Fasting Quotes: Hindu Sources (1/7)

Fasting Quotes: Hindu Sources

Hinduism sees the soul trapped in recurring incarnations of suffering and grief (samsara). The goal of devotional exercises (sadhana) is liberation (moksha) from this cycle. Ascetic austerities (tapas) such as fasting, increase willpower and help the mind achieve purification and stay fully occupied in its spiritual purpose.

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The fifth branch of yoga is known as pratyahara – a word that is traditionally translated as “control of the senses” or “sensory fasting.” In our view, the essence of pratyahara is temporarily withdrawing from the world of intense, externally imposed stimulation so that we can tune into our subtle sensory experiences.

Yoga and Ayurveda recommend that we take time to disengage from the exterior world so that we can hear our inner voice more clearly. Meditation is a form of pratyahara since, in the space of restful awareness, we disengage from the outside environment. When the mind’s attention is withdrawn from the sensory field, the senses naturally come to rest.

In a way, pratyahara can be seen as sensory fasting. The word pratyahara is comprised of the root prati meaning “away” and ahara meaning “food.” If we fast for a period of time, the next meal we eat will usually be exceptionally delicious. Yoga suggests that the same concept applies to all our experiences in the world. If we take the time to withdraw from the world for a little while, we will find that our experiences are more vibrant. [Exploring the Eight Limbs of Yoga by David Simon, M.D. Co-founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing].

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Through the purifying burning fire of tapas [exercises of discipline] all the sense organs of the body are perfected (kayendriya-siddhir) by the destruction (ksayat) of all impurities (asuddhi).  [Patanjali, Yoga Sutras, II 43].

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There is no prayer without fasting. And fasting without prayer is nothing but self-torture. (Recorded under January 5, 1933; ibid., p.17.) This is ‘thoroughly sound. Here fasting has to be of the widest character possible. Fasting of the body has to be accompanied by fasting of all the senses. And alpahar, the meagre food of the Gita, is also a fasting of the body. The Gita enjoins not temperance in food but ‘meagreness’; meagreness is a perpetual fast. Meagreness means just enough to sustain the body of the service for which it is made. The test is again supplied by saying that food should be taken as one takes medicine in measured doses a measured times and as required, not for taste but for the welfare of the body. “Meagreness” is perhaps better rendered by “measured quantities.” I cannot recall Arnold’s rendering. A “full” meal is therefore a crime against God and man, the latter because the full-mealers deprive their neighbors of their portion. God’s economy. [Mahatma Gandhi, SELECTED LETTERS – PART II]. 

Fasting can help to curb animal passion, only if it is undertaken with a view to self-restraint . . . That is to say, fasting is futile unless it is accompanied by an incessant longing for self-restraint. The famous verse from the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is worth noting in this connection: “For a man who is fasting his senses Outwardly, the sense-objects disappear, Leaving the yearning behind; but when He has seen the Highest, Even the yearning disappears.” [Mahatma Gandhi, An Autobiography].

Fasting and similar discipline is, therefore, one of the means to the end of self-restraint, but it is not all, and if physical fasting is not accompanied by mental fasting, it is bound to end in hypocrisy and disaster. [Mahatma Gandhi, An Autobiography].

Fasting is a potent weapon in the Satyagraha armoury. It cannot be taken by every one. Mere physical capacity to take it is no qualification for it. It is of no use without a living faith in God. It should never be a mechanical effort or a mere imitation. It must come from the depth of one’s soul. It is, therefore rare.  [Mahatma Gandhi, “India Of My Dreams”].

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80. On a fast-day sleeping by day should most carefully be avoided, since by such sleep the merit of fasting is lost to men, quite as much as by sexual intercourse. [The Sikshâ-Patrî of the Svâmi-Nârâya.na Sect].

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52-60. That man can conquer death who can remain for one week living on milk only and who performs during that time hundreds, and hundreds of Homas and repeats the Gâyatrî, controlling his speech. If anybody can fast three nights and control his speech and repeat Gâyatrî he gets himself freed from the hands of Death; or totally immersed in water if he repeats Gâyatrî, he will be saved from the impending danger of death. [The Devi Bhagavatam: The Eleventh Book: Chapter 24].

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21. ‘Let a wise Brâhmana, after he has discovered him, practise wisdom. Let him not seek after many words, for that is mere weariness of the tongue.

22. ‘And he is that great unborn Self, who consists of knowledge, is surrounded by the Prânas, the ether within the heart. In it there reposes the ruler of all, the lord of all, the king of all. He does not become greater by good works, nor smaller by evil works. He is the lord of all, the king of all things, the protector of all things. He is a bank and a boundary, so that these worlds may not be confounded. Brâhmanas seek to know him by the study of the Veda, by sacrifice, by gifts, by penance, by fasting, and he who knows him, becomes a Muni. Wishing for that world (for Brahman) only, mendicants leave their homes. [The Upanishads, Part 2, Brihadâranyaka Upanishad: IV, 4:21-2].

