Here’s some latest correspondence regarding this unique subject:
L from Canberra writes:
H took one of your cooking classes in Prahran in 1980 or 81, visited the Hare Krishna temple in Melbourne numerous times and chatted with you on a number of those occasions, so I feel as though I am writing to an old friend. I have been vegetarian for 32 years, a vegan for the past 4 of those years.
I read your excellent interview on Abolitionist Online and I also read the letter to you regarding dairy foods from S.B. (a vegan perspective) and your response. I don’t want to take issue with you regarding your fundamental beliefs regarding the role of cows and dairy products because I realize, having had some acquaintance with the Hare Krishna movement, that these are core beliefs of your religion, which is obviously the most centrally important element of your life.
I have used your recipe books for years and consider then to be the best for cooked (as opposed to raw) veg food, and I still take inspiration from them whilst adapting them to a vegan diet.
What concerns me about your argument is that even if I were to accept your analogy of the ideal human-cow relationship with that of humans and their pets, that is, as one of reciprocal loving service and exchange, this represents an ideal which is not available to the vast majority of us who do not live on Hare Krishna or similar farms, or have access to dairy products from such farms.
Although I no longer want to consume dairy products personally, for health as well as ethical reasons, I can certainly appreciate that the life of a cow living in a peaceful, natural environment, where she is respected and loved, and allowed to live out her natural life span, is infinitely preferable to the tragic plight of cows in the modern factory farmed industrialized hell known as the dairy industry, and if this were the only animal rights issue we had to contend with, the world would be a wonderful place.
Given that the vast majority of lacto-vegetarians, including your own readers and students, have no choice but to support the brutal dairy industry if they want to continue eating dairy, how do you reconcile this unfortunate reality with Krishna Consciousness teachings of kindness and compassion towards our brother and sister animals when you include dairy products in your recipes?
Surely dairy products should only be recommended on the proviso that they can be obtained from a suitable source? The Movement speaks of a karma-free diet, but surely we have to face the fact that supporting the cruel modern dairy industry, where cows and their offspring arguably suffer even more than cattle raised for meat, cannot be karma-free.
Although I deeply respect your contribution to the vegetarian movement and your long-term devotion to your faith, I am left with the feeling that your adherence to your faith is leading you to be impervious to logic on this issue.
I realize it must be quite a challenge to reconcile Vedic ideals with the sad reality of modern factory farming, and that your heart lies with the Vedic ideal. But how do you do so in your own mind? I’m quite sure you have been exposed to some of the grisly evidence that is provided by animal rights groups of the various forms of abuse perpetrated on mother cows and their offspring, including the veal industry.
I am really having trouble squaring this with the idea of a “karma-free diet”. I know you are busy and probably tired of discussing this issue, but could you explain?
Thank you for your leadership in promoting vegetarianism over many years and thanks in particular for your vegan recipes.
Regarding Karma-free cookery, this is a big topic. The term ‘Karma-free’ is not a lightweight term. It carries deep significance. In a very brief nutshell:
As a devotee of Krishna I try to follow his instructions in Bhagavad-gita etc etc, which are relevant today in all practical matters.
It is explained by Krishna and his sagacious followers that there is some karma attached even in eating vegetables and fruits, so being a vegetarian, a vegan or even a fruitarian is not enough to clear one’s ‘debt’, since in the bigger picture of things, the general rule applies that ‘one living being is food for another’.
When we take the life of another, even by uprooting a carrot, we have to take some responsibility for this. The easiest way to do this is to sanctify the whole task of killing, cooking and eating by offering the results of our actions to the Supreme. This is called karma-yoga.
On the path of Bhakti, of which I an aspirant, this can be achieved by offering our food with mantra and prayer to God after we cook and before we partake. This is a sacrifice which is much appreciated by God who thus excuses our trespasses. He explicitly explained this to his disciple and friend Arjuna.
Krishna explained in the Gita and elsewhere what he likes to eat, and it includes fruits, milk, vegetables, grains etc, but of couse, not meat products.
Yes God eats! Why not – we are made in his image. And he eats dairy products. You will always see a picture of Krishna with a cow, his dearmost friend. He enjoys the life of a cowherd boy. And those that aspire His company try to follow his footsteps.
On a more practical note, you would I am sure agree that most vegans started off as vegetarians. So the very least I can do is to continue to introduce thousands of people to the peaceful life of vegetarianism. If they wish to continue onwards to become vegans, this is an obvious and easy place from where to proceed.
Hope this sheds some light.
Then L replied to my reply:
Thanks, Kurma, it does shed some light. If I understand correctly, as a devotee you feel that following the example of Lord Krishna is so important that even if the milk one consumes comes from factory- farmed cows, it is still better to consume such milk than not to consume any milk, provided it is offered to Krishna first.
So even though we are supporting cruelty by buying commercially produced milk, the negative karma of that is neutralized by the act of offering it to Krishna. Is that right? That’s great for the people consuming the milk, but where do the poor cows figure in this? Is their karma somehow helped too?
Do followers of Krishna believe that milk contains some kind of spiritual essence that aids spiritual development? I seem to remember hearing this. And is it only the milk of the cow that is ever consumed? Do devotees believe that killing a cow is worse karma than killing other kinds of animals?
Yes, I would say that it would be very rare for anyone to become vegan without first having been vegetarian. I know I couldn’t have done it. And yes, of course you are going to reach a lot more people by inroducing them to vegetarianism rather than veganism. And I am grateful to you for having done that so successfully. L.
Hello L, Thanks for your intelligent and insightful questions. Much appreciated.
