For millions of people, fasting is an obligatory practice during the holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan is an annual spiritual event that embraces the entire Muslim family as one. But it is not just Islam that advocates fasting as a tool spiritual upliftment.
The majority of faith traditions, such as Christianity, Baha’i, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Jainism, Mormonism, Taoism and more, all advocate a period of abstinence, either from all food and drink, or from certain types of food. Smoking and the consumption of alcohol and other intoxicants are also forbidden.
The physical benefits to a period of fasting are believed to be many: it is said to detoxify the body and improve overall health. However, the deeper and more significant aspect is the spiritual accomplishments to be gained. Certainly the practice of fasting is more than just abstinence, it is recognized as a path to a higher consciousness. We can fast for spiritual strength, for a specific aim or purpose, to better know the Divine, and to reclaim mastery over our human nature.
The purpose of fasting is not to suffer but to guard against gluttony, and to abstain from lying, cheating, uncontrolled lusts and desires, and impure and indecent thoughts, words and deeds. Fasting also tempers the ego and fosters humility by reminding us of the deprivations of others. It is also often a time to celebrate the journey and our family, those with whom we are traveling the path of life. And further, as part and parcel of fasting, some faiths encourage that money saved be donated in charity to reach out in love and compassion for the less fortunate.
During any fast, in any faith, it is important to give attention to intention. The intention behind any deed should be positive. To check our intention implies checking one’s heart. Is my heart pure and clean enough to fill with the presence of the Divine? Am I being selfless, or is there an expectation of a return, of recognition, that will dilute this good deed?
For a Muslim, fasting is both an obligation and an act of love for Allah, through which he/she gains taqwaa, cleansing and purification of the heart and soul. It engenders self-control and discipline, and a sense of unity and connectedness.
In the various Christian traditions fasting is an important practice: generally there are many days set aside for fasting of various purposes. Moses, Elijah, and Jesus himself, all fasted for forty days. Jesus overcame the temptations of Satan, and the forty days of Lent practiced as a fasting period for Christians is inspired by this event.
In Buddhism, monks and nuns following Vinaya rules and do not eat each day after noon. A discipline rather than a fast, it aids meditation and good health.
Fasting is an integral part of the Hindu religion. One may fast for many reasons: During religious festivals and times of celebration, or to honor a particular deity, or a birth or death. For wealth and prosperity, or to find a good husband. Interestingly Hindus also fast for a whole month during Shraavan mas.
Creating a daily regime of fasting from excessive and negative thoughts would certainly create a healthy mind, enhance the prayer or meditation experience, and change our lives. We are travelling through a time of great upheaval and the eruptions of the vices within us are causing mayhem and chaos inside, and bomb blasts on the outside! This is that pivotal time period in which humanity needs instead to add peace and calm to the whole world scenario. The only way to finish the vices, which are the root of all problems in the world, is to rob them of power by not putting them to use.
As we fast, these quiet times of peace and harmony allow us to reflect on the general quality of our lives. It is an auspicious and appropriate time to check my compass and confirm my own direction. Am I living my purpose and meaning? Without periods of ‘fasting’, we would not truly be able to strengthen the mind and body or take a break to appreciate all the goodness in the world.
Fasting is a discipline, but it is not a penance. It is a tried and tested method for teaching us that nothing in life comes easily, and with effort and sacrifice we can become masters of ourselves.
It’s Time… to step back from the palate and give the organs a break. Take the opportunity to reflect on your inner compass of your life. Check the intentions behind your deeds, are they only positive? And when it is time to “break the fast”, do so mindfully by being aware to feed the mind and the soul as well as the body by resuming a diet of positive, peaceful, and beneficial thoughts, words and deeds.