The Sacred Cow

The term sacred cow is a firm representation of the several factors of human history where cows were used as symbols of the most spiritual aspects of eastern philosophy.  And there was a firm presence of sacred animals of bovine nature in the west as well.  The importance of the cow has been seen in everything from the Egyptian Kemetic tradition as well as being sacred to the Celts.  Where did this shift from the cow as a sacred animal to fast food consumerism take place?  And can it be an indicator of our own spirituality?

In several belief systems the cow is sacred because it is a system of fertility and growth.  It represents the Mehet-Weret or primordial force that eventually gave birth to Ra.  In the Hindu belief system the cow is equally sacred due to its relationship to the fertility of crops, but also of all forms of life.  Perhaps it is not the cow itself that seems to have a strong relationship with spirituality, but that which the cow seems to represent.  Even the name of our galaxy is called, perhaps not coincidentally, the Milky Way.  If these primordial forces are not held in the same esteem as they once were, then how did the sacred cow become a sacrificial animal, and to what force of man was it put to slaughter?

Today the cow is seen as a source of food to many, not just for its ability to enrich barren lands with its nutrients, and its life giving milk, but also using its very flesh as a source of sustainence. In fact, many would argue this is the primary purpose the cow serves these days.  So if the cow has changed from being an animal which produces sustainance which is reusable to an animal which must first be slaughtered in order to be consumed, is this an indication of something more?  Just as Buddhists are encouraged to think on the relationship of the sacred animal in order to draw conclusions about the human experience and their relationship with spiritual forces, perhaps it would be worthwhile to explore the evolution and ultimate conclusion that has brought us to present day.  Buddha’s famous metaphor drew parallels between the human experience and the products produced by the cow, “For just as milk comes from the cow and from the milk cream, and from the cream butter, and from the butter ghee, so that is reckoned the best of all, and he who has striven both for himself and for others is the highest and most supreme.”

Is there an aspect of human spirituality that would celebrate the death of fertility in the universe?  In looking at the sprawling metropolises devoid of all life except that which is man, serves man, or is man’s enemy, is it possible that there is no place for the sacred cow?  And can a world that does not value the sacred nature of creation truly sustain itself and create the new if it removes itself from the cycle of creation?