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Cow protection and human civilization
According to Vedic culture, Śrīla Prabhupāda says, human beings should treat all animals with mercy and compassion. Above any other species, however, the cow is considered uniquely important to humanity. Śrīla Prabhupāda argues that the cow is an animal worthy of special protection because it supplies key products to support human culture. He speaks of the general economic value of the cow as a provider of foodstuff (in the form of milk) and materials (such as hide and bone) for footwear and various tools and instruments. Above this, he advocates cow protection as a bolster of higher-level civilization under the auspices of brahminical culture. In this regard he pinpoints the special nutritional value of milk and the specific necessity of cow products for the performance of yajñas, religious sacrifices offered for the satisfaction of the Supreme Lord.
The cow and human society
Śrīla Prabhupāda explains that the human being has a special, beneficial relationship with the cow and that this relationship should be supported.
That is nature's way, by God's will, that a cow gives forty pounds, fifty pounds milk daily, but it does not drink. Although it is her milk, no, it gives you, human society: "You take. But don't kill me. Let me live. I am eating only grass." Just see... Without touching your foodstuff, the cow is eating the grass which is given by God, immense grass, and they are giving you the finest foodstuff, milk.
Just like fruits, flowers, vegetables, rice, grains, milk - the animals do not come to claim that "I shall eat this." No. It is meant for man. Just like milk. Milk is an animal product. It is the blood of the cow changed only. But the milk is not drunk by the cow. She is delivering the milk, but she's not taking, because it is not allotted for it. By nature's way. So you have to take. Milk is made for man, so you take the milk. Let her live and supply you milk continually. Why should you kill? Follow nature's law. Then you'll be happy. Tena tyaktena bhuñjīthā (ISO 1). Whatever is allotted to you, take.
Man can produce fruits and flowers, grains, take the substance, and the rejected portion give to the animal. She gives you milk. You require milk. This is cooperation.
Śrīla Prabhupāda further notes that in the Vedic view, the cow and bull are seen as mother and father of society. Their service to human society is so vital that the Vedas specifically instruct the vaiśya class - the agricultural and commercial section of society - to give protection to these animals.
Lord Kṛṣṇa, as the teacher of human society, personally showed by His acts that the mercantile community, or the vaiśyas, should herd cows and bulls and thus give protection to the valuable animals. According to smṛti regulation, the cow is the mother and the bull the father of the human being. The cow is the mother because just as one sucks the breast of one's mother, human society takes cow's milk. Similarly, the bull is the father of human society because the father earns for the children just as the bull tills the ground to produce food grains. Human society will kill its spirit of life by killing the father and the mother.
Supporting brahminical culture
Śrīla Prabhupāda gives this succinct definition of brahminical culture:
Brahminical culture means the social position in which everyone is assisted to elevate himself to the highest position of understanding the position and the constitution of the soul. That should be the aim of human society.
Referring to the teachings of the Vedas, Śrīla Prabhupāda indicates that cow protection and brahminical culture stand together as pillars of civilized society. He writes in one of his Bhagavad-gītā purports:
There is also a prayer in the Vedic literature that states:
- namo brahmaṇya-devāya
- go-brāhmaṇa-hitāya ca
- jagad-dhitāya kṛṣṇāya
- govindāya namo namaḥ
"My Lord, You are the well-wisher of the cows and the brāhmaṇas, and You are the well-wisher of the entire human society and world." (Viṣṇu Purāṇa 1.19.65) The purport is that special mention is given in that prayer for the protection of the cows and the brāhmaṇas. Brāhmaṇas are the symbol of spiritual education, and cows are the symbol of the most valuable food; these two living creatures, the brāhmaṇas and the cows, must be given all protection—that is real advancement of civilization.
He further writes: "Without cow protection and cultivation of the brahminical qualities in human society, at least for a section of the members of society, no human civilization can prosper at any length."
Progressive human civilization is based on brahminical culture, God consciousness and protection of cows. All economic development of the state by trade, commerce, agriculture and industries must be fully utilized in relation to the above principles; otherwise all so-called economic development becomes a source of degradation. Cow protection means feeding the brahminical culture, which leads towards God consciousness, and thus perfection of human civilization is achieved.
Thus Śrīla Prabhupāda argues that brahminical culture must be present to guide human civilization in its purpose, which is to promote spiritual advancement (as well as material well-being) for the social body as a whole. Śrīla Prabhupāda thus presents cow protection, through its relation to brahminical culture, to be a basic principle of civilized life. Specifically, he says, cow protection supports higher culture by ensuring a good supply of milk products necessary for human nutrition and for essential religious observances.
