Most of us have observed fasting at some point in our lives. Most people fast for health benefits or for religious purposes. But, it has spiritual benefits that most people are not aware of. Fasting overall means vow, determination, and devotion. A perfect way to start a spiritual life!
What is Fasting?
Despite being formally defined as complete abstinence from food and water, fasting, in a larger context, means abstaining from what is toxic to the mind, body, and soul. One way to understand this is that fasting eliminates physical, emotional, and mental toxins; it is not simply cutting or stopping food intake.
Fasting is not done to cause the body to suffer. Some people practice intermittent fasting for a definitive period of time for physical benefits. But it is done because the desires of the body-mind complex are many times stronger than the desire for Spiritual Communion.
The more we can experience releasing these worldly desires through the practice of fasting, the easier it becomes to maintain that freedom when we are not fasting. Combined with various types of meditation, which on one level is a sacrifice of the mind, spiritual fasting becomes a mystical sacrifice of the ego, body, and mind.
Spiritual benefits of Fasting
The practice of Fasting is more than just abstention from food. This is the time to look deep into ourselves and remember our relationship with Divine nature. Fasting helps a person listen to oneself; it is a clear criterion for the correctness of what is happening, thus attaining an internal feeling of calm and satisfaction. Here are the spiritual benefits of fasting:
1. Unification with the God
According to Vedic texts, fasting has always been associated with physical detoxification and spiritual awakening in contact with the Divine. The Sanskrit word for fasting is Upavasa, which means “staying nearest to the god.”
In other words, fasting allows us to get closer to the Divine. According to the Hindu tradition, fasting is especially observed on holy days such as Ekadashi, Shivaratri, Diwali, etc., as it is believed that the Supreme Being manifests and bestows infinite blessings on those who seek union with Him during these auspicious days.
2. Deeper experience of the truth
Although fasting begins with cleansing and purifying the body, it reaches perceiving the spiritual intention and ends with a deeper experience of the truth of who we are.
When the mind settles down, we are more present and move toward the Divine Presence through silence. In this way, we begin to access our light body, which is our cosmic body – as the I AM consciousness.
Fasting overcomes the ego and transforms us into the Divine. Fasting leads us to accept the physical body’s death and overcome our fear of death. It helps to sacrifice our ego attachment and attend to mental clarity.
3. Provides an opportunity to maintain inner purity
According to Vedas, fasting during special tithi, festivals, and occasions, one must follow certain rules apart from abstinence from food. One must avoid excitement, monitor emotions, avoid negativity, and experience emotions based on love.
A person contains a particle of the Divine within himself, and during fasting, a person should look inside himself, harmonizing with this Divine, which underlies the soul.
The Vedas also instruct fasting people to help others with a pure heart and without expecting anything in return. Additionally, a fasting person should engage in prayer, meditation, and reading spiritual books.
Thus, fasting can become a tool, a legacy of the distant past, which will help everyone make themselves more harmonious and healthier and make their life easier and happier.
4. Helps to realize the pain of others
Fasting makes it possible to feel what hunger and thirst are, thereby awakening a sense of helping the poor and needy and moving people to mutual assistance. Thus, peaceful and friendly relations develop among people.
A fasting person wakes up with the thought of helping hunger, the poor, and the needy. It encourages people to help each other. There are no squabbles and strife among people who help each other. A fasting devotee develops a predisposition to fulfill what God has instructed us to follow in various Vedas and Puranas to finally see him, feel him and, in the end, procure him.
5. Clear your path toward Liberation or Moksha
Fasting controls the passions, disciplines the senses, and purifies the mind and heart. Fasting controls the tongue, an organ that poses great obstacles in spiritual practice, thus helping destroy sins.
Just as gold is purified by melting in the crucible repeatedly, likewise mind is purified by fasting. The spiritual clarity necessary for intensive meditation comes through fasting.
The great Hindu legislator Manu prescribed fasting to remove the five major sins: Brahmahatya (Killing of a Brahmin), Surapan (Drinking alcohol), theft, and relation with Guru’s (Teacher) wife, and intimacy with a person who indulges in these four types of sinful activities.
In the era of the Kali Yuga (Iron Age), even if just one fasting is observed with equanimity, faith, and prayer, with the mind entirely focused on God, one is freed from Samsara (the wheel of birth and death).
6. Help realize the purpose of life
Those familiar with Ramayana know that Lakshman fasted for a long time on the banks of the Sarayu river to gain the ultimate truth of fulfillment of the cosmic purpose of life. Lord Rama fasted at the time of Lanka’s conquest to find his way into the ocean. Even Ravana fasted and meditated for 11 thousand years to seek a boon from Lord Brahma.
According to Mahabharata, Veema fasted on Ekadashi to free himself from all worldly sins. Likewise, after six long years of rigorous penance, fasting, and meditation, Gautam Buddha received the enlightenment he had been seeking all his life.
During these times, people valued awakening inner energy to connect with God and realize their life purpose more than any materialistic wealth. Therefore, before any religious act, fasting was performed to avoid self-indulgence and receive purgation.
Fasting holds significance not only in the Hindu religion but in all the religions of the world has adopted fasting in one form or another. It is believed fasting is the means of religion that helps destroy sins, rise virtue, purification of body and mind, peace, and fulfillment of desires. If you are also one of those seeking eternal happiness and blessing, you are not late to start fasting and meditation.