Peace, Cows, and BTG

The world was at war when Srila Prabhupada started Back to Godhead magazine seventy-five years ago. With many countries involved in World War II, it was a fitting time to launch a magazine to promote Krishna consciousness, which Prabhupada, on the authority of the Vedic scriptures and the enlightened teachers of that tradition, knew to be the only path to peace.

Unfortunately, Krishna consciousness has yet to become a prominent force in the modern world, and the wars persist. A widespread conflict deserving the title World War III has yet to be declared, but that fact offers little solace to people living in war conditions all over the world.

As I write this, the website warsintheworld.com, which keeps track of armed conflicts, lists 68 countries involved in wars, most of these instigated by 801 “militias-guerrillas and terrorist-separatist-anarchic groups.”

The lament for man’s inhumanity to man is a perennial theme, with the question “Why can’t we all just get along?” having devolved to the status of a cliche – along with the stereotypical beauty-pageant contestant’s reply to “What matters most to you?” Answer: “World peace.”

Yes, we all want world peace. But why is it so evasive? The Vedic scriptures teach that violence begets violence and that a prominent source of man’s violence toward his fellow man is his violence toward animals, particularly the cow.

Many people today will scoff at this idea, considering it nothing more than religious superstition. But is it unreasonable to suggest that people who needlessly kill animals or feed on the products of those who do the killing might lose some of their natural repulsion at killing? As they blithely consume the slaughterhouse products, might the violence of the slaughterhouse be affecting them in some subtle way?

Almost everyone today has a basic idea of the concept of karma. Yet, as happens with any profound idea adopted by popular culture, the concept – or, rather, universal law – of karma in the popular mind generally fails to include what we do to animals. Prabhupada would often point out that we fall short when we rely on our imperfect sense of right and wrong instead of the perfect directions of the scriptures and enlightened souls. From them we learn that killing the peaceful cow that provides us with a vital food in exchange for a little grass is a heartless act of violence. A world where cow slaughter is commonplace cannot have peace.

Srila Prabhupada often spoke and wrote about this inviolable law of nature. Unlike many Indian gurus who arrived in the West before and after him, he insisted that his disciples give up eating meat. And beyond that, he directed them to set up Krishna conscious farms to demonstrate a natural, peaceful way of life centered on the protection of cows.

The message Prabhupada aimed to deliver through the medium of Back to Godhead and in numerous other ways was not limited to cow protection. But cow protection was an important part of his prodigious efforts to raise the consciousness of as many people as possible so they could – as one of his early BTG mottos stated – “rise up to the plane of the soul spirit.” Though acknowledged by too few, Prabhupada’s promotion of cow protection in the context of raising consciousness is an important contribution to lessening the violence that’s now the scourge of too many.

– Nagaraja Dasa