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The Rhythm of Being


Rewriting the lectures two decades after delivery allowed him to “discern what is abiding” and to add material from two other intervening books on Christology. The problem of language is inherent in his use of many sources—from Greek to Hindu—so he counsels patience in reading. He has excluded his ninth Gifford lecture, about the future, since he felt it no longer proved helpful.

Chapter 1: Introduction

Panikkar begins: “Our topic is about the very meaning of reality.” He seeks to use the Trinity and the doctrine of “continuous creation” (creatio continua)—every moment a “radical newness”—as a frame to approach what he calls Reality and “the Whole.” The original lectures were titled “the dwelling of the divine in the contemporary world,” but he finds that such a theological statement is less relevant today, so he will be trying a new “orientation” for the “overall situation of contemporary man in our world.” In drawing upon many traditions, he will not use a comparative approach, but rather mingle ideas to “contribute to a mutual fecundation of philosophical traditions.” In this approach, the “discourse has to be constantly provisional, never closed, always open.” Also, the reader’s heart must be sincere and pure. He defines rhythm and trinity: “In rhythm we find the (re)conciliation between an objective physical process and a subjective human feeling”; “By Trinity, I mean, the ultimate triadic structure of reality.”

Chapter 2: The Destiny of Being

From ancient Roman thought to Eastern ideas, he probes how the many questions around “being”—of humans and ultimate reality—have been asked and answered. He acknowledges an inevitable dialectic in such questions: for each answer, a new question arises. The alternative is to recognize various forms of intuition, insight, or revelation as answers or guides, which he illustrates from Western and Indian thought. He analyzes some Sanskrit words on this point about insight and lists twenty-four points to consider regarding intuitive realizations as “notes in an unfinished symphony.” All of our current “standard traditional answers need a careful but radical examination, and perhaps a prudent but daring transformation.”

Chapter 3: Ancient Answers

Ancient beliefs must be respected because of their survival and wisdom. It may be necessary to categorize them to navigate a “jungle of theories about the Divine.” One dominant category is theism, which has proved durable because it offered a singular, overall view—“one single center for the whole of reality.” Theism has developed in a rationalist vein, advocating a single center, noncontradiction, and eventually rigid philosophies and political systems. Classic monotheism produced rival responses that exist only because of theism: Deism, pantheism, polytheism, atheism, agnosticism, skepticism. Monotheism and its alternatives cannot be dismissed, but should be approached critically; theism must be revised in a new kind of mythos that is not purely rationalistic or dualistic: “The alternative is neither theism nor despair, but the realization that what needs to be changed is not so much the answers as the question itself.” The theisms “do not exhaust the human way to encounter the divine Mystery.”

Chapter 4: The Dwelling of the Divine

The idea of dwelling is a metaphor in many traditions with a Divine Mythos, or story. It must be a metaphor because the divine is unique, irreducible, and unlike any other experience. Traditions typically say the divine dwells in three ways: in the transcendent plane, in an earthly appearance, and in an in-between space, a nondualistic reality spoken of by mystics. “Many mystics will say God wanders between us, inside and outside, goes in and out, appears and disappears, strays, dwells.” He looks at Greek and Sanskrit terms to speak of this space. This story of divine dwelling is found in “kosmologies”—he uses a “k” to distinguish them from scientific cosmology. Theology is an attempt to put the idea of divine dwelling in language, which always has limits. The sociology of knowledge has changed our approach to theology. He lists aspects of theology that go beyond language: signs, concepts, symbols, and gestures (actions). “The ultimate aim of theology is working out that consciousness of our fellowship with the entire reality, symbolized by the word Theos.”

Chapter 5: The Triadic Myth

This lecture moves beyond the descriptive and critical approach of previous chapters to offer a triadic alternative, expressed by an exploration of both Christian and Hindu thought. At first impression, Christianity is dualistic and Indian thought monistic. However, he points to a lesser known “presence of the triadic mythos as the ultimate level in most human conceptions of reality.” He uses the Hindu term advaita to illustrate a nondualism that is also not monism. It points to relations, not opposites. Thus there is an “advaita spiritual experience: the awareness of relationship.” Also, Trinity is not a Christian monopoly, although the rationalism of monotheistic monarchy has obscured this principle of relations in Christian thought: “The Trinity is pure relationship.” He gives examples of the triadic mythos: Chaldean oracles, Egyptian thought, the Vedic tradition, the Upanishads, Buddhism, Parmenides, Valentinus, and Lao Tzu up to modern thinkers such as Carl Jung and Buckminster Fuller. “The radical Trinity I am advocating will not blur the distinction between Creator and creature—to use these names—but would, as it were, extend the privilege of the divine Trinity to the whole of reality.”

Chapter 6: The Theanthropocosmic Invariant

This lecture distinguishes between “invariant” needs of all humans (birth, food, shelter, meaning) and cultural variance, which is a fragmentation in different beliefs or professions. He argues that one other invariant to human nature is the “theanthropocosmic”—an innate sense of the relations of the divine, man, and the cosmos. He looks at perceptions of these three realities. This sense is also a cultural universal, since it appears in all cultures. “This awareness of this triad belongs to our very nature, though the names and conceptions of the three differ widely.” He shows how this “Triple Interindependence” appears in Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu thought, and is relational rather than monistic or dualistic. “This is the very Rhythm of Being, as we are trying to describe all along.”

Chapter 7: The Divine Dimension

He recognizes that by making “theos” one of three dimensions, it seems to limit the divine. The triadic principle, however, is seeking to avoid separating the divine from man and the cosmos. He elaborates on the term “dimension.” “I have been trying to rescue the Divine from being considered a separate entity, a supreme and absolutized Being floating somewhere above and beyond the rest of reality.” The divine dimension may be approached in several ways: in silence; by the activity of the body, mind, or will; and by expressions that include speech, worship, prayer, and action. He compares this personal encounter with the divine in Christian experience and the Ishta-devata and Bhakti spirituality of Hinduism. “In describing some ways to approach the divine dimension of reality, I offer a triadic division so as to keep a Trinitarian and traditional pattern.” He also espouses contemplation, a common aspect of religious traditions.

Chapter 8: The Emerging Mythos

He identifies past narratives of reality (in religion and philosophy) as “kosmologies” to distinguish them from scientific “cosmology.” Although kosmologies have become obsolete, the scientific cosmology is not an adequate alternative. He critiques efforts by theologians such as Teilhard de Chardin and Thomas Berry for trying to build Christian kosmology on science alone. The source of a new and adequate kosmology that is comprehensive, yet coincides with science, will be increased cultural interaction: “Interculturality tries to address this great challenge, and this is one area where religious consciousness seems, for once, to be ahead of modern science, although science is still considered by many to be superior to religion and more universal.” The new mythos will take time to “emerge,” but is necessary: “Even if the time is not ripe for a new myth, we have lost our innocence with the old ones, and we no longer believe in them.” The “cosmotheandric insight” (equal to the “theanthropocosmic Invariant”), he concludes, “may have sufficient traditional elements, and just enough revolutionary character, to served as that catalyst for hope.”


He omits the original lecture nine because, regarding the future, “all ultimate questions cannot have final answers.” He tends to find “hope” in the invisible present and each momentary experience of the divine.