“Of all kinds of animal killing, the killing of cows is most vicious because the cow gives us all kinds of pleasure by supplying milk. Cow slaughter is an act of the grossest type of ignorance.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 14.16 Purport)
For those growing up in a tradition where meat eating is the norm, learning that other societies protect and sometimes even worship an animal like a cow seems a little strange. “Perhaps it is part of their tradition or just some sectarian belief. Like wearing different kinds of shirts, the different religions practiced are there to be accepted on faith or just inherited from the parents as a matter of obligation. I am this or I am that, but what ‘that’ actually means doesn’t really matter because all there is to ‘that’ is the acknowledgment that I am ‘that’ and nothing else.” Though the Vedic traditions may be followed for these reasons, each and every guideline is provided to fulfill a purpose. The purpose to cow protection is rather straightforward, for the same principles are followed in so many other areas of life. In addition, the cows are dear to Lord Krishna, the object of service in the discipline that gave us the concept of cow protection.
The mother produces milk for her child based on need. This wonderful feature of nature gives the mother her strong standing, her position as the ultimate caretaker of the newborn that just spent nine months developing within her womb. The fetus felt safe in the comfortable environment of the womb because it was away from harm and it depended completely on the mercy of the mother. The dependency flows both ways, as the mother produces the much needed nourishment for her newborn once it enters the world. If a mother didn’t naturally harbor this affection for her child, the child wouldn’t automatically be placed into her custody.
Now, just imagine if after being protected in this way the child or someone else comes and kills the mother. Would the person who protested against such a practice be considered an oddball? Would their pleas to save the innocent life of an important caregiver be considered some strange sectarian principle that violates the edicts of other religions? Of course this wouldn't be the case, but when the same scenario applies to the killing of innocent mother cows, logic and sound reason are thrown out the window in favor of the passionate desire to eat the flesh of the slaughtered animal.
Lest we think the comparison isn’t valid because a human mother is different from an animal mother, we already see that dogs and cats are protected. The dog is considered “man’s best friend” because it offers unconditional love. No matter how hard a day you have at the office or what else is troubling you in life, you just go up to your dog and pet it and feel satisfaction. The dog allows you to love it without impediment. The dog doesn’t ask for anything in return except for some food and the ability to use nature’s restroom at the proper times. From a small amount of protection, the dog provides so much emotional satisfaction.
The cow actually provides just as much unconditional love, if not more. The cow produces products that can be sold for a profit, which can then be used to sustain life. Unlike the dog, the cow doesn’t even require love from the owner; just the ability to love its offspring. The cow only needs to graze on the field every now and then; otherwise it’s pretty easy to maintain. Even the stool and urine produced by the cow have antiseptic properties; something which can’t be explained by mundane science, for it defies all logic and reasoning.
If the unconditional love in the form of milk products and the ease of maintenance are present in the cow, why is it mercilessly slaughtered by the millions each year? Why is not the dog given the same treatment? Indeed, why is there outrage anytime there is cruelty to pets when other animals are treated much worse all the time? Why is it that those who do protect the cows and urge others to stop eating beef are seen as oddballs following a strange religion?
Obviously the only answer to these questions is ignorance. The sober person not only sees that cows need to be protected, they notice that the essence of individuality is present within all living beings. The ant, the owl, the cow, the dog, and the human being are the same in spiritual quality. Even amongst human beings, there is no difference between the infant and the fully matured adult capable of doing quantum physics.
“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 outward behavior and appearance may vary across species, but this doesn’t mean that the spark of life has changed. The learned man views all living beings as equal, but their treatment is not necessarily altered. For instance, I may know that a tiger is a spirit soul just like me, but this doesn’t mean that I will go up to the tiger and pet it. Just because I am aware of the equality of living beings doesn’t mean that others are as well.
But even if the tiger is unaware of the presence of spirit throughout nature, this doesn’t mean that the wise should unnecessarily kill them. Nonviolence towards animals seems like a strange principle in many parts of the world, but in certain areas the opposite is deemed the odd behavior. If you grow up in surroundings where animals aren’t killed, you will think that those who do eat animal flesh are the weird ones. In this sense both traditions can be taken as norms, as being legitimate. If both traditions already exist, why not make an honest assessment as to which one is more beneficial in the long run?
