THE NEW INNOCENCE
Interview with the author and President of the Center for Intercultural
Studies, Raimon Panikkar, calling for a new awareness of the limitations
of human knowledge in order to make room for the Divine.
Raimon Panikkar, born in Barcelona in 1918 of a
Hindu father and a Spanish mother, is doctor in philosophy, chemistry
and theology, and has taught in several universities throughout
the world: Madrid, Rome, Mysore, Varanasi, Harvard, and Santa Barbara.
Author of more than 30 books and 900 articles, among his recent
publications are: Invisible Harmony (Fortress, Minneapolis 1995)
and La Nuova Innocenza (CENS, Milan 1993, 1994, 1996). President
of the Center for Intercultural Studies, VIVARIUM,
he acts as a mediator and advocate for an Intrareligious
Carmen Font: As scientist, philosopher, theologian, Hindu, as an
advocate for the dialogue among religions, you will agree with the
fact that now humanity finds itself facing a great challenge: to
overcome its enormous imbalances between those who eat and those
who dont, between those who seem to live well and those who
are claiming change. Is it possible for the present state of things
Raimon Panikkar: No, of course not. Our present situation can no
longer continue in this way, and it will lead us nowhere. And if
things dont change, the alternative is destruction. We are
at the end of Kali Yuga. I would say instead of imbalance that there
is a situation of injustice which has to be solved, because without
justice there can never be peace. Peace is not simply an ideal,
its a necessity, because the alternative would be a human
and planetary catastrophe. Our competitive system, in which only
things which can be given a financial value are considered to have
any worth, cannot go much further.
CF: Then, in your opinion, what is the best way to overcome these
RP: It requires a regeneration, a revitalizing of cultures (particularly
those so-called Third World cultures) which would mean
what I call cultural disarmament. Peace cannot merely
be achieved by a military disarmament. It also requires a disarmament
of the prevailing cultures, the abandonment of the ruts of habitual
attitudes in which modern, Western culture has developed. This would
also include letting go of or re-assessing traditional, acquired
values, and values we currently consider non-negotiable like
progress, technology, science, democracy and the world economic
market. We unthinkingly impose our value-systems as indispensable
conditions for establishing a dialogue with other cultures. But
dont forget that, at the same time, 70 per cent live in conditions
of utter inferiority and degradation, and, of course, its
an affront to speak of dialogue if the conditions of equality are
absent, if somebody is starving and has been deprived of all human
dignity. If we regarded other cultures as equal, we would no longer
consider the modern criterion as a necessary condition
to create lasting peace for humanity.
CF: Through this regeneration, how should we address our political,
economic and social affairs so as to achieve equality?
RP: In the first place, its important to realize that nowadays
there isnt only one group political, economic, social
or religious that can solve the problems of the world. A
transformation or regeneration of society, of ourselves, of our
culture cannot be effected if we attempt to carry it out by ourselves,
forgetting the inherent pluralism of mankind.
Many of our present-day problems arise when a group seeks to impose
its vision, believing there is only one solution, and that solution
is, of course: its solution. This is fundamentalism. There are many
kinds and degrees of fundamentalism, some more destructive than
others, but the fundamentalism I am referring to is that which is
convinced that our ideas are the only real ones and that they are
absolute or at least definitive. It is difficult to find someone
with a truly open attitude, free from absolutism.
CF: How would this translate into practice, when dealing with issues
like development, for instance?
RP: With the question of development, we are doing the same thing,
really: we pretend to help that part of the world which we rather
patronizingly call the Third World with the First World
parameters. The North-South question is a substantial part of the
problem, not the root. At the root of it there is the imposition
of our vision of how development should proceed, what it should
be. We have contributed to their undevelopment by implementing our
notion of what development is in countries less economically favoured
than us. Nations dont have to develop, according to our understanding
of development, but they should be free to realize themselves. That
means that our economic system should take people into account,
not things. If we impose our idea that the development of a country
consists of having a prosperous and competitive economic system,
that people from that particular country have cars and lead the
same life style that we lead, then we are just imposing our notion
of development. They are not undeveloped countries, but countries
on their way to self-realization, and we are all included. But,
of course, there are pressing problems of lack of food, housing,
healthcare and education which have to be solved as soon as possible.
CF: Would that suppose a redistribution of food and resources in
RP: Not a redistribution understood as we, the rich countries
send food and build our houses in the poor undeveloped countries,
but an equal distribution of these resources in each country. This
implies that we have to grow, for instance, crops from that particular
country and build houses with native materials. To proceed like
this may imply an effort, but its not an utopian dream. I
think that now we do not eat food but kilometers! We
generally dont consume what grows in our countries, we import
so much from other countries.
There are a number of ways in which we can help these undeveloped
countries to be self-sufficient, but not by imposing our notion
of development; that kind of development normally serves only to
enlarge the already saturated markets of the industrialized world.
