by Priyavrata das (Director of Food for Life Global www.ffl.org)
The Vedic tradition is centered on worship of Krishna, the “cowherd boy,” and the cow as “Mother.” India’s ancient Vedic culture has existed on cow’s milk for tens of thousands of years.
In this section of the site you will find arguments for and against the use of milk. It is important to understand the distinct difference between traditional milk flowing from protected and loved cows, and commercial milk that is forcibly extracted from unloved cows. But first, let’s comment on how this relates to the Hare Krishna Movement…
Because of the controversy surrounding the dairy industry some ISKCON members have taken the position of not purchasing commercial dairy from cows that are abused. However, an explanation of the Vedic hospitatlity tradition and the central role milk plays in food preparation may help the public better understand why some Hare Krishna devotees continue to use regular commercial dairy.
The Vedic tradition is centered on worship of Krishna, the “cowherd boy,” and the cow as “Mother.” India’s ancient Vedic culture has existed on cow’s milk for tens of thousands of years. Milk is and always will be an integral part of that culture. History has proven that cultures can survive for thousands of years and their people live long, healthy lives when there is a symbiotic relationship between humans and animals. Hundreds of millions of Hindus have used dairy products for many thousands of years, lending credibility to the notion that dairy products can be safe to consume. To ignore this fact is to allow ourselves to be blinded by our reluctance to even consider evidence that challenges our own personal convictions and the current medical belief.
All Milk is Not the Same
It is important to keep in mind that milk from each different source is unique; that is, cow’s milk and human milk are not one and the same. Taken further, the milk that a brown cow produces is different from that of a spotted cow, and within each herd, every individual cow has the ability to produce a unique blend of milk for its calf. Similarly, even among breast-feeding women, the milk that each woman produces is not exactly the same. By nature’s wondrous design, the milk that a mother produces for her child is perfectly suited to that child. Amazingly, even while breast-feeding, a mother’s milk can change according to the needs of the child! Obviously, a more subtle influence is present here—the influence of love. In the same way, if a cow is loved and protected, the milk it offers to humans will most certainly be uniquely beneficial. On the other hand, the commercial milk that comes from mistreated and diseased cows is certainly very harmful as is clearly evident from the numerous medical studies on commercial milk consumption. On this point, it is important to note that ALL dairy research is conducted on commercial milk only.
Vegan and the VEDAS
The founder of ISKCON and the inspiration behind the Food for Life program, Swami Prabhupada was not vegan and was probably not even aware that such a diet existed. However, although there is substantial support both from Prabhupada’s teachings and the Vedic literature about the benefits of consuming dairy, the fact remains that a large percentage of the world population are lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance is the inability to metabolize lactose, because of a lack of the required enzyme lactase in the digestive system. It is estimated that 75% of adults worldwide show some decrease in lactase activity during adulthood. The frequency of decreased lactase activity ranges from as little as 5% in northern Europe, up to 71% for Sicily, to more than 90% in some African and Asian countries. When the Vedas were originally spoken this was most probably not the case, and of course there was no such thing as milk contaminated with growth hormones and antibiotics, etc.
Even during Swami Prabhupada’s lifetime the state of commercial milk was much more pure. From the beginning of the movement he started in 1966, Swami Prabhupada encouraged his students to develop self-sufficient farms that could supply all their needs, completely independent of modern society, including commercial dairy. He wanted ISKCON to be a positive alternative to modern life. Devotees of Krishna were to be self-sufficient and this included acquiring milk from their own protected cows.
In the broadest use of the word, ahimsa refers to a lifestyle of peace, and is most popularly connected with Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement of the 1930s. However, in the modern context, ahimsa is typically tied exclusively to diet and has been popularized by Eastern spiritual movements like the Hare Krishnas (ISKCON). However, somewhat ironically, these same peace-loving Eastern spiritual groups have received criticism from the vegan community for their inconsistency to practice the path of ahimsa. Their use of commercial dairy and its ties to the exploitation of cows is a case in point.
Many ISKCON members have addressed this issue to the ISKCON Governing Body Commission over years and last year, resolutions were passed by the European leadership to minimise the use of commercial dairy and for ISKCON temples to seek ahimsa dairy, per the order of the founder, Srila Prabhupada. The European leaders overwhelmingly voted to source better quality milk for their temples and not one vote was cast in favour of continuing the current status quo. Since the yoga path is all about connection with our higher self and God, it follows that all Hare Krishna devotees should walk a path of ahimsa, by respecting all living beings and gearing all of their thoughts, words and deeds towards a peaceful outcome. The ahimsa path is much more than peaceful intention; it necessitates an awareness of the spiritual equality of all beings. This awareness naturally manifests in one’s choice of food and that obviously includes evaluating the quality of the dairy one may wish to consume. Quite simply, one kind of dairy is taken by force from an abused cow while the other is given with love by a protected cow.
An Ahimsa-Dairyan (or Krishna-dairyan) is a person who abstains from all dairy products that have been obtained through violent means and from any cow destined for slaughter. An Ahimsa-Dairyan only consumes dairy products from protected and loved cows that will never be slaughtered. I encourage all conscious consumers to choose dairy from protected cows only. If they are not availalbe, one may consider non-dairy alternatives.
A Vegan Diet is not ahimsa
Because there is violence even in the gathering and preparation of vegan meals, no food is ever totally karma-free, or ahimsa (non-violent) unless it is first offered in sacrifice to God, at which time it becomes pure, antiseptic, and spiritually nourishing! Hindus call this food prasada—or mercy. By adopting this spiritual practice, a vegan can further their quest for real peace, harmony and spiritual purity. Despite our good intentions, if we fail to recognize God as the source of all creation, our efforts will remain dry, mundane and inadequate.
For more truth about the enslaved-COW DAIRY industry (including organic) and why the VEAL industry is its by-product: www.humanemyth.org/happycows.htm
What is the Purist Milk?
Milk from protected cows that is unpasteurized and unhomogenized is considered “liquid religion” amongst Hindus and is therefore one of the most sattvic of foods. Krishna, the original form of Lord Visnu, is a divine cowherd boy. According to the Ayurveda, such pure milk is considered a complete food because it has the qualities of ojas* – the essence of all dhatus and is thus equal to nectar. By definition, pure cow milk is milk that is given with love (hand milked) by cows that are protected and never raised for slaughter. Because the cow represents the Divine Feminine, her milk has the ability to inspire divine consciousness and emit subtle vibrations of the divine nurturing energy (Shakti). As a result, according to the Ayurveda, when we drink a protected cow’s milk, the cells in our body get charged with sattvica (goodness) and the peace giving qualities present in the milk. *Ojas is a Sanskrit word that literally means “vigor.” Ojas also means light and, in the Ayurveda, it is considered the essential energy of the body — equated with the “fluid of life,” and is the essence of all the dhatus.
Despite the obvious merit for choosing to be a vegan, which essentially means avoiding all foods, clothing and products that are the result of animal suffering; and extending that ideal to advocating that all animals should live independently (including cows and bulls); the vegan ideology does not honestly address the lack of B12 in the diet. And so to live the vegan ideology you absolutely have to take B12 supplements and obviously that is not natural and certainly not the way God and nature intended human life to be. For an in depth analysis of B12 and a glaring flaw in the strict vegan diet, see my article: The problem with the strict vegan ideology