"The Myth of the Holy Cow"
Fahrenheit 451 revisited
Posted August 17, 2003
At a PAMHO forum for Bhakti Caru Swami's disciples, his Secretary has recently posted a message under the header "Instruction From Guru Maharaj." Therein, we read:
"Guru Maharaj has requested that each of us kindly sign the petition found at the following web address:
"This petition is to ban a book which tries to establish that the Vedas promote cow killing. Please take a few moments to sign this petition as Guru Maharaj very much wants us all to support this cause."
The same day, one of Bhakti Caru Swami's disciples reposted his guru's message to the Free Forum conference, adding: "HH Bhakti Caru Swami asks his disciples to sign a petition against the book that promotes cow-killing based on the Veda's. I thought other devotees may also like to join the protest campaign."
I am deeply underwhelmed. Here's a spiritual master who, instead of teaching his disciples how to think, tells them WHAT to think. He doesn't encourage them to read the book and make up their own mind. He doesn't give them even a single argument for why he personally thinks the author is wrong. Doesn't even name the author or his book. Has he read it himself?
The book in question is entitled The Myth of the Holy Cow and has been written by a history professor at the University of Delhi. (No, I haven't read it yet. Now, after reading Bhakti Caru Swami's appeal I feel inclined to order it, for books that evoke such strong irrational reactions often provide interesting insights into parts of our nature we wish we could ban in ourselves...) History professors aren't generally known for promoting wars or cow-killing, although they may write about both. According to the reviews and articles I have found on the net, D.N. Jha is simply trying to establish facts about the past -- and his conclusion, based on the evidence he presents, is that beef-eating was not unknown to Indians of the pre-Muslim period. He is not issuing moral imperatives for the present-day society.
The question should then be, does his evidence hold? If not, refute it. If the evidence does hold, then banning the book is not only an act of intellectual dishonesty but also cowardice. Ban the messenger! Any time we hear about a piece of reality that makes us uncomfortable, will we ban the source of information? To think we can in this way change the reality outside of us is narcissism. As for our inner reality... it may get simpler and more pleasant, but it will also get emptier and less real.
Even if some ancient Indians ate beef, would that mean so must we? Do we refrain from meat-eating only because it's "not Vedic"? Do we protect the cows only because we have been told to -- and all the other reasons, such as respect and compassion for the animal, are only a preaching strategy? Let's get ourselves a conscience, for Mother Cow's sake!
By the way, petitions to ban books are foolish. This is not the first book on the issue. Banning it won't stop the debate. In fact, loud protests boost book sales. Therefore Verso Books, the publisher, prominently displays on Jha's book's front cover a caption: "A book the government of India demands be ritually burned."
Congratulations, Bhakti Caru Maharaja.