By Vijaya Gauranga das
I came into contact with the idea of vegetarianism at around age 14 when my brother’s fiancé at the time was one, though at that time I didn’t give it too much consideration but it did start me thinking that such a different perspective on life was completely valid. It wasn’t too much later that I learnt one of the main reasons people go vegetarian, that of the immense cruelty involved in meat production.
I learnt this initially from hardcore punk bands at the time such as Napalm Death, Conflict and others, whose song lyrics addressed the issue of meat being the flesh of sentient creatures packaged for our convenience. It seemed to make such perfect sense, and I was amazed actually that I had overlooked the fact that behind the various products of meat was the henious business that produced it: farm animals reared in confined situations, destined after being fattened up for a period of time to be cruelly slaughtered in abattoirs which resembled fearful factories of death such as Auschwitz, with blood stained walls and guts spilled out on the concrete floor.
Why hadn’t I been witness to this scene before? Why had neither schooling nor television not shared this reality with me, in order to allow me to make an informed choice at a time when I was really forming my own opinions for the first time in life? I understood later exactly why this was the case, yet at the time I was amazed to have discovered something most people seem either blind of indifferent to, almost as if a veil of illusion had been lifted to reveal what was to me so inherently wrong for anyone considering themselves human.
“Advertise the product you make, never give and always take, clingfilmed flesh and genocide, a contented life while millions die.
Instinct of survival.”
(Napalm Death ‘ Instinct of Survival’)
I never thought something could have sparked such an interest in me, and in the following years I dedicated an enormous amount of time and energy in educating myself about all the issues related to animals rights, and also attempting to educate others about what I had learnt – a task I was to discover was far harder than it was for me to see the truth myself and change my behaviours accordingly. Why were many people so opposed to a different viewpoint, even when the facts seemed to point strongly in favour of a diet that didn’t contain animal flesh?
I realised that the impediment in the way of learning and accepting the facts presented, was our own stubbornness in changing our eating habits, which for so long had just seemed ‘normal’ and ingrained in the consciousness. I also realised I was somewhat guilty of this paradigm, as I had to give up buying and consuming products which I had previously, in ignorance, purchased and enjoyed as my lunch, dinner or snack. Even products that seemed innocent, such as certain sweets which contained gelatine (a by-product of slaughter consisting of boiled down bones, sinew, flesh etc to produce a jelly like substance), had to be subsequently dropped from my increasingly strict diet.
Eating of flesh seemed quite obviously wrong, but scanning lists of ingredients in all foods whether sweet or savoury became an almost tedious daily ritual, especially when more often than not I discovered one or more ingredients that my newfound morality considered contraband. And this only increased more as I learned that not only meat and fish were the causes of suffering to other creatures, but also eggs and then dairy.
My attachment to chocolate such as Mars bars was cut out as I discovered they contained egg, which were from chickens confined in tiny cages like machines popping out eggs until the end of their miserable lives – which were probably best to be cut short by slaughter in such circumstances, as if a type of compassion like euthanasia. But compassion was not the concern at all, but merely profit… yet the sacrifice of giving up a foodstuff that gave a few minutes of pleasure to the tongue seemed insignificant compared to what millions of animals had to sacrifice in their very lives just to bring us things simply for convenience, when they could just as easily be manufactured without such abominable ingredients.
“The factories are churning out all processed packed and neat, an obscure butchered substance and the label reads ‘meat’, hidden under false names such as pork, ham, veal and beef, and eye’s an eye a life’s a life, the now forgotten belief.”
(Conflict ‘Meat Means Murder’)
However, I remember going on auto-pilot on a few occasions, going to buy something I liked, only to stop in my tracks and think ‘oh, no I can’t buy that, remember, I’m vegetarian now’. I think I walked down a London street from my grandmothers house to buy my favourite spare ribs from the Chinese takeaway, and it didn’t quite click until I’d set upon the journey that I could no longer enjoy that food. Not that anyone was forcing me not to buy and eat it, except for my own conscience and the knowledge I had acquired, and even if I had ignored that inner moral compass and eaten it anyway I doubt I would have enjoyed it with the understanding of exactly what it was and where it came from.
It seems that to be able to enjoy certain foods we mustn’t know too much about them, lest we wouldn’t wish to consume them, and people sometimes state that you shouldn’t think too much about it or ‘you won’t want to eat it’. But does that make sense? Close your eyes and chew to your hearts content. Yet that seems to be the paradigm, especially from mass media, as television advertising, posters and magazines show only the external reality never behind the scenes, as happy people continue to consume all kinds of products as if nothing in the world was wrong with them.
“Have I just realised that we are animals too? Yes, yes. Do I resent the torture of circuses and zoos? Yes, yes. Do I condemn the hunters? Yes. Do I condemn the butchers? And the murders too? Yes, yes. Am I opposed to vivisection? Yes yes yes yes. Is there another direction? Yes, yes.”
(Culture Shock ‘Twenty Questions’)
The next step was discovering exactly how our dairy products are brought to us, which was perhaps the most disturbing fact of all, considering how harmless milk seemed. It doesn’t take much thought to realise how ugly meat is sitting in the butchers window, not long after it was living flesh on a thinking, feeling creature, which ate and breathed and moved around just as we do. In fact meat is usually injected with chemicals and dyes to give it an appealing look and colour, lest it would be grey and lifeless and become more obviously a lump of dead flesh and hardly very appetising. But what about milk, that natural white substance which mother cow gave freely and in abundance to nourish both young calves as well as human beings?
That product lauded as being an essential source of vitamins such as calcium, from which so many tasty foods could be prepared. What could possibly be wrong with something that was delicious and nutritious, that seemed to be in just about every sweet food imaginable, from ice cream to chocolate to milkshakes? Would I be obliged to give up what since childhood I had relished in various forms, seemingly as naturally as one does ones own mothers breastmilk?
The answer lied not in the product itself as much as in the methods of obtaining it. After just a little reading on the subject of modern dairy production, shattered were the images of happy cows grazing in fields to their hearts content, calves sucking at the teat, and just as happily strolling to the milk shed to generously donate the surplus milk from her bags and relieve her burden further. An image that seems almost completely lost except for a very few rare farms left on the planet, mostly it seems outside of modern industrialised cultures such as ours. The reality though was almost diametrically opposed to that scenario, and was the stuff of hellish nightmares – yet was a daily reality in thousands of factory ‘farms’ across the country.
The idea of veganism is a relatively new one, and one that really occurred as a reaction to Western industrialised society in which animals were no longer seen as part of the greater family but as commodities. The idea of ending all animal suffering was the total abstinence from animal products, as in a centralised and mechanised agricultural system there can be no easy way to ensure the well being of the animals involved, so the best course of action would be simply be to eliminate all use of animals and thus eliminate the concomitant suffering.
While the idea of non violence has been with civilisations for centuries, this extreme measure was devised in the 1940’s by Donald Watson and his wife in reaction to what they saw as intolerable suffering on a massive scale, and the idea started to take hold by a small group of people increasingly more towards the end of the century.
