(Written in 1986 to thank those who contributed to our project of providing a daily glass of milk to children of lepers and other poor friends. Basically relevant to this day also.)
God is mother.
Mother therefore is sacred.
Mother’s milk is sacred.
One’s first experience of love is from receiving mother’s milk.
“If you have truly drunk your own mother’s milk come face me” – challenges one Indian warrior to another.
Purity is milk-white in the idiom of the common parlance.
Milky Way is the sacred Ganges of the sky, ākāśha-gangā, in Sanskrit.
All milch animals, especially the cow, for these reasons are sacred and inviolable.
The last loving act of the day a mother or a wife performs in an Indian home is to bring a full glass of sweetened milk, sometimes saffron-scented, to the child or to the beloved and one sleeps thereafter with nourished heart and contented mind.
Milk is the most complete food and a symbol of love.
The first item as an offering of hospitality to a guest is sweet speech. The second is water to wash hands, feet, and face. And the third is a bowl of sweetened milk (notwithstanding the modern and ubiquitous tea and acid-cola).
When yogis have foresworn grains or even fruits they live on a glass of milk a day which is often brought to their meditation cottages and caves by nearby villagers, throughout the entire Himalayan region. These yogis are known as doodhaahaari Babas.
Milk is often poured on an icon, or the icon is immersed into a milk bowl, in daily worship services and then the milk is distributed to the congregation as prasādam which is taken like a sanctified sip of ambrosia.
It is a common sight in India to see cows leave their village pens in the morning, wander off alone to graze and then to see them return in the evening with full bountiful udders, entirely on their own and unattended. The Sanskrit word for dusk is go-dhuli, “hour of the cow’s dust.” It is common practice to keep a cow in the home, for it is the presence of a mother figure and people have a special personal relationship with their cows. Cowherds have very sweet names for each one of their cows.
One cowherd would see his favorite cow return in the evening with empty udders and thought that someone was taking milk by stealth. One day he followed the cow through the pasture and came upon a hill, where she stood at the peak and milk flowed from her udders onto the spot. The hillside was excavated and a Shiva temple was discovered. The cow had been pouring her milk libations onto the mountain icon. The whole of India and especially the Himalayan Mountain Ranges are replete with such stories with many variations.
In the Vedas a philosopher’s speech is called brahma-gavi, “the Brahman’s cow” and is inviolable. A king or any secular power that violates it is subject to popular and divine censure. On the other hand, a listener should milk it for all its inspiration.
One of the ancient Vedic names for mother earth is GO meaning “cow”. The word is perhaps cognate to Greek “GEO” as in ‘geology’, for does not mother earth pour forth her milk in streams and rivers from Her gem-treasure mountain breasts? Does she not send up her milk through the stalk so that it may solidify into an ample crop of grain?
A loving glance is compared with twin milk rivulets streaming from the eyes.
The attached “story” is dedicated in gratitude to those who have gifted a daily glass of milk to those in need, and if I am ever deemed deserving of a halo, I would like you to feel free to take all of its radiance.
Two angels opened the gates of heaven to admit a new saint who entered and not far behind him, another—their halos only half as bright as those whom the angels guarding the gates normally see entering. One angel exclaimed to the other, “I have never seen such dim halos, only half as bright as normal. Who were they on earth?” The other replied, “I saw them ascend and that’s how I happen to know. The first one who entered was a great contemplative saint who spent all of his mortal years sitting still in the solitude of an isolated cave, opening the crown of his head so the beam of divine light may enter him. When that finally happened, in rapture and ecstasy he ascended to reach these gates of heaven.”
“And who was the second one, and why are their halos so dim?”
“Because both have shared the fire of only one’s asceticism, tapasya.
“How is that?”
“You see, the second one who entered was a very ordinary village woman living in a hamlet not far from the cave and tending cows. She could neither read scriptures nor recite any hymns to praise the Lord. As the ascetic was about to enter the cave for long years of solitude he had not a little concern about the absence of any means to nourish his body. His thought, like a beam, touched the cowherdess’s mind. Soon after one of her cows was lost and as she wandered searching for her cow, her feet led her to the cave where she saw the ascetic sitting still and luminous, but skeletal. Compassion arose in her heart.
The next day after she milked her cows, she brought the first bowl of milk and left it quietly just inside the entrance to the cave. The following day she found it empty outside the cave. Apparently the ascetic had risen and had partaken of the nourishment. From that day onward her day was not complete without delivering the first bowl of milk from her cows for the ascetic’s nourishment. For seventy-seven long years thereafter she continued to live, performing the same service. It became the divine purpose in her life, a condition of her mind; while the ascetic contemplated divine mysteries, her thoughts always remained centered on the saint. Who is he? Where did he come from? What does he achieve by sitting so still? Why is my soul bathed with a luminous peace every time I come near the cave? These questions took hold of her mind.
