Cows & Sattva Guna

by Kurma Rupa dasa

Cows Influence us to be Good

Bhagavad-gita explains that material nature is composed of three modes ― goodness, passion and ignorance ― and that when the living entities, who are spiritual, come in contact with nature they become conditioned by these modes.

Of these three, the mode of goodness (sattva guna) is superlative as it conditions one to develop peace and clarity of mind, illumination, wisdom and furthermore frees one from all sinful reactions. Those situated in the mode of goodness experience a sense of happiness and knowledge.

The mode of passion (rajo guna) inspires an endless flow of uncontrollable desires and longings: attachment to possessions, self-indulgence, self-promotion, oneupmanship, elitism, consumerism, and other forms of fruitive activity. As all these can never be fully accomplished, those situated in the mode of passion are characterized by frustration and misery.

The mode of ignorance (tamo guna) conditions one to foolishness, madness and illusion. Those situated in this lowest mode manifest lethargy, procrastination, listlessness, depression, disorientation, inertia, senseless violence and destructiveness all of which lead to gradual and steady dehumanization.

Certain aspects of material nature impel us towards goodness, others towards passion and still others towards ignorance and thus according to the predominating influence of the particular time, place and circumstance, one is forced to act accordingly.

For those interested in personal upliftment or spiritual progress cultivation of the mode of goodness is essential as it results in developing peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom and religiousness (Bg. 18.42) all of which are essential ingredients in the recipe of a wholesome life.

While cultivating sattva guna (goodness) is elaborate and intricate, this article will touch on the main three aspects: purity, peacefulness and illumination (knowledge/wisdom) and demonstrate how cow protection compliments the effort.

1. Purity

Purity is accomplished by performing certain external and internal practices. Succinctly put, external purity means keeping the body clean and healthy which means bathing regularly, eating salubrious foods and avoiding those foods which are disease-producing; it means observing habits which are life-promoting as opposed to those which promote decadence and decay. Thus, the symptoms of external purity are cleanliness and good health.

Internal purity refers to cleanliness of the heart and mind. While no doubt diverse types of yoga, meditation and prayer are recommended, experts have concluded that in this age internal purity is most effectively accomplished by congregational recitation of the holy names of Hare, Krsna, Rama, Govinda, Gopal, Radharamana and so on. The main symptoms of purity of mind and heart are self-satisfaction and the diminishing presence of lust, anger and greed.

2. Peacefulness

Peacefulness is generally said to be a state free from disturbance. Since this material world is in constant flux, disturbing factors are ever-present. Peacefulness then, means one can remain tranquil, steady and equipoised while undergoing changes and challenging circumstances.

Peace can be achieved by following yoga discipline under competent guidance. Briefly this means regulating one’s life with respect to diet and habits.

Peacefulness is directly related to the types of food we eat. We’ve all heard the maxim, “You are what you eat.” Foods affect our physical and mental health. According to the Gita, sattvic foods increase the duration of life, purify one’s existence and yield strength, health, happiness and satisfaction. These are foods naturally grown and obtained with minimum violence. Eating other foods will influence us towards passion and ignorance and their concomitant reactions (Bg. 17.8-10).

Sattvic food are fruits, grains, vegetables and milk which are best obtained in a natural rural setting. Cows and bulls are most helpful in the production of these foods as they provide the finest fertilizer and tillage.

Natural rural settings are in themselves sattvic and serene and of all creatures in the animal kingdom cows are said to be the most sattvic so together they produce a powerful influence spreading peacefulness to all in their proximity. I am told that Ayurvedic and Naturopathic hospitals in South India commonly keep contented cows in natural settings near the cottages of their patients as simply seeing them creates an atmosphere tranquility enhancing healing. Today in Europe, Australia and North America more and more people are discovering the therapeutic effects cows have on relieving stress, anger, anxiety and depression which deeply plague urban dwellers today.

3. Illumination / cultivation of knowledge

Perhaps the most important element of illumination is that one can distinguish reality from illusion... the temporary from the eternal... Truth from falsehood. The influence of sattva guna stills the mind, promotes the intelligence and enables one to penetrate the surface of things -- to differentiate substance from shadow; good from evil; the apparent from the actual. Sattva guna is the catalyst which transforms theoretical knowledge into realized knowledge. It makes one eligible to live knowledge rather than to just possess it.

To a large degree each one of us has the choice to pick which of the three modes we want to predominate our lives. If we eat food obtained by violence, that which is decayed... expose ourselves to media which depicts violence, death and destruction, live in filth and squalor, associate with criminals, drug addicts, pessimists and so on, we will undoubtedly be predominated by tamo guna.

If we eat food that is excessively spicy, meant only for stimulating the tongue and arousing sensual desires, live in places where passion predominates (urban areas), subject ourselves to media that promotes accumulation and consumerism and associate with heathens, we will be influenced to act in rajo guna.

If, however, we eat fresh foods which promote tranquility, good health and are obtained by minimum violence, live in natural settings and associate with those who are peaceful, virtuous, honest, loving, and oriented towards giving rather than taking, we place ourselves under the influence of sattva guna, the most favorable environment to achieve spiritual progress.

One may now ask, “What do cows have to do with cultivating goodness?”

In brief, cows are pure, peaceful and enhance learning and perception which are the essential elements of the mode of goodness as described above.

It is an established fact that cows are unpolluted, even their dung and urine are antiseptic and medicinal (purity); they are known to be tranquil and content (peaceful); and their influence promotes concentration and increases learning (illumination).

Researchers from the Sage Colleges in Troy, New York, have determined that specific bacteria found in cow dung and healthy soil (micobacterium vaccae) effectively increase levels of serotonin in the brain and decrease anxiety. Vaccae is the Latin term from which the Spanish term vaca is derived which means cow. Anti-depressant medicines are being made from this bacteria.

Tests conducted with mice also suggest that micobacterium vaccae increases learning behavior. Researchers found that mice who ingested micobacterium vaccae could navigate mazes more quickly than those without the bacteria. Dorothy Matthews and Susan Jenks, who conducted the study, shared their findings with those in attendance at the meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in San Diego. In short, their findings indicate that ingestion of micobacterium vaccae results in happiness and enhanced learning which are key aspects of sattva guna.

The above scientific findings reinforce the copious Vedic statements declaring that protecting and serving cows offers human society great benefits; mainly that cows have a sattvic affect on their loving caretakers. Thus the Vedic scriptures declare: “A person who serves the cow, and takes care of her in all respects, receives the most rare benediction from her.

“Do not become envious of the cow, even in your mind. Always try to please her and serve her as far as possible. Offer respect and worship her. A human being who joyfully serves the cow daily becomes fit to receive great prosperity.” ―Gomati–vidya from Visnu-dharmottara Part II – 42/49 to 58

Lord Brahma said, “I created the cow for the nourishment of everyone. She is the form of the demigods and she is merciful to all living entities. Every object produced from the cow is pure. If one drinks pancagavya, (cows milk, ghee, yoghurt, dung and urine), all their sinful reactions become destroyed. That is why pious people use her products daily. The products of the cow are sacred and auspicious. A person who does not have the good fortune to consume cow products is said to be unlucky, and his body is as good as stool.”

―Padma Purana, Sristhi Khanda 57/151-156






But for the sake of some little mouthful of flesh we deprive a soul of the sun and light, and of that proportion of life and time it had been born into the world to enjoy.

Plutarch