“I know as well as anyone, that it does less good than harm, to be this honest with a conscience eased by lies, you cannot deny that…. meat is still murder, dairy is still rape, and I’m still as stupid as anyone, but I know my mistakes, I have recognised one form of oppression, now I recognise the rest, life’s too short to make another’s shorter.”
(Propagandhi ‘Nailing Descartes to the Wall: (Liquid) Meat is Still Murder’)
It’s not my specific intention to put anyone off their next meal, but some things just have to be stated plainly, so please excuse me to have to be another given the thankless task of revealing what most people would definitely rather leave unknown. Yet we have come this far, why stop now in the pursuit of truth of the reality that surrounds us.
It’s only logical to take further steps in enlightening ourselves in order to progress towards a better and more just life – for ourselves, the earth and all it’s inhabitants, yet the tendency to bury our heads like an ostrich in the sand or rationalise our behaviours with half baked theories is overwhelming it seems in this day and age. But bear with me and I’ll try to not only point out the problems but also present the solutions.
For those not yet aware of how milk comes into our hands in modern society it’s often a surprise because we’re never witness to the process at all. It’s common knowledge that any female human or animal, cow or otherwise, ‘lactates’ or gives milk when she’s pregnant, as part of natures way to prepare to feed the newborn before they grow enough to move onto solid foods (whether that means chewing grass or eating rusks…), and continues giving milk for a certain period afterwards to accommodate the process.
That, of course, is not rocket science. What we don’t think about though is the question of who the milk is meant for, or at least, who is the primary rights holder as a recipient of it. Naturally with a cow it’s the calves that require their mothers milk first, and in agrarian societies the calves are allowed their fill and the excess milk is obtained by hand, yet industrialised society seems to have ‘progressed’ to the point where the milk is seemingly exclusively for human consumption and at the denial of the calves whose birthright is (or should be) to have their fill.
But what happens in a factory situation where most cows are raised, is horrific, in that the calves are separated from their mothers with 24 to 48 hours – something painful to both the mother and calf, as cows are unusually conscious and sentient creatures with complex emotions not much different than ours. And that’s just the beginning…. depending on the gender of the newborn calves, they have different destinies which really just range between either torture, murder, or usually both.
The ‘bobby calves’, baby male cows, cute and cuddly to any child as their fluffy toys, are generally slaughtered almost straight away, seen to be ‘useless’ to the industry – save and except for a very tiny few ‘lucky’ ones who are kept alive to impregnate future herds (and even then it’s done artificially so their good fortune doesn’t stretch enough to allow them their natural propensity to mate and regenerate, and the female cows are housed in cages unable to move at the time of insemination and this device is appropriately named by the industry itself as the ‘rape rack’). The even more unfortunate ones are destined for the veal industry – an industry that is hand in hand with the dairy industry in that it is fed by the large amounts of calves born from cows who are kept in a cycle of continual pregnancy to ensure the milk supply remains flowing.
For a veal calf, life probably couldn’t get much more hellish, concentration camp victims notwithstanding, as they are put alone into small wooden crates with no room to move and deprived of nutrition such as iron which they then crave so much they try to eat their newfound wooden home. When it is deemed enough torture which in turn produces a soft and pale flesh considered by many (including, believe it or not, the Dalai Lama) a ‘delicacy’. No more hard and chewy meat with your veg, no…. nice soft, tender ‘veal steak’. Doesn’t sound too bad, as long as you’re unaware of the aforementioned process that is done on your behalf to bring it to your plate. Out of sight, out of mind.
“I swear I did to ensure that, his final moments were swift and free from fear, but consideration should be made for the fact that, Sandor Katz was my first kill, so I trust the reader will, understand that while his screams may have seemed like conscious objections, they were in reality simply a request to honour his strength and speed.”
(Propagandhi ‘Human(e) Meat: The Flensing of Sandor Katz’)
And as if all this isn’t enough, if anyone’s still with me, the method in which cows and other animals are slaughtered is far from ‘humane’ as is the propaganda everyone seems happy to believe, as much hidden camera footage available increasingly on the internet shows. Gone is the swift and painless process of slaughter for the most part, as the grisly business kept tightly behind closed doors and well out of sight from most, and it is increasingly harder to regulate with laws that attempt to bring at least some relative amount of humanity and compassion into the picture, and almost every corner ends up being cut to get the job done and bring in a tidy profit.
Animals which are supposed to be stunned with high voltage electric tongs which are designed to knock the animal out so they are completely unconscious when their throats are cut with a knife – either a machine or conventional one. Sounds humane doesn’t it? Well, not really, considering the fact that we certainly wouldn’t opt to finish our albeit temporary lives in such a fashion, and the only justification becomes the outright lie that animals don’t feel pain or have emotions that we humans do. Bull! (no pun intended). Anyone who has ever had a pet will testify to the fact that animals are conscious and have sensations of pleasure and pain as we do, as well as emotions like love and affection, fear, anger and all sorts of other similar characteristics. To depersonalise them and reduce them to simply biological machines is to deny the reality simply to justify our selfishness and greed and nothing more.
So even if the slaughtering process went strictly to plan it’s still far from humane for an intelligent and thinking person, and so often it goes awry and sees countless amounts of animals not properly stunned and as they regain consciousness suffer the agony of being killed alive, or worse dropped alive in boiling water to sear the hairs from the body. This and many other atrocities to the earth’s creatures happen on a daily basis, in all corners of the world, today and every day, and why? Because the demand for it perpetuates the cruel system, and the propaganda machine largely hides the reality from view and instead presents us the end product, disconnected from the process that brought it there.
“Now you’re at the table, sitting and grinning, sitting there eating never thinking of the filling, It’s served upon a sterile plate, you don’t think of the killing, the furthest your brain takes you, is it for frying or for grilling?”
(Conflict ‘ Meat Means Murder’)
I’m assuming most (if anyone is still) reading this, is probably already vegetarian, or hopefully soon on their way to be, so we’ll move along to things which are beyond those which are more commonly known to people in such social circles. One of the excuses meat eaters would sometimes give upon learning I was vegetarian, was ‘you’re killing plants though’. This objection was ironic coming from people who ate meat unapologetically, as if that was really their concern why would they feel fine to eat animal flesh, which of course would be worse than the killing of plants and indeed be guilty of both as the animals kill the plants to eat then we eat them.
So I never took this argument very seriously, that was until it came from people who were already vegetarian. Those people were the followers of an ancient Indian spiritual culture known as ‘Krishna consciousness’. More specifically, this idea was professed by the founder of the movement in the Western world, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, or simply ‘Prabhupada’ for short, who travelled alone from India in 1965 to New York City to spread the ancient and profound teachings of the ‘Vedas’.
The Vedas being Sanskrit texts dating back approximately 5000 years, translated by this elderly Swami who brought them on a steamship in the middle of the hippie era and tirelessly taught them for the next decade or so until his passing in late 1977. Amongst many other things, his teachings included the importance of vegetarianism, both for compassion for other creatures, health and spiritual progress.
