This is the fifth blog of series. The previous one is at: www.associatedcontent.com/article/5442150/tapasya_as_applied_to_modern_life_part.html
and first one is at:
Fasting as a tool for self purification, spiritual growth and enlightenment is well established and well practiced all over world. Wiki link en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fasting has lot of related information for someone interested. I will cover five examples and practices, two specific ones and three generic, to highlight different aspects of this form of Tapasya.
Fasting as a tool for self enlightenment
Gautama Buddha (Lord Buddha)’s life is probably the best example here. As is well known, Gautam (400-500 BC) was a prince (for interested one, his kingdom was Kapilvastu, located in what is Nepal today and if you permit me a bit of trivia, there is something common to California and Kapilvastu) and his father took special care to keep him in all luxury of palace. But as was destined, Gautama renounced his princehood and his family. He did long stints of fasting along with meditation. As a matter of fact he took to extreme level of fasting; it is said that he restricted his diet to one leaf a day; almost to the point of self mortification. Having gone to the extreme (this was second one, first being the extreme of luxury in his father’s palace), he came to middle point and got enlightenment and became known as Budhha (the enlightened).
Fasting as a tool for social transformation
And the person who comes to mind is– who else other than Gandhi aka Mahatma Gandhi? If Buddha used fasting as source of self enlightenment, Gandhi used fasting as tool of social and political transformation. In Hinduism it is said that all souls (atma) are part of the super-soul (param-atma) that we also call God; so one soul can affect every other soul. Gandhi exemplified this statement. I remember reading a news item from old newspaper clipping (incidentally the newspaper was used as cover of a book on homeopathy that I had borrowed from a friend’s father). The news was that Mahatma Gandhi was fasting to pacify communal riots, and he was unwell. Years later I watched the Richard Attenborough’s movie, Gandhi. I visualized the news clipping in the light of the movie and a picture emerged- picture of Gandhi throbbing as heart of 350 million strong nation being. He being unwell was felt by the vast humanity. It is as if 350 million people fasted with Gandhi. How did he achieve that status? Obviously by his unconditional love and selfless service to humanity (or should I say, to entire living universe-read about Sabarmati Ashram -to know what I mean). What one tool did he use to achieve that super human strength? Without doubt, I would say, “fasting”. Using the metaphor of gold, I could say that each session of fasting added to the shine of Gandhi. It may not be exaggeration to say that by the power of tapasya of fasting he cleaned up deep rooted evils of religious fundamentalism, class conflict and political brutality.
Fasting in day to day life-Hinduism
Fasting is so integrated with day to day life in Hinduism that it is almost inseparable. Even today, there are couple of days in year when ladies keep fast for 24 hours without even water (I am tempted to tell a related story of Gandhi’s mother, but I will let interested reader research about that). I personally keep fast every Monday (I am not sure if I do that for health reasons or as part of tradition or both). Sangeeta (www.helium.com/items/560982-fasting-in-hinduism) says following about the fasting in Hinduism, “The rationale behind abstention or fasting in Hinduism, is twofold. Firstly, as a form of meditation or manifestation of yogic power, fasting strengthens the mind, body and soul. It helps to build up self-control and discipline. Secondly, from the Ayurvedic view-point, fasting as per the rules, keeps a person healthy and disease-free”. Fasting is also used as a powerful protest tool (my grandmother used this tool very effectively J). I have already talked about Gandhi how he used fasting to protest against the brutality of British administration in India. In independent India, powerful social reformers like Vinoba Bhave and Baba Amte have used fasting as tool to bring attention of half a billion people to social issues like the problems of landless farmers. The reasoning is that; and that is a key philosophy of Hinduism; if someone who thinks oneself as part of humanity, goes through any hardship, it is bound to be felt by the humanity. And that humanity includes humble as well as arrogant, weak as well as mighty.
Fasting in Islam
Every year, Muslims keep fast for one month everyday from dawn to sunset. The month is called Ramadan (or Ramazan). Though the roots of tradition go to moon worship, the practical aspect is austerity. Ramadan is the time for self purification and to teach oneself patience, modesty and spirituality. People do not take even water in day time. During this time, people ask for forgiveness for past sins and pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils. The fasting provides necessary emotional strength for such prayers and resolves. What is the impact of this fasting? Hammudah Abdalati (Note: the following link is very long so broken in two parts, please put them together) (www.whyislam.org/Submission/FivePillarsofIslam/ Fasting/FastingofRamadanATimeforChange/tabid/245/Default.aspx) puts it forcefully as follows: “Fasting in Ramadan develops in a person the real spirit of social belonging, of unity and brotherhood, and of equality before God. …. No sociologist or historian can say that there has been at any period of history anything comparable to this powerful institution of Islam: Fasting in the month of Ramadan.”
Fasting in Christianity
The article www.essortment.com/all/biblefasting_riif.htm talks about the value of fasting in Christianity as follows: “The fasting itself is an act of sacrifice and when we fast and experience hunger, we are reminded of God and His sacrifice for us. While fasting denies the flesh comfort, it feeds the spirit strength. Fasts are voluntary, part of religious tradition or done in obedience to God. When you decide to fast, be clear with yourself and with God about why you are fasting, how long you will fast and use the time normally spent preparing and eating food to deepen your relationship with God”. The point (in current context) to be noted is, “…it feeds the spirit strength”. The phrase “feeds the spirit strength” is similar to what Sangeeta (see previous section) refers to as “strengthens the mind, body and soul” and what Hammudah refers to as “develops in a person the real spirit of social belonging”Fasting is a wide and deep topic and, if nothing else, I hope I have done enough to raise the curiosity of reader for him/her to do further research on this subject. Lest we should forget it, I would remind that fasting is just one form of tapsya, the topic, this whole blog series is about! With that, I conclude this blog session. Next we will turn to various forms of tapasya. We will start with physical forms of tapasya.