The Yoga of Cow Protection

I spent last weekend in rural West Virginia. Although my main reason for going was to participate in the annual 24-Hour kirtan organized by my friends at Mantralogy, a trip to the New Vrindaban community always gives me a chance to visit our cow, Dwadasi. Of course, Dwadasi’s not really our cow: we adopted her, which just means that we pay for her annual expenses. She’s 14 years old, about twice the age that most cows live since cows are routinely slaughtered as soon as they are no longer producing milk, and therefore a profit, for the farmers that own them.

Old as she is, Dwadasi is hardly the eldest of the herd: the real old-timers are enjoying a happy retirement in what’s called the “Geriatric Barn”. Dwadasi and many other cows and bulls are lovingly cared for by a wonderful family through their amazing organization, the International Society for Cow Protection (ISCOWP).

Although most of the cows and bulls on the farm are retired, there are also younger cows and bulls that are active members of the family, making their contribution to life on the farm according to their nature and ability. One of the younger cows, a beautiful white Brahman, was a small calf the first time we visited the farm. Two years later she’s a gentle giant. And she has no fear of humans. She was happy to approach us as we walked towards her to pet her. Cows, when treated with kindness, are naturally affectionate, trusting, and cheerfully interact with humans. Except for Dwadasi: she accepts her guests with polite indifference. Every cow has a distinct personality.

Since it’s not possible to get cruelty-free dairy products from conventional sources, the folks who run the ISCOWP farm are vegans unless one of their cows has a calf, in which case they’ll accept the mother cow’s milk. Cows with a calf produce milk in amounts far greater than what is needed or really healthy for her calf and will offer an abundant supply of milk to the human members of her family.

It’s easy enough to understand cow protection from the standpoint of yoga as an ethical philosophy: ahimsa requires us to refrain from violence against all living beings, not just human beings. But the first principle specific to cow protection in yoga philosophy is not really about cows; it’s actually about the engagement of bulls for the production of grains.

A cow doesn’t give milk unless she has a calf and half of all calves are bulls! And, as our friends at ISCOWP explain on their website:

“The expense of feeding the bulls will be a deficit to the farmer unless he realizes their potential for alternative energy by employing them in tilling the fields and hauling. Otherwise, the farmer, in most countries throughout the world, acquires his economic profit by selling them for meat either directly to the slaughterhouse, the meat industry’s feedlots, or to the veal industry where he lives a short life crammed into a small crate not much bigger than him.

The modern system of agriculture does not realize the alternative energy potential of the bull calf nor the variety of useful bovine dung and urine products (fertilizers, compost, pest repellent, medicines, cleaning products, and biogas fuel to name just a few). Therefore, slaughtering becomes the only economically viable means of management. Most people, accustomed to this viewpoint and seeing no alternative, will throw up their hands and agree, even if they prefer a less violent solution. This is only because they don’t have the facts. They don’t know that the overall value of the ox is greater when he is utilized for work than when he’s slaughtered for meat, and even when not productive a cow or ox produces useful urine and dung.”

An ideal social structure that supports the practice of yoga is one that’s local and sustainable, one in which we eat food that grows where we live, one that’s free from the many downsides of technology and industrialization such as polluting fossil fuels, poisonous pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and artificial economics that tilt the playing field against small, family farms. The protection of cows is not merely a religious sentiment nor is it just a matter of avoiding the bad karma associated with needlessly killing innocent animals: it’s a means to secure the highest benefit for human society, both material and spiritual.


  1. jen
    Posted June 21, 2012 at 10:01 PM | Permalink | Reply

    a really great post hkd

  2. Posted June 21, 2012 at 10:19 PM | Permalink | Reply

    What a beautiful post! I think the idea of adopting a cow or cows is a great idea..and a very compassionate one too. How neat that you actually got to visit the one that you adopted. And I’m sure the 24 hours of kirtan was amazing! My first time here at your blog, I look forward to reading future posts. 🙂
    ~ namaste

    • Posted June 24, 2012 at 7:11 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Jessica. I’m looking forward to corresponding with you when you return from your Internet hiatus.

  3. Posted June 22, 2012 at 3:55 PM | Permalink | Reply

    So glad you addressed this, nice post. But where are the photos? Almost everybody likes looking at cows, especially pretty, friendly ones.

    You mention an ideal social structure. That’s a fine can of worms, whose ideal? Most people are not willing budge an inch from the status quo toward a lifestyle and an economy founded on cow protection instead of petroleum (and its bastard child, plastic). Which means we’re going to be forced to change, sooner or later. What form will the change take? I fear it won’t be pretty.

    • Posted June 24, 2012 at 7:10 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Tulasi-Priya. You can see many photos of pretty, friendly cows at the ISCOWP website (see the link above). To answer your question, the Bhagavad Gita and other devotional yoga wisdom texts describe, in considerable detail, social structures that promote progress on the path of yoga – that are oriented toward the quality of ‘Goodness’ and, ultimately, ‘Transcendental Goodness’ – and social structures that are antithetical to yoga (that are oriented toward the material qualities of ‘Passion and Ignorance’. A global economy based on the consumption of petroleum and it’s progeny is definitely a product of the modes of passion and ignorance and, as you rightly point out, people – meaning popular governments and their corporate partners – are not going to give up the petroleum paradigm until they are forced to. Eventually, but inevitably, they will be forced to because the status quo is not sustainable. The qualities of passion and ignorance lead to conflict and suffering: a local and sustainable socio-economic model based on cow protection will be the phoenix that rises from the ashes of the collapse of the status quo. And I agree: that collapse won’t be pretty.

  4. Dr. Vrinda Baxi
    Posted July 10, 2012 at 10:59 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Great posting… I have visited this blog for the first time but I would love to frequent waiting to see more of such postings. The very utterance of word “cow” makes my ears pricked up. They are such wonderful creation of the Lord! They are manifestation of compassion and love. Every glorification falls short of their actual glorious self. I have one cow named Surabhi in our house. She loves to get herself bedecked in different jewellery, necklaces, anklets, something on her horns… etc but everything should be done tastefully, lest it will be thrown by her. Further, since she is alone at the moment she loves to sit amidst everybody else in the family in the drawing room 🙂 She waits for her first share after we make the offerings to the Lord. It is so fulfilling to serve her, but what kind of petroleum based lifestyle are we cultivating? It is totally artificial and non-sustainable. The cow cannot be happy without bull. How can we be happy without dharma? Unless we change our plastic outlook we will be trapped in this mire of city life (non-Vedic life). Bhoomi needs cows and bulls. Their happiness can ONLY bring happiness in our lives. A life style revolving round land, cows and Krishna.

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