Harpa's no ordinary cow, and her break for freedom
should make us pause to consider the plight of her species.
A letter has arrived at Back to Godhead's Philadelphia office from Alarka dasi, a devotee at ISKCON's temple near Jarna, Sweden. Enclosed is a clipping from Icelandair's in-flight magazine about a cow who swam 2 ½ kilometers across a near-freezing Icelandic fjord. The cow, named Harpa, broke away from the herd as she was being led to a slaughterhouse in the town of Flateyri on the shore of Onundarfjordur. Plunging into the fjord, she made land on the opposite shore an hour later, unassisted, although by that time a boat crew from the local ground-sea rescue team had caught up with her.
Gudmundar Steinar Bjorgmundsson, amazed at Harpa's feat, was waiting on the shore. He bought her on the spot and led her proudly to his farm, where she made herself at home in the barn and gratefully presented Gudmundar with an udderful of milk.
Harpa's story is truly amazing, but I wonder what in the world I am supposed to do with it. Maybe I shouldn't do anything. Between complaints that I hog too much space in this magazine on the one hand, and suggestions out of the blue for article topics on the other, I'm growing mildly schizoid anyway. And now this: a sea-going cow.
But there's hidden meaning to this letter. It is significant that devotees of Krsna should find Harpa's story important. Yes, members of ISKCON hold cows sacred. Another name for Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Govinda, "He who gives pleasure to the cows." In His original form, Krsna is a cowherd boy who spends His days tending an unlimited hers of gentle, transcendental cows with His cowherd boyfriends.
So a devotee is appalled at how human society treats the cow. The sarcastic expression "sacred cow," for example, as well as the expletive "holy cow!" pain us because they evidence a disrespect, deeply rooted in the language itself, the cow's life. Modern civilised man thinks himself too smart, too scientifically advanced, too free from superstition, artificial piety, and notions of transcendence to respect, what to speak of worship, an animal.
But we don't ask you to worship. Fact is, the cow is the mother of human society because she provides milk, which is a delicious and indispensable part of man's diet. How many tons of milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream, and butter man consumes daily! And yet how many cows like Harpa are daily led to slaughter? Never mind piety or transcendence. What really concerns devotees is something much more down-to-earth, something no civilisation can ignore if it wants to survive for more than a few centuries.
It's called gratitude. In this case gratitude toward a very real mother. And it is intimately connected with other indispensable qualities, like mercy and compassion. How much more men might show civilised gratitude and compassion toward each other if they could show it toward their mother. Animal-killing is not civilised. Cow-killing is indescribably base.
So leave the cow worship to us. You need to work on preliminaries like respect for your mother and gratefulness for how she feeds you.
Which brings me to another hidden meaning in this Icelandair news clipping. I have it from reliable sources that Harpa was trained at our Jarna center. Alarka dasi spent months teaching her a bovine version of the dog paddle, then shipped her to Iceland aboard one of ISKCON's submarines, where she was to infiltrate the herd and cause an uprising in Flateyri. When her efforts failed, Harpa broke away and swam the fjord. She was picked up on the other shore by Sri Rama dasa, Alarka's husband, who was using his Bjorgmundsson alias.
Good going, team. Better luck next time, Harpa.