Nutrition for humanity
As Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote to one of his disciples: "Vedic civilization gives protection to all the living creatures, especially the cows, because they render such valuable service to the human society in the shape of milk, without which no one can become healthy and strong." He advocates milk as topmost among human foodstuffs. While he notes that all foods in the highest quality of nature (sattva-guna, or the mode of goodness) support health and human achievement, Śrīla Prabhupāda especially emphasizes the value of milk:
Human civilization means to advance the cause of brahminical culture, and to maintain it, cow protection is essential. There is a miracle in milk, for it contains all the necessary vitamins to sustain human physiological conditions for higher achievements. Brahminical culture can advance only when man is educated to develop the quality of goodness, and for this there is a prime necessity of food prepared with milk, fruits and grains.
Milk, he says, promotes optimum health and development of the human brain.
If we really want to cultivate the human spirit in society we must have first-class intelligent men to guide the society, and to develop the finer tissues of our brains we must assimilate vitamin values from milk... No society can improve in transcendental knowledge without the guidance of such first-class men, and no brain can assimilate the subtle form of knowledge without fine brain tissues. For such important brain tissues we require a sufficient quantity of milk and milk preparations. Ultimately, we need to protect the cow to derive the highest benefit from this important animal. The protection of cows, therefore, is not merely a religious sentiment but a means to secure the highest benefit for human society.
Śrīla Prabhupāda further teaches that milk is an essential part of everyone's life.
So from the cows, the milk. And from the milk we can make hundreds of vitaminous foodstuff, hundreds. They're all palatable. So such a nice animal, faithful, peaceful, and beneficial. After taking milk from it, if we kill, does it look very well? Even after the death, the cows supply the skin for your shoes. It is so beneficial. You see. Even after death. While living, he gives you nice milk. You cannot reject milk from the human society. As soon as there is a child born, milk immediately required. Old man, milk is life. Diseased person, milk is life. Invalid, milk is life. So therefore Kṛṣṇa is teaching by His practical demonstration how He loves this innocent animal, cow. So human society should develop brahminical culture on the basis of protecting cows. The brāhmaṇa cannot take any other food except it is made of milk preparation. That develops the finer tissues of the brain. You can understand in subtle matters, in philosophy, in spiritual science.
By protecting cows and opting for milk instead of meat, he writes, civilization can become truly progressive:
One cannot become spiritually advanced without acquiring the brahminical qualifications and giving protection to cows. Cow protection ensures sufficient food prepared with milk, which is needed for an advanced civilization. One should not pollute civilization by eating the flesh of cows. A civilization must do something progressive... Instead of killing the cow to eat flesh, civilized men must prepare various milk products that will enhance the condition of society. If one follows the brahminical culture, he will become competent in Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Ingredient for yajñas
In addition to the role of milk as foodstuff, Śrīla Prabhupāda specifies cow products as necessary ingredients for religious sacrifices performed for the satisfaction of the Lord (yajñas). He stresses that yajña is required for the material as well as the spiritual benefit of society. Cow protection, he argues, supports the production of milk and other vital substances, which in turn support the total quality of life through the performance of yajñas.
Butter, when clarified by melting, produces ghee, or clarified butter, which is inevitably necessary for performing great ritualistic sacrifices. As stated in Bhagavad-gītā (18.5), yajña-dāna-tapaḥ-karma na tyājyaṁ kāryam eva tat: sacrifice, charity and austerity are essential to keep human society perfect in peace and prosperity. Yajña, the performance of sacrifice, is essential; to perform yajña, clarified butter is absolutely necessary; and to get clarified butter, milk is necessary. Milk is produced when there are sufficient cows. Therefore in Bhagavad-gītā (18.44), cow protection is recommended (kṛṣi-go-rakṣya-vāṇijyaṁ vaiśya-karma svabhāva jam).
In human life, one should be trained to perform yajñas. As we are informed in Bhagavad-gītā (3.9), yajñārthāt karmaṇo 'nyatra loko 'yaṁ karma-bandhanaḥ: if we do not perform yajña, we shall simply work very hard for sense gratification like dogs and hogs. This is not civilization. A human being should be trained to perform yajña. Yajñād bhavati parjanyaḥ (BG 3.14). If yajñas are regularly performed, there will be proper rain from the sky, and when there is regular rainfall, the land will be fertile and suitable for producing all the necessities of life. Yajña, therefore, is essential. For performing yajña, clarified butter is essential, and for clarified butter, cow protection is essential. Therefore, if we neglect the Vedic way of civilization, we shall certainly suffer.
Pañca-gavya, the five products received from the cow, namely milk, yogurt, ghee, cow dung and cow urine, are required in all ritualistic ceremonies performed according to the Vedic directions. Cow urine and cow dung are uncontaminated, and since even the urine and dung of a cow are important, we can just imagine how important this animal is for human civilization. Therefore the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, directly advocates go-rakṣya, the protection of cows. Civilized men who follow the system of varṇāśrama, especially those of the vaiśya class, who engage in agriculture and trade, must give protection to the cows. Unfortunately, because people in Kali-yuga are mandāḥ, all bad, and sumanda-matayaḥ, 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 and 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.
