(8 Aug '00)
Symbolism of the cow
Due to the wise example and guidance of India’s ancient Rishis (Seers), who established the habit of honouring all aspects of life, cows, through their symbiotic relationship with people, were naturally given a high place in Indian culture. This high status was reinforced and high-lighted with the advent of Sri Krishna and His leelas, and is again receiving attention from Amma and Her teachings.
Amma Herself has always spoken in the highest regard for cows, making sure that the ashram cows are always lovingly cared for. Perhaps this is partly due to a remarkable relationship Amma had with one cow in particular, when She was young.
There was a time when She had been turned out by Her family, due to their intolerance of the inexplicable behaviour arising from Her profound mystical experiences. During that period, Amma would endure long stretches of time without eating or drinking anything, so absorbed was She in Her samadhi. One day a cow showed up, and stood nearby, waiting until Amma regained normal awareness. When Amma opened her eyes, this cow then moved close and allowed Amma to drink milk directly from her udders. The cow did this each day, and it soon became known that this cow had been selflessly walking over seven kilometers each way, just to feed Amma, and this even before feeding her own calf! All out of a deep universal sympathy she and Amma somehow shared.
From this it can be seen that cows are rightly honoured as a form of the Mother. Consider that this gentle creature offers such an abundance, despite taking so little. To begin with, cow’s milk and its by-products are taken as food in all parts of the world. In fact, many of us were raised on cow’s milk as a substitute for our own mother’s milk! And milk in turn can become so many things —cheese, butter, curd, cream, ghee, yogurt– much of which is used in a ceremonial context as well, such as pada puja and abhishekam. Even the waste products of a cow are beneficial. Cow-dung makes a superior manure, and the ash derived from burning dried cow dung is used in a sacred symbolic context. And both cow-dung ash, and cow urine are utilized for certain medicinal properties they possess.
Sri Krishna also has a special connection with the divine bovine. Growing up in Brindavan, Sri Krishna was known as Gopala, which means one who looks after the cow, and it was during his daily tending to the cows in the field that some of His most unforgettable leelas were unfolded. What’s more, his most dedicated devotees were the gopis, or cowherd girls, who in their simple purity and innocence could easily see the divinity within this mischievous and mysterious blue-hued boy, who ran and sang and played and danced with them in the open fields, mesmerizing all with his flute-song.
Something else Sri Krishna is famous for is being an incorrigible butter-thief. He used to absolutely love butter and ghee (both gifts of the sacred cow), and would go to any lengths to partake of their sweetness. The small fact that they usually didn’t’t belong to Him never seemed to matter much at all! In fact, He seemed as interested in the act of stealing, as in that which He stole! But it wasn’t out of any uncontrollable craving, or criminal leanings that He did this, for Sri Krishna was beyond desires and negative tendencies. What we cannot afford to forget is that each and every action of divine beings such as Krishna or Amma, are always pregnant with deep spiritual meaning. But, we need subtlety of mind to perceive them.
Amma says, “The gopis were always thinking about their hoarded butter. By stealing it, Krishna diverted their attention to Him.” Thus the significance of stealing the butter is that the Lord will finally steal our minds.
May we all be so blessed.