that is to say encountering,
other people. We express our deepest convictions and we try to adapt
ourselves sufficiently to the worldview of the other to make ourselves
understood. We may even tremble at the prospect of such a dialogue, or
maybe bow out if the challenge seems too great or too risky for us -- just as
some prophets took fright at their own calling. The dialogue of religions is not a
parliament where party discipline is the rule and each member speaks for their
party or coalition. In the dialogue of religions, as we have said, everything is at
stake. The stage of dialogue is life; life holds its own risks, and rewards. We
are wholly there. It is about life. All the rest is playacting, psychological or
sociological role-playing -- if not mere careerism. Whoever is not ready to lose
their life, whoever balks before these dangers, should not be entering the
agora of dialogue.
Of course none of these considerations preclude establishing a certain
order, or setting a topic for a given dialogue. But first, the business of sticking
to the topic should be voluntary on both sides, so that a partner might well
depart from the topic if it seems appropriate to do so. In the second place, and
more importantly for us: Although the topic may be very specific, every
participant comes to the dialogue as a whole person.
How often one embarks on a purely scholarly dialogue and ends up in
politics or in the personal! And this is all to the good. It demonstrates that
dialogue cannot be artificially limited. The preparation for dialogue must be
practical, but also personal. Dialogue pervades the whole Man.
2. Dialogue has a liturgical nature
Modern western desacralized languages do not have a suitable word for
this. If I were to say that dialogue should be a rite or represent a cultic act, I
should still have to explain what I mean by 'rite' or 'cult.'26 I prefer to speak of a
liturgical act, fully aware that this word also requires explanation. Liturgy,
properly understood, means the work (ourgia) of the people (leit-), where this
work is inspired by the spirit. It is a synergy that gathers all the three worlds.
I mean the following. The dialogue of religions as a liturgical act
manifests the non-duality of theory and praxis, of individual and community,
politics and religion, the divine and the human. Dialogue is not a new religion.
It is a liturgy to which everybody and everything is invited, and which would
hope -- as do traditional rituals, after all -- to transform all things while retaining
the identity of all the parts and participants. Every liturgy is a process of
transformation, a transfiguration.
Religions enter dialogue as they would a liturgy, to celebrate -- each in its
own way -- the wonder of life (or whatever each religion would call it). Each
may believe itself to represent the highest truth and to play the leading role, but
each is also ready to listen to the others and to let the play of life play itself out,
without violence or cunning. Something happens in dialogue that is not
controllable from any one side. The risk is endured because there is
confidence. Many slanders and suspicions are extinguished by themselves.
For several decades I have been stressing that every dialogue is a
communicatio in sacris, a holy communion, without which no human
community can truly be.27
3. Dialogical play takes on a cosmic role
What is the encounter of religions really all about? Is it about my
encounter, as an individual hindu, with islam? About all our beautifully printed
books on the various religious worldviews? About a fad for young people or a
crisis for their elders?
The recent divorce of epistemology and ontology, stemming from the socalled
Enlightenment, makes it difficult for modern people to accept that the
encounter of religions means something more than merely an encounter of
ideas, systems or, at most, individuals. It is all of this, of course, but it is also
an encounter of religions, in the sense of the subjective genitive (muted in
contemporary english). Religions themselves encounter one another as
historical and cosmic forms. The encounter belongs essentially to religion.
Each religion is an encounter. Religions are powerful forces in human history
and the cosmos at large. The encounter of religions is like the encounter of
galaxies; and it represents, likewise, an astrological event. The history of the
world is touched by it; the very destiny of the world may be influenced by this
If we take religions seriously, as they took themselves in their heydays, if
we consider that every religion brings along its corresponding cosmology, if we
do not take the myth of history for the only valid myth, then the encounter of
religions is also a cosmic act for our times; it is an event which occurs with our
cooperation -- but only co-operation. It belongs to the kairos of our world, to
the destiny of this kalpa, to the meaning of history. It is not, for instance, just
that some clever individuals have discovered we cannot go on like this. It is
rather that some people have uncovered something already written in the stars,
felt the freshening spirit of a new dawn about to shine, discovered that the
growth of Man demands something like a turning point, that religions
themselves are opening up and wishing to take together this new step into the
depths. Indeed, we catch sight of something moving in those depths,
something that belongs to the very dynamism of reality. In point of fact, human
history and the life-story of the Earth are both incomprehensible without
religions. What an array of changes have come about in the islamic world, the
christian world, and the world of animistic traditions! And this is not the work of
any single caliph or pope or chieftain; it is the achievement of what we call
Each culture will use different ways of speaking. The main thing is not to
absolutize any single cosmology. We are trying to say that the encounter of
religions is more than small talk here and there, or a gratifying increase of
tolerance between this or that group of people. I repeat: What is happening
before our eyes has cosmic proportions! Do we need to cite here the metaphor
of the 'butterfly effect,' so widely reported by modern 'chaos' theory in the
The encounter of religions is an ongoing process. It is always on the way.
