Gurbani Defines Fasting

In order to impart the Truth (ਸਚ), all contributors of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) have used terms that were already within the use and within the psyche of people of the time.

However, they have used these terms as examples (ਹਵਾਲਾ), but explicitly with new meanings and understanding to fit the unique and new spiritual paradigms of Sikhi or Gurmat.

One of those terms is ‘fasting’ (‘ਬ੍ਰਤ’-Brat, ਬਰਤ-Barat).

Fasting is a 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.

Ritual of religious fasting is practiced to this day amongst many religions of the world.

Also, it appears that people take on religious fasts in a hope of fulfilling a variety of desires.

These desires include, but not limited to preparation to receive atonement of sins, earning the pleasure and blessing of the Pujaaree (clergy) concocted gods living in the sky, fulfilling some sort of religious obligations, expectation of fulfilling material desires, avoiding sorrows, developing miracles, attaining union or richer perception of the Pujaaree concocted God, expecting material remuneration or reward, prolonging life, attaining liberation (Mukti) after death, reserve a seat in heaven afterlife, and so on.

Simply put: the purpose of religious fasting seems to be to subdue the sense of fear lurking in the deluded mind, and to please the so called god who resides somewhere up there in the sky, separate from humans, for securing fulfillment of Vaasnaas (deep-rooted subconscious cravings) etc.

  • ਅੰਨੁ ਨ ਖਾਹਿ ਦੇਹੀ ਦੁਖੁ ਦੀਜੈ ॥ ਬਿਨੁ ਗੁਰ ਗਿਆਨ ਤ੍ਰਿਪਤਿ ਨਹੀ ਥੀਜੈ ॥ ਮਨਮੁਖਿ ਜਨਮੈ ਜਨਮਿ ਮਰੀਜੈ ॥੬॥: 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 (mind) is repeatedly born only to die (at the level of the mind). ||6|| (sggs 905).
  • ਕਬੀਰ ਹਰਿ ਕਾ ਸਿਮਰਨੁ ਛਾਡਿ ਕੈ ਅਹੋਈ ਰਾਖੈ ਨਾਰਿ ॥ ਗਦਹੀ ਹੋਇ ਕੈ ਅਉਤਰੈ ਭਾਰੁ ਸਹੈ ਮਨ ਚਾਰਿ ॥੧੦੮॥: O Kabeer! The consequence of leaving Hari Naam (Wisdom) is that the (foolish) woman goes around fasting (ritual fast of Ahoee-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 descend to a donkey (at the level of mind or thinking), to carry heavy load (of Bikaar. Now, why donkey? First, donkey is a beast of burden, and second Seetala Devi’s riding vehicle – ਸਵਾਰੀ – is said to be a donkey! Hence, if Seetala is pleased, she would make the fasting woman her riding donkey!) ||108|| (sggs 1370).

The following words of Bhagat Kabeer Jee blows away all of this Pakhand and Karamkaand:

  • ਬ੍ਰਹਮਨ ਗਿਆਸ ਕਰਹਿ ਚਉਬੀਸਾ ਕਾਜੀ ਮਹ ਰਮਜਾਨਾ ॥ ਗਿਆਰਹ ਮਾਸ ਪਾਸ ਕੈ ਰਾਖੇ ਏਕੈ ਮਾਹਿ ਨਿਧਾਨਾ ॥੩॥: The Brahmins observe fasts on each 11th lunar day, i.e. twenty four times in a year, and Qazi, the Muslim priest fasts during the entire month of Ramadan. They put eleven months aside (don’t observe any faith discipline) and try to find the treasure (of God’s Naam) just in one month. ||3|| (sggs 1349).
  • ਧੰਨੁ ਗੁਪਾਲ ਧੰਨੁ ਗੁਰਦੇਵ ॥ ਧੰਨੁ ਅਨਾਦਿ ਭੂਖੇ ਕਵਲੁ ਟਹਕੇਵ ॥ ਧਨੁ ਓਇ ਸੰਤ ਜਿਨ ਐਸੀ ਜਾਨੀ ॥ ਤਿਨ ਕਉ ਮਿਲਿਬੋ ਸਾਰਿੰਗਪਾਨੀ ॥੧॥ ਆਦਿ ਪੁਰਖ ਤੇ ਹੋਇ ਅਨਾਦਿ ॥ ਜਪੀਐ ਨਾਮੁ ਅੰਨ ਕੈ ਸਾਦਿ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ ਜਪੀਐ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਪੀਐ ਅੰਨੁ ॥ ਅੰਭੈ ਕੈ ਸੰਗਿ ਨੀਕਾ ਵੰਨੁ ॥ ਅੰਨੈ ਬਾਹਰਿ ਜੋ ਨਰ ਹੋਵਹਿ ॥ ਤੀਨਿ ਭਵਨ ਮਹਿ ਅਪਨੀ ਖੋਵਹਿ ॥੨॥ ਛੋਡਹਿ ਅੰਨੁ ਕਰਹਿ ਪਾਖੰਡ ॥ ਨਾ ਸੋਹਾਗਨਿ ਨਾ ਓਹਿ ਰੰਡ ॥ਜਗ ਮਹਿ ਬਕਤੇ ਦੂਧਾਧਾਰੀ ॥ ਗੁਪਤੀ ਖਾਵਹਿ ਵਟਿਕਾ ਸਾਰੀ ॥੩॥ ਅੰਨੈ ਬਿਨਾ ਨ ਹੋਇ ਸੁਕਾਲੁ ॥ ਤਜਿਐ ਅੰਨਿ ਨ ਮਿਲੈ ਗੁਪਾਲੁ ॥ ਕਹੁ ਕਬੀਰ ਹਮ ਐਸੇ ਜਾਨਿਆ ॥ ਧੰਨੁ ਅਨਾਦਿ ਠਾਕੁਰ ਮਨੁ ਮਾਨਿਆ ॥੪॥੮॥੧੧॥ : Praiseworthy is God who sustains the earth and praiseworthy is the divine Guru. Blessed is the grain, which makes the Heart of a hungry person bloom. Blessed are those devotees (Satsangee Jan) who have understood this aspect of life (that food is not blasphemy). They (who eat food and remember God) Realize God. ||1|| It is through the blessing of God (Hukam: System-Rule-Law-Order of Nature) that all this food is produced, God’s Naam can be Internalized only after eating food (NOT EMPTY STOMACH!). ||1||Pause|| Just as we Internalize God’s Naam, we should also lovingly enjoy eating food. When mixed with water, the food looks even more pleasing. One who abstains from eating food, loses his honor everywhere. ||2|| Those human beings who pretend to give up food, they practice Pakhand (hypocrisy). They are (like those women who) are neither happy brides nor widows. (i.e. they are not united with their Mool or Jot Saroop, however practicing Pakhnad and Karamkaand they pretend as they are united with their Mool — but in reality they don’t fit anywhere!). To the world they may claim that they are surviving only on milk, but secretly they eat all the sweets (which are offered to the idols). ||3|| Without eating food no one’s time can pass in peace. One cannot realize God, by abstaining from food. Kabir says, this is what I have understood, that blessed is the food that helps our mind to get focused on God. ||4||8||11||(sggs 873).

In short, the Gurmat Wisdom of the SGGS tells us that it is a sign of one’s mind being out of control if he/she goes on pilgrimage and observes many fasts.

  • ਤੀਰਥ ਕਰੈ ਬ੍ਰਤ ਫੁਨਿ ਰਾਖੈ ਨਹ ਮਨੂਆ ਬਸਿ ਜਾ ਕੋ ॥ ਨਿਹਫਲ ਧਰਮੁ ਤਾਹਿ ਤੁਮ ਮਾਨਹੁ ਸਾਚੁ ਕਹਤ ਮੈ ਯਾ ਕਉ ॥੧॥: One whose mind is not under his control, goes on pilgrimage and observes many fasts. I tell you the truth – consider such religious deeds useless. ||1|| (sggs 831).
  • ਹਠੁ ਨਿਗ੍ਰਹੁ ਕਰਿ ਕਾਇਆ ਛੀਜੈ ॥ ਵਰਤੁ ਤਪਨੁ ਕਰਿ ਮਨੁ ਨਹੀ ਭੀਜੈ ॥: By practicing stubborn self-torture, the body wears off. The mind is not softened or pleased by fasting or austerities. (sggs 905).

The real fasting as defined in the Gurbani is to keep the wandering mind in check (discipline, control etc.) through the mental FASTING — through internalizing the Enlightening spiritual Giaan-Wisdom.

  • ਦੁਆਦਸੀ ਦਇਆ ਦਾਨੁ ਕਰਿ ਜਾਣੈ ॥ ਬਾਹਰਿ ਜਾਤੋ ਭੀਤਰਿ ਆਣੈ ॥ ਬਰਤੀ ਬਰਤ ਰਹੈ ਨਿਹਕਾਮ ॥ : One who knows how to practice mercy or compassion, who brings the wandering mind inside (with the help of Naam: Wisdom, Virtues…), observes the FAST of remaining free of lust (ਵਾਸਨਾ-ਰਹਿਤ)… (sggs 840).