You ask: “as a devotee you feel that following the example of Lord Krishna is so important that even if the milk one consumes comes from factory- farmed cows, it is still better to consume such milk than not to consume any milk, provided it is offered to Krishna first.”
My reply: yes definitely.
You ask: “So even though we are supporting cruelty by buying commercially produced milk, the negative karma of that is neutralized by the act of offering it to Krishna. Is that right?”
My answer: Absolutely right.
You ask: “That’s great for the people consuming the milk, but where do the poor cows figure in this? Is their karma somehow helped too?”
My answer: Most definitely!
Allow me to explain. Everyone benefits. If the cow’s milk is offered to God in sacrifice she will be elevated to a human birth next life. The cow is one birth away from human birth, and if she is allowed to live out her life, she will move quickly upwards. If her milk is offered to God, she will go straight to a human birth, but not any human birth – a birth in the Mode of Goodness, a happy and peaceful human birth.
Not only the cow benefits, but the person making the offering benefits, those that partake of the prasad, or mercifully sanctified food benefit also, and all that take part in the simple act of devotion. If we take one step towards God, he takes 10 steps towards us.
This is all explained in the following verse of the Gita, with my Guru Srila Prabhupada’s detailed purport. Read it slowly to gain a thorough understanding. There’s a lot to absorb. The last paragraph confirms what I have said above:
Chapter 4. Transcendental Knowledge
brahmarpanam brahma havir
brahmagnau brahmana hutam
brahmaiva tena gantavyam
brahma–spiritual in nature; arpanam–contribution; brahma–the Supreme; havih–butter; brahma–spiritual; agnau–in the fire of consummation; brahmana–by the spirit soul; hutam–offered; brahma–spiritual kingdom; eva–certainly; tena–by him; gantavyam–to be reached; brahma–spiritual; karma–activities; samadhina–by complete absorption.
A person who is fully absorbed in Krsna consciousness is sure to attain the spiritual kingdom because of his full contribution to spiritual activities, in which the consummation is absolute and that which is offered is of the same spiritual nature.
PURPORT by A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
“How activities in Krsna consciousness can lead one ultimately to the spiritual goal is described here. There are various activities in Krsna consciousness, and all of them will be described in the following verses. But, for the present, just the principle of Krsna consciousness is described. A conditioned soul, entangled in material contamination, is sure to act in the material atmosphere, and yet he has to get out of such an environment.
The process by which the conditioned soul can get out of the material atmosphere is Krsna consciousness. For example, a patient who is suffering from a disorder of the bowels due to overindulgence in milk products is cured by another milk product, namely curds (yogurt). The materially absorbed conditioned soul can be cured by Krsna consciousness as set forth here in the Gita. This process is generally known as yajna, or activities (sacrifices) simply meant for the satisfaction of Visnu or Krsna.
The more the activities of the material world are performed in Krsna consciousness, or for Visnu only, the more the atmosphere becomes spiritualized by complete absorption. Brahman means spiritual. The Lord is spiritual, and the rays of His transcendental body are called brahmajyoti, His spiritual effulgence. Everything that exists is situated in that brahmajyoti, but when the jyoti is covered by illusion (maya) or sense gratification, it is called material.
This material veil can be removed at once by Krsna consciousness; thus the offering for the sake of Krsna consciousness, the consuming agent of such an offering or contribution, the process of consumption, the contributor, and the result are–all combined together–Brahman, or the Absolute Truth. The Absolute Truth covered by maya is called matter. Matter dovetailed for the cause of the Absolute Truth regains its spiritual quality.
Krsna consciousness is the process of converting the illusory consciousness into Brahman, or the Supreme. When the mind is fully absorbed in Krsna consciousness, it is said to be in samadhi, or trance.
Anything done in such transcendental consciousness is called yajna, or sacrifice for the Absolute. In that condition of spiritual consciousness, the contributor, the contribution, the consumption, the performer or leader of the performance, and the result or ultimate gain–everything–becomes one in the Absolute, the Supreme Brahman. That is the method of Krsna consciousness.”
Then you asked: “Do followers of Krishna believe that milk contains some kind of spiritual essence that aids spiritual development?”
My answer: Most definitely. Not only followers of Krishna. All spiritually minded persons from whatever discipline in India know all about this. Many yogis live their whole lives drinking only 1 cup of milk a day. Milk, especially fresh pure unpasteurized unhomogenised warm milk contains miraculous ingredients which build the ojas – the subtle spiritual power – of the human organism. There are many books written on this subject and it is well known in Ayurveda. Cow’s milk is mystical and wonderful.
You ask: “I seem to remember hearing this. And is it only the milk of the cow that is ever consumed?”
Yes, you are correct. No other animal’s milk has the special effect on building fine subtle spiritual understanding. Buffalo milk is rich in protein but does nothing to build brain development, same with sheep, goats etc. Good for the body perhaps but of no special spiritual value.
Then you asked: “Do devotees believe that killing a cow is worse karma than killing other kinds of animals?”
Yes. It is the absolute worse crime that one can commit. Societies that are based on cow-slaughter will be plagued with war, and the young men will be sent to slaughter in return.
You concluded: “Yes, I would say that it would be very rare for anyone to become vegan without first having been vegetarian. I know I couldn’t have done it. And yes, of course you are going to reach a lot more people by inroducing them to vegetarianism rather than veganism. And I am grateful to you for having done that so successfully.”
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share these secrets with you. Generally this subject matter is far ‘beyond the ken’ of the average card-carrying vegan. Best wishes, Kurma.
The dialogue continues…
Posted by Kurma on 28/6/07; 8:31:48 AM