Gurbani Defines Fasting

In order to impart the Truth (ਸਚ), all 35 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 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.

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 material and celestial desires.

These material and celestial desires include, but not limited to preparation to receive atonement of sins, earning the pleasure and blessing of the so called god, fulfilling some sort of religious obligations, expectation of fulfilling material desires, avoiding sorrows, developing miracles, attaining union or richer perception of the so called god ‘up there’, expecting material remuneration or reward, prolonging life, attaining liberation (Mukti) 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 (somewhere up there!) 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).
  • ਛੋਡਹਿ ਅੰਨੁ ਕਰਹਿ ਪਾਖੰਡ ॥ ਨਾ ਸੋਹਾਗਨਿ ਨਾ ਓਹਿ ਰੰਡ ॥: 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!). (sggs 873).
  • 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 thelevel 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 the Pakhand and Karamkaand in this regard:

  • ਬ੍ਰਹਮਨ ਗਿਆਸ ਕਰਹਿ ਚਉਬੀਸਾ ਕਾਜੀ ਮਹ ਰਮਜਾਨਾ ॥ ਗਿਆਰਹ ਮਾਸ ਪਾਸ ਕੈ ਰਾਖੇ ਏਕੈ ਮਾਹਿ ਨਿਧਾਨਾ ॥੩॥: Brahmins observe twenty four Ekadashis (fasting), Qazi observes the month of Ramadan (fasting). These people keep (the rest) eleven months apart, and find (some) treasure in one month alone!! ||3|| (sggs 1349).

In short, the Gurmat Wisdom of the SGGS tells us that human mind can NOT be controlled or disciplined by fasting.

  • ਹਠੁ ਨਿਗ੍ਰਹੁ ਕਰਿ ਕਾਇਆ ਛੀਜੈ ॥ ਵਰਤੁ ਤਪਨੁ ਕਰਿ ਮਨੁ ਨਹੀ ਭੀਜੈ ॥: By practicing stubborn self-torture, the body wears off. The mind is not affected (ਅਸਰ) by fasting or austerities (sggs 905).
  • ਤੀਰਥ ਕਰੈ ਬ੍ਰਤ ਫੁਨਿ ਰਾਖੈ ਨਹ ਮਨੂਆ ਬਸਿ ਜਾ ਕੋ ॥ ਨਿਹਫਲ ਧਰਮੁ ਤਾਹਿ ਤੁਮ ਮਾਨਹੁ ਸਾਚੁ ਕਹਤ ਮੈ ਯਾ ਕਉ ॥੧॥: He, who bathes at shrines of pilgrimage and keeps fasts, but who has not control over his mind, be assured that of no avail is his Dharma to him. I tell this truth even to such a person. ||1|| (sggs 831).

Hence, the true fasting as defined in the Gurbani is to keep the wandering mind in check (discipline, control etc.) through the mental FASTING — through the Giaan or 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 that 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 attributes of contentment and loving compassion etc. can be awakened within through observing the FAST of remembering the Naam.

  • 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 (formalities, 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 a wise person (i.e. the 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).
  • ਖੰਡਿਤ ਨਿਦ੍ਰਾ ਅਲਪ ਅਹਾਰੰ ਨਾਨਕ ਤਤੁ ਬੀਚਾਰੋ ॥: Sleep little, and eat little; O Nanak! This is the Essence of Wisdom (sggs 939).
  • 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 dog wanders around (putting his mouth) in false (filthy things). ||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).

8 comments

  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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