The proponents of bhakti-yoga say that nonviolence towards animals is a prerequisite for legitimate worship of God to commence. Bhakti is love and yoga is connecting the soul with the higher being, the person most of the world refers to as God. Bhakti-yoga is the religion of love and in order for that love to flow best, the mind must be sober. If I understand who I am worshiping and what their qualities are, I am more apt to be drawn to those features and form an attachment. If I am preoccupied by intoxication and killing innocent animals to eat their flesh, how sober can my mind really be?
The person connected with is also the Lord of all creatures; He is the original father. Therefore if I am to think of Him at all times, dedicate my life to His service, a natural byproduct of that engagement will be respect for everything He has created. The innocent cow that produces milk is obviously someone else’s child. Therefore showing respect to the cow means showing respect to its parents. If we expand out the scope of lineage even further, we see that no living being can claim to have been created through their own effort. In the Vedic tradition, Lord Brahma is considered the self-create, but even he has a father in Vishnu, the Supreme Lord.
Question: How will loving God’s creatures help me serve God?
Loving the creatures that God created serves as the prerequisite for pure bhakti, but it is not the final word. To show respect for other life forms is a given, for we already apply this deference to other human beings and to pets. In this sense we don’t consider any person noteworthy for not going around killing other human beings. We don’t go up to someone and say, “Hey, you’re a great person. You don’t kill your cat and dog. You are someone I want to model my behavior after.” Rather, the respect given to life forms is expected, something not considered noteworthy.
The sobriety of mind is the key benefit resulting from the protection of innocent life. The sober mind can better concentrate on the forms, qualities and pastimes of the Supreme Lord. These aspects are non-different from Him and they are meant for the pleasure of the yogis looking to connect with Him in love. This is the special mercy of the Supreme Lord that is passed on in great abundance in the Vedic scriptures, the crown jewel of which is the Shrimad Bhagavatam.
In one sense the Supreme Lord hasn’t given us enough of His pastimes. The original poem, arguably the first book ever composed, is the Ramayana, which deals with the life and pastimes of Vishnu’s avatara of Lord Rama. The original Ramayana is quite lengthy according to standard estimation, but to those desiring to connect with God on a regular basis, there can never be enough verses describing the wonderful activities of the Supreme Lord and His spiritual forms which descend to earth to delight the saintly class of men. Therefore, people who follow in the disciplic succession of bhakti write their own poems, books and commentaries so that they can create even more points of interaction with their beloved Lord. The famous Ramacharitamanasa of Goswami Tulsidas serves as an example. The author took a different version of the telling of Rama’s life story so that his mind could have even more distinct pastimes to concentrate on. In the beginning of this work, the wonderful poet explains that there are actually millions of verses to describe Rama and His divine acts, but that he is only going to share a few that are known to please himself and also those interested in hearing about Rama.
With sobriety comes the ability to chant the holy names with full attention. Recite the sacred formula of, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and try to hear the sound vibrations as you chant. Without any other effort, the hearing alone will bring God’s presence. With the personal influence of the Supreme Spirit resting comfortably within the consciousness, pious behavior will naturally follow. The restrictions on sinful activity that were previously followed with reluctance will be cast aside as being unimportant. Adherence to nonviolence will be as routine as getting up in the morning and taking a shower. Avoiding intoxication will be like avoiding foods that you don’t like; a restriction you don’t have to think about. The sweetheart loving the entire creation will cherish their bhakti-yoga even more, for through service to God one learns how to properly serve man and the rest of the creation.
To offer love the good mother never thinks how,
Provides milk on the spot for offspring does the cow.
Thus between humans and animals not much difference,
Both in protecting innocent children time is spent.
Places with violence and protection already exist,
Thus study both before either you dismiss.
Sober man knows existence’s purpose,
Following bhakti one animal flesh won’t miss.
To innocent creatures we already show compassion,
Why not to cows too following Krishna’s direction?