Question: If the cows are protected by Lord Krishna, then no force on this world should be able to harm the cows. Why then is there so much slaughtering of cows going on in this world.
The cows which Krishna personally tends and protects are not the mundane cows of this material world. They are the surabhi cows of the spiritual realm of Vaikuntha: lakshavrteshu surabhir abhipalayantam. The supreme transcendental realm is called ‘Goloka’ because it is the abode of ‘go’, transcendental cows, and ‘gopa’, transcendental cowherds. These transcendental cows are the greatest devotees of the Lord.
Krishna also provides protection to the mundane cows of this world, but in an indirect way. For their protection he establishes the principles of religion and the Vedic culture. Krishna is the protector of dharma, but in order to accommodate the free will of the living entities, sometimes He allows dharma to become degraded, and as a result the cows (and the entire world) are mistreated. At such a time, the Lord will incarnate to reestablish the principles of religion. Of course the true protection the Lord gives his devotees goes much beyond this. He does not protect us from death, He actually protects us from life – life in this material existence. People with a very limited vision of existence think death is our enemy, and we must prolong this life as much as possible. But those with a spiritual vision understand that the soul is eternal, and he will continue his journey in his next body. As such, our need no longer becomes protection from death, as death! is nothing more than a passing phase of one body.
We actually need to be protected from this life and attachment to its false bodily possessions.
The Lord’s protection is absolute. He is protecting each and everyone of us. Some people he protects from death, other’s he protects from life. In both cases He is protecting them, because he is seeing to the protection of their eternal soul, and not just their external body. The entire material creation is for the protection of the living entities. Krishna is drawing us back towards His spiritual abode. From the perspective of eternal time, one life span, or even a thousand life spans, are not very significant. The actual purpose of the Lord’s incarnations is to reclaim the fallen conditioned souls through His transcendental association. This is the Lord’s true protection, which he gives very freely to the cows of Vrindavana.
The cows of this world are the material reflections of the spiritual cows of Vaikuntha. As such, the Lord blesses them by basing the entire Vedic culture on their protection. The Vedic culture is centered on sacrifice, and for sacrifice one requires ghee. Thus it is the cows which allow man to worship the Lord through sacrifice. The cows provide man with milk, ghee, and curds, all of which were essential in the worship of the Lord. Now due to the influence of the age of Kali, sacrifice to the Lord has stopped, and as a result the cows are neglected, despite the immense service they perform for society.
The Vedic literatures state that protection must be given to the weak and helpless living entities by the stronger members of society. It is the duty of a householder to protect and provide not only for one’s family, but even for the ants that live within one’s house. What to speak of higher living entities like the cow, who are at the mercy of their owners. The scriptures state that the cow is our mother. We drink the milk from the cow, therefore we must accept her as our mother and protect her. As such how can a civilized society allow violence to come to such helpless living entities, who sustain us all with their milk.
All these rules and regulations in the scriptures are given by the Lord for the protection of the cows. When these rules are not followed, and when the world turns away from the injunctions of the scriptures by violating the rights of the helpless, at that time the Lord descends to reestablish the principles of religion, to punish the miscreants and to protect his devotees.