If we spend time with the animals we can see that they not only obey basic
commands but also understand fear, happiness, and even friendship.

Not an Unfeeling Object

Gita, one of our oxen, passed away early today on Lord Nityananda’s Appearance day, February 18, 2008. Last night strong winds were carrying warm air while they moved billowy clouds swiftly across the sky. As I walked to and from the barns, it felt like someone was turning on and off a floodlight until I realized it was the clouds passing over the white bright moon. The stars were bright. There was a presence in the night: the wind personified to bring Gita away as he thrust his head into the air and opened his mouth.
At first I said, “Don’t do that Gita! Don’t stress yourself!” Then I would put his head down. After a couple of hours of Caitanya Bhagavata and I trying to make him comfortable, we came to realize he was trying to leave his body. He was opening his mouth so his soul could leave upward. We had given him Ganga water, placed the CD player of Srila Prabhupada chanting next to him, and on his head we placed Govardhana Sila. Govardhana Sila then sat on His altar on the wall facing Gita.
There are those who say there is no soul or consciousness in an ox such as Gita. Have they spent any time with such an animal while he lived and while he died? If they did, they would realize that not only does the ox understand friendship, basic commands, fear, and happiness, but he also understands when it is time to leave his material body.
Gita had arthritis for several years and each year it became more and more difficult for him to walk. This winter we put him in the geriatric barn so it would be easier for him to access his food and move around. Gita was one of our oldest oxen. He turned 18 years old recently. His twin brother, Vraja, died last summer. He also had arthritis. Together they plowed our fields, led many Rathayatra parades in the United States, and appeared at many events. They greeted guests with their handsome appearance and endearing personalities. In this way, they presented cow protection to the public.
Around February 9, Gita was not able to get up. He did not have the power in his back legs to push up his large body. Since he was an old ox, we expected that he would leave his body in the near future. We kept him as comfortable as possible and fed him as much as he wanted to eat and drink. In preparation for parting, he daily listened to Srila Prabhupada’s sacred chanting and received holy Ganga water.
Although, it is the exception for an ox to do so much service to Lord Jagannatha and to listen to the chanting of the holy names, it is common for an ox to have given most of his life in service to humanity. However, humans have not given sufficient recognition to the cognitive powers possessed by an ox to do that service.
“Remarkable cognitive abilities and cultural innovations have been revealed,” Christine Nicol, professor of animal welfare at Britain’s Bristol University, says. “Our challenge is to teach others that every farm animal is a complex individual, and to adjust our farming culture accordingly.”
Professor Donald Broom, from Cambridge University, studies the behavior of cows and states how cows can become excited by solving intellectual challenges. His team put them in a special pen which had a lever that, when pressed, would release the cows into a field with lots of delicious food rewards. An electroencephalograph was used to measure their brainwaves.
The researchers found that when the cows worked out how to press the lever to reach the food, they showed signs of delight. “The brainwaves showed their excitement; their heartbeat went up and some even jumped into the air. We called it their Eureka moment,” Professor Broom told the BBC. He continued: “We need to have a certain amount of respect for these animals, and I think most people have more respect for an animal if they feel it’s aware of what’s going on.”
Since Gita could not get up we helped move him twice, each time he surprised us all and walked around. But once he sat down, he could not get up again. On February 17, after Caitanya Bhagavata fed him his grains, Gita collapsed. From that point, he struggled to get upright. When he couldn’t, Caitanya and I realized that we needed to flip him to get him into a better position but the two of us would not be strong enough to move his 900 kilo 7 foot tall body. Caitanya went to the temple to see what help he could get and forty five minutes later came back with six devotees to help flip Gita. We had four devotees on Gita’s legs and three at his head to make sure his head moved with his body. We expertly flipped Gita and he landed sitting up. We braced him with square bales of hay and then he tried to eat the bales.
Enthusiastically, all the devotees ran to him with hay to eat. The cows ran to the gate to see. Everyone was very happy at what appeared to be a miraculous recovery. Joy permeated the atmosphere. I was inspired and moved to see the selfless service of the devotees and their joy at Gita’s recovery.
When I checked on Gita later in the day, he was lying down obviously struggling again to get upright. However, this time he was near one of the barn poles and flipping him would not be possible. It was six o’clock and it would be dark at 6:30. As he struggled to get up I tried to brace his back with square bales, but he was too heavy and moved them away when he would fall back. I knew Caitanya was coming to check on Gita, and I tried to comfort Gita by chanting softly the Hare Krsna mantra into his ear until Caitanya came.
“They are not unfeeling objects,” said Professor Marc Bekoff of the University of Colorado, US. He, Professor Donald Brown, Professor Christine Nicole, and others from around the globe spoke at the Compassion in World Farming Trust (CIWF Trust) conference in London in 2005.
The Bristol University researchers documented and reported at the conference how cows within a herd form friendship groups of between two and four animals with whom they spend most of their time, often grooming and licking each other. They will also dislike other cows, and can bear grudges for months or years. “Talk of animal sentience is often brushed off as fluffy and sentimental not the stuff of science or the real world. But perhaps we have been too hasty in our dismissal perhaps consciousness does not peer through our eyes alone.” Julianna Kettlewell, BBC news science reporter at conference.
When Caitanya came, we spent a couple of hours trying to make Gita comfortable and softly speaking to him caring and loving words that calmed him. The winds were very strong and loud and then there was a sudden change in Gita. He started putting his head in the air and opening his mouth. He no longer reacted to our words. We felt he was in the process of leaving this material world and in another realm. By then it was late evening. A few hours away and it would be lord Nityananda’s Appearance day.
We had always called Gita the brahmana of the twins. He was always the gentleman, sensitive to the feelings of others. Listening to Srila Prabhupada chanting, tasting Ganga water, with Govardhana Sila in his sight, on Lord Nityananda’s Appearance day, Gita left his body. The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog, and a dog eater (outcaste). Bhagavad gita 5.18
Chaya Devi Dasi was initiated by Srila Prabhupada in 1971. She and her husband Balabhadra Dasa incorporated the International Society for Cow Protection (ISCOWP). Her husband is the ISKCON Minister for Cow Protection and Agriculture. They live on the 165 acre ISCOWP farm in rural West Virginia, USA. For more information please refer to www. iscowp.org.
References: “The Secret Lives of Cows” by Jonathan Leake, news.com.au 3-5-5 “Farm Animals Need Emotional TLC,” BBC News Online 4/05