True Meaning of Fasting – Facts about fasting you must know
India is a country so rich in culture that its cultural roots go back to more than 5000 years, maybe more. There must be something really deep about these roots that so many cultures came into existence and disappeared but India still holds to its cultural roots up and strong.
The diversity of the cultural heritage of India covers each and every aspect of human life. From greetings, architecture, festivals, rituals, customs, symbols, food, art, literature, scriptures, traditions, and so many practices that if we start counting, time will fall short.
But today because of the modern way of living we are slowly losing up on our true cultural value and drifting away from the roots. Many of our values, rituals, and traditions have lost their true meaning and what we are following is just practice without knowing their essence and in what context they were propagated.
One of such profound practices is “FASTING” which has been concealed into the brackets of food. In fact, it’s quite funny that before writing this article when I asked a few people about fasting, their stories just started with food and ended up on food only.
I was not able to find anything in the context in which I was trying to find, in fact even on the internet, I was not able to find anything about fasting which wasn’t about food.
Yes, fasting is associated with food but it’s just like the first step of this profound practice whereas the actual practice goes much deeper, much beyond what we popularly know about it and this is what this article is all about.
If we have to understand the true meaning of fasting we have to literally look upon its roots. The Sanskrit word for fasting is “UPVASA” which is a combination of two words “UP” which literally means up in Sanskrit and “VASA” means to reside or to live.
Looking back to the root word the word “UPVASA” means to live in a higher state of higher awareness but since normally we do not understand the true meaning of higher awareness. Tuning to a higher state of awareness can also be done in the presence of an enlightened Guru but not everybody has the privilege so it was beautifully wrapped around religious practices revolving around God because God is a dimension we all look upon as the highest source of inspiration to which we all can connect to.
This is the true essence of UPAVASA which means to shift our thoughts and actions from the lower engagement of life processes towards the higher possibilities of our existence.
There is another word for fasting that is commonly used in the Indian subcontinent ie: “VRAT”.
Now I am pretty sure that many of us do not even know the meaning of vrat and still be practicing it.
The Hindi meaning of the word “VRAT” is “SANKALPA” means an “OATH” or a “RESOLUTION”.
According to Wikipedia Vrata is a Sanskrit word that means “vow, resolve, devotion”, and refers to pious observances such as fasting and pilgrimage.
The context in which this word is used as an alternative to upvasa is about taking a resolution to practice self-discipline, if not daily then on at least a few days of the week or a month.
This is just a small introduction about this transforming practice of fasting which is like one layer whereas in reality there is much much more than we can even imagine.
It’s not about Starving
- A lot of people especially the ones who never do fasting run from it because they have a misconception that fasting is all about starving yourself throughout the day which is not true.
- They have all these preconceived notions about the food intake and the amount of calories protein to be taken per day to keep up the optimum health which they use as their excuses for not keeping a fast.
- It’s just the way we look at things that makes the whole difference. It’s not about starving yourself or giving punishment to your body by not giving it any food but it’s about controlling your desire to have food and exercise control over your senses and your mind when they trigger you to have food.
- You are not starving your body but actually giving your digestive system an essential break which it needs to regain its productivity and function more effectively in a longer run.
It’s not about food
- This is the most misunderstood idea and also the most popular misconception about fasting that fasting is about not eating a particular set of foods and eating a different selection of food.
- In India, especially in the Hindu and Jain community people put up so much on their plates in the name of fasting thinking that by not eating the particular set food and only eating selectively they are doing a favor to their stomach.
- Frankly speaking, your tummies don’t give a damn if you don’t eat grains or some items that you eat daily and instead stuff it with potatoes in different forms and other fried stuff.
- Your digestive system has only one function ie to break down food and extract its nutrients and it doesn’t discriminate between different types of food and continues its duties religiously. So, if you think that you are eating a particular type of food and refraining from another, it doesn’t make much difference to your digestive system.
Now you must be cursing me saying that yes fasting is about food and I am dumb and need to educate myself more or I might not have heard about different kinds of fasting like intermittent fasting, water fasting, fruit fasting, etc.