Duty of the vaiśyas (mercantile class)
Śrīla Prabhupāda teaches that, in the Vedic division of society, the mercantile and agricultural sector - known as the vaiśya class - bears responsibility toward the animals of the community, particularly the cows. Bhagavad-gītā (18.44) specifically cites cow protection as a duty of the vaiśya class. Śrīla Prabhupāda comments:
Kṛṣi-go-rakṣya-vāṇijyaṁ vaiśya-karma svabhāva-jam (BG 18.44). Vaiśya, they should engage themselves in agricultural production and giving protection to the cows, especially mentioned, go-rakṣya. Go-rakṣya, cow protection, is one of the items of state affairs.
In the Bhagavad-gītā you will find that the mercantile class... Who are mercantile class? Kṛṣi-go-rakṣya-vāṇijyaṁ vaiśya-karma svabhāva-jam (BG 18.44). Vaiśya means the mercantile community. They are meant for giving protection to the animals, and produce grain, and distribute and make trade on them. That's all. Because formerly there was no industry—people generally depended on agricultural work—therefore the mercantile community, they used to produce food grains and distribute them, and protection of cow was their duty. As the king was entrusted to protect the life of the citizens, similarly, the vaiśya class, or the mercantile class, they were entrusted to protect the life of cow. Why particularly cow is protected? Because milk is very essential food for the human society, therefore cow protection is the duty of the human society. That is the conception of Vedic literature.
There are so many facilities afforded by cow protection, but people have forgotten these arts. The importance of protecting cows is therefore stressed by Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad-gītā (kṛṣi-go-rakṣya-vāṇijyaṁ vaiśya-karma svabhāvajam (BG 18.44)). Even now in the Indian villages surrounding Vṛndāvana, the villagers live happily simply by giving protection to the cow. They keep cow dung very carefully and dry it to use as fuel. They keep a sufficient stock of grains, and because of giving protection to the cows, they have sufficient milk and milk products to solve all economic problems. Simply by giving protection to the cow, the villagers live so peacefully. Even the urine and stool of cows have medicinal value.
Śrīla Prabhupāda highlights cow protection as an equitable economy which promotes the well-being of all its members. Contrasting Vedic society to modern industrial society, he condemns the mass killing of cows and other animals as a practice which leads not to a higher standard of civilization but rather to degradation and suffering.
The vaiśyas, the members of the mercantile communities, are especially advised to protect the cows. Cow protection means increasing the milk productions, namely curd and butter. Agriculture and distribution of the foodstuff are the primary duties of the mercantile community backed by education in Vedic knowledge and trained to give in charity. As the kṣatriyas were given charge of the protection of the citizens, vaiśyas were given the charge of the protection of animals. Animals are never meant to be killed. Killing of animals is a symptom of barbarian society. For a human being, agricultural produce, fruits and milk are sufficient and compatible foodstuffs. The human society should give more attention to animal protection. The productive energy of the laborer is misused when he is occupied by industrial enterprises. Industry of various types cannot produce the essential needs of man, namely rice, wheat, grains, milk, fruits and vegetables. The production of machines and machine tools increases the artificial living fashion of a class of vested interests and keeps thousands of men in starvation and unrest. This should not be the standard of civilization.
Do not touch the cow
Although the Vedas give some allowance for animal slaughter and meat-eating under certain conditions, it is enjoined that the cow is never to be harmed. Śrīla Prabhupāda comments that although the law of subsistence mentions four-legged animals as one class of human eatable, the cow is excluded, as evident in the statement of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 6.4.9. He writes in his purport:
By nature's law, or the arrangement of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one kind of living entity is eatable by other living entities. As mentioned herein, dvi-padāṁ ca catuṣ-padaḥ: the four-legged animals (catuṣ-padaḥ), as well as food grains, are eatables for human beings (dvi-padām). These four-legged animals are those such as deer and goats, not cows, which are meant to be protected. Generally the men of the higher classes of society—the brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas and vaiśyas—do not eat meat. Sometimes kṣatriyas go to the forest to kill animals like deer because they have to learn the art of killing, and sometimes they eat the animals also. Śūdras, too, eat animals such as goats. Cows, however, are never meant to be killed or eaten by human beings. In every śāstra, cow killing is vehemently condemned... Those who desire to eat meat may satisfy the demands of their tongues by eating lower animals, but they should never kill cows, who are actually accepted as the mothers of human society because they supply milk. The śāstra especially recommends, kṛṣi-go-rakṣya: the vaiśya section of humanity should arrange for the food of the entire society through agricultural activities and should give full protection to the cows, which are the most useful animals because they supply milk to human society.
