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Navaratri and fasting PDF Print E-mail
Gita - Gita Articles

When food is readily available skipping food once in a while sounds attractive. It is not too difficult to give up food. The truth is, for those who have plenty to eat, it is easy to go without food for a day or two. That's why in an affluent society the cults of dieting and fasting become popular. For example, in America the idea of dieting has become very popular. To have an attractive figure becomes more important than food. An extreme form of this can become an illness. In extreme forms this can be pathological and lead to anorexia nervosa.

When we talk of fasting as a spiritual practice, we are not talking about this kind of fasting. That is why we have called it upavaas, which literally means living close to oneself. Normally, one who goes on a fast keeps repeating twenty-four hours a day that he is hungry, that he has not eaten any food that day. His mind continues to fantasize about the food he will eat the next day and plans for it. Then it is merely abstaining from food. The distinction between abstaining from food and fasting, upavas, is this: fasting means residing closer and closer. It means coming closer to the self by creating a distance from the body. Upavaas is a psychological awareness of the separation of the self and the physical state of hunger.

A decision to go on fast for 9 days in navaratri or a similar incidence brings decisiveness in ones life. This is what we also call sankalp. You say to yourself that you shall do this or that. The importance is in completing what you say. Once decisiveness comes in, it brings this quality in other aspects of life in this person. He can get up early in the morning; he can be there on time when he means to and so on.

Any technology in life should bring an appropriate change in one’s life. If a sankalp can be taken and seen through many times in life this should bring decisiveness in that person’s life. The only snag is that if this is done to fulfill ego, ego creeps in as well. And that should be watched for at all times. That is not living close to him or her self.

The whole idea is to bring awareness to our life. It is common knowledge that awareness is increased in moments of crisis. Fasting is a man made crisis in our life. Hunger can be used not only to reduce weight but also to advance further in spiritual journey. Decisiveness is only one of its advantages.

The main application of fasting or upavaas is bringing total awareness to the body. It will become unavoidable. Hunger has its own flow. When each and every cell of the body becomes hungry, the flow of hunger is immense. We all have seen how some people become so irritable when they are hungry. All religions use fasting as a technique. But, Mahavira has done most work with this technique. He even added becoming silent (maun or not speaking) with fasting. That will bring more awareness to the body and help realization of the sepeartion of body and the atma (soul or being). We all have this experience that food brings laziness and desire to sleep. Fasting has the opposite effect on sleep. And that may bring more awareness to the whole equation.

This fasting as a meditation technique is not pathological. It is being used for personal growth and achievements in one’s life. There have been other uses of fasting. Gandhi used it to try to change the hearts of other people. Whether he truly succeeded in doing that or not may be questionable but that may not truly be classified as a spiritual application of fasting. Fasting may have worked but the application may have been more political than spiritual.

Navaratri is a special occasion. Fasting during these times may have spiritual applications. In the least, it will bring the possibility of becoming decisive. If one truly applies upavaas as a meditative technique, it will help in centering growth. And then there is the unseen and the unexplainable part of it. Some call it esoteric. The effect of the mantras of Durga Shaptasati, the timing of Navaratri and the importance of a particular place (e.g.Kamakhya or Vindhyachal), are all that we cannot even start to speculate.

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