In Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) literature, there are many customs that are defined as dharma for various ashram(am). Fasting, a well-defined ritual needs to be performed with discipline for both good health and the evolution of conscience. Due to many widespread misconceptions and self-created rituals, fasting has become a widely misconstrued process. Fasting has many approaches and when done properly has a lot of health and emotional benefits. Fasting is divided into full-day fasting and partial-day fasting. Full-day fasting is performed on Eka:dashi (eleventh moon phase) and other auspicious days like Sri Rama Navami, Maha Shivaratri, Mukoti Ekadashi, Gokula Astami, and more. This Full-day fasting is calculated to have 24 hours gap between two meals. Some traditions calculate full-day starting Sunset to Sunrise or day-after meaning 36 hours. Some consume fruits or milk, and some only rely on honey in water. Some, refrain from all food and water, which has to be done very very carefully under supervision.
Partial fasting is performed on Banuvaram (Sunday), Poornami (full moon day), and Amavasya (no moon day) wherein only the night meal is skipped. Another partial fasting is done on Chaturthi (fourth phase of the moon) and Ashtami (eighth phase of the moon) wherein, the only meal that should be taken is the night meal.
Now, how does fasting make us move closer to Ishwara? Fasting is but one such practice out of many approaches defined in both Yoga and Ayurveda to help us understand how difficult it is to skip a meal and channel our mind to focus on Yoga Sadhana and Ishwara, especially if we (human beings) have become habituated to eating irrespective of hunger or appetite. By skipping a meal, human being gets a good understanding of our own body, the digestive cycle, our strength of both mind and body, and its vulnerability. It lays down a perspective on man and helps prioritize important things in life and overcome many superficial beliefs and priorities created by ego, pride, and overindulgence. But why should anyone fast, and based on what motivation should one perform such customs? What’s defined in Shastra is not for fun or publication, but purely for the well-being and upliftment of man. Again as we discussed in other topics, Shastra and Sanatana Dharma should not be used for propaganda and hence are never forced upon the will of man. Shastra is the word of Ishwara passed on to us by Rishis as a lifestyle approach for better health and mind in order to condition ourselves to walk the path of dharma, cultivate devotion, and strengthen our physical body and mind. However, the choice to perform is where free-will comes into play. What Shastra states are not principles or rules, because Sanatana Dharam is not a religion or a philosophy and hence there is no enforcement of the concepts, the only enforcer is nature itself. Our actions define our karma and we can either live by our accord and interpretation or explore the wealth of knowledge presented by Shastra with an open mind. The purpose of any regiment defined by Shastra is for one primary purpose, which is Upasana.
So what is Upasana? ‘Upa’ means to move closer and ‘Asana’ means position, when read as one it means to move to a position closer to consciousness (towards Yogam/Ishwara). So all regiments and rituals defined by Shastra are to help man move closer to Ishwara and break free from illusions and self-created limitations. Like the military and many other groups with tight physical and mental regiments help a man break free from many self-created limitations and evolve stronger both physically and mentally, fostering value towards aspects like honor, courage, and respect. Similarly, many such regiments have been suggested by Shastra for a man to evolve both physically and psychologically. It’s not the intent of Shastra to harm us, however, it’s to challenge us and prove that we can break free of our limitations, laziness, overindulgence, and realize that our body and mind are capable of much more. Such rituals are like regiments that help us prioritize our lives, rather than becoming a slave to endless desire and becoming lethargic.
In the perspective of health, fasting is a way to provide rest to the digestive tract, it’s like a restart to flush out the digestive and intestinal tract and give a pause to the secretion of various acids allowing the system to heal and take rest. In the name of fasting if one substitutes one type of food with another, defeats the very purpose of resting the digestive system and the secretion of digestive enzymes. However, if one attempts to fast, it’s important that one shouldn’t push oneself beyond their physical limits. If one feels physically weak or lightheaded then it’s not the intent of Shastra to punish ourselves, hence one can always consume fruits or milk to regain strength, or skip the fast altogether. However, there are restrictions to fasting, like the elderly, sick, disabled, ill, children, pregnant, and people with strenuous physical activity in work or professions are exempted from performing the regimen of fasting. Again, please note that it’s not the intent of Shastra to enforce upon the will and the limitation of man. This is the reason why fasting rituals are performed in groups, to support each other and look out for each other in times of any vulnerability and also to keep the mind involved in some activity or programs like bajans, kirtan, pooja, and other cultural activities. Please note that this literature is to capture the message and tatva of the ritual of Upavas by gurus of Sanatana Dharma, hence this is not an article to provide medical or scientific findings, this article is purely to disclose the intent of Shastra, hence references are provided below.
There is nothing we can give to Ishwara that’s not already His, all we can do is evolve in conscience and foster the nectar of devotion for which Ishwara like the bumblebee will come for this nectar, hence the title “Bhramarambika Pathi”. Following the approach laid out by Shastra as dharma in its respective ashram(am), itself is the first step towards falling in the sight of Ishwara, for which He the Ishwara will take many steps towards us and navigate us in the ocean of His Maya. Without a discipline in life and a path to realizing this reality, we will be further pushed into the delusions arising from the illusions called Maya. (Youtube. M.E.V.M.P. 2014., Srichaganti. K.D.S, n.d., p.17)
Following is a small yet excellent video on how Yoga talks about Food and 4 simple tips on eating and the benefits of fasting.
REFERENCE ENTRY (APA Style citing)
Sri Chaganti Koteshwar Rao (Orator). (n.d.). Kanaka Dhara Stotram [Audio Part 1-19, Recorded by Srichaganti.net]. Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, India. Retrieved from http://www.english.srichaganti.net/KanakaDharaStrotram.aspx
Youtube. (Oct 25, 2014). Sri Chaganti Koteshwarrao (Orator). Mukkoti Ekadasi Vratha Mahatyam Pravachanam By Chaganti Gaaru. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xmbbh8VxI-M