Smita Krishna Swami, leader of Sweden's ISKCON Almvik farm, was recently forced to do what was, for him, the unthinkable.
A 20-year-old ox on the farm, named Bala, was nearing the end of his natural life span and had become incapacitated. The usual procedure in such situations, which happen regularly on ISKCON farms all over the world, is to make the animal as comfortable as possible by supplying food, water, shelter, and pain medication when necessary, until death occurs of its own accord. IKSCON community members, including children and others who are well-known to the cow or ox, attend to the dying creature, chanting and praying and stroking it lovingly, until it draws its last breath. This practice is rooted in their theology, which honors the sanctity of all life, even that of an individual ox.
Rather than "put the animal down," devotees allow it to complete its natural term in its present body, in order that its soul may evolve to a higher species, namely the human form of life. If prevented from doing so, devotees believe, the animal will be forced to endlessly cycle through the same species, unable to spiritually progress.
But that stance was challenged recently by a different view of compassion, one enforced by local governmental regulations. Under these rules, Smita Krishna Swami was forced to allow a local veterinarian to put Bala the ox to sleep. The Swami has battled the local government, with the help of a Hindu organization, for the right to practice "cow protection." "Cow protection" refers to the ancient Vedic practice, still prevalent in India, of using cows and oxen for the economic maintenance of their community without resorting to slaughter or euthanasia when their usefulness comes to an end.
The community's small dairy herd has seen dozens of cows and oxen live a peaceful 15- or 20-year life under the protection of the Krishna movement's Swedish farm and died natural deaths. However, officials have enforced stipulations against what they consider illegal cruelty. The controversy has generated quite some media coverage over the years, particularly in the local press where the ISKCON farm is situated, 65 kms outside of Stockholm.
Smita Krishna Swami, although described as "dispassionate" by his associates, was nevertheless aggrieved by the death of Bala at the hands of the veterinarian.
"The vet himself is not evil", he said, " but we are caught up in an evil system".