“Everyone can understand that we drink the milk of cows and take the help of bulls in producing agricultural products. Therefore, since our real father gives us food grains and our mother gives us milk with which to live, the cow and bull are considered our father and mother. According to Vedic civilization, there are seven mothers, of which the cow is one.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 17.154, Purport)
When travelling the world, in addition to seeing a variety of languages spoken you will also notice a lack of uniformity in diet. Different regions have their dish of choice, what is considered a delicacy to the area. There are also differences in levels of discrimination, i.e. what is considered proper for human consumption.
In addition to the large presence of vegetarianism, in the Hindu culture there is widespread restriction on eating cow flesh, i.e. beef. Is this like the restriction on pork in the Islamic culture? Is this similar to how dogs and cats aren’t consumed in the majority of industrialized nations?
Actually, the practice goes much deeper than just food or eating. There is a profound and comprehensive philosophy serving as the backbone of the culture. That philosophy is so engrained in the people living within the culture, abiding by the principles, that they may not even be aware.
That culture is rooted in the Vedas, which is the original scriptural tradition of the world. Passed on first as an aural tradition, the Vedas are also the shrutis, or “that which is heard.” Hinduism is really Vedic civilization, and there are many reasons given for the protection of the cow.
1. It doesn’t ask your religion when giving milk
Whether the cow is killed for food or some other reason, the majority of the world uses the milk produced. This isn’t generated automatically, through machines. It isn’t grown in the field. Human intervention is required. A person must round up the cow, approach it, and then apply physical labor to extract milk.
A person may protest that only Hindus are to protect the cow. “The restriction on eating the flesh of the sacred animal does not apply to my culture or to others.” That certainly may be the thought process, but the cow provides milk all the same. It does not ask the person’s religion when offering up the vital and nutritious substance. It does not withhold milk to those of a non-Hindu culture.
2. It is a living entity
People within the highest division of Vedic society do not consume animal flesh. One of the reasons is knowledge of the spirit soul. The fragments of spirit are all the same. They are Divine in nature, the superior energy, or prakriti, coming from God.
“Besides this inferior nature, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is a superior energy of Mine, which are all living entities who are struggling with material nature and are sustaining the universe.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.5)
The spirit souls are also purusha, which identifies the person within the body that is part of the material energy known as prakriti. This purusha is there in anything that is living. Purusha is not exclusive to the human species, though the human mind is the only one capable of learning about, identifying, and acting off the difference.
Altering behavior based on the knowledge is known as discrimination. If man just ate anything that was around, they would eat other human beings, too. After all, the human infant is inferior in so many ways to adult animals, yet that inferiority is not used as an excuse to kill and eat.
“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste].” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.18)
The cow is just as much a living entity as the human being. It is a spirit soul inside of a body composed of material elements. The wise person sees the equality of the fragments of spirit in all species.
“The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.13)
Another reason for the restriction is that a wise person eats only what is offered first to God. In the Bhagavad-gita He asks for simple things, like fruit, flowers, leaves, or water. It is not required to kill innocent animals in order to survive. Live simply, purify the consciousness, and make the most of the human birth. To kill indiscriminately is the way of the animal, which is lower on the evolutionary chain of species.
3. It provides enough food to sustain life
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada would sometimes be asked about the cause of the tremendous wealth found in industrialized nations. His response was interesting. He stated that real wealth is measured in terms of how much land and how many cows are in possession.
If you have some land, even a little, and a cow or two then your economic problems are solved. By itself the cow can provide enough food to sustain life. Milk leads to so many other products fit for human consumption. Infants can grow up on milk alone; they don’t require other food.
For a person to kill such an amazing animal is both cruel and disrespectful. Other animals, which are far less useful, are protected for some reason, but the amazing cow is rounded up and sent to the slaughterhouse. This, of course, after it is exploited for milk, butter, and other products. Since it provides milk the cow is also like a mother.
4. It is a beautiful example of pure love
The cow doesn’t produce milk just out of nowhere. It is the result of love. Seeing its children, the cow knows that milk is needed to sustain life. The cow doesn’t use discrimination in this regard. As soon as the calves come, the cows produce. They produce for as long as they can, as long as they are needed. In modern society the reward for this pure love is violent death, for both mother and child.
5. It is dear to Krishna
The Vedas say that in the complete feature God is a person. That person can manifest in different ways, but His features are always transcendental. Those gunas, or qualities, are all-attractive; hence the name Krishna.
It is not surprising that cows would be very dear to Krishna. Since He cares for them and protects them, He is also known by such names as Govinda and Gopala. The cows in the spiritual land of Vrindavana love Krishna so much that they produce milk just by seeing Him. When they scatter about due to lack of supervision, Krishna simply has to play His flute to get their attention.
Whoever is dear to the Supreme Lord becomes dear to those aspiring to serve Him with love, attention, and faith. For this reason those who follow Vedic culture, whether born into it or not, support and advocate the protection of cows and honor the relationship that Shri Krishna has with them. Even if a person unknowingly protects and cares for a cow, they earn tremendous merits, sukriti, which can lead them back on the path towards the spiritual heaven, the only place that never gets destroyed.
To produce for anyone to come,
Not asking which religion you’re from.
Justification that needed for meat,
But already so many things to eat.
To Supreme Lord always so dear,
From Vrindavana pastimes clear.
Like a mother the milk on which all can live,
Spiritual merit from just protection to give.
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