It has been said in Agnipurana that those who observe fasting should have bath daily, have light meal and chant the Mantras of Ishta Devta. The devotees should also read Vrata katha of his Ishta Devta. In it the importance of Homa, Yoga and charity has been explained. Those who do fasting should adhere to Brahmcharya, cleanliness, truthfulness etc. He should not use bitter words in his language. Actually Satyakarma and Dharmacharna and truthfulness are the essential ingredients of fasting.
Fasts should be done with faith and devotion. Our great Rishis and saints had created fasts and festivals with the objective of promotion of virtues like awakening, good will, communism, honesty, unity, dutifulness, devotion towards universal good, public welfare and patriotism among people and to make them all cultured, disciplined, civilized and capable citizens. So, in that way we can find an pairing process of social development behind these fasts and festivals which is something very important. They can be held responsible for the unity and integrity of our nation and Indian citizens.
In Indian tradition fasts are considered auspicious for attaining spiritual progress and mental peace from Vedic age. Rishis also used to do fasting with the objective of spiritual development and public welfare. By doing fasting our soul gets purified and our spiritual force gets consolidated. By doing religious fasts one gets rid of all ordinary diseases and feels healthy. In addition to that one also gets rid of mental tension and can gain an easy method of realization of God too.
There are several interesting, mythological and historical stories behind Indian fasts which are matchless examples of our culture and rituals.
On the day of fasting one should practice Brahmcharya (to stay away from sexuality and greed), self-control, solitude, silence and introspection. Fasting has been acknowledged in all religions all over the world.
Today people observe fasts for seeking any conceivable gain from God. A fast to win good husband, fast for long life of the husband, fast for prosperity, fast for safe travel, fast for bright future of the children, fast for success in examination the list is endless. How many of us remember the original motive of ‘upa-vaas’? Do we spend time in spiritual contemplation or meditation on the day of fasting or do we laze around watching films and munching on potato chips? The concept of fasting as a means to discipline the body is almost lost.
Many take recourse to fasting in their pursuit of self-realization. Like Jesus, Moses too fasted 40 days and 40 nights gen route to enlightenment. The Buddha also practiced severe austerities, until he renounced it in favour of moderation. Whether used as a means to overcome bodily desire and develop self-control or as an instrument to transcend body and accentuate spirit, there are few practices more popular than fasting.
No one can be said to have subjugated one of the senses, if he has not conquered all the other four, if he has conquered the sense of taste, he has conquered all, says the Bhagvad Purana, an ancient Indian text.
What is Fasting
Fasting is the act of willingly abstaining from some or all food and in some cases drink, for a period of time. Depending on the tradition, fasting practices may forbid sexual intercourse, masturbation, as well as refraining from eating certain types or groups of food (eg. Meat). Medical fasting can be a way to promote detoxification.
The Sanskrit word for fast is ‘upa-vaas’, which means staying close to God. The original concept of fasting entailed a deviation from the normal life style and devoting one day to introspection. The fasting person was supposed to distance himself from the trivia of day to day life and think only about God. As any worldly pleasure would distract him from this purpose, he was supposed to follow a simple routine. Hence, rich food was avoided and a simple diet was taken to sustain the body. The intention was neither to starve the body nor to indulge it.
Fasting in Various Religions
Fasting for religious and spiritual reasons has been a part of human custom since pre-history. It is mentioned in the Bible, in both the old and New testament, in the Mahabharata, in the Upanishads and in the Qurans. In nature cure, one of the very important tools for health and disease cure is fasting.
In the Bahai Faith, fasting is observed from sunrise to sunset during the Bahai month of Ala (between March 2 through March 20)
- Buddhist monks and nuns following the Vinaya ruler commonly do not eat each day after the noon meal, though many orders do not enforce this. This is not considered a fast, but rather a disciplined regime aiding in meditation.