We all know there are strong economic interests which prevent countries
from realizing their full potential. The example of foreign debt
reflects that which is immoral in our help.
CF: Can organizations like the United Nations and concepts like
democracy continue to be our best political options?
RP: The UN, instead of an agency of nations, seems an agency of
states, which is not the same. They discuss political issues, state
issues, which are obviously important for a certain external peace,
but which dont necessarily take into account the interests
of the nation, of the people. The UN can and must be much criticized,
but at present its the only institution we have to maintain
international order. It must be transformed from the roots, but
You asked about democracy; I dont think we can talk about
real democracy unless we include the idea of consensus. To accept
a decision simply because the majority decides it doesnt seem
to me very natural. Consensus requires a very special technique,
and we are still democratically illiterate. Because
of our lack of vision and patience we just take the shortest path.
We have to learn to put consensus into practice, first in small
communities and then widening the sphere of action. In some communities
it exists already.
CF: I would like to proceed with one of your quotes: "When
man breaks his connection with Earth, wanting to fulfil himself,
he becomes a monster who destroys himself. When man breaks his connection
with heaven, wanting to lead himself on his own, he becomes an automaton
that destroys others."
You have said both an external and internal peace are indispensable.
Which do you sense is our correct relationship with the earth and
RP: It would be both horizontal and vertical at the same time.
The individual separate from the others, or from the earth or the
divine, does not exist. We, by our very nature, belong both to earth
and to the divine. We are conscious and free parts of a whole, but
not as puppets that can be easily directed by threads, but rather
we find ourselves within a cosmic interweaving or network. The human
being is a person, not an individual. I understand a person as a
knot in a net of relationships. These threads connect us with
our fellow men, the earth and divinity. The more conscious the person
is, the more he realizes that his person reaches out to the confines
of the world. That is the realized man.
CF: Within this network, how do we learn to move the right threads?
Traditionally, religions have served to provide us with points of
reference. Nowadays, however, there are many people who reject these
religious systems because they no longer fulfil them, realizing
at the same time that there is another dimension of reality which
we are still not aware of. Whats changing in us?
RP: The realization that no separation exists between ourselves
and our reality, and from that emerges a new consciousness, what
I call a new innocence. In broad terms, it emerges from the knowledge
of our ignorance, of knowing that our knowledge does
not exhaust knowledge, not because we know ignorance, but because
we understand our limitations: it is a consciousness born from a
conflict of knowledge. Then we overcome knowledge through a leap
of faith, confidence, sensitivity, intuition.
Underlying this there would be what I call the Cosmotheandric Principle,
in which what is divine, what is human and what is earthly (let
everyone find their own terminology) are the three irreducible dimensions
which constitute what is real. These three parts are not juxtaposed
simply by chance, but they are essentially related and together
constitute the Whole. They are parts because they are not the whole,
but they are not parts which can be separated from the whole.
CF: How do the great Masters of the different religious traditions
come into play here? You will agree with me that there have been
great beings who have introduced some profound revelations?
RP: Yes, certainly there have been great beings who have introduced
new revelations which have transformed our way of conceiving the
world, and if they have impressed us its because already in
ourselves we made a connection with that which we saw as true. That
is to say, we wouldnt have accepted their revelations or teachings
if we did not see it as part of our reality.
Of course, the revelation has been explained by different traditions
in a number of ways: God, higher revelation of a divine light, reincarnation,
spirit, and so on. Whatever is understood, its a fact in history
that there have been masters in mankind who have been carriers of
wisdom. But the messages are clearly different sometimes, which
doesnt mean they are incompatible or that they are all the
same: it would be monotonous. Reality is miscellaneous and always
CF: But if the Divine reveals itself, it must have some purpose
for doing so?
RP: I wouldnt be such a dualist or so anthropomorphic, but
I understand we can speak of a purpose. I dont think, however,
that this plan or purpose is all fixed, as if the world were at
the mercy of a purpose since the beginning of time. To think like
this would alienate us from reality and allow us to shirk responsibilities.
What is needed to solve the many problems of the world is the combined
effort of people, with a new consciousness (or a new innocence).
We must overcome the age of individualism and ideologies. And we
are not alone either, thats important. The new consciousness
that is trying to emerge is the one which realizes that there are
certain things which we dont understand but of which we are
a part. Our incomprehension however does not excuse us from taking
responsibility. Quite the contrary, we have to assume responsibility
as we have never done before. It is a task of solidarity, but it
will not be enough. We have to invoke higher help.
SI: Is now the right moment to receive help?
RP: Yes. If there have been divine manifestations before, we cannot
assume that they will never again occur. Moreover, the present situation
of the world, new in the history of mankind, could be the right
time for a new revelation I dont know if through Masters
who came before or new ones, I dont think thats very
important. But it might well be that this revelation has not much
to do with, or it does not resemble, the ones we have known until
now. Reality is always new.
From the October 1996 issue of Share International
© Carmen Font