September 30, 2010 on 11:00 am
Dear Spiritual Explorer: What is it about India that is so fascinating? My friends came back from there and said their lives were changed. Geraldine, Albany, N.Y.
Holy Cow by Sarah MacDonald
Dear Geraldine: I know exactly what you mean. My friends have had that same experience when they visited India. It is a land of many contradictions according to Sarah Macdonald in Holy Cow. While the title sounds like an oxymoron to Western readers, juxtaposing cow and holy together, it is but one of many upon which Ms. McDonald elaborates. The paradox which resides in the title is that while cows are held sacred in India, they are treated poorly as they lumber along the streets, scavenging for food and survival. Similarly, you read about Sarah’s encounters with a very diverse people full of idiosyncrasies, and mystifying actions, and yet who are also very warm-hearted, supportive and loving.
Throughout her book about India, Ms. McDonald in a thoroughly delightful way manages to makes us laugh, empathize with, marvel and finally embrace India for all of its differences. This is an often hilarious chronicle of her adventures in a land of chaos and contradiction, and of her encounters with Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Sufis, Sikhs, Parsis and Christians in India. It’s also the story of her love for her boyfriend and how, for the love of him, she traveled many miles from Australia to India to be with him and how that remarkably changed her. This book about India is rich in experiences which you will take many nights to enjoy, full of interchanges with colorful people and events, all adding up to a remarkable transformation that takes place for Ms. McDonald.
I had heard that India was a land of rishis and saints. Four of the world’s major religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, originated there, while Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam arrived in the first millennium after Christ. All of these shaped India’s diverse culture. When I speak to my traveler friends about this, they remark of the seeming contradiction of the extraordinary spiritual feeling that permeates the air in India due to the proliferation of gods and goddesses, rituals and ceremonies, juxtaposed with the extreme poverty and need. As one travels throughout India, even though tremendous progress has been made in economic development since 1991, there still remains terrible hunger and privation, illiteracy, corruption and public health related challenges. You read in Holy Cow about Sarah’s struggle with feeling she has so much those next to those who have so little.
My friends’ stories all reflect the difficulty of getting to India, traveling about and encountering the many inconsistencies of India. Yet to a person, they tell me how they want nothing more than to return to India to experience another transformation. The experience of the paradoxes, inconsistencies and extreme cultural difference of India somehow produces a spiritual transformation in them, at once rendering them more humble and open to life. As with Sarah McDonald, they are forced to drop their judgment of these differences so that they may accept the warmth and love available to them. And that’s the spiritual journey for sure.
Thanks for writing, Spiritual Explorer
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