- Fasting is a practice in several Christian denominations or other churches. In Islam, fasting for a month is an obligatory practice during the holy month of Ramjan from dawn till sunset.
- Muslims are prohibited from eating, drinking, smoking and engaging in sexual intercourse while fasting. Fasting in the month of Ramjan is one of the pillars of Islam, and thus one of the most important acts of Islamic worship. By fasting, whether during Ramjan or other times a Muslim draws closer to their Lord by abandoning the things they enjoy, such as food and drink. This makes the sincerity of their faith and their devotion to God all the more important.
- Fasting has its own glory and place in Jainism. In Jainism fasting is done to decrease desire and passion. Self starvation by fasting is known as Sallekhana and is supposed to help shed Karma according to Jain philosophy. Another form of fasting is ‘Santhara’, the Jain religions ritual of voluntary death by fasting. Supporters of the practice believe that ‘Santhara’ cannot be considered suicide, but rather something one does with full knowledge and intent, while suicide is viewed as emotional and hasty.
- Fasting for Jews means completely abstaining from food and drink, including water, tasting food, taking medication, or even brushing teeth is forbidden. Observant Jews fast on six days of the year.
Fasting & Health
Many people are learning the trick of curing their colds, headache, nervous spells and other acute troubles by missing a few meals or taking a short fast. It is the simplest and the most efficient way of relieving the overloaded and food poisoned system. You would be surprised to know how little food is actually required to keep the individual healthy.
Fasting plays an important role in the restoration of health. Many therapies, like Ayurveda and homeopath, acknowledge the importance of diet in the treatment of illness, and impose restrictions on beverages such as tea and coffee, and some non vegetarian items. Nature cure, or naturotherapy, is virtually founded on the food principle, and considers fasting an imperative in the cure of chronic ailments.
People can also fast for medical reasons, which has been an accepted practice for many years. One reason is to prepare for surgery or other procedures that require anaesthetic. Because the presence of food in a person‘s system can cause complications.
Some doctors believe that pure water fasting can't only detoxify cells and rejuvenate organs, but can actually cure such diseases and conditions as cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes, colitis, psoriasis, lapis and some other autoimmune disorders when combined with a healthy diet. They believe that ‘ Fasting is Nature’s Restorer’.
In natural medicine, fasting is seen as a way of cleansing the body of toxins, dead or diseased tissues, and giving the gastro-intestinal system a rest. Such fasts consist of either water only, or fruit and vegetable juices.
People who feel they are near the end of their life, sometimes consciously refuse food and water. The term in medical literature is patient refusal of nutrition and hydration. Contrary to popular impressions, research work indicates that ‘within the context of adequate palliative care, the refusal of food and fluids does not contribute to suffering among the terminally ill, and might actually contribute to a comfortable passage from life : “At least for some persons, starvation does correlate with reported euphoria.”
In nutshell we can conclude that fasting is worshipped and admired in all religions all over the world because of its manifold benefits.
Gandhi's Concept of Fasting
Mahatma Gandhi used the concept of the fast in an altogether novel manner as a powerful political weapon for the disfranchised political motive apart, he also used fasting to unleash the inner power. For him, fasting was not just a mute protest against the injustice of slavery but a route to self discipline and will power, to push his body to the limit of its endurance. Fasting, then is a means of cleansing the self, physically, mentally and spiritually and of restoring the body's balance.
Great Sayings about Fasting
- No form of asceticism is superior to fasting – Mahabharata
- By doing fasting mind becomes introversive, sight turns clean and body remains light – Kaka Kalelkar
- Fasting is the most effective technique of curing all diseases. – Dr. Adolf Mayer
- Fasting has unlimited power in it because psychological strength works behind it. Fasting can be done by the powerful people not by the weak. – M.K. Gandhi
- Any work done without faith is an evil. That work neither turns out to be beneficial in this world nor in the next world after death – Srimadbhagvadgita
- Fasting is the best solution to get rid of sexuality and lust – Srimadbhagvadgita