Fasting in the Ashram

Swami Sankalpananda Saraswati

Everyone knows that a day or two of fasting fixes a bad stomach. As the saying goes, 'One has to be cruel in order to be kind'. So, occasionally, Swamiji makes all the ashram inmates fast. Fortunately this only happens a few times in the year, during the monsoon and change of season, when many swamis suffer from indigestion. Usually, however, the bad stomachs are not only caused by the weather. In most cases there are emotional or mental problems involved as well. Fasting can also help to bring them to the surface.

So, when Swamiji comes to know that half the ashram is suffering from bad stomachs, he bolts the kitchen doors and allows the coal fires to burn out completely. At this time a quiet hush of uncertainty fills the air. Has he really done it? How could he? Isn't there going to be any meal? But when the appointed time comes for the first bell to ring, and still there is no movement or sound coming from the kitchen area, then people accept the fact that there will be no food.

Work goes on as usual, of course, and it is very interesting to observe people's reactions. Some people wander off to work, moaning and groaning about the unjustness of Swamiji's actions, while others can take it or leave it. But nevertheless, throughout the day the main topic of conversation is about food and fasting.

Some people find it extremely difficult to carry on normally during a fast. As soon as they learn that there is to be no food, their minds immediately react negatively. They begin to feel weakness, headache and any interest or enthusiasm for work dies. All that is left of a strong, useful body is a very sad, irritable, hungry lump of flesh falling asleep in a corner.

Then there are people who might not like the idea of fasting, but are still able to carry on normally, working hard and long all day without a break. Because they can keep a positive atitude, they are able to experience a more subtle energy, giving a pleasant feeling of lightness in body and mind. This atitude also brings about a definite increase of willpower which enables one to continue at a normal pace without the intake of a gross form of fuel. If one has the strength of will, it is possible to carry on for long periods without food, as the energy required to keep the body going does not come from outside sources. It comes from within.

There is an interesting story about Swami Vivekananda which shows the importance of the mind's influence on the body while fasting. Swami Vivekananda's family had become very poor and there were many people to support, especially children. The whole responsibility for their maintenance fell upon him. For days he wandered the streets of Calcutta in the intense summer heat. Any money he acquired was spent on food for the children, and he refused to take any food himself in order to make sure that the others had enough. One day, after walking for hours in the sun, he slumped under a tree, exhausted, unable to take another step. At that moment, he thought to himself: 'Vivekananda, it is important that you carry on; everyone is dependent on you. Remember, you are not this body or mind; they cannot affect your real Self.' With this new attitude of mind he picked himself up and carried on, renewed of strength and energy.

This small story points out the Importance of one's mental attitude while falling as well as in every situation in life. Fundamental to a positive attitude is will-power, which is an infinite reservoir of vital energy.