The goal of dialogue is not to mix up all the religions, or even to arrive at
complete unanimity, but rather communication, sympathy, love, polar
complementarity. Life wants to live and not slip away into death. Being is a
verb. Reality is polar, dynamic -- trinitarian, I would add. The strongest
harmony, as Heraclitus said, is the hidden one: harmonia aphanês phanerês
Here also we may appreciate our triloka:
1. Dialogue remains always provisional, a continuous process
Because dialogue represents an end in itself, the goal is not to complete it
-- and therefore render it, at some time or other, superfluous. The completion
of dialogue is not a finale, but a continuous performance. This constitutive
provisionality does not imply relativism, but relativity; nor does it mean that
dialogue does not or cannot provide specific answers to particular questions.
What it means is that every answer is relative to its question, and that the
question itself only appears as a question in relation to a given state of affairs.
Dialogue does not give definitive answers, because there are no definitive
Dialogue is also provisional in the sense that there is never a completed
dialogue. Not only does dialogue never finish, but it is never exhausted. This
openness not only vouches for its dynamism, its tolerance and novelty, but also
reveals the impossibility of absolutes. Answers are never definitive; there is
always room for supplements, corrections, continuations. Dialogue is
continuous. It remains ever incomplete, since dialogue is itself a genuine
completeness. Need we mention here the scientific metaphor of a selforganizing
2. Dialogue is trinitarian
Provisionality reflects the human situation. It is not properly a weakness
of dialogue as such. Dialogue is duologue, and more: The relationship itself
remains constitutively open, properly displaying a triadic structure. This is not
because there may be three logoi, but because the process itself brings two
participating logoi into an open space which will not permit the dialogue to
collapse entirely or be utterly extinguished. The classical word for this
openness is transcendence. And transcendence will be experienced, without
further ado, in the ordinary course of dialogue. No single participant, nor even
all the participants together, have the whole of reality at their disposal. We
dialogue about something which transcends us, something we cannot dispose
of at will. There is always something which lets the dialogue arise. This
'something' lies beyond the power of any particpant. One could say that both
partners are transcended by a third, whether called God, truth, logos, karma,
mercy, compassion, or whatever. This 'third,' around which the dialogue flares
up, thwarts any manipulation from either side. We are not the absolute rulers
of religious dialogue. And the situation is all the more striking in that any judge
coming from the outside is out of the question.
A scientific discussion can and properly should clarify whatever postulates
it requires. We can speak about speed, spin, entropy or whatever, once we
have defined our terms. We may then discuss laws, relationships and
mathematical structures, or empirical confirmations of hypotheses. But when
our dialogue turns to the good, God, human destiny, justice or liberation, then
my opinion is no more than an invitation to hear a corresponding opinion from
the other side. And this makes it possible to begin the dialogue without having
in hand the positive criterion of an independent judge. Logical contradiction
may be a negative criterion. In a rational dialogue we cannot allow anything
totally contradictory in itself. But this is only a negative criterion, and religious
dialogue is not bound to be only rational, even though it cannot be irrational, if
it is to be truly dia-logos.
This 'third' dimension may be quite inaccessible to our thought, without
this infringing on the laws of thinking. The 'third' element is not bound by our
ways of thinking. Nevertheless, we raise the claim to have this 'third' in the
dialogue. Each partner claims to have access to a revelation -- be it only
through reason --, to an ultimate horizon over against which our words make
sense. Anagkê stênai!, said the greeks: We have to stop somewhere. This
'somewhere' is the mystery, the myth... Only by expressing our differences
while attending to this third, is dialogue realized. In other words, Heaven and
Earth also take part in the dialogue, and bear witness to all that we human
beings have to say to one another.
It is this trinitarian structure which vouches for the openness and
continuous provisionality of dialogue. The invisible third partner is not a freestanding
Essence or an all-knowing 'God.' The partners should not be bound
to platonic or theistic foundations. But this third element of dialogue is
nonetheless there: A spirit blowing where, when, and however she will.
3. The ultimate character of dialogue is its incompleteness
The human constitution is dialogical. Polarity belongs to the essence of
Man and reality alike. Dialogue is constitutive of the human situation.