Meat eating it was stated destroys compassion, one of the legs of ‘Dharma’ or the sacred path of a spiritually progressive human being, which along with truthfulness, cleanliness and austerity built a foundation for a person to grasp the higher truths of our existence. Gambling, Intoxication and illicit sex, respectively, were the ones that destroyed the other three. But it seemed apparent that being vegetarian was perhaps the first and foremost things to adhere to, and something that many people of the 60’s era had already grasped, even if their avoidance of drugs and free sex was hardly on the same level!
“There is no need for men to eat animals, because there is ample supply of grains, vegetables, fruits and milk. Such foodstuff is considered to be in the mode of goodness. Animal food is for those in the more of ignorance. Therefore, those who indulge in animal food, drinking, smoking and eating food which is first not offered to Krishna will suffer sinful reactions because of eating only polluted things.”
(Srila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita As It Is 6.16, purport)
The way I came into contact with such knowledge is a long story, stretching back to my teenage years when I was also formulating ideas about topics such as animal and human rights, and though took me longer to grasp, with a clear mind from years of avoiding animal products I began to think more about spiritually related subjects such as why are we here and what’s the purpose behind this creation and life itself?
These were far harder questions to figure out by myself, and though I was disdainful of religion in general especially due to it’s representatives always being meat eaters, I learnt that these devotees of Krishna were all vegetarian. That impressed me. More so as I learned that even Buddhism, which generally eschewed ‘Ahimsa’ or non-violence, didn’t seem to follow so strictly that principle in it’s diet, sometimes being vegetarian or vegan and sometimes not. I couldn’t reconcile the two, and still doubtful about the theory that whatever comes by the ‘grace of the Buddha’ is to be accepted. It seems that could justify almost anything really, and it’s we who generally order a particular food and it’s a rare circumstance that we are forced to eat whatever is available to survive.
I did learn that lesson whilst travelling around Asia for the first time, and my veganism gave way sometimes out of necessity but never did my conscious avoidance of meat, except over the years by little ‘accidents’ which are usually caused by misreading ingredient labels. The only time before that which I had really compromised my principles to now partake in any animal products for food, clothing, hygiene or otherwise, was accepting the eggs at my friends house whose pet chicken would roam freely and lay the unfertilised eggs which I considered would simply rot if I didn’t eat for breakfast when I slept over. Later I figured eating the ingredients of a potential chicken in the form of a liquid embryo isn’t in any way appealing, but the fact that no cruelty was there for me to support made it in line with my otherwise strict vegan vows, which I’m sure some would consider hypocritical though I never subscribed to dogmatic and blind following of any principle without understanding the reasoning behind it.
As restrictions on what I deemed fit to eat became narrower it seemed like the pursuit would never end, and I could be down to eating only fruit, the next only drinking water, breathing air – until I concluded the only way to eliminate being implicated in other’s suffering was to end my own life and solve the problem once and for all! Which of course is the ultimate extreme measure in dealing with the issue, though hardly a practical one.
“We strive for world peace, but the violence won’t decrease unless our murders cease, so understand in the slaughterhouse whose the beast, and I demand that the innocent be released!”
(Shelter ‘Civilised Man’)
And on that very point I questioned my long held belief in avoiding all animal products (including dairy, eggs, leather, wool, silk – you name it…). I began to wonder what real difference my actions were making. Sure, it made people think about their own actions, and many followed suit and became comrades in the fight against abuse of other beings, but was it the be all and end all I thought?
The point made by Prabhupada that even vegetables and other plants were living beings made sense. Of course they are, we can’t eat dead stone therefore we require some kind of organic matter to sustain ourselves whether that’s vegetation or animal flesh, but whether they were conscious as moving creatures was my doubt, which later I learned was proven by an Indian scientist Dr Bose who showed the reaction plants had to pain and distress, albeit unable to scream in the way an animal of human would.
Plus the idea that it was okay to take a life if it didn’t cause pain was erroneous as we can give anaesthetic to numb all sensation and kill a person without pain which is of course clearly wrong, as is the argument that the less intelligent species are meant as our food and I can hardly imagine any justification for eating less intelligent humans such as children or the mentally challenged, so another shallow theory bit the dust.
But of course any sane person can distinguish between the flesh of an apple and the flesh of an animal, the ‘blood’ of an orange as opposed to the blood of a cow, pig or sheep for example. Only a madman would put them on the same level, so the people that said I was just as guilty of killing by eating plant food rather than animals made fools of themselves, just as a person visiting the dentist considering that because not all pain and discomfort can be eliminated there’s no point in any anaesthetic at all!
The idea to make all viewpoints ‘one’ is a symptom of our impersonalistic mindset which is another malady of our times. The point being if suffering is going to be committed unavoidably, then at least the conscious awareness should be there to bring it to a minimum.
So avoiding meat and eating vegetarian foods did just that – minimised the suffering of other creatures even if it wasn’t perfect. And I was aware that even animals would be routinely killed accidentally in the harvesting of certain crops, which brings about another good reason to move towards more natural and organic methods of cultivating crops rather than industrial agribusiness and it’s big machines.
Yet again, I believed there was a difference in consciously killing something and accidental killing. After all, most of us drive cars or use other transport which kills untold amounts of animals on the road, not to mention the pollution indirectly slowly killing yet more living creatures…
“Take me away, because everything is wrong today.”
(Moby ‘Everytime You Touch Me’)
So I was aware that veganism was far from perfect and didn’t profess to be any kind of spotless moral saint, but it seemed about the last word in compassionate, responsible and conscious living, without getting into fruitarianism and raw food diets which although perfectly valid never seemed practical for me, and other issues that were equally important were to be dealt with not just this one, such as the avoidance of products of human exploitation by big business or items that were the cause of environmental neglect. The list goes on, unlimitedly.
What it seemed was needed was an over-arching principle that would bring everything slowly back into line with a natural and just world, I just didn’t really know what that was, if there even was such a thing. And if there wasn’t, was there any point in the relative moralities already mentioned, and was my focus on certain issues just a personal bias towards my chosen concerns and thus I’d be guilty of not addressing issues that others would hold as being of utmost importance – racial equality, sexual equality, class equality…
So it seemed that indeed there was an absolute morality that would solve all the singular issues, when I read books like Bhagavad-gita and other literatures based on the principles that had governed advanced societies such as in ancient India, which seemed amazingly well constructed and thought out, far from the primitive cavemen I learned in school were the only peoples who came before our ‘great’ technological civilisation.
And this principle of offering food in sacrifice to the Supreme, whoever that was I didn’t really know or even believe, still seemed to make some sense, given that there is a source of everything that is supplied to us, even if we just believe that to be material nature if not something more powerful behind the workings of the world we live in.
My own speculation had gotten me as far as considering there must be an energy or ‘force’ I called it behind everything we see, which I concluded after often pondering the night sky, probably influenced by one drug or another, and the seemingly great order to everything from the planetary systems down to the earth and all it’s necessities such as food from the earth, light and heat from the sun, water from the sea and rivers. Surely it can’t all be a ‘chance’ occurence, and if it was, then I thought there wouldn’t be any point at all in morality – may as well just enjoy this one life to the max with no restriction of moral concerns which seem to only restrict oneself. But that didn’t seem right, I had an innate sense there was a purpose and plan to it all and there was sense in living a life guided by an inner conscience.