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Knowledge having once sprung up requires no help towards the accomplishment of its fruit, but it does stand in need of something else with a view to its own origination. — Why so?–On account of the scriptural statements of sacrifices and so on. For the passage, ‘Him Brâhmanas seek to know by the study of the Veda, by sacrifice, by gifts, by penance, by fasting’ [Bri. Up. IV, 4, 22], declares that sacrifices and so on are means of knowledge, and as the text connects them with the ‘seeking to know,’ we conclude that they are, more especially, means of the origination of knowledge. [The Vedanta Sutras of Badarayana, III, 4, 26)].

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And they that have fasted for a month, proceed on cars drawn by swans. And they who have fasted for six nights, proceed on cars drawn by peacocks. And, O son of Pandu, he that fasteth three nights upon only one meal without a second during this period goeth into a region free from disease and anxiety. And water hath this excellent property that it produceth happiness in the region of Yama. [Mahabharata, Book 3, Secton CLXLIX].

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Proceeding next to the river Karatoya, and fasting there for three nights, a man acquireth the merit of the horse-sacrifice. Even this is the injunction of the Creator himself. It hath been said by the wise, O king, that if a person goeth to the spot where the Ganga mingleth with the sea, he reapeth merit which is ten times that of the horse-sacrifice. Crossing over to the opposite bank of the Ganga, he that batheth there having resided for three nights is, O king, cleansed from all his sins. [Mahabharata, Book 3, Secton CLXLIX].

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The man who teaches another the merit of fasts have never to suffer any kind of misery. The ordinances about fasts, in their due order, O son of Kunti, have flowed from the great Rishi Angiras. The man who daily reads these ordinances or hears them read, becomes freed from sins of every kind. Not only is such a person freed from every calamity, but his mind becomes incapable of being touched by any kind of fault. Such a person succeeds in understanding the sounds of all creatures other than human, and acquiring eternal fame, become foremost of his species.  [Mahabharata, Book 13, Section CVI

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There is no Sastra superior to the Veda. There is no person more worthy of reverence than the mother. There is no acquisition superior to that of Righteousness, and no penance superior to fast. There is nothing, more sacred, in heaven or earth, than Brahmanas. After the same manner there is no penance that is superior to the observance of fasts. It was by fasts that the deities have succeeded in becoming denizens of heaven. [Mahabharata, Book 13, Section, XVI].

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Sages have declared that, in Kali Yuga, eight deeds –

  1. * bathing in river Ganges;
  2. * study of Bhagavad Gita;
  3. * recitation of Gayatri Mantra;
  4. * offer of Tulasi leaf (balsam);
  5. * offer of scented clay, Gopika Chandana;
  6. * worship of Saligrama (stone image);
  7. * fasting on Ekadasi (eleventh day of each fortnight); and
  8. * chanting of Thy holy names (even if done without understanding their meanings)

– all of which need little effort, lead to swift liberation through propitiating Thee. O Lord ! May Thou cause me to practice these with sincerity. [Narayaneeyam, Dasakam: 92 Shlokam: 9].

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Penance of silence, fasting, meditation, hearing of scriptures, Study of sacred books, doing one’s allotted duty, teaching scriptures, Living in seclusion, muttering prayers, and concentration of mind, Are paths that lead to salvation but, Oh divine God, But they generally happen to be only a means of livelihood, For those persons who have failed to conquer their senses. And is of no use at all to the advertising hypocrite. [Narasimha Sthuthi of Prahladha, 39].

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If one pleases, killer of Madhu by fasting and charity, And also sees all beings equally, his soul would attain salvation. [Apamarjana Stotram 9].

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Fasting is preferable to (getting food from) devotees; unsolicited food is better than fasting; begging alms is preferable to unsolicited food; hence he shall subsist on alms. [Sannyasa Upanishad, Second Adhyaya, 80].

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114-115. An ascetic keen on feeding others, who accepts clothes, etc., and woollen garments or others as well as good clothes undoubtedly falls (from virtue). Resorting to the ship of non-duality he will gain liberation while living.

116. For restraint in speech, he shall observe silence; for control over the body, he shall fast; for control over the mind, breath control (pranayama) is prescribed.

117. A being is bound by (worldly) action; he gets liberated by spiritual knowledge. Hence far-seeing ascetics do not perform (worldly) action. [Sannyasa Upanishad, Second Adhyaya, 114-117].

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