I agree with you but that sounds more like diet plans to me than fasting but it actually doesn’t really matter as long as calling it fasting rather than dieting gives you some sort of inspiration or motivation to keep up that discipline than that also good.
The point is to reap the benefits of the practice not to get confused with the linguistic jargon.
It’s not about God
A lot of people believe if they starve themselves then God will become happy and at the end of the day he will make their wishes come true.
Just imagine if your friend or your spouse keeps a fast for your whole day and starves himself/herself saying that they are doing all that to make you happy, and above it they are expecting you to give them a gift for it.
How does it make you feel?
It might sound a little rude but God really doesn’t give a damn about you not eating your food whole day and expecting him to give you a boon for it.
It doesn’t work that way.
The whole concept of involving Gods and Goddesses was such a smart move, beautifully designed and packaged by our enlightened beings whom we know as RISHIS that surely needs a very particular type of vision to understand the whole psychology and purpose behind it.
In ancient times the only superheroes we had were our Gods who had these special capabilities and powers with which we all could connect with and more overall this was all about keeping our minds inclined and attached to the character which they signify.
It was a beautiful way of aligning our minds to for a particular day in the remembrance of a particular God or Goddess so that we can also inculcate some of those qualities in our lives and become a better person.
You might be thinking if fasting is not above all of this then what is it all about???
It’s all about …
Before I tell you what’s it all about, let me tell you a story about how I came to this realization.
One fine day I decided to keep a fast for no reason and I was pretty focused about following it throughout the day. While I continued with my daily routine I was observing a weird disturbance in my work.
Many times it tried to trick me to give up fasting and eat food. My mind was constantly reminding me of food items kept in the kitchen and their taste and their smells and while I was continuing my work it even tried to dissuade me by sending me studio suggestions like:
- Do it some other day
- Today your mother has prepared very yummy food
- What are you trying to prove by all this
- What will happen in just a day of fasting
- Eat less or at least have some fruits
- You will not be able to do it
When this was not enough it tried to make me feel really hungry and it felt like my energy levels were running low but as I was a regular practitioner of mindfulness I was very much trained to observe the drama that mind creates and how it involves our senses, so all I did was just observe all of this.
That was the day when I understood that fasting was not just about starving the whole day or dedicating it to a particular God or following a diet plan, but it was all about taking a break from the usual activity of the mind to give it a break and just observing all the fluctuations and activities going inside our heads so that all the unnecessary activities of mind settle down and we can utilize those energies for improving the quality of our life.
If you can sum up all these points and connects all the dots, you will realize that it all comes down to just one thing practicing “CONTROL OVER YOUR MIND”. From going out of its boundaries, gaining control over senses, controlling our desires and cravings, putting our mind into a discipline so that we can have better control over our thoughts, actions, and lead a better life.
In all the activities which I have mentioned above let it be spending the day in remembrance of a particular God or not eating anything, or eating just a particular type of food, or aligning ourselves to a higher dimension of life, all three activities cannot be done if we do not have “CONTROL OVER OUR MIND”.
The reason why fasting got popular as a practice of abstinence of food because its an activity which every human being abides by and it is easy to track and inculcate.
Practicing control over your food is just like a preliminary step and once a person is able to control his cravings of food then its a sign to go towards second step that is gaining control over your compulsive actions and slowly leading towards gaining control over your thoughts and mind so that you do not become a slave of your mind rather become its master.
There are so many more modes of fasting that it even goes up to refrain from not eating food, not doing routine work, not reading, not writing, not watching tv, not having sex and even not talking at all and all of his just for one purpose ie: to gain control over our mind.
This was just a small overview of this life-transforming practice called “FASTING”.
I hope this article inspired you to introduce fasting not just as a religious routine or discipline but as a transformative practice to improve the quality of your life.
Until I see you next time, make sure you take very good care of yourselves and your family.
Stay safe and Stay Inspired
PS: I really want to thank https://unsplash.com/ and https://www.pexels.com/ for providing us with a gigantic collection of beautiful high definition images that anybody can download for free without worrying about any copyright issue. It’s such a blessing for all bloggers and content creators.