So as far as my mind could reach in finding the ultimate truth, which admittedly wasn’t very far, it was a start, and I realised I had to gain knowledge from outside myself to get anywhere at all. I was quite averse to religion from many negative experiences, and reading these books of Prabhupada which had found their way into my hands via a very trusted and close friend was difficult at times when the language was close to what I had rejected almost wholesale with Christianity and similar traditions with their bigoted and judgemental leaflets coming through the door.
Words like ‘God’ and ‘Lord’ indeed made me cringe yet the universal truths I found in those books made me tolerate them with an open mind and I could see this was quite a different path, such as vegetarianism and drug free simple living, and I realised that words can be subjected to the burden of misrepresentation and thus conjured up the a different picture than intended. When I read ‘God’ I would think of the Judeo-Christian figure of a vague, almost faceless person who seemed to judge harshly anyone not towing the line and thus punish them eternally in ways a devil would be proud of conceiving of!
Krishna wasn’t like that in the least, and I realised that if someone said ‘Lord Buddha’ instead of ‘Lord Jesus’ it had a totally different ring to it, and religious traditions such as Rastafari seemed ‘cool’ in certain aspects, all mystical and much less dogmatic, especially when people involved with them were the sort of people you could relate to as a youth.
Growing up on a diet of hardcore/punk and it’s strong moral thread running through many bands lyrics, any band or individuals that shared similar views as me were greatly respected and listened to with rapt attention. Such an individual for me was Ray Cappo of the band Youth of Today, later forming the band Shelter amongst others. Here was a personality which since age 15 I had looked up to almost like God! With his charisma and bold speaking of the truth, whether it was ‘straight-edge’ (drug free living) or positive thinking and compassion for others I was hooked on his every word he was screaming in the records I’d bought.
When I discovered he, amongst other role models, was vegetarian, that gave me great inspiration to follow suit, so it was natural that when he got into the philosophy and practices of Krishna consciousness I’d be intrigued, if not understand and adopt that immediately too. But the aversion to religion was deeply rooted in me and I remember a friend telling me the Krishna religion was ‘cool’ for being strictly vegetarian and my response was, ‘yes, but it’s still a religion and all religion is bad’.
“You say explosion started creation, and we’re just chemical combinations, but would you take the same stand of there was a gun in my hand, or would you beg for your salvation? We’ll see…”
(Shelter ‘In Defense of Reality’)
We say things with such absolute conviction at age 16, and later grow to find our world and our tiny experience have practically no authority on speaking about reality. Considering time tested traditions practiced by millions of people throughout the ages, who was I to state so boldly what was right or wrong, especially for others. Speak for yourself I say… And after years of thinking my path was so righteous and infallible I slowly realised I needed much more in life than had sustained me in my youth, and the sheer emptiness of a life of consumerism was becoming painfully more apparent.
Delving more into spiritually rooted books and music only proved that to be right, and the last attempt at enjoying the pleasures of this world, which I knew to be fleeting and temporary escapes from pain and misery, was in travelling the world. Which turned out to be not the ‘time of my life’ as hoped and promised by many, but the final straw in realising that it’s all very much the ‘same wine in different bottles’ as I saw people around me struggle to squeeze enjoyment from the same things we’ve tried and failed for years, as if doing it in new surroundings with a different set of (fair weather) friends would be so much more fulfilling.
And so I embarked on a spiritual journey, a focussed one of discipline, study and the practice of mantra meditation. In the association of like minded people, my newfound friends who lived in the Sydney Hare Krishna Temple and practiced with conviction what they taught me, I started to feel a massive shift in my awareness almost so profound it was scary at times. What had I stumbled upon? Just what journey had I embarked upon here?? Yet it was too late to turn back now after all I’d learnt, far too late…. though I saw people try to revert back to their former lives and leave behind a life of facing reality, it seemed so futile to try to hide from that which is all around you – reality!
And that was what it was all about, facing reality as opposed to distracting myself with various illusions, and though it wasn’t perhaps necessary to live that lifestyle full time I’d had more than enough of living a materialistic life and wanted out fast! And so, moving into an ashram and living in a tightly disciplined spiritual community would be the path I would tread for the next five years. And did it ever teach me some life lessons, ones I’ll never ever forget.
“Community projects for the four orders of human society, combined with family welfare activities, as they are set forth by the institution of sanatana-dharma [eternal spiritual principles] or varnasrama-dharma [social and spiritual societal divisions], are designed to enable the human being to attain his [or her] ultimate salvation. Therefore, the breaking of of the sanatana-dharma tradition by irresponsible leaders of society brings about chaos in that society, and consequently people forget the aim of life – Vishnu. Such leaders are called blind, and person who follow such leaders are sure to be led into chaos” (Srila Prabhupada, purport to Bhagavad-gita As It Is 1.42)
Sadly, one of the lessons I had to learn the hard way was even though truth is there in every tradition, and this ancient culture of India was immersed in it more than any other I had even encountered, not everybody was necessarily a pure conduit of that truth which according to the teachings emanated from the original and supreme person, Sri Krishna, and indeed some people were in this world to take advantage of that truth and the power it gave not for the betterment of all people, but for their own self aggrandisement and personal convenience.
It’s no real secret the history of the Krishna consciousness movement, which after Prabhupada’s departure in 1977, fell gradually into disarray just as any spiritual tradition does when the powerful and empowered leader passes away and leaves often less than qualified people to carry the banner. That history is lengthy and complex and yet shouldn’t taint ones opinion of the tradition as it should be practiced. The people that misused and abused others and distorted the teachings were never the proper representatives of the culture, and one has to exercise great discrimination in seeing those who do faithfully represent it just as Srila Prabhupada did as the perfect example.
Often people fall into the trap of throwing the baby with the bathwater and rejecting a tradition wholesale, as I had with Christianity not understanding it’s roots and pure essence, which really just becomes an excuse not to surrender one’s own selfish pursuit in life and justifies in their minds that it’s okay to live in this world for our own sense gratification, never wanting to see the true proprietor of everything handed to us by fate.
“This world is made up of two classes of people: the cheaters and the cheated.”
(Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati)
When I was visiting the temple I was vegan, which meant eating only some of the delicious preparations at the ‘Sunday Feast’ and other times, avoiding the obvious dairy products though I wasn’t aware at the time that many preparations contained milk in the form of ghee (clarified butter), however I considered the compromise a worthy one for a higher cause.
Prabhupada had explained clearly that when food is offered to Krishna then everyone concerned would receive spiritual benefit, like being implicated even unknowingly in pious activity – even plants would benefit somewhat in future lives, and the philosophy seemed to perfectly reconcile everything I had tried to achieve by being vegan. The cows that gave milk would get benefit by having their milk offered to Krishna who was the all merciful one who would ultimately deliver, in due course, anyone that surrendered to him in loving devotion.
