THE VEDAS DESCRIBE the cow as our mother (go-mata). Why? Because she gives the milk that nurtures and nourishes us from infancy to old age. When the cow is happy, satisfied, and well taken care of, she produces far more milk than her calf requires. We can use this milk for our dietary needs.
Srila Prabhupada writes, "Foods such as milk, milk products, sugar, rice, wheat, fruits, and vegetables are the foods that best aid health and increase life's duration." He calls milk "the most wonderful of all foods."
The ox plows the fields from which grains, fruits, and vegetables are produced. Therefore the cow and ox together provide human beings with the complete foods to satisfy all our nutritional needs.
In return for all the service the cow and ox provide, the Vedas prescribe three duties for human beings toward the cow:
1. Serving the cow (go-seva)
2. Worshiping the cow (go-puja)
3. Protecting the cow (go-raksya)
Serving the cow: We should serve the cow with the same attitude that the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krsna, serves the cows in Vrndavana. The Srimad-Bhagavatam describes in detail how Lord Krsna takes the cows and calves every morning to graze on the pastures of Govardhana Hill. There are hundreds of thousands of cows at the palace of Nanda Maharaja (Lord Krsna's father), and each cow has her own name. Whenever Lord Krsna plays His flute and calls the cows by name, the cows, intelligent and affectionate, come running toward Him.
The Vedic literature enjoins us to satisfy the needs of the cows daily (with food, shelter, and so on) before we satisfy our own needs. This is how Aryans civilized persons should serve the cows.
Worshiping the cows: The Vedic scripture states that all the demigods and demigoddesses reside in the body of a cow. This explains why the body of a cow is divine and holy. If we worship Mother Cow, we attain the same material benefits we'd get by worshiping the demigods and demi-goddesses individually. The Garuda Purana says that anyone who has even once worshiped Mother Cow will be saved after death from the great suffering of hell (Naraka). Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself, gave more importance to the worship of the cows than to the worship of the king of the demigods, Indra. Therefore in India even today many millions of pious Vedic followers worship Mother Cow at least once a year on Govardhana Puja day.
Protecting the cows: If we accept the cow as our mother, she deserves our veneration and love. And we should protect her from all dangers. In Vedic times it was the duty of everyone, especially kings, to protect the cows at all cost.
In the Vedic literature we find the revealing story of Emperor Dalip (an ancestor of Lord Ramacandra in the Sun Dynasty) and his commitment to cow protection. Once when Emperor Dalip was in the forest, he saw that a ferocious lion had gotten hold of a cow and was going to kill her. The emperor challenged the lion, "If you kill the cow, I will kill you. Let this cow go free!"
The lion replied, "O pious king! For my food I must kill animals. If I let this cow go free, what will I eat? I'll die of hunger."
Emperor Dalip thought for a few moments and replied, "O lion, if you let this cow go free, you do not have to die of hunger. I offer my body for you to eat! Let my body be your food!"
As soon as Emperor Dalip lay before the lion to be killed so that the cow could live, the lion and cow transformed themselves into a divine man and woman. The lion was Dharma, righteousness personified, and the cow was Mother Earth personified. They had been testing the emperor's commitment to cow protection.
How can we protect cows today? In the United States alone more than forty million cows will be slaughtered this year to satisfy the demands of meat-eaters. And all over the globe many millions more will be slaughtered for the same reason. Yet this should not discourage us from our goal of cow protection. Even today, when the effects of Kali Yuga (the Age of Ignorance) are so strong, intelligent people can take part in the auspicious act of cow protection in two ways:
1. Never eat cow flesh (never eat meat!) and thereby never support cow killing. Please also tell others about the sinfulness of cow slaughter.
2. Help ISKCON farm projects where active cow protection is being practiced under Srila Prabhupada's direct order. For example, the Adopt-A-Cow program at the Gita Nagari farm in Port Royal, Pennsylvania, provides you a direct opportunity to give financial and other help for the upkeep of about 150 cows.
The three basic duties of human beings toward the cow service, worship, and protection should and can be practiced today. The cow needs our love, affection, and reverence because, after all, she is our mother and she is so dear to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krsna.
Advaita Acarya Dasa (Dr. Arvind K. Singh) was born in 1943 in a traditional Vaisnava family in Uttar Pradesh, India. Educated in India, he has served as an anesthesiologist in America since 1973. In 1980 he and his wife received spiritual initiation in ISKCON from Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami. Advaita Acarya Dasa started the Adopt-A-Cow program at the Gita Nagari farm in 1985. Now he is also a director of the ISKCON Foundation. He lives in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He and his wife have three sons.