Speaking on the troubled condition of our modern world, the late historian Arnold Toynbee once said, "The cause of it [the world's malady] is spiritual. We are suffering from having sold our souls to the pursuit of an objective which is both spiritually wrong and practically unobtainable. We have to reconsider our objective and change it. And until we do this, we shall not have peace, either amongst ourselves or within each of us."
The conditions of our urbanized, technology-oriented society that prompted Dr. Toynbee's remarks are no mystery to us. Especially in the West, and increasingly in the rest of the world, the mad quest for artificial luxuries has created a chaotic atmosphere pervaded by greed and power-seeking. The goal of life? "How many ways can I make money?" and "How many ways can I spend it?" The results of such a philosophy are painfully evident: internationally, we face the risk of nuclear destruction; nationally, crime waves and political corruption rule the land; and individually, we are plagued with anxiety, frustration and despair. This is the unfortunate result of a society without spiritual direction. According to the Vedic scripture Srimad-Bhagavatam, a truly peaceful, progressive society must be based on service to God. Such a spiritually evolved civilization actually flourished on this planet five thousand years ago and the people were rich in both spiritual and material assets. The Supreme Lord was pleased with the service rendered by the citizens, and thus He profusely supplied the necessities of life milk, food grains, fruits, vegetables, silk, cotton, minerals and jewels. Being fully satisfied spiritually, people did not look for pleasure in artificial sensual stimulation indulged in at the cost of health and sanity. People lived simply, close to nature and close to God free of the encumbrances of a modern mechanistic civilization. Dwelling on tracts of land suitable for complete self-sufficiency, Vedic agricultural families used all the resources at hand. Because the cows were treated very affectionately and protected from any harm, they were very joyful and secure. Thus, they contributed much greater amounts of milk than today's animals. The very valuable cow dung was used not only as a fertilizer but also as a heating and cooking fuel, and even as a cleanser. (Modern science has confirmed the disinfectant properties of cow dung.) And bulls provided the muscle for plowing and harvesting the fields, milling the grain, and pulling oxcarts full of people and commodities.
Accustomed as we are to modern conveniences, we may regard such a life as primitive and far from ideal. However, when the Supreme Lord Sri Krsna appeared on this planet five thousand years ago, He showed by His own example that for both material prosperity and spiritual advancement, human civilization must maintain the cow and bull very carefully.
At New Vrndavana, ISKCON's Vedic village near Moundsville, West Virginia, Lord Krsna's example is being put into practice. Established by His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada nine years ago, New Vrndavana now spreads over one thousand acres of hilly farmland and is a perfect example of the benefits derived from organizing society according to the principles of cow protection and service to Krsna. His Holiness Kirtanananda Svami, leader of the New Vrndavana community, describes the project's purpose: "It is a great vision of presenting to everyone, not only in this country but in the whole world, how one can become Krsna conscious living just as Krsna lived in Vrndavana, depending on nature and the cows."
The following is a conversation between BTG staff photographer Visakha-devi dasi and two cowherd men of New Vrndavana.
Visakha dasi: You seem to enjoy working with cows very much. Can you tell us why?
Ambarisa dasa: The cows here at New Vrndavana are special. You can sense this immediately when you come in contact with them. They're Krsna's cows. They're very dear to Krsna, and when you work with them it's easy to remember Him. They're mellow and their temperament reflects on you.
You have to approach them with an attitude of service. By relating to them on a personal basis and serving them with a humble attitude, you can see them as living beings with feelings and personalities. Most farmers raise cows with a dollar sign in their mind. It's very impersonal. Regular dairy farmers or ranchers use the cow as a machine or a tool for their own selfish ends. It's very gross. But when we serve Krsna's cows, we realize that each one has a specific personality.
Visakha dasi: Why do you say that these cows at New Vrndavana are Krsna's cows? Aren't all the cows everywhere Krsna's cows?
Ambarisa dasa: Yes, but these cows are special. They belong to Krsna even more because they're serving Krsna more. That is, their milk is being offered to Krsna in the temple here. That's why we take so much trouble with them. Because the milk they give is for the pleasure of Lord Krsna. Also, these cows are happier than cows on other farms. Most farmers send their cows to the slaughterhouse when they get to be a certain age. The cows know they're going to be slaughtered they can sense it. They seem very sad, so they're less attractive. But our cows know they're not going to be slaughtered they know they're being protected. They're a lot happier, and they give lots of milk.
Visakha dasi: What's your daily routine?
Ganendra dasa: One of the best things about working with cows is that your life becomes well regulated. We get up at two in the morning to milk the cows. It's very nice because we know we're doing it just to please Lord Krsna. It puts us right on the transcendental plane first thing in the day.
The schedule fits in nicely with our temple routine. We milk the cows at two o'clock, and as soon as we're done milking, we go into the temple and attend the morning functions. We're busy all the time this way, and we don't fall down to a mundane level. The early morning hours are the best time for spiritual practice.
Ambarisa dasa: Cows are the most regulated animals I know. They eat at a certain time, are milked at a certain time, go out to the fields at a certain time, walk so many hours a day, chew their cud for so many hours a day. Their bodies function on a tight schedule, and whenever this schedule is upset even a little bit, they immediately let you know. So you have to be really fixed in your duty. You have to think, "If I don't milk the cows, they'll get sick, and then they won't give any milk." The devotees who are cooking the food that gets offered to Krsna are thinking the same thing "If I don't cook this offering for Krsna, then He won't get anything to eat." The consciousness is very personal, very nice.
Ganendra dasa: It's just like with people. There's always an exchange of feelings. Since the cow is a person too, when we become friendly toward them, each cow responds personally. That's how cows are the more affectionate you are to them, the more affectionate they are to you. They give more milk and are happier.
Ambarisa dasa: That's one thing about New Vrndavana. All the animals here are free from anxiety, and anyone who comes here feels that and also becomes free from anxiety. Recently a newspaper reporter visited us, and he wrote in his article that when you're at New Vrndavana you may not realize how free from the mundane rat race you are, but as soon as you go back you understand that you've been in a transcendental place.
Visakha dasi: Do you think it's practical to put so much emphasis on the cow?
Ganendra dasa: Well, we've seen here that cows actually can support human society materially and spiritually. In fact, that's the purpose of the cow. They give more milk than their calves can drink. So the extra milk is meant for us it helps us develop a good brain for understanding spiritual life. Also, she supplies pure cow dung that can be recycled into the fields to cultivate the grains and the pastures. And the bull helps till the fields. In this way a perfect cycle is maintained. We cultivate crops on land fertilized with manure; then we offer the food to Lord Krsna: Krsna eats sumptuously, we eat sumptuously, the cows eat sumptuously, and everyone is satisfied.
On the other hand, slaughtering the cow is detrimental to everyone. The meat is harmful to your body and your brain. And the cow has been caused much pain, so there are great sinful reactions to suffer. If you protect the cows, give them what they want, and derive the benefits in the way Krsna intended, then when they die of their own accord you can use the skin for leather, if necessary. But you don't have to kill cows.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam says the cow is an offenseless living being. It's Krsna's arrangement that the cow takes so little and gives so much. From her milk you can make hundreds of delicious preparations. She simply performs her service very peacefully without any bother to anyone. These are the qualities of an ideal devotee, and they're reflected on those who work with the cows.