Hello and welcome to episode 63 of The Ask Sri Vishwanath Show. Today I want to talk about fasting. Does fasting help you in your journey of spirituality or does it drain you of all your energy? We will also talk about what Krishna says about this.
Today’s question comes from Russell and he says “my parents are extremely dedicated to God. They fast once a week but they never forced me to fast. Now I am living on my own and I am very interested in spirituality and I want to know the real benefits of fasting.”
Thanks for the great question Russell. Fasting is considered holy by almost all religions including Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. There are a lot of reasons why people fast but today I’ll tell you about my experience and what Krishna says about fasting.
I really couldn’t fast because I just love to eat! However as I started reading books by great men like Ram Krishna and Vivekananda and the lives they lived I realised I wanted to experiment with fasting. So I decided for 16 Saturdays that I would not eat anything other than fruit. On the first Saturday at around midday I started to feel very hungry so I went and ordered a lot of fruit and ice-cream and ate it all. What happened was that I ended up eating more than I normally would!
I had a feast really. The only difference was that I was not eating proper food. I was just snacking all the time. At the end of the day I felt really guilty so I told myself that the next Saturday I would do better. When the next Saturday came I decided I wasn’t going to eat or drink anything. No food and no water. So Saturday came and by about 1pm my eyes became very red and heavy. By 3pm
I had lost all of my strength. I couldn’t even do basic tasks at work. All I wanted to do was lie down. By the time I got home from work I was really struggling. I was desperate for it to be past midnight so I could drink and eat something. I couldn’t wait for midnight to come. I was going to eat and drink everything in sight.
I did this for 15 Saturdays because I had committed myself to it. I wouldn’t eat or drink. I had no energy and got very little work done on those Saturdays. I had no energy and would really struggle but at the end of the day I would be so happy that I could eat. At the end of the 15 Saturdays I realised one thing: it did not change my personality. My gunas (sattvic, rajasic and tamasic) did not change at all. It increased my willpower but that didn’t really matter because I don’t care about my willpower. I focus more on my consciousness and the willpower comes from that.
So fasting does not change your personality. It will not suddenly cause your emotions to subside. If you are angry you will still be angry after fasting. If you are happy you will still be happy after fasting. Your personality will not change when you fast. At least in my case it didn’t. In some cases devotion will increase but we’ll talk about that later.
Think about it this way: fasting reduces your energy. You are not fuelling your body so it doesn’t work properly. When your energy is low you won’t function well and you won’t even be able to talk. The talking less is the good part. This all amounts to silence.
I realised that if I observed a period of silence then I could save my energy but still get the same benefits of fasting. When you have less energy you talk less and when you talk less you have silence. So this way I was still able to get the benefits of fasting without denying my body what it needs to work properly.
When you do anything you must ask yourself if it impacts your personality. Ask yourself if it will make you a better person. Will it make you less angry, will it destroy your ego? If it does not destroy your anger and hatred then all of this will just bounce back after the day of fasting and you will have wasted your time.
Silence is more golden than fasting. Silence gives you benefits while allowing you to have the energy to do the work you need to do. Vivekananda says silence is great. You can fast if you have the capacity to do so on occasion but silence is greater than fasting and silence of the mind is even greater.
Silence of the mind
Observance of silence is great but it is not always practical. It can really annoy a lot of people. If your boss asks you a question and you refuse to answer you may not have a job the next day. So sometimes it is better to work on silencing your mind. This is the key. When you observe silence you are not talking but your mind still is and all of these thoughts are still hitting you.
Your mouth is like a doorway to your thoughts but when that get shut your thoughts start to affect your being. If your thoughts are good then that’s great but if they are not good then they will torment you. In silence you begin to understand that your bad thoughts will still torment you. You will then begin to understand that unless you silence your mind and draw those thoughts inward your silence will be of no use.
So it is more important to draw those emotions in. It’s dangerous to be frustrated and have hatred. It’s bad to be in that frame of mind. Unlike observing silence, you can silence your mind 24/7. This way you can feel the benefits all the time and still have energy. You can fast and observe silence when it is appropriate but silencing the mind is higher than both.
Krishna says this about fasting: “that penance is tamas which injures the self and others.” This is what happened in my case. I injured my consciousness by forcing my body and mind to suffer. I had less energy and could do no work.
Body, mind and verbal
There are three types of penance: body penance, mind penance and verbal penance. Body penance is purity, both physical and mental. We’ve spoken about this before, about not using your body. Verbal penance is an utterance that does not offend such as daily reading of the scriptures.
Mind penance is described as mental calmness by silencing the mind. If you can practice these three types of penance you’ll have unlocked the fruit of all these things.
If that doesn’t happen, if after fasting there is no verbal penance or mind penance then your personality will not change and you will not receive all the benefits.
Ram Krishna said he fasted on Ekadashi. It comes twice a month. It comes on the 11th lunar day of the bright fortnight as well as waning fortnight. Ram Krishna would fast on these days because on these days the mind is centred in the heart. Usually the mind just goes out but on these days it is centred in the heart. So if you eat less on these days you can put the energy into meditation instead of digesting food. So fasting on these days can be beneficial.
So remember if it helps you to silence your mind and achieve verbal, mind and body penance then it is great and will benefit you.
I hope this answers your question. Remember you keep asking questions and I’ll keep answering them.