BBC Rdio 4 - Thought for the Day
25th June 1996
The pundits may debate if the cease-fire in the beef war really was a victory for the government, but it is certainly no victory for Britain’s population of cows. The steps to eradicate BSE by culling another million animals is a ferocious display of humans yet again pulling rank on our four-legged friends.
We are so confident of our superiority as homo-sapiens, that we assume a right to subject cows to questionable farming methods. We fed them the unnatural diet of offal which gave rise to BSE. And now we’re organising a mass slaughter to inspire European consumer confidence in eating their flesh. All for short-sighted economic gain.
Short-sighted, not just because of the expense of the cull and compensation, but because we may be missing out on our humanity. My faith and experience convince me that intelligence and consciousness are not the prerogatives of humans.
When I began my training of the Hindu priesthood, my first service was helping care for the ashram’s dairy herd. One of our cows called Surabhi demonstrated remarkable ingenuity. Every day as I followed her to the pasture, she devised a different plan for getting to the nearby cabbage patch. One day, she nonchalantly walked past the cabbages, unusually ignoring them. She stopped at the field gate 50 yards beyond. And whilst I was busy opening the gate for her, she suddenly turned and sprinted back up the track to the cabbages.
It’s not just cows. The Bhagavad-gita says that spiritual vision entails seeing the same vital spark which is the source of our consciousness and personality also present in all living beings. Hinduism, therefore, accepts all life as sacred.
But, the cow is especially important because of its symbiotic relationship with humans. In infancy, we are nourished by our mother’s breastmilk, then mother cow continues to provide for us. For centuries, the bull was invaluable for ploughing and transport. And their manure is still the best fertiliser available.
Where is our gratitude for a creature on whom we are so reliant? Rather, we respond to their benevolence by condemning cattle to an abrupt existence of brutality. Whether or not we accept that they have souls like humans, surely we must forego such ungrateful mistreatment for fellow species.
The language and belligerence of the beef crisis exemplify Mahatma Gandhi’s thesis that compassion and sensitivity are eroded from humanity when we exploit creatures who deserve our care and protection.
Our cow, Surabhi, passed away of old age at 28. Throughout her life she gave her milk abundantly. It was fitting that she spent her twilight years grazing peacefully with her children and grandchildren. I know she would wish the same life for her friends.
© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme Radio 4.