It seemed such a perfect system, nobody would be the loser, and not only would it go beyond veganism in helping other living beings as the food offered became spiritually surcharged (something you could certainly experience when eating) as ‘prasadam’ or literally God’s mercy and compassion, it wouldn’t be quite as restricting as having to avoid all animal products as milk was deemed fit to be offered. Eating it would purify the heart and mind and cleanse desires for material enjoyment and rid one of greed, giving one a deep inner satisfaction and bliss, along with other processes of ‘Bhakti-Yoga’ or devotional service.
So I bought the philosophy wholesale without thinking too deeply about it, since there was an incredible amount to learn in the culture besides just this aspect, but it was something I’d come back to and consider much more carefully in later years. I never doubted the fact that prasadam would transform people and literally melt the heart and open people up to becoming further enlightened. By simply eating, in sensible moderation of course, we could advance spiritually and become more compassionate and forgiving and loving – all the qualities that will bring about the greatly needed transformation of this planet which has for so long gone in the opposite direction of lust, greed, anger and exploitation of everything for temporary gain.
I experienced it myself and never felt so contented, and saw others benefit greatly too especially with a program to distribute prasadam in huge quantities and often for little or no cost – it was and still is the ultimate welfare program, along with the distribution of knowledge in the form of books and discourses and other methods, and the teaching of meditation and furthermore distribution of the sacred mantras to the public in general, despite many people not being receptive for being too absorbed in relentless consumerism.
In essence I believe it is the single most powerful culture I’ve encountered in teaching compassion and not only is it predicted to spread around the whole world but practically we see it happening despite the problems that individuals have brought upon the society by deviation from strict principles. But something happened that changed my mind on a point, which I consider to be a key point in further spreading the culture, and though there is agreement from certain members of the society there is also a strong opposition from others which potentially could divide people between those who want to make it more progressive into modern times and those who feel there’s no need to change the way we’ve done something for decades.
“Just as species that don’t adapt to their environment die out, cultures that don’t adapt to the changes in their surroundings die out… do we follow Srila Prabhupada by doing exactly what he did, or do we follow him by adapting to changing times just as he adapted?”
(lectures by Hridayananda das Goswami / Dr Howard Resnick PhD)
That issue is the ‘dairy issue’.
Almost like a taboo in some circles, talking about offering Krishna milk that has been obtained by great cruelty as even questionable has seen me personally humiliated, branded a deviant – someone in some kind of illusion or delusion, creating disturbance to the smooth running of the society, and has elicited anger even simply by posing the question!
What is it that is so radical as to elicit such a reaction from even senior people, as if to challenge the whole tradition? Why is is so wrong to speak the plain truth about something simply from a viewpoint of compassion for living creatures, and not just any creatures, but the cows that Sri Krishna himself holds so dearly?
Krishna has unlimited names which describe unlimited qualities, and a prominent one of which is ‘Govinda’ – the giver of pleasure to the cows (and senses/earth, in other more inclusive translations), and ‘Gopala’, the tender of the cows. Krishna, the supreme Godhead, is eternally engaged in pastimes of herding cows and looking after them in a loving way. Indeed, his planet in the spiritual world is named ‘Goloka’ – literally ‘the planet of the cows’! And when Krishna descends to this earth periodically as an ‘avatar’ the domain is named ‘Gokula’, again, the place of cows.
So Krishna loves cows, that much is certainly undoubtable. Indeed Krishna loves every single one of his unlimited parts and parcels, no matter what form or species they are in, yet still, he is a cowherd boy and the connection to the cows stands above his relationship with all other animals. A name for Krishna in his childhood is ‘Makhan-cora’ or the ‘butter thief’, as one of his loving pastimes with his mother Yasoda and the cowherd maidens of the village of Vrindavana, so it’s clear that Krishna likes butter too.
Yet Krishna is above simply enjoying sense gratification, a deeper understanding is that everything Krishna does is a pastime or ‘lila’ that enacts loving exchanges with his devotees, who surround him at all times whether as friends, parents, lovers, animals or plants – since in the absolute spiritual realm everything is fully conscious, whereas in this relative ‘material’ world the consciousness is covered to varying degrees so the awareness of a human being is slightly greater than certain animals and there’s a sort of hierarchy of consciousness through different species down through animals, birds, fish, insects, to plants and trees and microbes etc.
So Krishna isn’t just eating butter in the sense that we might lust after some food simply for our sense pleasure, yet he enjoys it undoubtedly. But this poses an important question, in fact, a crucial question in the light of the facts mentioned above in the horrific way cows are treated as milk machines. And the question is this: does God ‘demand’ the milk that He enjoys, even if it’s from a source that has caused so much pain and suffering to his most beloved creatures?
Is Krishna so callous a God that he just has to have his dairy, no matter what the cost, and if that means dairy from people torturing and killing cows on a daily basis, then so be it? I just fail to see how that could ever be the case – and after all, that’s just common sense isn’t it?
“We live in a world of selfishness, I do admit the crime, of living in this world considering all to be mine, so I contemplate, and dedicate, to getting myself out of this pathetic state… The greatest wealth has been lost, we’ve got to get it back at any cost, how dare we live in this world, without appreciation?’
It’s a complex issue indeed, especially when you consider the perspective that Krishna is the all-good absolute person, meaning everything that contacts Krishna gets unlimited benefit, as even the many demoniac personalities that tried to even kill Krishna when he descended just over 5000 years ago in India, being envious of his supreme position.
Such persons were considered fortunate to have even been killed by him as their ‘souls’ or consciousness is understood to have been granted liberation from the cycle of birth and death (samsara) in this material world which forces the eternal living beings to move from one body to another through 8.4 million different species. Certainly attaining that is rare indeed, though the quality of that liberation is said to be impersonal as there is a higher realm in which personality is retained in full and is the goal of all aspiring Krishna devotees.
Still, if someone kills you as an enemy and you get such a benefit, that’s certainly extraordinary, and one wouldn’t expect God, the source of all wondrous creations, to be anything less would we? All this rests on the fact whether we believe in God or not, the endlessly debated question, but assuming here that this is true otherwise the whole debate becomes pointless, we’ll tackle the issue from this angle.
Outside the society of Krishna’s devotees of course people would completely fail to see how violence could play a role in a tradition with nonviolence as such a central point, which indeed is a great impediment to further spreading the culture, as a strict vegan and animal rights campaigner could not and would not support the use of modern factory farmed dairy with the reasoning that some relative metaphysical benefit is awarded to the cows from which the milk is from. They simply just won’t buy that philosophy, and rightly so, as we will learn, because it doesn’t add up even in terms of the internal principles of the society with people that accept Krishna’s supreme position and authority and the previously stated idea that everyone concerned is to benefit by any contact whatsoever.
“The animal killers do not know that in the future the animal will have a body suitable to kill them. That is the law of nature [karma]… one who, being fully satisfied by milk, is desirous of killing the cow is in the grossest ignorance… these two living creatures, the brahmanas [spiritually advanced persons] and the cows, must be given all protection – that is real advancement of civilisation.”
