Cow Care in Hindu Animal Ethics

By Madhava Smullen, originally published at Iskcon News.

Cow Care in Hindu Animal Ethics, a new book by Iskcon guru and scholar Krishna Kshetra Swami, will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in early 2020. The work is set to make caring for cows, in the spirit of devotion, a serious topic of discussion in academia worldwide.

The book has five chapters: the first gives a literary overview on cows and cow care, from the Rig Veda, through the Srimad-Bhagavatam, to pre-modern bhakti literature and 20th-century Hindi articles, showing that cows have been considered important through the ages.

The second chapter introduces four key characters in the modern cow protection movement, which began in the late 19th-century. These are Dayananda Sarasvati, who wrote a very influential pamphlet on the subject in 1882; Mahatma Gandhi; B.R. Ambedkar, a founding father of independent India who disagreed with Gandhi (as a counter-voice to the Hindu perspective); and Iskcon Founder-Acharya Srila Prabhupada.

“I specifically call attention to the fact that Srila Prabhupada called for cow protection worldwide, rather than only in India,” Krishna Kshetra Swami says. “Quite radically, he also disconnected cow care from Hinduism. And to my knowledge, he never made a value distinction between Indian indigenous cow breeds and the Western bos Taurus varieties, which most Hindutva champions of cow protection do.”

In the second chapter, Krishna Kshetra Swami also discusses the controversial issue of whether animal sacrifices were performed in ancient times, following Vedic injunctions; as well as the later predominance of the ethics of ahimsa.

In chapter three, he covers the present-day situation regarding cows in India. To research this chapter, he spent time in India, visiting goshalas, and interviewing goshala managers, cow protectors and activists.

“I address the fact that India has one of the largest dairy industries in the world as of the 1970s, and that this is driving the meat industry there more than anything else,” he says. “India has a large industry of cow slaughter and meat, and especially [the] export of leather. I also address the volatile political situation in India around cow slaughter and activism against it.”

Chapter four tackles the topic from a philosophical angle, introducing the notions of dharma, yoga, and bhakti in the context of animal ethics. Drawing from the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Krishna Kshetra Swami tells the story of Bharata, a yogi who becomes attached to a deer, then becomes a deer himself; and weaves this into a discussion on Western animal ethic theory.

He also discusses veganism, and whether we should stop drinking cow’s milk altogether, or focus instead on having a caring rather than exploitative relationship with cows.

Finally, the fifth chapter looks at the future of cow care. Here, Krishna Kshetra Swami introduces two Iskcon cow protection projects – Mayapur in India, and New Vrajadhama in Hungary. Acknowledging the number of cows they care for as extremely small compared to how many cows are killed, he nevertheless says that these and other similar projects provide a model for how cow care can be done. He also emphasizes the importance of not just caring for cows, but of the whole devotional way of life around it, in which cows are seen as family members.

The book concludes with six “affirmations” of cow care, which imagine a possible reality in present tense positive statements as if it is actually happening. These are tethered to the six “moral foundations of political life” discussed by social psychologist Professor Jonathan Haidt.

In summarized form, the affirmations are:

  1. Cow Care and Care – We care for cows throughout their natural lives as subjects, rather than as objects.
  2. Cow Care and Fairness – We ensure that byproducts of the cow such as milk are obtained only under strict conditions of respectful and caring treatment.
  3. Cow Care and Liberty – We honor that people have a choice in their diet while explaining the reasons for reducing meat consumption, including the environmental cost.
  4. Cow Care and Loyalty – The locus of our loyalty is not based on communalism (which in India contributes to conflicts around cow protection) but on knowledge in the mode of goodness, which, according to the Bhagavad-gita, reveals a single unchanging reality in all beings.
  5. Cow Care and Authority – We put our trust in authorities who have experience and knowledge in caring for cows, not just in politicians or other persons in positions of power.
  6. Cow Care and Sanctity – We consider cows as bearing sanctity, but not to the exclusion of other animals.

This article was originally published at Iskcon News and is partially reproduced here without the permission of the author, who is not affiliated with this website or its views.

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