Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Let us first understand the meaning of the word 'Go'. What does it mean? There are four meanings to it: Go means jnana (knowledge), gaman (to travel to one’s final destination), prapti (the act of receiving something) and Moksha (liberation).
So the word 'Go' is synonymous with each of these four meanings.
Go-daan therefore does not simply mean donating a cow in charity. It also means giving knowledge to someone.
Before this life ends, you should share whatever knowledge you have gained in this lifetime with as many people as you can.
Suppose you learnt and mastered playing the Sitar, but you die without passing on this knowledge to someone else, then you have not performed Go-daan in life. Then you cannot attain liberation. So, sharing all the knowledge that you have received with everyone else is Go-daan.
The second meaning of Go is gaman. It means to progress in life. So when you move ahead in life, and also help others move forward in life, then that is progress.
Our scriptures speak about Sadgati (good progress). So gaman means to reach a particular destination in life, and it also means to become so full and content within yourself.
The third meaning is prapti (to receive), and it means to become content and happy once you receive something. This too happens with knowledge.
Why is the cow referred to as 'Go'? The cow walks and moves, and it provides everything that one needs for life. You need food for life. The cow provides cow dung which is used to burn the earthen stoves for cooking food. Cow dung is also used to plough the fields before growing crops. The milk from the cows is so nutritious and satiates one’s hunger. Cow milk makes the body so strong and gives a lot of nutrition. Also, we get butter, cheese and curd from cow’s milk. So because of all these reasons, the cow is also called as Go.
And then the fourth is knowledge or Jnana. Knowledge helps in the smooth running of life, and it also helps one to achieve great things in life (prapti).
In the Indian culture, there is a deep connection between a word and its function. For example, the word 'Parna' (meaning leaf) means one that drinks in and absorbs water and energy from the Sun. Our scientists refer to this process as Photosynthesis. Why so? It is because the leaves absorb the energy from the sun.
So, when you see it this way, Go-daan means to be able to make our life and skills useful for the benefit of others.
In the ancient days, there was a custom of donating a cow to someone else because of this reason. By donating a cow to someone in need, they would be able to feed and sustain themselves and their family.
In those days, the greatest wealth a person could have was a cow. Do you know why? It is because by donating a cow, you were helping the person to feed himself and also helping him to make a living.
So in those days, having one or more cows was a huge source of support for life. This is why so much importance has been given to Go-daan in our culture.