Swami Vivekananda was a spiritual guru from India who motivated people of all ages and races to be fearless and face the challenges of life in a brave manner. It is because of this brave and fearless nature of him that he never shied away from speaking his mind, even if it meant boldly criticizing someone.
One such incident where Vivekananda did this was when he encountered a Gaurakshak – those who look after the welfare and protection of cows. A preacher representing a society that works for the welfare of cows once visited Vivekananda when a terrible famine had hit Kolkata (then Calcutta).
The following conversation took place between them, as mentioned in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 6, Conversations and Dialogues:
Vivekananda: 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.
Vivekananda: 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.
Vivekananda: 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.
Vivekananda: 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.
Vivekananda: 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.’
Vivekananda (supressing his anger): 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.
Vivekananda (continued): I am a Sannyasi, 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.