Fasting Defined

Fasting is the mandatory, voluntary or supererogatory abstinence from solid food, drinks, etc., over any period of time out of the ordinary. People seem to observe fasting for a variety of reasons such as religious, social, political, physical, hygienic, some specific worldly gains, and so on. This practice has its origins in human society dating to the beginning of recorded history.

Religious fasting is practiced to this day amongst many religions of the world. It appears that people take on religious fasts in a hope of fulfilling a variety of material and celestial desires. They include, but not limited to, purification of the Soul, preparation to receive atonement of sins, earning the pleasure and blessing of God, fulfilling some sort of religious obligations, expectation of fulfilling material desires, avoiding sorrows, learning self-restraint, developing will power, attaining union with God, curbing of evil intentions and cravings, attaining richer perception of God, expecting material remuneration or reward, and so on. Simply put: he purpose of religious fasting seems to be to subdue the sense of fear lurking in the deluded mind, and to please God for securing fulfillment of Vaasnaas (deep-rooted subconscious cravings) as well as liberation (Mukti).

  • ਅੰਨੁ ਨ ਖਾਹਿ ਦੇਹੀ ਦੁਖੁ ਦੀਜੈ ॥ ਬਿਨੁ ਗੁਰ ਗਿਆਨ ਤ੍ਰਿਪਤਿ ਨਹੀ ਥੀਜੈ ॥ ਮਨਮੁਖਿ ਜਨਮੈ ਜਨਮਿ ਮਰੀਜੈ ॥੬॥: Ann na khaae dehee dukh deejai …: Those who do not eat food; They (just) tortures their body (because they don’t gain any spiritual benefit from this act). Without the Divine Wisdom from the Guru, he is not satisfied (ਮਾਇਆ ਵਲੋਂ, Bikaars, etc.). The Manmukh (the materialistic) is born only to die, and be born again ||6|| (sggs 905).
  • ਕਬੀਰ ਹਰਿ ਕਾ ਸਿਮਰਨੁ ਛਾਡਿ ਕੈ ਅਹੋਈ ਰਾਖੈ ਨਾਰਿ ॥ ਗਦਹੀ ਹੋਇ ਕੈ ਅਉਤਰੈ ਭਾਰੁ ਸਹੈ ਮਨ ਚਾਰਿ ॥੧੦੮॥: Kabeer Hari kaa simran shaadi kai ahoee raakhai naari. Gadahee hoyi kai ayutarai bhaar sahai mann chaari ||108||: Kabeer, the woman who gives up meditation on God, and observes the ritual fast of Ahoee (i.e., the reason a woman observes fast is that she has forgotten God. ਅਹੋਈ = ਕੱਤਕ ਦੇ ਮਹੀਨੇ ਸੀਤਲਾ ਦੇਵੀ ਦੀ ਪੂਜਾ ਤੇ ਵਰਤ – Ahoee is associated with fast and worship of Seetalaa Devee – ਸੀਤਲਾ ਦੇਵੀ – in the Desi month of Katak). Consequently (as she is trying to please Seetalaa Devee by observing fast) she will be reincarnated as a donkey , to carry heavy burdens (Why donkey? Because Seetala Devi’s riding or vehicle – ਸਵਾਰੀ – is said to be the donkey!) ||108|| (sggs 1370).

The true fasting as defined in the Gurbani, is to keep the wandering mind in check through mental fast.

The mind is drunk with the illusive wine of Maya. It is restless though thousands of scorpions have stung it at one time! In such agitated condition, the mind behaves like it is separate from the Parmaatam (Mool). This is the Haumai-mind’s disease; and in this diseased condition, the mind performs worthless deeds. Contentment in every situation coupled with compassion is indicated to be the antidote to subdue and conquer dark mental forces.

