“Human society needs only sufficient grain and sufficient cows to solve its economic problems.” – Srila Prabhupada (SB 3.2.29)
Krishna’s pastimes display the exemplary human life, teaching us how to develop, sustain and supply an entire city reliant on just cows and grains.
O’ the Lord’s abode, Vraja, glistens ever-beautifully, outshining millions of universes,
just as on earth the moon overshadows the infinite stars.
There, enchanted and blissful devotees enjoy eternal gratification and love from Krishna.
And Krishna wooed by the humility of His devotees,
in absolute euphoria, plays His nitya-lila (eternal past-times).
Beside Krishna, His soul-companion, most-beautiful amidst thousands of heavenly beauties,
Sri Radhika, in ecstatic devotion, plays with Her Beloved Krishna,
an eternal-romance, which knows no limits and disseminates on all.
In the midst of this most perfect enjoyment are the Surabhi cows
their celestial mooing comes when they gently lift their neck
which is embellished with their adorable dewlap,
their mooing is equal to the songs of a divine bard.
They play in their pearled barn-palaces,
and they, like all other spiritual-beings in Vraja, gain the utmost enjoyment,
playfully wandering in ever-rich fields to the melody of Krishna’s flute.
The moon-like broods of the Surabhi cows, suckle their mothers for nectarean nourishment.
And all spiritual beings in Vrindavana delight in the company of the All-Attractive Lord.
So is the life in Vrindavana, the blissful, sublime and eternal, Planet of all Planets.
Above is a poem I have written based on the beautiful poem by Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, Sri Vraja-riti-cintamani, which describes the uppermost planet, Krishnaloka.
Most interesting for the modern reader is the amount of respect and freedom the cows are given in Krishna’s pastimes and we may ask – why?
The Srimad Bhagavatam tells us that we have seven mothers:
- The mother who gives birth to you
- The wife of a teacher or a spiritual master
- The wife of a brahmana
- The cow
- One’s nurse
It is common in Vedic scriptures to hear the phrase Prithvi (Earth) Mata (Mother); indeed such a personification is present in world history. The Greeks had an earth goddess called Gaea and the Romans called earth personified – Terra Mater. This is the very origin of the phrase we use in English – Mother Earth. Why is such respect given to the earth? Because like a mother nurtures her offspring, nature nurtures the whole of humanity and every living being.
The modern world however sees nature as something to exploit. (Conspicuous) consumption is growing, slaughtering of animals is a multi-billion dollar industry and diseases, poverty and global-warming are destroying the harmony between us and the natural world. Now more than ever, we need to adopt the Vedic ideal of “simple living and high thinking”.
In order to sustain Mother Earth, we need to respect and cherish our cows. Vedic society deems the cow the mother of humanity; like a mother nourishes her baby with the milk from her own bosom, the cow nourishes humankind with her milk. The bull is seen as the father or prajapati; just as a father earns for his children, the bull tills the ground to produce food grains and assists humankind in the production of food (SB 3.2.29). Krishna’s pastimes are a living example of how to care for cows and live within symbiosis and harmony with our natural world in order to reap its full benefits without exploiting or harming it.
Krishna grew up with Mother Yashoda and Nanda Maharaja, who was a rich landowner of nine hundred thousand cows. Krishna was entrusted with the responsibility of looking after the cows when he was just six or seven, thus Krishna is also lovingly called Govinda (He who gives pleasure to the cows) and Gopal (protector of the cows). Krishna’s pastimes are coloured with stories of how lovingly He cared for the cows and calves of Vrindavana. Krishna knew the names of all of His cows and would call out to them and chase after them if one of them went missing: Hamsi, Candani, Ganga and Mukta are just a few names of cows from the many different herds (SB 10.35.19). Krishna even refused His Mother Yashoda’s request for Him to wear shoes on the basis that he would only wear them if all of His cows were provided with shoes first.
“The cows, the bulls and the calves were thoroughly smeared with a mixture of turmeric and oil, mixed with varieties of minerals. Their heads were bedecked with peacock feathers, and they were garlanded and covered with cloth and golden ornaments.” (SB 10.5.7) So highly venerated were the cows of Krishna, known as surabhi cows, who gave unlimited nectarean milk: “from the surabhi cows one can take as much milk as one needs, and one may milk these cows as many times as he desires” (SB 8.8.2 ).
Many people wonder what God does in His daily life. Krishna’s activities on earth in Vrindavana were an enactment of His daily life in Krishnaloka, for Krishna in the spiritual abode is non-different from the Krishna that descended to earth. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, as shown above herds the cows in his daily life. The Supreme Lord, Govinda taught us by His example how we should engage ourselves in cow protection and so we should unquestionably tend to the cows for His pleasure.
Cows are so beneficial to human society. Srila Prabhupada said that because people in Kali-yuga are “misled by false conceptions of life, they are killing cows in the thousands. Therefore they are unfortunate in spiritual consciousness, and nature disturbs them in so many ways, especially through incurable diseases like cancer and through frequent wars among nations. As long as human society continues to allow cows to be regularly killed in slaughterhouses, there cannot be any question of peace and prosperity.” Let’s have a look at the economic reasons behind cow protection, which Srila Prabhupada said “is not merely a religious sentiment but a means to secure the highest benefit for human society.” (Light of the Bhagavata, Verse 27 Lecture, New York, 7th April 1973)
Just to put things in perspective:
- The U.K. buys around 5.2 billion litres of liquid milk from supermarkets, that’s not including the 6,072 million litres that goes into dairy products.
- 6 million cattle are slaughtered every year in the UK alone!
It is a dire and distressing situation. These statistics speak of the UK alone – imagine the world statistics!
Cows are injected with hormones, fed unnatural proteins to make them bigger and fatter for meat production and are treated horribly throughout their whole lives. Calves are taken away from their mothers when they are born to be killed and those who have been completely exhausted beyond their natural limits, unable to produce the optimum milk yield, are also killed for their leather and beef.
I hope this blog shows how cow protection and respect is relevant even in today’s society. The benefits of cows are immeasurable – for even their dung and urine is of great use to human society. Srila Prabhupada remarks that milk “is particularly essential for developing the finer tissues of the human brain so that one can understand the intricacies of transcendental knowledge”. We need milk, but only pure milk given to us by cows, not forced selfishly out of them before their own calves have even been fed.
Srila Prabhupada’s vision for ISKCON is stated in a letter to Hari Sauri (Vrindavana, 10th August 1977): If I am able to travel again then I shall visit the farms and make them perfect. On these farms we can demonstrate the full varnaśrama system. If these farms become successful, then the whole world will be enveloped by Krishna consciousness.
Let’s all join forces and fulfill Srila Prabhupada’s dream! For in the joy and health of the cow lies the happiness, prosperity and spiritual advancement of humanity. Gauranga!