Q. Why do you avoid meat?
A. The most important reason why we must refrain from eating meat is: Krishna’s instruction to us in the Ninth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita. He requests us to offer Him everything we do, including our eating. He asks us to offer Him with love and devotion, “a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water.” Because Krishna doesn’t ask for meat products, we don’t offer Him any. Since the true aim of life is to please God and re-establish our love for Him, we don’t want to displease Him. The Gita’s third chapter gives the process of purifying our lives or making them pleasing to God.
Krishna is very merciful. He understands our need for material things. Therefore, He created a way for us to offer or sacrifice the things of the world for a spiritual purpose. In that way we can fulfill our desires and needs for material things and not incur karmic reactions. Krishna says that if we offer our food to Him we become free from sinful reactions. The idea behind “offering” something to God is that everything actually belongs to Him. If we don’t acknowledge that, we’re subject to a “fine,” or karmic reactions. This is just like taking advantage of gas, water, electricity, and so on, in your home. You can use these only if you’re willing to pay for them. Besides the spiritual consideration, a vegetarian diet is natural (humans have vegetarian digestive systems) and compassionate. It brings economic benefits both individually and collectively, and it is beneficial to one’s health and to the environment.
Q. Why do you worship cows?
A. Because all living things are part of God, all life is sacred and worthy of respect. The Supreme Lord is most worthy of honor and respect, and the Vedas teach that whatever or whoever is dear to God is also sacred–fit to be worshiped in relation to God.
Krishna is known as Govinda, ‘the Lord of the cows’. The cow is sacred and fit to be honored or worshiped because she is dear to God. Worship or honor given to the cow is pleasing to God. If human beings can have favorite animals, why not God? Since the cows are dear to Krishna, they are also dear to his devotees.
The cow is also dear because of her gentle nature and her important service to humanity. Cows provide us with milk, “the miracle food,” which the Vedas consider an ideal food for health. It helps develop the brain for understanding religious and philosophical topics. Since the cow supplies us milk, she is considered another mother. We don’t think highly of a society that practically worships pets but sends cows to be slaughtered.
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.