Further, the Gurbani asserts thatthe Godly contentment in every situation coupled with compassion is the true fast to 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॥: 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. Understanding the divine Naam, his mind and body become pure. Rabb is pervading amongst all. O Nanak! Hari kirtan is the eternal faith ||11|| (sggs 299).
  • ਕੁੰਭੇ ਬਧਾ ਜਲੁ ਰਹੈ ਜਲ ਬਿਨੁ ਕੁੰਭੁ ਨ ਹੋਇ ॥ ਗਿਆਨ ਕਾ ਬਧਾ ਮਨੁ ਰਹੈ ਗੁਰ ਬਿਨੁ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਨ ਹੋਇ ॥੫॥: As the water remains confined in a pitcher, (just so) the mind is restrained by the Spiritual Wisdom. But (as) the pitcher cannot be shaped without the water, (just so) there can be no Spiritual Wisdom without the Guru. ||5|| (sggs 469).
  • ਗੁਰਮਤੀ ਮਨੁ ਨਿਜ ਘਰਿ ਵਸਿਆ ਸਚੈ ਸਬਦਿ ਬੈਰਾਗੋ ਰਾਮ ॥: With Gurmat (Wisdom of the SGGS), the mind abides in its own Home within (Nijj Ghar), and through the Shabad (the mind) become attached to the Divine (Naam: Wisdom, Virtues…). (sggs 568).

The mind is drunk with the illusive wine of Maya. It is restless though thousands of scorpions have stung it at one time!!

  • ਖਟੁ ਸਾਸਤ੍ਰ ਉਚਰਤ ਰਸਨਾਗਰ ਤੀਰਥ ਗਵਨ ਨ ਥੋਰੀ ॥ ਪੂਜਾ ਚਕ੍ਰ ਬਰਤ ਨੇਮ ਤਪੀਆ ਊਹਾ ਗੈਲਿ ਨ ਛੋਰੀ ॥੧॥: Even after reciting the six Shaastras orally and visiting sacred shrines of pilgrimage does not diminish (hunger for Maya). Poojaa, ceremonial religious marks, fasting, vows and penance – none of these will make (Maya) release her hold. ||1|| (sggs 1216).

In such agitated condition, the deluded mind behaves like it is separate from its Mool (Source, Jot Saroop…). This is the false ego-sense or the Haumai-mind. In this diseased condition, the mind performs worthless deeds.

The Gurbani says the divine Virtues such as Godly contentment and loving compassion can be awakened within through observing the FAST of remembering the Naam (Wisdom / Virtues).

  • ਅਨਦਿਨੁ ਨਾਮੁ ਦਾਨੁ ਬ੍ਰਤਕਾਰੀ ॥: Every day (at all times) to remember Naam (Wisdom / Virtue…) and to inspire others to remember is my FASTING. (sggs 1331).

Through remembering the Naam comes the dissolution of the body-consciousness, resulting transformation of the mind into Divine Consciousness (Jot Saroop). Vanish with the dissolution of the body-consciousness are the Pakhand (hypocrisy) and Karamkaand (rituals) such as fasting etc.

  • ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਜਾਪ ਤਾਪ ਬ੍ਰਤ ਨੇਮਾ ॥ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਧਿਆਇ ਕੁਸਲ ਸਭਿ ਖੇਮਾ ॥੨॥ ਆਚਾਰ ਬਿਉਹਾਰ ਜਾਤਿ ਹਰਿ ਗੁਨੀਆ ॥: Divine Naam is my Jaap, Taap, fasting and daily religious practice. In His remembrance I have found total Joy and Bliss. (To live by the divine) Virtues is my Karamkaand (formalities), conduct and Jaat (i.e., higher caste).| (sggs 715).
  • ਸਭਿ ਨਾਦ ਬੇਦ ਗੁਰਬਾਣੀ ॥ ਮਨੁ ਰਾਤਾ ਸਾਰਿਗਪਾਣੀ ॥ ਤਹ ਤੀਰਥ ਵਰਤ ਤਪ ਸਾਰੇ ॥: (A person who is engaged in Bhagti, Shabad-Vichaar, etc., for that person…) All Naad and Vedas are in the Gurbani. (Through the Gurbani’s Wisdom) the mind becomes imbued with Rabb. (In the spiritual state in which that person reaches) there is his 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॥: Some bathe at sacred shrines and refuse to eat. Many people (becoming ascetics) light fires and torment their bodies (in heat). But without the divine Naam (Wisdom, Virtues…), one is not liberated (from the shackles of Maya), no one can cross over the world-ocean in any other way. ||14|| (sggs 1025).