Religious dialogue brings up our deepest humanness.
Of course we are speaking about the ultimate structure of dialogue, since
at other levels dialogue may well dispel very many human errors, deepen all
sorts of insights, and replace unconvincing opinions with better ones. Religions
may purify themselves and discard unpleasant rites, moribund symbols,
outdated dogmas, and so forth. Through dialogue, insights are deepened and
But here we are getting at something else, the deeper anthropological and
cosmic structure of dialogue. Its foundation lies in the fact that no human
being can properly claim to have access to the whole truth of the human race.
An angel, as the only individual of its species, might not need any inter-angelic
dialogue. No so with Man. Even though a Man or a People may receive a
particular divine revelation, the human vessel of this revelation will always be
bound by human contingency: The echo of the Absolute is no longer absolute.
We not only have to maintain a sense of (human) proportion, but also to
think realistically: We may have the best of intentions, we may welcome all the
positive steps toward tolerance and understanding made in dialogue; but
human nature, though not immutable, has never shown itself to be particularly
peaceful or pure of heart. Dialogue is the manifest human way, but ways can
be blocked or deliberately obstructed. And there can also be deserts, seas and
mountains standing in the way. Sometimes dialogue falls apart, or just does
not come about...
Another word appropriate to the ultimate dialogical constitution of Man is
pluralism. Pluralism is the human attitude we adopt when it dawns upon us
that it is impossible, without lethal reductionisms, to bring the whole of human
experience into an unqualified unity. In other words, through dialogue we
cultivate our humanness. Religious dialogue is the expression of this search.
Man is homo loquens, because we partake so deeply of the Spirit in the Logos
that we come to drink from the same source as that very Logos: Silence.
1. This chapter is a translation of the introductory article for a new journal,
Dialog der religionen, Nr. 1, 1991, pp. 9-39. Hence its general character and
manifesto style. Jordi Pigem did the first english draft, Scott Eastham
sharpened up the style, but I have intervened in every draft. A final version
appeared in Jñanadeepa, Pune Journal of Religious Studies, Vol. 3, No. 2, July
2000. The self-references are for brevity’s sake. The word Man stands for
anthrôpos, i.e.,, neither for the male nor for a member of a species of any
particular kind of ‘beings’ of a zoological classification.
2. The reader will observe that these translations are already interpretations.
3. I have set forth a typology of the relationships between religions in
Religionen und die Religion, München (Hueber) 1965; "Un mythe naissant,"
Preface to J. Langlais, Le Bouddha et les deux bouddhismes, Montréal (Fides)
1975, pp. 9-15; "Autoconciencia cristiana y religiones," in Fe cristiana y
sociedad moderna, Vol. 26, Madrid, 1989, pp. 199-267.
4. Cf. R Panikkar, "The Dialogical Dialogue," in F. Whaling (ed.), The World's
Religious Traditions. Essays in Honour of W. C. Smith, Edinburgh, 1984, pp.
201-221, for the philosophical background of this study.
5. Cf. H. H. Schrey, Dialogisches Denken, Stuttgart, 1983, for an overview of
some of these currents.
6. Cf. R. Panikkar, "Singularity and Individuality: The Double Principle of
Individuation," in Revue Internationale de Philosophie, Vol. 29, 1-2, 1975, pp.
7. Cf. R. Panikkar, "Der Mensch - Ein trinitarisches Mysterium," in R. Panikkar
and W. Strolz (eds.), Die Verantwortung des Menschen für eine bewohnbare
Welt in Christentum, Hinduismus und Buddhismus, Freiburg, 1985, pp. 147-
8. Cf. my book, The Cosmotheandric Experience, S. Eastham (ed.), Maryknoll
(Orbis) 1993; and my article, "Anima Mundi - Vita Hominis - Spiritus Dei. Some
Aspects of a Cosmotheandric Spirituality," in E. Schadel (ed.), Actualitas
omnium actuum, Festschrift für H. Beck, Frankfurt a.M., 1989, pp. 341-356.
9. Cf. my essay, "Have Religions the Monopoly on Religion?," in Journal of
Ecumenical Studies, XI, 3, 1974, pp. 515-517.
10. Cf. my essays in Invisible Harmony, Minneapolis (Fortress) 1995; "The
Myth of Pluralism: The Tower of Babel," in Cross Currents, XXIX, 2, 1979, pp.
197-230; "Religious Pluralism: The Metaphysical Challenge," in L. S. Rouner
(ed.), Religious Pluralism, Notre Dame, IN, 1984, pp. 97-115; "The Pluralism of
Truth" (The 1989 Sir Francis Younghusband Lecture), in World Faiths' Insight,
X, 26, 1990, pp. 7-16.
