Fasting – Chirag Patel 2007 August 18
Hindus are divided into many different sects. Some sects which are based on “Vaishnava Smpradaya”, asks the followers to do fasting once every month. The Hindu calendar is based on lunar phases. So, every month, the 11th day of waxing moon, is considered the auspicious day to observe fasting.
The basic elements of Hinduism are found in great texts written around 6000 years ago. Bhagavad Gita is one of them which provides very integral terms of Hinduism. This text clearly mandates characteristics of being a Yogi, to lead spiritual path, and to be enlightened. Gita is very much specific about choosing food and having eating habits. According to this great book, offering any substance in pure form to God is the best food. It also cites some substances as leaves, flowers, fruits, and water which are pure and to be offered to God. It states that a true Yogi neither eats more nor eats less.
From later development in vedic texts some 3000 years ago, Patanjali who established a system of “RajaYoga”, declared 8 steps to become a “RajaYogi”. Second step in this system is “Niyama”. This step includes a sub-system called “Tapa”. “Tapa” means habituate mind and body to be in hardship. According to this system, “Tapa” purifies mind and body and makes one ready for advancement in spiritual path.
We can identify two different systems suggested for us – one which favors suffering as habit, and the other that denies any extremities.
Now, let us add a different perspective to this understanding. Physiologically, our body requires energy to digest food. So, if we can fast for half a day or a full day, the saved energy can be utilized for other purposes. People in old time chose some period especially during monsoon which lasts for almost 4 months in India, to do fasting. During this period of year, people feel loss of appetite naturally, and water and/or food have contamination. So, doing frequent fasting during such period allows one to tackle these issues.
In modern era of fasting, people use food cooked with rock salt on the day of fasting. This is not a correct way to do fasting. The whole purpose of fasting is not realized in this case. The best way to fast is to use water only during the day (24 hours period). Some people even prefer not to take water. They do “Nirjala” (literally meaning without water and any food) fasting.
Fasting allows observer to divert attention from food to soul. That allows one to seek path to the truth.