The Gurbani reminds us that for an Enlightened mind (Gurmukh), all days or months are auspicious. He always eats light and sleeps less! Thus, he neither tortures his body, nor pampers it with sense gratification. Overeating or wrong eating disturb the mind; eating insufficiently, on the other hand, leads to physical and mental weakness.

Similarly, oversleep dulls the nervous system; not enough sleep produces a tendency to sleep against one’s will. All of this is undesirable to a seeker or learner.

  • ਓਨ੍ਹ੍ਹੀ ਦੁਨੀਆ ਤੋੜੇ ਬੰਧਨਾ ਅੰਨੁ ਪਾਣੀ ਥੋੜਾ ਖਾਇਆ ॥: (Who are content and contemplate the Truth) burn away (i.e., break) the worldly bonds, and eat little food and (drink) little water (sggs 467).
  • ਨਾਮ ਬਿਨਾ ਜੋ ਪਹਿਰੈ ਖਾਇ ॥ ਜਿਉ ਕੂਕਰੁ ਜੂਠਨ ਮਹਿ ਪਾਇ ॥੧॥: Without remembering the Naam, whatever a person wears and eats, it is as a wandering dog eating leftover food (false or filth). ||1|| (sggs 240).
  • ਤਿਨ ਕਾ ਖਾਧਾ ਪੈਧਾ ਮਾਇਆ ਸਭੁ ਪਵਿਤੁ ਹੈ ਜੋ ਨਾਮਿ ਹਰਿ ਰਾਤੇ ॥ ਤਿਨ ਕੇ ਘਰ ਮੰਦਰ ਮਹਲ ਸਰਾਈ ਸਭਿ ਪਵਿਤੁ ਹਹਿ ਜਿਨੀ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਸੇਵਕ ਸਿਖ ਅਭਿਆਗਤ ਜਾਇ ਵਰਸਾਤੇ ॥: Those whose (minds) are imbued with the divine Naam (Wisdom, Virtues etc.), their food, clothes and wealth are untainted (i.e. obtained by fair means). Their houses, mansions, palaces and inns for travelers — where Gurmukh Sikhs and needy travelers go and benefit — are all untainted (i.e. free of ill-gotten money). (sggs 648).
  • ਹਾਟੀ ਬਾਟੀ ਨੀਦ ਨ ਆਵੈ ਪਰ ਘਰਿ ਚਿਤੁ ਨ ਡੋੁਲਾਈ ॥ ਬਿਨੁ ਨਾਵੈ ਮਨੁ ਟੇਕ ਨ ਟਿਕਈ ਨਾਨਕ ਭੂਖ ਨ ਜਾਈ ॥ ਹਾਟੁ ਪਟਣੁ ਘਰੁ ਗੁਰੂ ਦਿਖਾਇਆ ਸਹਜੇ ਸਚੁ ਵਾਪਾਰੋ ॥ ਖੰਡਿਤ ਨਿਦ੍ਰਾ ਅਲਪ ਅਹਾਰੰ ਨਾਨਕ ਤਤੁ ਬੀਚਾਰੋ ॥੮॥ : (TRUE RENUNCIATION) is not to lose one’s self in worldly affairs while living within the world; and to not allow the mind to wander therein. Without acquiring godly Virtues; the desire for worldly affairs does not dissipate; (TRUE RENUNCIATION) thus cannot happen. (In TRUE RENUNCIATION), the Shabad Guru Guides the mind to focus on acquiring godly Virtues and sharing godly Virtues (while staying within the world). The Essence of (a mind that is in TRUE RENUNCIATION based on the Shabad Guru’s Guidance), Nanak, is the desire for worldly affairs (or hunger for Maya) is controlled to the extent that it does not lose itself (in sleep of unawareness). ॥8॥ (sggs 639).


  1. You have done excellent & deep study of Gurbani. Please keep sharing with us this nectar of divine wisdom. 🙏

  2. ਛੋਡਹਿ ਅੰਨੁ ਕਰਹਿ ਪਾਖੰਡ ॥ (Raag Gond Bhagat Kabir, GGS. 873-4).
    Shhoddehi Ann Karehi Paakhandd ||
    ਨਾ ਸੋਹਾਗਨਿ ਨਾ ਓਹਿ ਰੰਡ ॥
    Naa Sohaagan Naa Ouhi Randd ||

  3. Superb thoughts and ਉੱਚਕੋਟੀ ਦੇ ਗੁਰਮਿਤ ਵਿਚਾਰ। Thanks

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