INTERVIEW ABOUT OX CULTURE WITH VARSANA SWAMI
Lilasuka dasi (L): Haribol Varsana Maharaj. Can you please give us some background information about why you would want to bring back ox power to New Vrindaban?
Varsana Maharaj (V) : First of all, I base my priorities on Srila Prabhupada’s most emphasized instructions for New Vrindaban, which come under two guidelines:
- Agriculture and cow protection
- A Place of Pilgrimage
Unfortunately, today, our concept of cow protection has become one-sided – matriarchal – because we’ve forgotten to recognize that cows come in two genders.
This can really be a dangerous platform because to see the cow simply as a provider of milk can lead to a hellish mentality. The cow is NOT primarily a milk machine, that is something just meant for our enjoyment and potentially our exploitation.
Instead, when we see her as mother, we want to protect her and then the nurturing aspect of the cow in the form of milk naturally flows as a healthy consequence.
Srila Prabhupada once asked the devotees on a walk ‘If I say ‘This is my cow, what does it mean? It means that she is my mother and I must protect her, and as a consequence I receive milk, but milk is not the sole purpose of the cow.”
Varsana S in the “old days”
L: I like your statement, “Cows come in two genders.” Such a simple truth.
V: Yes, and the bull is the father, “Dharma”, representing universal law and order.
That’s the other half of the reality. These archetypes of the bull and cow in society are so important. They represent a complete balance in society of the father and mother – bull and cow. These archetypes of bull and cow are crucial in terms of community, as well as cultural & traditional identity.
In traditional agrarian society, the bull provided power, without which the society was not able to function. So, if you use the bull (as the ox) for your source of power, then you will naturally get cows, and then milk will surely flow.
The spiritual analogy is that, just like the bull prepares the soil for seeds, chanting the Holy Name prepares our hearts for the seed of bhakti, of devotion – bhakti lata bija.
The other half of the analogy is that the cow is mother, and Bhumi represents the earth.
Varsana Maharaj more recently
L: What about tractors? Do they have any place in this culture?
V: It’s fine to use tractors where animal power is not enough, but we need to be sure that the use of the tractor, called the “killer of the bull” by Srila Prabhupada, doesn’t replace the bull or kill our bhakti culture.
When the bull and the cow have their proper roles, THEY protect US, although we call it “cow protection”. It’s reciprocal protection.
We’ve lost sight of the importance of our roots, so we’re implementing the ox program to put things back in order, as dharma, which represents universal order.
It is necessary in society to have healthy relationships complete with father and mother figures, where we are nourished by the male and nurtured by the female.
When there is respect for the father and for the mother, then the children develop into healthy adults to raise healthy children of their own. Then there can be prosperity in terms of Krsna consciousness.
L: You used to work with animal teams here in New Vrindaban, correct, Maharaj?
V: Yes. In the past, everything was done with animal power – oxen, mules, and draft horses. When I was a child, the tractor hadn’t yet completely replaced animal power. We worked mostly with horses back then. When I was only small, about eight years old, tractors were beginning to become popular. At that time, I went door to door on a campaign to warn all the neighboring farmers against the use of tractors.
Eventually, when tractors became very popular, the farmers with their tractors began producing more than ever before. So then the Dept of Agriculture, for certain economic reasons, paid the farmers more money NOT to grow their crops than they would have earned from their harvest, so they stopped growing. This disrupted the economics and eventually the farms went out of production.
This is how the tractor ended small farm agriculture.
Big agri business took over with its use of pesticides, and basically put the small farmer out of business.
The small ox yoke.
L: I’ve heard that Srila Prabhupada said that farm machinery will create unemployment. Can you explain that?
V: Yes. When Srila Prabhupada objected to machines, saying “this will create unemployment” he didn’t mean it in the usual terms of society, where people are out of jobs and can’t make money. However, he meant it more in terms of people coming together for the healthy social dynamics of agriculture. Planting and harvest time are festivities where families and neighbors work together!!!
They used to celebrate because, after harvest, there is a natural impulse to take the new bounty to the altar and offer it to God.
Or even in terms of economics, when your wealth is grains and land, the natural impulse is to take it to the altar in gratitude.
With paper currency and credit cards, the impulse is not always to take it to the altar!
L: Maharaj can you please speak a bit about what else Srila Prabhupada taught regarding a society based on agriculture and the cow and bull?
V: I was amazed from the start that, although Srila Prabhupada didn’t grow up on a farm, he still had such a deep grasp and respect for how that kind of natural society works and how it facilitates spiritual life.
Srila Prabhupada always had a deep concern for how New Vrindaban would utilize the bulls and oxen. He used to acknowledge that if you can’t keep up the production of food with only the animals, then it’s fine to use tractors to make up the difference, but never to replace the oxen.
Further, if society has proper relationship with the bull and the cow, it means we’re in resonance with dharma (universal law and order) and bhumi (earth culture) and that facilitates the message and mercy of Godhead to resonate within us in the form of the Holy Name.
Thus, the ox program is essential to the survival of our spiritual culture. Srila Prabhupada said, “Brahminical culture is impossible without cow protection.”
Working with animals, one has to exhibit some humility, or they generally won’t co-operate! The tractor, on the other hand, can be an extension of the operator’s ego!
L: Do you have enough manpower to do this?
V: Daivata, one of the original pioneers of New Vrindaban, is back!!! He was a teamster in the days. He drove a team and can now be part of the training team.
I would truly like to see the remnants of agriculture as it was before tractors took over rekindled before our generation is gone at least in a small way. No-one may “get it” after that with this modern society so removed from nature.
It takes someone with experience to pull this off. And I’ve received all green lights so far from the management.
L: I noticed some old equipment outside. What is all that?
Varsana M and the large ox yoke.
V: That’s the old bobsled. We’re gathering up any pieces of old equipment and refurbishing them. I have 3 different sizes of ox yokes to accommodate the growing teams.
We’ve put a new deck on the old covered wagon. We also have a bobsled we’re refurbishing with hardened steel runners for longevity.
The old bobsled coming back to life.
We used to cut the timber, load it on the bobsled, bind it down with chains in big high stacks, then roll it on the flatbed truck, take it to the mill, bring it back and build the barn!
L: Maharaj is there anything else you’d like to say?
V: Dharma has only one leg left – truthfulness – it’s a shaky leg at best, and our campaign is meant to put him back in the field with all four legs firmly on the ground.
I’m not ambitious about anything big. Just something simple, manageable, sustainable, and effective that will rekindle the sense of this lifestyle before it dies with those who lived it.