(Bhagavad-gita As It Is 14.16, purport)
Indeed, the standard justification for offering milk from cows and calves that are killed, or soon destined to be, is that offering their milk will ‘save them’ therefore it becomes an act of mercy. We have to analyse that from various angles to see how it holds up in the light of knowledge. Firstly, we have to see if indeed the mood is there to help the animals involved, or if our main concern is to enjoy the milk products. There’s a huge difference between love and lust – between buying, say, an ice cream, and then ‘offering’ it sincerely or otherwise to God before we procede to enjoy it.
If we really are concerned with the welfare of the cows that suffered to bring the product, whatever it is, then why not pray for those animals and instead buy something to eat that doesn’t support further animals being killed to bring your food? When we buy something it’s exactly like giving a vote to whoever made it to ‘please carry on doing what you’re doing’, as this society is simply run by supply and demand – the real fault is with us who ‘demand’ something by buying it and therefore the supply is there, otherwise the supply would stop altogether if the demand went down to zero.
It’s basic economics, which is why boycotts work – the power the consumer has in choosing is incredible, and furthermore if shareholders of a company vote for a certain change then the company is obliged to make that change or lose it’s custom. So we have to be aware every time we buy something that we’re giving a ‘yes’ vote to it, and avoiding it is a ‘no, I don’t like or want this’ and even better is to tell others to avoid it for the same reasons. So from the angle of ‘helping’ the animals where there’s a will there’s a way, but don’t think that buying something to enjoy is doing that – that becomes simply delusional.
The second angle is from a more sincere perspective – that of offering something without expectation of return. Often in temples Krishna is worshipped and served in the form of a Deity, made of stone or wood or other elements, which are considered non-different from God since they are all his energies (a philosophy too complex to detail here), so in serving the Deity selflessly one can consider the personal gratification mentioned above to be absent, though of course it can still be there undoubtedly according to a persons purity of desire.
But for arguments sake, we’ll say the sincere devotee offers milk to Krishna and prays for the well being and even liberation of the poor cow (or cows) involved in bringing the milk products. An important consideration is what can and can’t be offered to Krishna, especially in the form of the Deity which is quite strict. Meat, fish or eggs cannot be offered as they are considered to be in the mode of ignorance and darkness – which is easy to understand as they are clearly products of violence.
What then of milk, which is a product of just as much, if not more violence, even than meat? That can be understood from the scenario mentioned earlier, and it’s a common phrase these days that ‘a glass of milk contains more suffering than a pound of steak’. So if we’ve replaced meat in our diet with an increase in dairy we need to seriously rethink that idea right away, sadly. So mode of ignorance foods are out, and violence is clearly a product of ignorance, so such milk seems to be as bad as offering meat – if offering such milk to Krishna helps the cows why not offer a chunk of meat?
‘But Krishna doesn’t accept meat.’
‘Why not? Is it the taste he doesn’t like, or is it the violence?’
‘Errr, I’m not sure, we just can’t offer it…’
‘Since meat eating destroys compassion, a leg of dharma, I’d say it’s the violence.’
‘Okay, I think I agree. We can offer a veggie burger to Krishna to sell in a restaurant so it can’t be the taste, must be the violence, right?’
‘Yes. So if milk has as much or more violence, can we offer it?’
I’ll leave the reader to conclude that one, but if you answer an unequivocal ‘yes’, you’re stuck in a circular argument.
The next point is pertinent. The majority of cows in the factory farm system have mastitis, a condition of the teats from overmilking (twice a day usually, by powerful machinery), which causes sores to develop in which cows feel pain and try to kick off the suction cups (which often then suck up waste from the floor). As if the pain issue isn’t again off putting, the sores exude pus, white blood cells that go right into the milk. Some countries have a limit to how many white blood cells are counted per litre – where I live in Australia they have no such standard yet and are trying to come up to par but haven’t succeeded. In any case, pus is abominable in a foodstuff, can be considered to be blood (and not just a transformation of blood as is milk, but more like blood itself), so can we, or more importantly, do we want to offer that to Krishna? Is there an alternative perhaps?
The answer is yes, but before we get there, we’ll consider the steps inbetween. Organic dairy herds, while still victims of more or less the same violence as already talked about, are free of the chemicals and hormones which factory dairy contains (again, neither good to consume or offer to Krishna), and the cows aren’t milked as intensively (usually just once per day) and possibly by hand in some smaller farms, as would be the case with raw milk which again is a step closer to the goal. The problem is still there with the violence issue, and buying ‘organic’ dairy sort of perpetuates the illusion that it’s indeed pure, just as buying organic meat seems to some people to be somehow ‘humane’, it’s all relative of course.
Being raised ‘organically’ or otherwise yet still killed in the end really doesn’t make that much difference, so apart from the fact that the end product of organic dairy is relatively purer in content than the standard factory milk, being tainted with violence even if not by blood itself, still makes it questionable in my mind whether it’s ‘offerable’ and therefore consumable since devotees don’t want to eat anything not first offered to Krishna.
Being freed from the karmic reaction to violence caused in obtaining our food is one of the important reasons food is first offered to Krishna in sacrifice, and by Krishna’s eating the foodstuffs it neutralises all effects for the person who then eats that food, otherwise the reaction is upon the persons who eat it and indeed the people implicated in the killing, transportation, selling, cooking or consumption – just as in a crime many people can be implicated besides the main perpetrator and accordingly punished.
So assuming we’re free from those reactions is a big assumption when the process given to us by the movement’s founder is offering milk from protected cows. And the benefit we talk about in offering milk for the cow is known as ‘ajnata-sukriti’ or unknown pious activity, which doesn’t mean the animal gets immediately liberated but accrues some spiritual benefit that carries into a future life. Considering how many cows contribute to the milk supply and any one bottle of modern milk could potentially come from many different cows, offering such milk seems to give only a small amount of benefit when shared amongst all concerned, and in the meantime our purchasing it keeps the violent cycle of death turning day by day and a perpetual cycle of slaughtered cows is what we have, the pious credit taken with them is a small boon weighed against the terrible cost of the mass murder of innocent creatures.
One could try to argue that they are not indeed ‘innocent’ since the killers become the killed in a future incarnation, and thus they are the ones previously guilty of the same crime, but this understanding of the complexities of karma simplifies it to the point where it destroys the compassion we should have for the animals instead of philosophical indifference. True, the perpetual cycle of killing is there because people have killed before and must in turn pay the price, and there’s seemingly nothing in our power to stop that complex chain of reactions save and except to plea with people not to kill or support killing in any way we can.
‘It’s just their karma’ people say and ‘everyone gets just what they deserve’, yet the deeper reality is that no living spiritual being belongs in this miserable material realm in the first place except for our determination to come here as a rebellion against the natural cooperative system of service in the spiritual realm. But since we don’t really deserve to be enjoying or suffering the good or bad effects of past karma (actions), we can’t be callous to any suffering and instead must elevate ourselves and others beyond the vicious cycle of pain and inevitable death. Rationalising our implication in any form of violence is dangerous and we risk remaining in that wheel that eventually crushes our every attempt to be happy and free.
lokah samasta sukhino bhavantu – “May every living being be happy and free.”
