Milk and Nonviolence

Q. I have a question about milk. As a Vaisnava, I follow the path of ahimsa, the path of nonviolence and compassion toward all of God’s creatures. Srila Prabhupada taught us that milk and milk products are an acceptable food to use in the preparation of prasadam. But due to the ways of Western dairies, milk cows are bred to be slaves, kept in small restraint pens, shot full of drugs, used for many years  and finally slaughtered for pet food. That sounds extremely violent to me. Although I do partake of milk products, I feel the cow’s pain. Do these feelings make me less of a Vaisnava? Should I just consider that the cow is suffering because of her karma?

A. Your compassion for the cow is a natural Vaisnava  sentiment. Even though devotees know that everyone suffers because of their karma, devotees still feel the pain of others. The devotees’ solution is to do whatever possible to engage everyone in Krishna consciousness and devotional service to Krishna. That is the only sure way to end all suffering.

ISKCON doesn’t have an official position on drinking milk from commercial dairies. Some devotees don’t drink dairy milk for the reasons you mentioned. Others argue that, as Prabhupada taught, milk is so important in developing the brain for spiritual understanding that despite the current situation, we should drink milk anyway. Besides, by offering Krishna the milk of abused cows, they get great benefit.

On a practical level, our boycott of the dairy industry would probably have little effect, but we can help the cows by offering their milk to Krishna. And of course, devotees should work hard to develop Krishna conscious villages where we demonstrate real cow protection through the proper use of both the cow and the bull.