All of Jain philosophy and ethics can be explained in one word—Ahimsa. Indeed, the Jain dharma has perfected nonviolence not only in action, but in thoughts and ideas as well. The Jain way of life is a perfect exposition of the ancient Sanskrit saying: Ahimsa paramo dharmaha, ahimsa is the supreme religion. Cow protection and Jeev Daya is a unique form of non-violence followed by the Jain community under the eternal guidance of Guru Vallabh and Guru Indra.
A natural corollary to nonviolence is Jiva daya or compassion towards all, the importance of which cannot be emphasized in today’s ‘eye-for-an-eye’ world. Noted scholar Dr. L.M Singhvi says in The Jain Declaration on Nature: that it is the intention to harm, the absence of compassion that makes an action violent. Without violent thought there could be no violent action. Lord Mahavir said you are that which you intend, to hit, injure, insult, torment, persecute, torture, enslave or kill.”
Ahimsa or nonviolence is not only non-killing, it also means that one’s attitude must be of maitri (amity) and peace. The real meaning of ahimsa is maitri. There are countless jivas, life or life forms, that populate the earth, air, water and are present all around us. How are we to behave towards these? With maitri.
A beautiful example of this jiva daya is Sukhi Parivar Jeevdaya Goshala at Bald Goan in district Barodara in Gujarat.
Ahimsa and jiva daya have made Jains great environmental conservationists. Eco-friendliness is interwoven into their day-to-day living and is based on a feeling of being trustees of the earth. We are like the vanavasis or tribals, We exist in harmony with the earth. The earth takes care of us, and so we take care of her. Man has polluted the earth because he thinks of her as a possession.
An attitude of reverence towards the earth, air, water and animals stems from the Jain belief that everywhere exist beings in different forms and in various stages of spiritual evolution. So if I cut a tree, or hurt a cow, I have killed a jiva (life) and therefore caused violence.
In Sanskrit the word Goshala literally means cow protection or the place where cows are sheltered. Other Sanskrit names for the cow are Go-mata (mother cow), Kamadhenu (wish fulfilling), and Aghnya (never to be killed).
Saints and Sages have chosen the names for the cow in Sanskrit literature in ancient times that were aware of the intrinsic role which the cow plays in the greater scheme of nature and particularly in relation to the wellbeing of human society.
The foremost name for the cow in India is Go-mata or Mother Cow. The wise men in ancient India considered that the human being has seven mothers; the mother who gave us birth, the mid-wife, the wife of the King, the wife of a priest, the wife of our teacher, the Earth, and the holy cow.
Most human beings come in contact with the above seven mothers during the course of life and benefit greatly from them. Therefore, Indian culture requires that these seven mothers always be given respect and protection. You would not kill your ‘Mother’ – similarly you should not kill the sacred cow.
Of course the seven mothers are not all put on the same level in terms of practical dealings and the cow is certainly not worshipped as superior to ones birth mother, as those who are antagonistic to Indian culture sometimes suggest. But because all respectable persons, objects, or beings are to be worshipped, there is a day reserved in the year where the followers of Indian culture worship the cow with decorations and various types of offerings. That day is called Go-puja or the day for worshipping the cow. Go-puja is especially observed in rural India where people live their lives and depend greatly on the cows and bulls.
Some western critics have condemned the worship of the cow in India but this is due to mainly because of their lack of understanding the Indian values. Cultural and religious extremes often make it difficult for one person to understand another.
For example, in some western countries a day is set aside each year called Mother’s Day on which loved ones offer gifts and take ‘Mom’ out to dinner. Because the children or the spouse appreciates and loves ‘Mom” they show that on a special day and perform activities that actually constitute worship and respect.
Bhishma said: One should never feel any repugnance for the urine and the dung of the cow. One should never show any disregard for cows in any way. If evil dreams are seen, men should take the names of cows. One should never obstruct cows in any way. Every morning, people should bow with reverence unto cows. Cows are sacred. They are the foremost of all things in the world. They are verily the refuge of the universe. They are the mothers of the every deities. They are incomparable. Cows are the mothers of the universe. There is no gift more sacred than the gift of cows. There is no gift that produces more blessed merit. [From the Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva, Sections LXXXIII – LXXVII – LXXVI]
Even Islamic scholars aver that Islam gives no compulsive directive for killing of cows either for religious or mundane purposes. The British shrewdly foisted this issue. They were beefeaters and had no compunctions about killing cows to meet their taste. To their pleasant surprise, they found they could co-opt the Muslims into that category and widen the latter’s gulf with the Hindus. The first War of Independence in 1857 erupted as a sepoy mutiny, when an Indian section of the British army refused to teeth cartridges supposedly made from cow/pork fat. Its extreme manifestation was a Brahmin soldier Mangal Pandey, who shot dead Sergeant Wheeler, thus beginning the uprising prematurely.
Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’, after regaining Delhi in 1857 for a brief interlude, made the killing of cow a capital offence. Bahadur Shah was not the first Mughal king to make such a proclamation. Babar may have been an ardent Ghazi of Islam, but he, in his letter dated 935 Hijri, advocated his son Humayun to stop cow slaughter in India. As recorded in his famous firman of 1586, Akbar too completely forbade cow slaughter throughout his empire. Then Emperor Jehangir promulgated an order that on Sundays, when Akbar was born, and Thursdays, when Jehangir ascended to the throne, no animal should be sacrificed. Even bigoted Aurangzeb always refrained from making cow-sacrifice during Bakr-Id. In Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s kingdom the only crime that had capital punishment was cow slaughter.
Religious and cultural sentiments associated with cow are too well known to bear repetition. But its economic and ecological aspects elude these second-hand Western-minders. In an agrarian country like India, bovine population was considered an asset and an index of prosperity. While cows yielded milk, oxen tilled in the fields or drew carts. India’s voice has been one of peaceful co-existence with flora, fauna and rest of humankind. There was an inclination towards complete vegetarianism as reflected in Jainism and Buddhism. Since these philosophies put their faith in transmigration of soul, they desisted from animal slaughter since an animal was also a Buddha in the making. And cow was a mother-animal by every conceivable standard for them.
Serene by temperament, herbivorous by diet, the very appearance of a white cow evoked a sense of piety. Apart from milk, the excretion of cows too was never allowed to go waste. Cow dung, also known for its anti-septic value, is still used asa form fuel in its dried form. It is used in compost manure and even in the production of electricity through eco-friendly gobar-gas.
The Article 48 of the Constitution says: “The State shall endeavor or organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter of cows and.” In the 1950s, the Jana Sangh voiced the demand for cow protection as per Article 48 and Mahatma Gandhi’s declaration: “Cow protection is more important than even Swaraj.” A 1958 decision of 5-member bench of the Supreme Court upheld Article 48 as fully legitimate. One of the members who happened to be from Muslim community called for making Article 48 mandatory since it was still liable to misuse.
Agriculture is still the mainstay of India’s economy – cow breeding and cow preservation are integral to it. 75 per cent of Indians live in villages and derive the greatest benefits from cows and bullocks. Despite the compulsions of modernism, tractors are not suitable for Indian land holdings unlike in the US and the UK. In US the land available to each person is around 14 acre; in India it is around 0.70 acre. A tractor consumes diesel, creates pollution, doesn’t eat grass nor produces dung for manure. So for Indian conditions ploughing is still ideal. Even Albert Einstein, in a letter to Sir CV Raman, wrote: “Tell the people of India, that if they want to survive and show the world path to survive, then they should forget about tractor and preserve their ancient tradition of ploughing.”
(The writer is founder of Sukhi Parivar Foundation and can be contacted at [email protected])