Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cow protection and vegan diet

Recently I was sent a link to a video of a lecture by Swami B.A. Paramadwaiti given in Vrindavan. In the video he speaks of many different things, obviously outlining the directions he wants his own devotional organization, Vrinda, to take in the future. One of the things he spoke of in particular was the issue of milk products:
"You could say, milk from the market is coming from the cow concentration camp. [---] Then comes the next thing, that this milk industry, producing this concentration-camp milk, butter, cheese, yoghurt – that industry puts chemicals into the cows and produces a milk that is not healthy. In other words, all these milk products, they're the reason why you have this disease and that disease and that disease, and why the hospitals are filled. This is not healthy food. [---] We want the Vrinda family to go in a vegan lifestyle. [---] We didn't want to make it like an absolute, but at least we wanted to give that example."

The subsequent discussion became quite lengthy with many devotees defending the status quo, arguing that offering milk from unprotected cows was a way of benefiting the cows, and that Krishna wanted milk products to be offered to him, even if they were extracted through the factory farming system that is the dairy industry. Moreover, they accused Paramadvaiti Maharaj of preaching a vegan diet for its own sake rather than seeing that this was an act of resistance to the slaughterhouse culture of what Prabhupada used to call the "demoniac civilization" of the West.

Most of the devotees' arguments seemed to me to be in particularly bad faith. I could not see them as anything other than the result of preferences based on taste. There were even some personal criticisms of Paramadvaiti Maharaj, accusing him of such bad faith, and me for supporting him!

I have known Parmadvaiti Maharaj for many years and I know that of all the people in the Krishna movement he is one who has been most active in environmental movements, trying to do something -- forming connections and alliances with other organizations interested in the planet and the future of humankind. He is particularly dedicated to the protection of Vrindavan heritage and culture, and he consistently pushes his disciples to serve the Dham to the extent of his resources.

As a person who has been far more active "in the world" not only as a preacher of Krishna bhakti, but as one who sees that devotees need to participate in concert with other people who are concerned about the direction human civilization is taking, he is taking things like diet seriously on all the levels it has an impact--spiritual, personal, ethical, social, and environmental.

The protection of the cow is a cornerstone of Sanatan Dharma and Vaishnava Dharma. But like so many other things, the cow can be taken as a symbol of all life and our relationship to it. We could, for instance, be concerned about beluga whales, dolphins, elephants or bald eagles or any number of endangered species. But the cow is a domesticated animal and so belongs to a different category of humanity's relation to the natural world.

Devotees belong in this fight. If you value milk, if you value the cow, if you think that Krishna is go-brāhmaṇa-hitāya ca, you cannot just be blasé about the way they are treated. Cows are slaughtered as soon as they are unprofitable. They are fed hormones and antibiotics to make them fatter and to produce unnatural amounts of milk. The male calves are treated with horrendous cruelty to be slaughtered for veal. The milk is also full of antibiotics because in most places cows are kept in inhumane conditions and are therefore susceptible to disease and it has also been found that antibiotics make the animals grow fatter. All this is cruelty to the cow that you support when you eat milk products in the West.

Not only that, but devotees belong with their allies. In ordinary circumstances, devotees are happy to claim dubious support from those with whom they share common concern: an Einstein quote or a George Harrison song, a Russell Brand endorsement, a photograph with a political leader. But if people are serious about preaching in the world, they should find common cause with those who share the same values, especially where those are core values of Krishna consciousness.

Some devotees insist that Prabhupada offered milk to the deities, even knowing of their provenance. But what Srila Prabhupada did before anything else was to challenge Christians about why they did not follow God's commandment to not kill. Did he not teach that this was the most important sign of the decadence of the material civilization in which we live?

So this is definitely an issue for every devotee to think about seriously. I am not saying that it is easy. In this crappy world even the health food shops sell meat, and even "organic milk" comes from dubious sources.

Worthy of mention is that there are some devotees who have taken this teaching seriously and provide hope for future directions. Ahimsa cheese from Gita Nagari, Ahimsa milk in Great Britain. These projects may not be as successful as hoped, but they are a beginning. They exist and let us hope that they develop as they should.


Foco A said...

Reverend Eslam
F.I.S.H Paragraph 35. Food in the mode of purity promotes good physical and mental health. Such foods include (above all) fruits, vegetables, nuts, pulses, grains, roots, stumps (e.g. pineapple), flowers (e.g. cauliflower), seeds, herbs and of course purified water (or milk in the case of infants). Milk is intended solely for consumption by infants of the same species. Cow’s milk is for baby cows, not adult humans. The logic is overwhelming.
Foods in the mode of passion promote indigestion and overly-excite the mind. Such foods are basically the same as above but with excessive amounts of oil, spices, salt and/or other condiments added. Most drugs such as caffeine, alcohol, black tea and narcotics (though hardly food) fall into this category.
Food in the mode of darkness cannot rightly be called food at all. Such offal is putrid, decayed, overcooked or the remnants of another’s meal. Unnecessarily killing and/or consuming animals is an abominable action. It is not natural for humans to put dead animals like sheep, cows, chicken and fish inside their mouths. Sheep and cows are food for carnivorous animals such as lions, tigers and wolves and fish is food for marine and semi-aquatic species. Do humans live in the ocean? Of course not! Then why is it necessary for us to go into the water to find our food? Is that sensible? Not at all.

Anonymous said...

26. 'He who eats cow meat and drinks the liquor of immortality, I consider to be one of the lineage and a connoisseur in the science of mercury. Other experts in the science of mercury are inferior'

27. "To those who say that this [alchemical] order (sampradāya) is not a 'womb': it is maintained that mercury is a 'womb.' It is by means of it that the siddhi is obtained. No siddhi without mercury.

28. Until such time as one eats Siva's seed-that is, mercury, rasa- where shall he seek his liberation, where shall he seek the maintenance of his body?

29-30. There are those ignorant ones who, wholly besotted with liquor and flesh and deluded by Siva's illusion, prattle that we are liberated, we have gone to the world of Siva.' Then there are those dim-witted ones who are dissatisfied with the yogic preservation of the body. The universe, o Goddess, is enamoured with partial knowledge!

31. "Let him who has realized the power of flight and Siva-hood in his own body, and who has knowledge of mercury always practice the mercurial science, my darling."

From chapter I of the Rasārnava (Google it) found in the Rasārnava Nāma Rasātantra, 2d ed., edited with a Hindi commentary by Indradeo Tripathi, Haridas Sanskrit Granthamala, no. 88 (Benares: Chaukhamba Sanskrit Series Office, 1978), pp. L-14.