By HH Sivarama Swami
Krsi goraksya vanijya. Krsi means ploughing or agriculture and goraksya, cow protection. These are the staples of society, this is what people live on. All living entities subsist on grains. So the ksatriyas may direct and instruct people, the brahmanas may perform their yajnas, but if they don’t eat then giving shelter or instruction is not going to work.
That eating is therefore the most essential aspect of life and this is why the vaisyas and their assistants, the sudras, are so integral that the other castes think that they are the most important people, because it is actually they who are feeding. Of course the vaisyas think that the brahmanas are the most important because they are taking the result of their work and offering it back to the Lord.
Srila Prabhupada said that this very common type of exchange was there but the responsibility of this goraksya, is it the duty of just some people? Some very very exclusive people? Is it the responsibility of all vaisyas, or is it for all grhastas or all devotees?
My proposition is that it is everyone’s responsibility. Just like everyone’s responsibility is chanting Hare Krishna, watering Tulasi devi, reading Bhagavatam. Similarly part of our common dharma is to protect cows. This is something that you see ingrained in communities like Bhaktivedanta Manor, where they have to limit the amount of cows they receive as gifts, and be very careful about the type of food that is offered to the cows, because to a greater or lesser degree all the devotees see the protection of cows as their dharma.
It is everyone’s dharma: the cow is our mother, she gives us milk while all over the rest of the world cows are being butchered, slaughtered, abused, and taken advantage of. Vaisnavas must take it as their responsibility to protect cows. Now, how do you protect cows? Does that mean that you have a cow on your balcony in downtown Singapore? No, that type of cow protection is actually cow abuse. You cannot just keep your own cow.
Cows only give milk if they have calves, which means you have to constantly have calves, which means you have to have a herd, and that is a full time business. So how is it that individuals should protect cows? They should in some way or another be connected to ISKCON’s herds. Srila Prabhupada established cow protection for instance in New Vrindavan, Gita Nagari, or as we have done here in Hungary at New Vraja-dhama. These herds are not the sole responsibility or duty of the local devotees in those places, they are the responsibility of the devotees and congregation of the local country. It is their responsibility to contribute to the cow protection, to donate towards the maintenance of the cow, to come and do some cow seva, and when they come to the temple they should bring some bhoga for the cows, to find out what items are needed by the cowherds.
Cow protection is everyone’s business, it is everyone’s responsibility. This is being written down as varnasrama dharma. If one does not contribute or participate directly in cow protection then he should know that he is neglecting his dharma. In other words he is adharmic.
This is in my view the greater picture of what varnasrama means. Varnasrama doesn’t mean that we simply philosophize about a way of life, but what are the duties of varnas and asramas, what are the duties that are common for all Vaisnavas, for all humans. And one of them is the protection of cows, just like chanting Hare Krsna is a common responsibility as mentioned earlier.
So, similairly, cow protection is a common responsibility for everyone. It doesn’t necessarily always occur to us, and even when it does, it’s difficult to get devotees interested. More difficult than getting devotees to do sankirtan, more difficult than getting someone to cook in the kitchen or be temple president, is to get devotees to be cowherds. To make devotees work with the cows, bulls, and oxen and to make that their life, it is very difficult for devotees to do this. “I am an educated person, I have this diploma and you want me to take care of cows? You want me to do that thing that God does? You want me to do that activity that is going on in the spiritual world?”
And that is what is going on the spiritual world. That is what is going on where we are going–at least where I want to go is where there is only gopas and gopis. The whole social identity is based on go, on cows. There are milkmaids and there are cowherd men. And if we are not willing to be milkmaids and cowherd men here in the material world, if this service is beyond us and we cannot forsee how we are going to dedicate our lives to working with the cows, then were are we going? Then you had better look for somewhere other than Braja. Then you had better go to Dwaraka or Vaikuntha, where that is not a compulsory, integral part of life.
Because in the spiritual world, in Goloka Vrindavan, Krishna goes out every day to tend cows. And yet it is so difficult to get devotees to be cowherders, to see that this is a respectable future, and to stick with that service. Because once again, cow protection is something that we talk about as being against the principles of slaughtering the animals. We don’t believe in slaughtering the cow, we don’t believe in eating the meat of the cow, cows should be properly protected. But, when it comes to properly protecting the cows, are we willing to do it? Are we actually willing to dedicate our lives to taking care of cows? Or are we willing to participate and support the protection of cows?
Therefore, we should ask: “What am I doing for protecting my mother? What am I doing to sustain cow protection in my zone? It is my responsibility, my duty as a Vaisnava. Am I performing my dharmic duty?”