Fasting in Sanatana Dharma
By Sahachari Vasanti Jayaswal
Sanatana Dharma, the name known by Indians referring to the totality of the belief systems of India, has four divisions, Mainstream Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. Of these, Sikhism traditionally forbids fasting along with many other rituals. Fasting is not compulsory in Hinduism and in Buddhism. Fasting is however the most important part of Jainism.
Theravada Buddhist practitioners in India undertake fasts as an ascetic practice for self-purification and practice of detachment. The monks generally eat only one meal a day and some eat only what they receive in their begging bowl. Lay folk consider it a blessing to feed them. Mahayana Buddhists monks often refrain from food after noon.
Jains can take up fasting anytime and often youngsters observe it too. The aim is purification of body and mind and thus offset the effects of karma. There are several types of fasting. There is total abstinence of food and water for a period, then there is partial fasting such as, giving up totally all favorite foods, or limiting food items or even eating just enough to avoid hunger. Intense spiritual practitioners have been known to observe fasting to death when they age and find the body no longer serves the owner.
In traditional mainstream Hinduism there are several varieties of fasting. They range from complete avoidance of food and water to partial, such as one meal a day. They are undertaken for a variety of reasons. Most are in conjunction with religious observations associated with certain days of the lunar cycle, with the sixteen major lifetime sacraments, with festivals and pilgrimages. In all cases traditionally, fasting is always accompanied by other religious observances. It is a recent phenomenon that we see, where fasting is observed solely for political and social purposes bereft of religious observances.
Written for the Sonoma County Interfaith Public Fast 2023
My Personal Take on Fasting
From my personal experiences and from observing the behavior of many who fast I have come to the following conclusions.
This is a very powerful tool that can unleash a lot of power and create vibrations that can spread. Therefore, if not properly managed with accompanying behavioral modifications it can have negative effects on the doer and beyond. For example, refraining from eating can release dormant anger that needs to be understood and managed. Within a family the one who is fasting must not brag about the
vow taken nor impose or make the non- fasters lives, uncomfortable. Fasts are best broken by moderate eating not feasting. There is a greater strength to fasting when the one who is fasting keeps a low profile while adhering fervently to the vow taken. Best results almost bordering on miracles can manifest whenan individual does solo fasting accompanied by silence.