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Panikkar's Lottery Ticket

Panikkar lived in a mountain village many hundred metres high, looking down on a valley, with a river winding through. A small stone church, going back to Roman times, perched precariously on the edge of a cliff. Detachment from the hurly burly was essential to Panikkar, although he was fully aware of the stirrings of a troubled world. What better place than a mountain top to observe the sad and often comic condition of humanity. For Panikkar human beings transcend their limitations through knowledge - the word signifying experience and love. Men and women are called to be sages, "wise tasters and samplers of reality". But, Panikkar would add - pulling out his trump card - that knowledge has little to do with modern science. In fact modern science is at the heart of our global crisis. In saying this he was not insisting on a return to pre-modern times, but alerting us to a controlling form of knowledge that is removed from our deepest selves, where the mind is separated from the spirit, where knowing does not make us any wiser. Modern science, the fruit of one single culture, had spawned a technocracy, which in turn lead to the "dominion of the machine". Technocracy had created a "Fourth World" that was independent of humans, nature and the gods.

The technocratic human was no longer a biped, but a being on wheels, no longer a knight but a coach driver, no longer a gardener but a button pressing, remote-controlling creature who was a minimal cog, one that was easily replaceable in a grand network of information; no longer unique, but a mere function dependent on other functions, a conduit for information which was unable to communicate in any meaningful sense. The individual became the technique, and reality became virtual. The choice today was between a planetary technocracy or another mode of living that was in tune with the rhythms of the earth, the sun and the moon. The choice was between acceleration and rhythm. One could not have both. (…)

The conversation that evening veered round to the role of conflict in the resolution of problems. At the time I headed an institute in Paris that was concerned with studying social movements. I was half-convinced (in politics, I am rarely convinced all the way) of the importance of dialectics in promoting social change. A landlord and a tenant had to clash for the just resolution of the problem of landlessness. Likewise, one idea clashed with another to produce a superior idea; put differently, thesis and antithesis had to cross swords for a new synthesis to emerge. This was dialectics, the way progress was made, how history charted its course. Panikkar disagreed with me. He believed in dialogue, in the Chinese notion of yin-yang, where reality was not divided into polar opposites, where yin contained yang and yang the yin. Panikkar believed neither in reform nor revolution. For him revolution was only "deformation". He preferred something more radical, what he called "transformation". Transformation was the result of dialogue, not dialectics. (…)

I asked Panikkar if he saw any hope of rescuing our present civilisation. "The only solution is to dismantle what you call 'our' civilisation." he said, with a feisty grin. "Look at the facts. We need thirty million soldiers on the face of the earth to keep this global order going. In the United States one out of four people keep a gun, and twenty-seven thousand people are killed each year for private vengeance. More than a thousand million dollars are repatriated each day from the Third World through debt servicing and unfair trade practices. The prices of raw materials are kept low and industrial products very high. For every dollar invested in the southern countries five are taken out. There are more hungry people today than ever before, although there is enough food to feed three times the present global population."

"It is a question of attitude," he said, gesticulating like a Latin," and a matter of what you consider to be important in life. As long as we allow the myths of monoculture to dominate, there is little hope. Monism, likewise, was not made for the human race as the experience of advaita makes clear. I must go on repeating that there is no salvation so long as we think in terms of one science, one God, one religion, one country, one language and one democracy. Cultural disarmament is the answer. We have to reject the dominant culture of today that has sidelined our cultural and spiritual universes where other forces, apart from money, used to guide us. We are today so dependant on this piece of paper we call money - to mediate our relationships, to give us worth, to buy us love. It's an illusion to think that a piece of paper can fetch us happiness. In the south of Spain, when the gypsies want to curse some one badly they say, ' May you win a lottery ticket!' For them it's a curse to be rich. The gypsies should know. They have few attachments, moving from place to place."

Pannikar believed in "voluntary" poverty and his life had been a rendering of this vision. He had stalked the dwellings of scholarship like a joyful monk, celebrating life while keeping a loving distance from it. He believed in the poverty of the spirit, where one could get by with a minimum of material bric-a-brac. " People are often confusing poverty with misery," he said. How very true, I thought, although my experience of India was ambivalent. I remember the times when I was in a tribal village or urban slum one day and in a Parisian metro the next. Poor people in India appeared to possess great dignity, despite the intolerable hardship that poverty imposed. Was there not something in the eyes of many impoverished people in India, a quiescence, a softness, that was not present in the commuters in a Paris underground, rushing to and from work, with death in their looks ? (…)

The day I left Tavertet Panikkar invited me to spend a few minutes of silence with him. Eyes closed, we each sat on the carpet in the posture of half-padmasana. After a few moments of quiet I could not resist opening my eyes to look at Panikkar's tranquil profile, serene and attractive in a kavi dhoti and khadi kurta. A rush of emotion surged through me, and I was grateful for having known him. He had taught me that reality could not be understood through the mind alone, or the heart alone, or even through the combination of the mind and the heart. He had often said, "Hope lies in the Invisible,"- an Invisible that was the domain of the spirit, not the easy allure of our information society.

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