  • ਮਨਿ ਸੰਤੋਖੁ ਸਰਬ ਜੀਅ ਦਇਆ ॥ ਇਨ ਬਿਧਿ ਬਰਤੁ ਸੰਪੂਰਨ ਭਇਆ ॥ ਧਾਵਤ ਮਨੁ ਰਾਖੈ ਇਕ ਠਾਇ ॥ ਮਨੁ ਤਨੁ ਸੁਧੁ ਜਪਤ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਇ ॥ ਸਭ ਮਹਿ ਪੂਰਿ ਰਹੇ ਪਾਰਬ੍ਰਹਮ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਹਰਿ ਕੀਰਤਨੁ ਕਰਿ ਅਟਲ ਏਹੁ ਧਰਮ ॥੧੧॥: Mani santokh sarab jeea daiaal …: Let your mind be content, and be kind to all beings. In this way, your fast will be successful (i.e., this is the real fast, etc.). (With this kind of fast, one can) keep his wandering mind ( wandering after Bikaars) restrained in one place. Chanting God’s Name, his mind and body become pure. The Supreme God is pervading amongst all. O Nanak! sing His Praises; Sing God’s kirtan, this alone is the eternal faith ||11|| (sggs 299).

How can we develop Divine attributes of contentment and loving compassion? As indicated in the Gurbani, the Divine attributes can be awakened within through observing the fast of Naam-Simran, Truthfulness, remaining free of desires and fear, and realizing the True Self (Joti-Svaroopa). Through the Naam comes the dissolution of the body-consciousness, transforming the mind into Divine Consciousness. Vanish with the dissolution of the body-consciousness are the empty Karamkaand such as fasting and all other rituals.

  • ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਜਾਪ ਤਾਪ ਬ੍ਰਤ ਨੇਮਾ ॥ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਧਿਆਇ ਕੁਸਲ ਸਭਿ ਖੇਮਾ ॥੨॥ ਆਚਾਰ ਬਿਉਹਾਰ ਜਾਤਿ ਹਰਿ ਗੁਨੀਆ ॥ ਮਹਾ ਅਨੰਦ ਕੀਰਤਨ ਹਰਿ ਸੁਨੀਆ ॥੩॥Hari Hari jaap taap brat nemaa ..: God’s Name is my meditation, austerity, fasting and daily religious practice. In His Meditation I have found total Joy and Bliss. His Praises are my good conduct, occupation (ਧਾਰਮਿਕ ਰਸਮਾਂ) and (high) social class. ||3|| (sggs 715).
  • ਸਭਿ ਨਾਦ ਬੇਦ ਗੁਰਬਾਣੀ ॥ ਮਨੁ ਰਾਤਾ ਸਾਰਿਗਪਾਣੀ ॥ ਤਹ ਤੀਰਥ ਵਰਤ ਤਪ ਸਾਰੇ ॥: Sabh naad Ved Gurbani. Mann raataa sarang paanee. Tah tirath varat tap saare: Sound current of the Naad, the Vedas, everything is Gurbani. My mind is attuned to God. He is my sacred shrine of pilgrimage, fasting and austere self-discipline (sggs 879).
  • ਇਕਿ ਤੀਰਥਿ ਨਾਵਹਿ ਅੰਨੁ ਨ ਖਾਵਹਿ ॥ ਇਕਿ ਅਗਨਿ ਜਲਾਵਹਿ ਦੇਹ ਖਪਾਵਹਿ ॥ ਰਾਮ ਨਾਮ ਬਿਨੁ ਮੁਕਤਿ ਨ ਹੋਈ ਕਿਤੁ ਬਿਧਿ ਪਾਰਿ ਲੰਘਾਈ ਹੇ ॥੧੪॥: Ik teerath naavahi ann na khaavahi. Ik agan jalaavahi deh khapaavahi. Raam naam bin mukti na hoee kit bidh paar langhaaee he ||14||: Some bathe at sacred shrines and refuse to eat. Some torment their bodies in burning fire. Without the Lord’s Name, liberation is not obtained; how can anyone cross over? ||14|| (sggs 1025).
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