11. Cf. my essay, "Words and Terms," in M. M. Olivetti (ed.), Esistenza, mito,
ermeneutica, in Archivo de Filosofia, Vol. Ii, 1980, pp. 117-133.
12. L. Feuerbach, Sämtliche Werke, W. Bolin & F. Jodl (eds.), Vol. II, Stuttgart,
1959, p. 319.
13. Cf. J. D'Arcy May, "Integral Ecumenism," in Journal of Ecumenical Studies,
XXV, 4, 1988, pp. 573-591: "Any breakdown of communication between or
within communities of faith constitutes an ecumenical problem." (577) I would
interpret "communities of faith" in the widest sense as natural human
communities, because in the final analysis, religion is the soul of culture.
14. Cf. R. Panikkar, "The Existential Phenomenology of Truth," Philosophy
Today," II, 1958, 1/4, pp. 13-21.
15. Cf. R. Panikkar, "Non-Dualistic Relation between Religion and Politics,"
Religion and Society, Bangalore, XXV, 3, 1978, pp. 53-63; and also my book, Il
'daimôn' della politica: agonia e speranza, Bologna (EDB) 1995.
16. Cf. my book, Cultural Disarmament. The Way to Peace, Louisville
(Westminster/John Knox) 1995; and also my essay, "La pau politica com a
objectiu religíos," Qüestions de Vida Cristiana, 121, 1984, pp. 86-95, as a
summary of an unpublished work entitled The Religious Foundation of Political
17. Cf. the description of this notion in my essay, "Le concept d'ontonomie,"
Actes du XI Congrès International de Philosophie, Louvain, 1953.
18. Cf. the far-reaching critique of M. Tanabe, Philosophy as Metanoetics,
Berkeley, 1986: "As far as the critique of pure reason is concerned, reason as
the criticizing subject always remains in a safety zone where it preserves its
own security without having to criticize the possibility of critique itself. Yet
precisely because reason cannot thereby avoid self-disruption, the reason that
does the criticizing and the reason that is to be criticized must inevitably be
separated from each other... Reason must recognize that it lacks the capacity
for critique; otherwise the criticizing reason can only be distinguished from the
reason to be criticized. In either case, there is no avoiding the final selfdisruption
of reason. In other words, reason that tries to establish its own
competence by means of self-criticism must finally, contrary to its own
intentions, recognize its absolute self-disruption." (43)
19. Cf. my book, Myth, Faith and Hermeneutics, New York (Paulist) 1979; as
well as my article, "Mythos und Logos. Mythologische und rationale
Weltsichten," in M. P. Dürr/W. Zimmerli (eds.), Geist und Natur, Bern, 1989,
20. By homeomorphic equivalent, as noted in the Introduction to this book (pp.
xxii-xxiii), I understand a third degree analogy which reveals a similar and
corresponding function in the respective systems.
21. Cf. R. Panikkar, "What is Comparative Religion Comparing?," in G. J.
Larson/E. Deutsch (eds.), Interpreting Across Boundaries. New Essays in
Comparative Philosophy, Princeton, 1988, pp. 116-136.
22. Cf. R. Panikkar, "Aporias in the Comparative Philosophy of Religion," in
Man and World, Nr. XIII, 34, pp. 357-383.
23. Cf. R. Panikkar, "Verstehen als Überseugtsein," in H. P. Gadamer/P.
Vogler (eds.), Neue Anthropologie, Nr. 7, Philosophische Anthropologie, Teil II,
Stuttgart, 1975, pp. 132-167.
24. Cf. Rabindrath Tagore, The Religions of Man, London, 1931.
25. Cf. R. Panikkar, "El futuro de la religión," in Civiltà delle macchine, XXVII,
4-6, 1979, pp. 82-89. English and french translations in INTERculture, Vol.
XXIII, Nr. 2 (Cahier 107), 1990, pp. 3-21.
26. I have made an attempt at this explanation in my book, Kultmysterium in
Hinduismus und Christentum, Freiburg, 1964; which later appeared,
substantially revised, in french, Le mystère du culte dans l'hindouisme et
christianisme, Paris (Cerf) 1970; and, again reworked, is also going to appear
27. Cf. P. Puthanangady (ed.), Sharing Worship. Communicatio in sacris,
THE ENCOUNTER OF RELIGIONS:
The Unavoidable Dialogue,
© R. Panikkar, 1997.
(STE/RP - 030297 - M6*)
Prof. Dr. R. Panikkar