Acharya Prashant on Veganism: Vedas and Milk


Question: Acharya Ji, there are people who quote the Vedas and say “A Hindu is a good Hindu only if he drinks milk from the mother cow.” What is your take on that?

Acharya Prashant: See if you have named the Vedas, what is the central teaching of all the Vedic literature?

If you want to really know what the Vedic teaching is, you will have to go to the Upanishads. The Upanishads are called the “Vedanta”, which means the summit or the climax of Veda. And they go into the reality of man. What is the reality of man? The Upanishads are very forthright and unequivocal about it. They say, “Man is the Truth itself (Aham Brahmasmi).” Nothing else except the Truth. You are the ultimate finality. You are the total.

Now, if this is the position that the Vedic literature takes, then one cannot operate from a point of incompleteness, hollowness or desirousness. A lot of what we do, please see we do just in order to gain fulfillment. We say that the purpose of human Life is progress, don’t we? And we asses a human being according to how much he has been able to progress and contribute to progress.

And what is progress for us?
Knowing more; collecting more.

I’m not trying to unnecessarily be simplistic. Please go into it.

When you know more, when you collect more, is it something that happens only on the outside or does it also affects your self-worth? When you know more, your self-worth rises; when you collect more, again your self-worth rises. The Upanishads say, that your self-worth, that which you are, is any way infinite, you are anyway total. Now, go out and play. You are anyway perfect and complete. Now, do whatever you want to do. But do it from a point of perfection. Do it from a point of completion.

Do not do in order to gain something. Do not do in order to rise.

Act as if you are already there as if you are already complete.

That is what Vedas are all about.

Now, around this center, a lot has been said. Just a whole lot.

If I am already complete, how do I relate with you?

Do I look at you with hungry eyes? 

Then there is a certain fullness, and then the relationship is called ‘Love’. I do not seek to harm you, or you do not exist then as a means or resource for me.

The cow you named, would the keeper of the cow, the cowherd, still, keep the cow if the cow stops giving milk? If the relationship is of Love, then one does not really bother what the other one is supplying to him.

I want to inquire into the relationship of the cattle-keeper, the rearer of the cattle with his cattle. You call the cow as ‘your’ cow. “Your” in what sense? ‘Your’ in the sense of something close, loveable, intimate, or ‘your’ in a sense of possession. And these are two very very different things.

(Holds a twig in hand to demonstrate) Calling this as “my twig” and calling God as “my God” are two very different expressions.

When you say “my cow”, what do you mean? I dare say we mean something that can be milked. And the day it stops producing milk, the relationship is severed, and off it goes to the butcher; the animal goes to the butcher. So any Hindu, who would have ever understood the Veda, cannot have a relationship like that with a cow or a buffalo or a goat or anything or anybody in the universe.

It’s direct, straightforward: to be a Hindu, is to live in a pre-existing, ever-lasting, never exhausting completeness, totality.

To be a Hindu is to be always at the summit — that is the essence and the teaching of the Upanishads.

You are not even the son of God; you are God himself.

Now, will God’s desires be contingent on a little animal?

Will God say that if I cannot get the meat, or the fur or the milk, then I feel bad and small? Do you see God chasing a dog to kill? Do you see God artificially inseminating a buffalo? And the Upanishads are saying if you go into yourself if you realize your true nature; you verily are nothing but God.

So, Hindu is bound to have a very-very harmonious relationship with existence. If at all he has understood what Hinduism is. And if at all he takes the Vedic literature as the foundation of Hinduism. The Hindu is bound to see nothing but Godliness. A Hindu is someone who is total and therefore sees nothing but the total. For a Hindu, this dead tree is not just a dead tree. Because he looks from a center, a point of totality, this dead tree too represents nothing less than the totality to him. He cannot be disrespectful towards it.

And that is why you see Hindus worshipping just about everything. Someone may come and start prostrating in front of this stone, this rock. Someone may worship the soil. You must have heard about the multitude of Gods and Goddesses. There is an entire family, a plethora and one can keep adding to it, you are free. You can devise your own God. You like that flower, and that flower gives you a scent of something beyond the so-called normal human limitation, you are free to worship a flower. You can even raise a temple devoted to this flower.

Now, how can then a Hindu go about with a butcher’s knife in his hand?

Also to be Hindu is to be totally surrendered to the total. The Hindu does not quite like anything that is small, little, petty. And if one is surrendered to the total, then there is a freedom from the responsibility of having to fend for oneself.

Outwardly yes, one goes and collects water and gets this and that, and engages in the daily activities. But inwardly he very well knows that the final obligation to take care of himself rests not upon himself but upon existence. He knows that he is one with the soil and the soil will take care of him. He knows that just as the plants, the animals, all know from where to derive their sustenance. And that knowledge is not personal, that knowledge is not even man-made or animal-made. It is very intrinsic.

The fish knows how to swim and the ocean is there before the fish comes and the ocean is there after the fish goes. Similarly, man arises out of the soil, arises out of the universe, and goes back into it. Now, why then be responsible for or worry about basic things like food, they will come. Not that this is laziness, not that one does not do anything, one does do a few things, even the fish has to swim and make its way and go to food wherever it sees it. But the fish does not have to be attached to the idea that it is responsible for its own upkeep. Then the fish lives according to its fish nature. Then the fish does not stock for tomorrow.

L: What is true human nature? I think we have gone away to the true Human nature. What do you feel about true human nature?

