I was born and brought up in India, a land with a rich and varied cultural heritage that goes back to 3000 B.C., to the Indus Valley Civilization—one of the oldest-known civilizations in history. The epochs contained in fifty centuries of cultural, political, religious, and military upheavals have made India what it is in this day and age. Today, it is a land teeming with a vast population of over a billion, who live amidst an amazing diversity of language, culture, food, dress, and religion. A few hours' journey by train can take you from a spot of familiarity to one that seems like a different country altogether.
India has the largest Hindu population in the world. The number of Muslims is the second largest of any country and surpasses that in most Muslim countries themselves. Buddhism was born, cradled, and nurtured there. It flourished in the eastern regions before spreading to the whole of Southeast Asia. Tradition has it that Christianity was brought to the peninsula by St. Thomas, one of Jesus' own disciples. It arrived there, then, in its earliest nascent form. Sikhism and Jainism have their roots in that soil.
What a crucible of mixture! What an environment in which to grow up! With shoulders rubbing in day-to-day encounters, questions naturally sprang up in my mind and were, at times, very troubling.
Yes, I did ask questions—many questions. So let me take you on a journey of inquiry.
It began innocuously—just mulling over the way people made religious claims. But once I decided to evaluate it for myself, it became a gripping adventure. For one thing, like the others, I too had made claims and had felt rather good about them. That is, till I did some honest introspection, when suddenly, those claims did not seem all that convincing. The gap between the talk and the actual evidence was too big for comfort. There was a great deal of high-sounding religious jargon but little else. I sensed that void and knew I had to address it. My challenging yet exciting journey had begun.
© 2014 by Subodh K. Pandit, MD
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