The Vedic Experience: Mantramanjari
Series: Opera Omnia
- ISBN: 9781626982048
- Published By: Orbis Books
- Published: December 2016
Orbis Books’ recent re-issue of the complete works of Raimon Panikkar—particularly of his magisterial The Vedic Experience: Mantramañjari—is a most welcome development. Panikkar occupies a unique space, both in the realm of comparative theology and in the wider realm of the study of religion. Raised in a household drawing from two religions and cultures–the Hinduism of his Indian father and the Roman Catholic Christianity of his Spanish mother–as well as having cultivated a deep appreciation for Buddhism later in life, Panikkar sought to translate his pluralistic experience into the realm of theology. The result is a body of work that affirms the uniqueness of each tradition without “taking a side.” This is in contrast with forms of pluralism which conceive of many religions as converging upon a single point, or as significant in their resemblances rather than in their differences.
Panikkar’s work can be difficult to approach. Like many innovative thinkers who seek to express thoughts that are outside of the philosophical or theological mainstream, he has, like Alfred North Whitehead, a penchant for neologisms. If nothing else, Panikkar will go down in history as the theologian who coined the term “cosmotheandric.”
Regarding The Vedic Experience in particular, it is a brilliant work. This statement, however, does need to be qualified in several ways. While it consists of translations and theological commentary on important Vedic texts—ranging from the Ṛg Veda to the Upaniṣads to the Bhagavad Gītā, and so taking “Vedic” in a broad sense as including texts rooted in Vedic traditions—it is not a work of conventional scholarship. If one is looking for an accurate and complete rendition of, for example, the Ṛg Veda, for the purposes of Indological scholarship, they would be better served to turn to the recent translation by Stephanie W. Jamison and Joel P. Brereton. If, however, one wishes to enjoy the Vedic literature as literature and to delve deeply into its reflections on nature, divinity, and humanity—the cosmos, theos, and anthropos of Panikkar’s famous neologism—then this book is difficult to surpass. It would be most highly recommended not so much to critical scholars of the Vedic texts, but rather to educators who may wish to familiarize themselves with the sensibility of these texts in the service of teaching, or those who simply wish to explore these texts for their own edification. That Panikkar’s translations and commentary ring true to persons in the community of Vedic practitioners is evidenced by the fact that his text has been made available through the website of the Himalayan Academy, publishers of Hinduism Today, for many years, where it continues to be advertised and sold.
Panikkar’s reflections and interpretations are both profound and interesting. He draws meaning from the Vedic sources in an empathetic and thought-provoking fashion.
Regarding this new re-issue of this important, monumental work, there are a couple of critical observations that need to be made. While this text is more for the reader who wishes to seek edification in the Vedic texts and in Panikkar’s fascinating reflections on them, this new edition is lacking the critical apparatus which previous editions supplied. Specifically, earlier editions contained both an index and a listing at the back of the book of the Vedic texts in their original order, accompanied by page numbers so specific texts could be referenced easily. This book, in keeping with its purpose, is organized thematically, rather than in the order found in the original sources. So, in earlier editions, if one wanted to look up, for example, the Puruṣa Sukta (Ṛg Veda 10.90), one could look to this listing, find “Ṛg Veda 10.90: Puruṣa Sukta” listed in the appropriate numeric order, then look up the pages where Panikkar translates and comments upon this text in the book. In this edition, one needs to pour through the (lengthy) table of contents in order to find this text. This edition is also missing the handful of illustrations which added a nice artistic touch to earlier editions. This would not be worthy of mention, except for the fact that Panikkar himself discusses these illustrations and their symbolism in his introduction, and this discussion is included in this edition. Therefore, if one reads this edition as a first introduction to this work, it would be utterly baffling as to what illustrations he was describing.
The Vedic Experience: Mantramañjari is, in any format, an excellent introduction to the Vedic texts and culture. The translations are poetic and beautiful, and the theological commentary is engaging and enlightening. Should a future edition of this re-issue be contemplated, it is hoped that the critical apparatus and illustrations could be returned. The book itself is a classic.
Jeffery D. Long is professor of religion and Asian studies at Elizabethtown College.Jeffrey D. LongDate Of Review:April 29, 2017