So what’s still higher than that offering of organic and relatively less tainted milk? Well, now we’ve reached the pinnacle, which just so happens to have come full circle to what Srila Prabhupada set up in the first place, such was his broad vision for the future of society. That is milk obtained from cows on farms run by devotees, or people following the same strict principles of non-slaughter of animals (which includes not selling them to market as they must be looked after for their lives duration) – which are naturally ‘organic’ and not only do the cows not suffer violence and are allowed to live out their natural lives peacefully, the calves are never deprived of their share of milk and only the surplus is taken carefully and lovingly by hand, plus those cows are often purchased from farms where they would be destined for slaughter.
One could argue that purchasing such cows gives money to people who otherwise profit from killing cows and thus voting for them to continue, but I personally feel that in that case where the cow is ‘actually’ being saved and not just metaphysically then that is the greater good as opposed to giving money to cow killers simply to offer the tainted milk and let the poor cow still be slaughtered.
If I take your money, offer it to Krishna, and cut your throat, will you agree to the proposal? But that’s exactly the philosophy we’re propagating with ‘the cows get the benefit’ which seemed to come not from Srila Prabhupada, the most kind and compassionate soul this world has known for a long time, but probably from people with less than pure intentions and thinking who in the same way that the philosophy of selling practically anything other than Prabhupada’s books will benefit the buyer, yet His Divine Grace certainly didn’t cross the atlantic and suffer two heart attacks to distribute mundane bumper stickers! (to give just one example…)
“If all else fails, read the instructions!”
(Modern day aphorism)
So it seems the solution is indeed simple – go right back to the instruction that the Founder-Acharya of the movement stated unequivocally when he said that cows should be protected on farms that should strive for self sufficiency in ‘simple living, high thinking’, and that milk should be distributed to the temples and restaurants to be used in prasadam distribution.
The question remains how practical that is at the present moment where few farms are able to provide such ‘ahimsa’ (cruelty free) dairy, so is the next option buying the milk we’ve talked about, or is it closer to the principle of cow protection and compassion to distribute vegan prasadam? The very fact that Prabhupada set up this system of cow protection which Krishna mentions as the occupation for farmers in the Bhagavad-gita, seems to defeat the philosophy of offering factory farmed milk for the benefit of the cows, since those cows are clearly suffering far more than the cows who are already saved more or less by living on a Krishna conscious farm.
If we did away with these type of farms more milk from suffering cows could be offered and that would surely seem more compassionate, yet exactly why Prabhupada set up cow protection renders that argument quite invalid and so when he talks about the benefit the cow gets by it’s milk being offered to the Deity of Krishna was he ever talking about the milk from cows going to be killed or did that idea creep in later for another reason? That remains to be seen.
A common reasoning heard is the idea that because of imperfection in implementing the varnashram system which solves all the problems of a society, we have to accept the next best thing. Granted, that’s logical and can gradually lead to an improvement in the situation, but is the ‘next best thing’ offering milk that heavily compromises our principles set forth in the Vedas or is it closer to that ideal to use non-animal foods instead.
It’s as if milk were 100% necessary in Vedic culture and we simply cannot live without it, which is absurd since many people can’t take it due to health reasons, and the main sacrifice in the Kali-yuga (current age of quarrel and hypocrisy) is the congregational chanting of the Maha-mantra (Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare / Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare) which doesn’t require it in the least.
And though the process of Deity service and fire sacrifices (offering food grains into the fire as ‘yagna’) seems to require it could those ingredients not be replaced with oils? Just because saintly persons in the past did things in a certain way doesn’t justify our blind following of tradition when situations change.
To illustrate this consider this hypothetical scenario: in the future all commercially grown palm oil necessarily causes the killing of orangutans in wild plantations (something which is already partially true in some areas). Now we could say ‘well, so and so saintly person used it’, yet we’d have to ask whether in that circumstance the same issue of killing was present, and how that same person would act now in consideration of a change in circumstances.
“In this chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra there is no impediment, even a child can do it or even a dog can do it [!]”
(Srila Prabhupada, lecture)
Prabhupada indeed used milk from other sources than ISKCON farms, but what he did in the earlier days of the society and what his vision and instruction for the future are two different things. Out of necessity Srila Prabhupada did many things to establish the society, but once it was established he would then add the principles which would be there for the duration of the movement. We wouldn’t suggest going back to the time when the four regulative principles weren’t yet established, as he clearly stressed their importance, yet we dare to say ‘Prabhupada did it’ in terms of using milk from outside sources instead of following his instructions how to progress.
The state of farms back in the 60’s and 70’s were also far from the situation today, so even at that time Prabhupada desired to have separate farms than ones that didn’t follow principles of a proper human civilisation, so what to speak of now when the industry has simply progressed further towards unnecessary cruelty? If we rationalise our position it means we don’t want to try to change it and assume it’s fine the way it stands, instead of at least being honest and admitting shortcomings that can pave the way for progress.
Those who don’t have much or any interaction with people living in the modern Western world, many of whom care deeply about animals and the environment and who have a growing interest in spirituality as the thread running through all these important issues, are not aware of their perceptions of our society and the glaring hypocrisies of supporting cruelty with half baked philosophies, and instead often demonise such people who in reality care enough about other beings to make a huge sacrifice in their lives.
And we dare to stand above such people and at the same time expect people to be attracted to our movement, as if we don’t want intelligent and caring people to come on board, some of the attitudes I’ve personally encountered are simply staggering! It all boils down to ignorance, which in turn can lead to arrogance and anger also which we must be careful to avoid the pitfalls of on the often precarious path of spirituality.
We may justify indulgence in yet another way that it’s ‘sanctified’ therefore we need not be concerned with the origin of our food, ‘it’s Maha-prasadam’ (remnants of sacrifice from the Deity forms of Radha-Krishna) which can seem the unchallengable and final argument lest one dare to disrespect what is to be considered non-different to Lord Sri Krishna as is the communion wafer and wine in Christianity (the ‘body and blood of Christ’). But would a person avoiding all intoxication accept such an offering if it were presented?
How about meat from a Muslim that was ‘halal’ or from a Rabbi as ‘kosher’? Once as a vegetarian on an airline flight overseas I was offered yogurt as part of a lacto-vegetarian meal which contained ‘halal gelatine’ which the stewardess insisted was okay for me since it was ‘halal’. I gave up trying to explain how I couldn’t accept it and simply left it.
Now we’re putting a different perspective on things and making it interesting to think more deeply about… I personally have serious doubts that in any culture something that is clearly the product of violence (and not just incidental violence but conscious and intentional), could ever really become non-different to the body of God, the all merciful, but maybe I just lack that faith? But if that’s the case then meat could conceivably become similarly ‘blessed’ and thus fit to eat for any spiritual practitioner, correct?