Śrīla Prabhupāda argues that the cow is so important to humanity that even out of morality and simple gratitude, human society should see to it that the cow not be subject to slaughter.
Why cow protection is so much advocated? Because it is very, very important. There is no such injunction that "You don't eat the flesh of the tiger." You can eat. Because those who are meat eaters, those who are meat eaters, they have been recommended to eat the flesh of goats or other lower animals—sometimes dogs also, they eat, or the hogs—you can eat. But never the flesh of cows. So, innocent animal, the most important animal, giving service even after death... While living, giving service, so important service, giving you milk, even after death she is giving service by supplying the skin, the hoof, the horn. You utilize in so many ways. But still, the present human society is so ungrateful and rascal that they are killing cows.
Śrīla Prabhupāda In conclusion, Śrīla Prabhupāda advises that those who insist on eating meat may follow scriptural recommendations for sacrifice and consume other animals - but never the cow. As he instructs, "First of all, they should not be meat-eater. But if you are staunch meat-eaters, then you cannot touch cow."
In the matter of protecting the cows, the meat-eaters will protest, but in answer to them we may say that since Kṛṣṇa gives stress to cow protection, those who are inclined to eat meat may eat the flesh of unimportant animals like hogs, dogs, goats and sheep, but they should not touch the life of the cows, for this is destructive to the spiritual advancement of human society.
(Go to references for "Special status of the cow")
Best overall benefit for humanity
Śrīla Prabhupāda writes of how cow protection bolsters the morale as well as the economic condition of the human community.
The bull is the emblem of the moral principle, and the cow is the representative of the earth. When the bull and the cow are in a joyful mood, it is to be understood that the people of the world are also in a joyful mood. The reason is that the bull helps production of grains in the agricultural field, and the cow delivers milk, the miracle of aggregate food values. The human society, therefore, maintains these two important animals very carefully so that they can wander everywhere in cheerfulness.
Milking the cow means drawing the principles of religion in a liquid form... Foolish people do not know how one earns happiness by making the cows and bulls happy, but it is a fact by the law of nature. Let us take it from the authority of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and adopt the principles for the total happiness of humanity.
The bull and the cow can be protected for the good of all human society simply by the spreading of brahminical culture as the topmost perfection of all cultural affairs. By advancement of such culture, the morale of society is properly maintained, and so peace and prosperity are also attained without extraneous effort.
In summary, Śrīla Prabhupāda calls for all societies to follow the instruction of the Vedas and establish the practice of cow protection (go-rakṣya) for the best overall benefit of the human race.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead, in His instructions of Bhagavad-gītā, advises go-rakṣya, which means cow protection. The cow should be protected, milk should be drawn from the cows, and this milk should be prepared in various ways. One should take ample milk, and thus one can prolong one's life, develop his brain, execute devotional service, and ultimately attain the favor of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
- Vanisource: Lecture on SB 1.3.14 – Los Angeles, September 19, 1972
- Vanisource: Lecture on Brahma-samhita, Verse 32 – New York, July 26, 1971
- Vanisource: Room Conversation with Richard Webster, chairman, Societa Filosofica Italiana – May 24, 1974, Rome
- Vanisource: SB 3.2.29, Purport
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- Vanisource: BG 14.16, Purport
- Vanisource: SB 1.14.34, Purport
- Vanisource: SB 1.19.3, Purport
- Vanisource: Letter to Rupanuga -- Vrindaban, 7 December 1975
- See Vaniquotes: Foods in goodness
- Vanisource: SB 1.16.4, Purport
- Vanisource: Light of the Bhagavata, Verse 27, Purport
- Vanisource: Lecture – Los Angeles, December 4, 1968
- Vanisource: SB 6.18.52, Purport
- Vanisource: SB 8.8.1, Purport
- Vanisource: SB 9.15.26, Purport
- Vanisource: SB 8.8.11, Purport
- Vanisource: Lecture on BG 1.12 -- London, July 13, 1973
- Vanisource: Lecture on BG 2.46-47 -- New York, March 28, 1966
- Vanisource: SB 10.6.9, Purport
- Vanisource: SB 1.9.26, Purport
- Vanisource: SB 6.4.9, Purport
- Vanisource: Lecture on SB 1.8.43 – Los Angeles, May 5, 1973
- Vanisource: Lecture on BG 1.40
- Vanisource: SB 9.15.25, Purport
- Vanisource: SB 1.16.18, Purport
- Vanisource: SB 1.17.3, Purport
- Vanisource: SB 1.16.8, Purport
- Vanisource: SB 8.16.12, Purport