Once Srila Prabhupada was explaining how we can use all our natural tendencies in Krsna's service. A young devotee raised his hand and asked how a brahmacari (unmarried celibate student)could use the sex impulse in Krsna's service. Srila Prabhupada replied that one should get married and raise children in Krsna consciousness.
Thinking that Prabhupada had misunderstood, the devotee asked the question again. Srila Prabhupada repeated his answer.
The devotee was asking the wrong question because abrahmacari cannot use sex in Krsna's service only a married devotee can.
I often think of this story when I hear a question that strikes me as similar to the young brahmacari's: "We're inspired by Prabhupada's instructions about cow protection and simple living, so we want to get a cow. But to get milk we have to breed the cow. We were wondering what to do with the calf, especially if it's a bull. Could we give it to an ISKCON farm?"
The question is asked in all innocence and with all good intentions. But it's the wrong question, because just as the purpose of sex should be to raise Krsna conscious children, the purpose of breeding a cow should be to raise a calf we can engage in Krsna's service. It's not that if the calf is male he's a useless burden to be gotten rid of. Producing a bull with no plans to train and use him is not cow protection in the full sense.
Srila Prabhupada warned against neglecting to engage the bulls in Krsna's service. In 1974, he cautioned the devotees at ISKCON's West Virginia farm, "The cow is wonderful and valuable in society. But you should also use the bulls by engaging them in tilling the ground. People may call this the primitive way, but it is very practical for engaging the bulls have them work in cart loading, transporting, and so on."
In his instructions to Tejiyas Dasa in Hyderabad, Prabhupada was even more emphatic, "You will see. It is sure to come. If you do not use the bulls for plowing, one day you will say, 'Let us cut their throats.' "
Why does cow protection imply working the oxen (neutered bulls, sometimes called "bullocks")? A key word Prabhupada used is "practical."
As I discussed in my last column, Krsna instructs in Bhagavad-gita that the economic basis for a spiritual society should be krsi-go-raksya-vanijyam farming, cow protection, and trade. Appalled by modern Western dairy practices, we might think that cow protection simply means milking cows without slaughtering them. But this incomplete conception of cow protection is not practical in the long run.
For example, each time a good cow has a calf, the cow might produce 15,000 pounds of milk (about 1830 gallons). In the United States, at $2 a gallon, that would bring about $3,660. What does it cost to raise the calf? In 1987 at ISKCON's Gita Nagari farm (located in a temperate region), we found that to maintain each animal cost about $1 a day for tractor-produced food, shelter maintenance, medical expenses, and so on. So raising the calf for its expected life of twelve to fifteen years would cost at least $4380. Balance that against the $3,660 worth of milk, and you've got a netloss of at least $720.
This is why commercial dairies kill their bull calves. They'd go out of business if they had to maintain nonproductive animals.
Srila Prabhupada has given us the practical solution to this problem: work the oxen. A person might spend $200 a month on car payments, but if that means he or she can earn $1000 a month, then it's worthwhile. So keeping an ox might cost $365 a year, but if he's productive enough, the cost is well worthwhile.
Equally important: if an ox produces his own feed, his maintenance cost shrinks dramatically and we begin to see what self-sufficiency is all about.
When Krsna advises krsi-go-raksya, the terms krsi (agriculture) and go-raksya (cow protection) are naturally interdependent. One result of cow protection is that we get oxen to be trained for farming. And one result of Krsna conscious agriculture is that we protect the working oxen because they produce food for. Even vanijyam, or trade, in a localized, petroleum-free economy uses the oxen to transport grain.
Earlier I compared raising Krsna conscious children to engaging the offspring of the cows in Krsna's service. Let's continue this analogy.
If we raise children in Krsna consciousness, we learn valuable lessons that help our spiritual advancement. When we see how much trouble children cause themselves by resisting good instructions (for example, to take a bath or share their toys), we realize that our own resistance to Krsna's plans brings us similar suffering. And when the children are happy and enthusiastic and creative in Krsna's service singing in kirtana or decorating their Deities we become humbly inspired to become simple and enthusiastic like these young devotees.
When a devotee works with cows and oxen, he or she gains similar insight. Sometimes animals cause themselves needless suffering and anxiety when they resist good instructions whether it's learning how to back up or how to step over a gutter. Again, the obstinate bull reminds us of our own unreasonable resistance to Krsna's plan. On the other hand, the determined hard work of the bull plowing the field or pulling the Deity cart will naturally be a source of humility and spiritual inspiration.
One devotee said, "When you work with the animals, you can see that they are much happier with discipline and intelligent guidelines. It's the same with our service to Krsna and our spiritual master. Also, you feel very proud and happy once your team is trained to work. You can tell it really gives them something meaningful to base their identity on. They're actually working for Krsna."
The bull is the emblem of moral principles. And the productive engagement of the bull is part of Krsna's plan for our purification. If we neglect Prabhupada's instruction on this point, we will ultimately be the losers. Of course, cow protection in any form has some value, but unless we work the oxen, we can't get the full benefit.
Cow protection that depends on charity can never become the economic basis of society. Therefore, Prabhupada emphasized the importance of working the bulls. By doing so we can fully realize the benefits of cow protection for sustaining society and engaging both humans and animals in Krsna's transcendental loving service.
Hare Krsna Devi Dasi has been involved in Krsna consciousness since 1978. She spent several years on ISKCON's Gita Nagari farm in Pennsylvania. She now lives in Maine, where you can write to her c/o Ox Power Alternative Energy Club, 9B Stetson St., Brunswick, Maine 04011.