We should know by now there’s not much difference these days between the two, and the strict avoidance of eggs by devotees yet open acceptance of modern dairy is exactly why this age is the age of hypocrisy. I’ve seen mistakes happen in offerings such as fish oil in milk or gelatine in yogurt getting right onto the altar, and begs the question – when we find out do we still consider it to be ‘offered’ and thus bona-fide and in line with being ‘vegetarian’ (a term which has to be qualified with the prefix ‘lacto’ or ‘lacto-ovo’ to include consumption of dairy and/or eggs respectively, since vegetarian means pertaining to foods of vegetable origin)?
I certainly don’t think so, and if avoiding eating it is offensive in God’s eyes then so would not eating food grains offered to the Deities on the Eakadasi fast day each fortnight of the waxing and waning lunar cycle, which deems grains and legumes to contain heavy karma – even after being offered to Krishna. Honouring the prasadam can be done with folded palms not simply by eating, and so doing eliminates the question of whether we’re eating it as an honouring of God’s mercy, or do we just enjoy the taste?
It can be painfully apparent what our motives are at times yet we must ask ourselves these questions to progress, and the same reasons that meat eaters can’t seem to give up flesh become the exact same ones lacto-vegetarians don’t give up dairy – ‘it’s too extreme’ (no, torturing and killing millions of animals for food certainly is though), ‘we need the vitamins and calcium’ (just as we need the protein from meat, right?), ‘everyone else drinks milk here’ (and practically the whole world eats meat, so is it safety in numbers, or just illusion in numbers?), ‘Prabhupada did it’ (no, he did not, that was then, this is now, we’re not Srila Prabhupada, and he was never callous to suffering). We can go on indefinitely making such comparisons, but I think we should have grasped this simple point.
“The problems of the world we bitch about will decrease when we stop contributing to them. If we scream for change we must be willing to make that change. As individuals take up responsibility for their lives society gradually changes. This is the panacea for our so called civilisation.”
(Ray/Raghunath Cappo, intro to Shelter’s ‘Mantra’ album insert)
Yet, there is great hope. Times are changing and the more progressive members of society are open minded enough to accept change when it’s required, just as Prabhupada made great changes despite criticism from conservative people who failed to understand the essence of the movement and what was required to spread it, and exploring those avenues instead of clinging to tradition is what is going to push the boundaries of the society and open up this revolutionary shift in consciousness to an ever wider audience.
With the push to make Food for Life vegan, the opening of vegan prasadam restaurants across the USA, and Ahimsa farms being established in the UK and other areas distributing dairy which has a gulf of difference to it, these are just some of the inspirational projects for the future of Krishna consciousness. Prasadam is the secret weapon of mercy to help uplift all fallen souls back to the eternal blissful position, and in an age where people genuinely care about animals and knowledge of their plight is no longer behind so many closed doors, vegan prasadam is a revolutionary concept and a healthier one too.
The idea that prasadam goes beyond mere veganism is something people will be able to grasp as long as hypocrisy isn’t present, as offering food in sacrifice to acknowledge and neutralise the violence there even in plant foods doesn’t quite add up when violently obtained dairy is present – sort of like one step forward two steps back I feel. First things first, to obtain products with a minimum of violence, then recognise that endeavour cannot be perfectly free from fault, yet by sincerely offering that foodstuff any discrepancies will surely be reconciled when Sri Krishna is pleased.
And as the demand for cruelty free dairy increases by people who become more aware of the facts, the supply can be funded more and more and pave the way for sustainable and ethical farms of the future of which ISKCON could be at the forefront in this crucial time. No devotee will argue that Prabhupada didn’t stress the importance of milk, and though the nutrients such as B12 and Omega that nourish the brain and maintain equilibrium aren’t exclusively contained in milk alone, it is a miracle food but only from a good source otherwise the bad may outweigh the good in terms of the heavy karma, additives and hormones, cholesterol etc.
And if we profess to have nourished the finer brain cells we should be able to grasp these points easily otherwise what’s the value of that nourishment? I became a devotee from a vegan lifestyle and didn’t have a problem understanding so we have to see these things in context and realise how much closer a vegan is to liberation than a meat eater and open up the options for such people instead of shutting them off simply in the name of tradition.
Certainly India consumes a lot of dairy but more recently many are becoming lactose intolerant, from the wrongly sourced dairy or from too much (isn’t the standard a hot glass of raw milk before bed, not every preparation soaked in so much dairy it triples our cholesterol?!), and since there is no impediment to bhakti if someone for health reasons can’t take dairy that cannot stop their devotion to Krishna one iota.
People in this century have become increasingly health conscious, so overweight devotees raised on ghee soaked pooris, halava swimming in butter, and a few too many ice creams, are surely not the example people are looking to be inspired by, and the threat of losing devotees to strokes and other conditions related to cholesterol is still worse. And it seems our only problem is an attachment to food ‘the way it’s always been’ yet periodically we have to step back and take a look and reassess things in the light of newfound wisdom, and not be afraid to criticise anyone least of all ourselves if it’s going to bring about a greater good.
“I am asking you to fight, to fight against their anger, not to provoke it. We will not strike a blow. But we will receive them, and through our pain we will make them see our injustice, and it will hurt, as all fighting hurts. But we cannot lose. We cannot.”
The only thing remaining for me to say is what to do in the meantime with temples that are using products that compromise the philosophy? Far from me to say what direction anyone should decide to take but what I can say without doubt is that when we recognise anything that may be wrong and make even slow but certain steps to improve it, we allow ourselves to become empowered to do amazing things rather than remain stuck in a paradigm simply because for so long it worked for us even if it’s failing to do so now.
It certainly doesn’t seem absolutely necessary to even offer Krishna dairy if we can’t obtain the ideal produce, as shown by progressive centres in the US paving the way forward. Personally, if someone offered me a meal without dairy I’d be happier than accepting a maybe more palatable one with ingredients that I consider to contravene one of our basic principles, just as we sacrifice so many pleasures of this world for the greater good. And since Krishna is a person we should treat him as such and not offer anything substandard, but try our best to give the best we can and continually ponder the question that does Krishna love his milk more than his cows?
Peace, love and prasadam!
Your servant, Vijaya-Gauranga das.
• Refuse to buy factory farmed dairy and products derived from it and thus stop supporting the cow killers
• Find and support ISKCON and related farms that protect cows by purchasing their milk thus increasing demand for it
• Tell your local vegetarian restaurant or ashram to make vegan options available or use milk from cruelty free sources if possible
• Find alternatives to dairy in cooking and puja such as vegetable ghee if ahimsa milk isn’t available
• Tell everyone you know to make the next step towards a cruelty free world by shunning all cruelly obtained dairy products – start a blog, web forum, magazine etc or simply talk to people and inform them of the issues
• Host vegan dinners or feasts at your home to show the practicality of cruelty free food or distribute prasadam without factory dairy
Related articles and websites:
Food for Life dairy info page: http://www.ffl.org/ffl_pf_iskcon_milk.php
The Vegan and The Vedas: http://www.krishnacore.com/articles_interviews/articles/the_vegan_and_the_vedas.html
H.H. Hridayananda das Goswami on veganism: http://environmentkrishna.wordpress.com/category/veganism/
H.H. Sivarama Swami ‘Not Vegans, Cow Protectors’ article: http://www.dandavats.com/?p=4063