AP: You see, as you spoke I have to listen and as I speak, you are listening, and that is happening effortlessly, this is human nature. To just know effortlessly, and if you look around, all is available, all that is to be known, all that ever can be known is all available. And just as both of us can listen to each other effortlessly and know.


true human nature is to know effortlessly,

and it can be effortless only if it pre-exists if there is incremental knowledge. If something new is to be added, then effort would always be involved. True human nature is to know and to keep knowing that which one already knows. Now, in this “knowing,” a few other things can also be said. Man does not always live in his true nature, so then the nature of the ego-self is to keep moving towards the true nature. And that is “Love” So, the man loves knowing. That knowing is total. To keep moving towards the total and not to be limited to anything that is petty, small. Anything that makes him feel that unless he does something, knows something, in particular, or collect something, his life has gone waste.

There is a difference in the eye, you see.

An eye that is contended, looks at the universe in a very very different way compared to an eye that believes that hunger is its reality.

Talking of the Upanishads, hunger might be what you ‘feel’, but contended is what you ‘are’. And this distinction is extremely important.

Hunger is might be what I feel;
contended is what I am.

Even in the moment of my death, I am immortal. So death is what I experience, but immortal is who I am. To carry these two together. And the experience of death only takes one to a realization of his immortality, if one is deeply present to that experience if one is close to that experience and not afraid of it.

So you could say that man has two natures or you could simply say that man has only one nature, the second only exists to keep moving towards the first and end up dissolving in it. There is that in me, which feels that I am little, which feels that I am powerless, which misers me by my dimensions, and my collections and my knowledge. And there is that in me which knows no measurement, which knows no boundary, no logic, no intellect. The purpose of all that, which is limited, which is measurable, is to keep moving towards and into the immeasurable. So ultimately there is just one nature — the infinite, the immense. The immeasurable, simply.

Now, you tell me, where is space in this vastness of human nature to engage oneself in trivialities like hunting, catching, killing and all the other stuff. One would rather play than kill.

L: People still use the same scriptures for defending their Karmas. So do you think people misunderstood what is written there in the scriptures?

AP: It was not just misunderstanding; it was deliberate misinterpretation. Deliberate, but not probably conscious. Because we do not even know what sense we are making of, what we are hearing, reading, looking at or eating. We operate from our centers. In the beginning itself, I had said that if we are operating from our center of hunger, and if we have become attached to it, then everything outside of us, will relate to food.

If I am a violent man, then everything that I read, will relate to violence in some way or the other. In order to remain what I am, and the ego always seeks self-preservation, self-continuation. In order to remain what I am, I will read what I ‘want’ to read. In fact, many scriptures have been really tempered with. And there is evidence available. Verses have been inserted, parts have been deleted, in various stages of history because man wanted to use the scriptures for his own convenience.

The ego, on one hand, feels like a beggar and on the other hand, does not want to take anything or anybody as higher than itself.

So the ego does not even take God, or the prophet, or the scripture as higher than itself.

The ego says that all of them exist for my sake. So if I want to consume or exploit, then I will have the scriptures to mean what I want them to mean. I pick up a book and the book is not going to come and tell me how to decode it. I am the one who will be making meaning out of the book.

L: It is said specifically that butter, milk and ghee is good for health and this is what our mother cow gave to us as an offering. What would you say about that?

AP: You see, these are very basic things.

To be a believer in the Vedas is to believe in God.

And to believe in God is to surrender to God.

To surrender to God is to say that one lives by the wishes, by the mechanisms of existence itself. One does not try to fabricate his own artificial ways.

Does the cow go and drink the camel’s milk? If one is really being religious, then one has to live as per the wishes of nature.

God has given you your own mother and her breast milk. Which species drink the milk of some other species? And if you had really needed milk even at the age of 20 or 40, then that milk would have been made available to your mother’s body. On one hand, you are saying that you are religious on the other hand you are claiming that God has not sufficiently provided for you. Now, what kind of religiosity is this?

You know you are saying that God made a mistake. He gave milk to my mother’s breast only for six months, whereas I actually needed it for sixty years. So, God has made a huge blunder, so now I will correct God’s mistake by turning the cow into the mother cow and milking her.

If God really wanted you to drink the cow’s milk, then you would have been born out of a cow. Why not try that? Man is already so fond of medical acrobatics. And if one is so fond of cow’s milk, why not try this? Some kind of a scientific method of insemination, whereby human babies are born from cows! And designer cows that can keep providing milk for the baby even when the baby is 60 years old! And actually, if you are 60 years old and still surviving on milk, ghee or butter then you are still a baby. Mentally you have not gone beyond 6 months. Do you see a mature lion still sucking on milk? Do you see that? Or do you see even the little rabbit doing that beyond a few weeks?

Man is the only one, who even at the age of 80, craves for milk. That only proves how infantile we are from within. The mind has not really been able to get rid of the mother’s breast. Freud will have something to say about that. So milk, milk, more milk! Of course, if you go into the psychology of it, you will only find sexual perversion there, nothing else.

I am not convinced that a man’s body needs milk after a particular age. That age might be six months, one year or two years, nature knows best. And according to her own innate intelligence, nature provides milk to the mother exactly as long as the baby needs milk. After that, if still the baby or the man, or the family insists that milk must be fed to the human being, then it is a deviation from the course of nature. Then it is an ugly aberration.

Excerpts from a Shabda-Yoga Session. Edited for Clarity.

Watch the session: Acharya Prashant on veganism: Vedas and milk


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