An enthusiastic preacher belonging to the society for the protection of cows came for an interview with Swamiji. He was dressed almost like a Sannyasin, if not fully so — with a Geruâ turban on the head; he was evidently an up-country Indian. At the announcement of this preacher of cow-protection Swamiji came out to the parlour room. The preacher saluted Swamiji and presented him with a picture of the mother-cow. Swamiji took that in his hand and, making it over to one standing by, commenced the following conversation with the preacher:
Swamiji: What is the object of your society?
Preacher: We protect the mother-cows of our country from the hands of the butcher. Cow-infirmaries have been founded in some places where the diseased, decrepit mother-cows or those bought from the butchers are provided for.
Swamiji: That is very good indeed. What is the source of your income?
Preacher: The work of the society is carried on only by gifts kindly made by great men like you.
Swamiji: What amount of money have you now laid by?
Preacher: The Marwari traders’ community are the special supporters of this work. They have given a big amount for this good cause.
Swamiji: A terrible famine has now broken out in Central India. The Indian Government has published a death-roll of nine lakhs of starved people. Has your society done anything to render help in this time of famine?
Preacher: We do not help during famine or other distresses. This society has been established only for the protection of mother-cows.
Swamiji: During a famine when lakhs of people, your own brothers and sisters, have fallen into the jaws of death, you have not thought it your duty, though having the means, to help them in that terrible calamity with food!
Preacher: No. This famine broke out as a result of men’s Karma, their sins. It is a case of “like Karma, like fruit”.
Hearing the words of the preacher, sparks of fire, as it were, scintillated in Swamiji’s large eyes; his face became flushed. But he suppressed his feeling and said: “Those associations which do not feel sympathy for men and, even seeing their own brothers dying from starvation, do not give them a handful of rice to save their lives, while giving away piles of food to save birds and beasts, I have not the least sympathy for, and I do not believe that society derives any good from them. If you make a plea of Karma by saying that men die through their Karma, then it becomes a settled fact that it is useless to try or struggle for anything in this world; and your work for the protection of animals is no exception. With regard to your cause also, it can be said — the mother-cows through their own Karma fall into the hands of the butchers and die, and we need not do anything in the matter.”
The preacher was a little abashed and said: “Yes, what you say is true, but the Shâstras say that the cow is our mother.”
Swamiji smilingly said, “Yes, that the cow is our mother, I understand: who else could give birth to such accomplished children?”
The up-country preacher did not speak further on the subject; perhaps he could not understand the point of Swamiji’s poignant ridicule. He told Swamiji that he was begging something of him for the objects of the society.
Swamiji: I am a Sannyasin, a fakir. Where shall I find money enough to help you? But if ever I get money in my possession, I shall first spend that in the service of man. Man is first to be saved; he must be given food, education, and spirituality. If any money is left after doing all these, then only something would be given to your society.
At these words, the preacher went away after saluting Swamiji. Then Swamiji began to speak to us: “What words, these, forsooth! Says he that men are dying by reason of their Karma, so what avails doing any kindness to them! This is decisive proof that the country has gone to rack and ruin! Do you see how much abused the Karma theory of your Hinduism has been? Those who are men and yet have no feeling in the heart for man, well, are such to be counted as men at all?” While speaking these words, Swamiji’s whole body seemed to shiver in anguish and grief.
(Source: Conversations and Dialogues. C.W. Volume 6)