If I do not serve him a bowl of milk each day, would perchance his purpose not be achieved? I wonder at what hour of the day or night he rises from his seat to tend to his body? Perhaps I should camp for twenty-four hours among the shrubs and not far from the cave and see what he is like when he has risen, if even for a short time. But no, he has sought and found solitude; my presence might disturb him. I should only continue to serve him silently and anonymously. Thus becoming the servant of the servant of the Lord, daasaanudaasa, gave her a new goal and purpose. Neither rain, shine, thunder, clouds, storms, hail, drought, nor illness or the frailty of age could thwart her. Each day a bowl of milk was delivered to the ascetic’s cave and the rest of the time her mind was occupied contemplating the mysteries of him who contemplated the mysteries of the Lord.
It is by this daily delivery of a bowl of milk that she has gained entrance to the gates of heaven. The moment the Divine Light entered the crown of the ascetic’s head, the purpose of her life had been fulfilled. Only a few moments after he had ascended, she too lay down on the floor of her mud hut and was led here by the escorting angels.
The ascetic had received a service from her for seventy-seven years without thought of seeking out his secret benefactor. Absorbed in the mysteries of the Divine he forgot the human source of his nourishment and never even thought of sending a blessing toward the mysterious provider of the milk bowl. She on the other hand, never having contemplated the mysteries of the Divine, never sought a blessing and even overruled the thought of finding out more about him. Her contemplation and service to a man of God was her seventy-seven years long ascetic observance. His halo is dimmed by half for half his brilliance must go to the cow-herding woman. It is thus that each shares the brilliance of halo by half.”
“But how long can a saint with a halo only half as brilliant as normal last in the lights of our world of luminosity?” asked the first angel.
“In cases such as this only half an eternity is granted to them. By grace has he entered, but he must return to earth to pay back a debt,”- was the reply.
“How will then he be paying his debt? On what continent and in what village and to whom?”
The angel invited his friend to focus his vision on a spot on earth in the distant future, to the same hamlet where the cowherdess had lived and also the same cave where the ascetic had sat for years seventy and seven. As the vision focused, they together saw a cowherd who knew not how to read scriptures nor to sing hymns nor praise the Lord as he tended his cows. The angels saw him wandering in search of a cow that was lost. They saw him peer into the entrance of the same cave and finding an ascetic woman in lights and colors of glory sitting still, entranced in mediation. Day after day she sat. Day after day he brought her the first bowl of milk after milking his cows. Each day as he neared the entrance to the cave, she would slowly rise and with a glance still turned inward would move toward the mouth of the cave just in time as he reached there. He placed the bowl of milk near her feet and her fingers touched his head in a gesture of blessing, the eyes imparting a ray of grace. At that moment, each day he would find himself transported to a luminous vision, which he felt was very familiar to him; a longing for its return burned in him. It is thus that he served the saintly woman for years seventy and seven. And the angels saw in their vision how, upon completion of her contemplations, her thousand-petal lotus blooms and she ascends with the full brilliance of a saint being a halo around her as she enters the gates of heaven; and not far behind her the cowherd who had been a saint before and having paid his debt had become one again, also enters with a halo signifying his perfection in sainthood.
“Amazing how subtle are the ways in which even the purest of the ascetics can remain incomplete in their quest,” said the first angel, “but where is this would-be woman saint at this time on earth?” The vision focused upon a mother nursing an infant upon her breast.
“Do you see even now with what devotion she holds the child, contemplating him as a living icon of God? Do you hear her thoughts and sentiments that say that in nursing this infant she worships by the gift of her breast’s milk the spirits of all the infants, past, present and future? Do you sense the serenity of her soul and its total satiety as she knows in her heart that she holds at her bosom, God himself become flesh? As a mother she has already learned to bless. Her worshipful love for the infant will grow into the power to impart an effective blessing. These samskaras will continue in her and will make her impart the daily blessing to the one who is to become the cowherd delivering to her the daily bowl of milk. Giving of her milk to the infant in this life makes her deserving of receiving service in a future life. The nature of motherhood already prepares her well for the arduous asceticism yet to come. The saint with a halo of half a brilliance simply never completed himself though these journeys and must therefore be born the cowherd, but when she enters here she’ll be granted full line of eternity.
“What about the cowherdess who has served the ascetic?”
“She will discover her full divinity through many incarnations, after completing an aeon of luminous song here in heaven. In one incarnation she will be born to be the mother-in-law of the woman whom we have just seen suckling her infant. In that life, she will irrigate the seeds of spirituality in her daughter-in-law by leading an exemplary life of saintly devotions. In another life, because of the strong pull she has recently experienced for seventy-seven years, she will be born as a husband of the cowherd who will be a female, a wife and a mother with full milk bowls to give. This journey will continue for her till her total consciousness ascends to its fullness from her own devotions, and not as before only by her devotion to serving another’s path of devotion.
But, all this is far into many future cycles. For now, the aeon for playing on harps is nigh as the Lord is going to sculpt a new universe from their sound waves. Many saints are waiting to be made flesh as the founding m(p)atriarchs of the new universe and we must aid them.
To read (Hope is the) Mother of Kindness: How KHEL Began by Saumya Arya Haas: http://www.khelcharities.org/kindness It is an account of the impact of how sharing one cup of milk with a “scrawny little boy” impacted both the benefactors and those served.