Adventures in Humility

News, Views, and Chews on spiritual issues.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Ekadasi Thoughts

Today was Ekadasi (technically yesterday, Sunday), and as I am still ill I employed the illness exemption. Although I am much recovered now, I am teetering on the brink between sickness and health and if I do anything untoward then I will fall back into sickness. As such, I decided against even visiting the temple because my usual prasad-seva would be done outside in the open air, thus exposing myself to the cold and chill.

Also, I am disappointed at the fact that I could not fast. As my parents brought back the "Ekadasi authorised" food for me to eat then at least I can have something to eat. Although it was Indira Ekadashi, I wanted to write much of this stuff last Ekadashi (Parshva Ekadashi). Parshva was a notable occasion, when Sriman Narayana turns over on His right side. It was also the occasion when I decided to perform Ekadashi in earnest. By earnest I mean full fasting. I find it somewhat disappointing that the majority of devotees I know tend to make use of the allowances that Prabhupada gave in order to eat 'authorised food.'

[For those who don't know, Ekadashi is a bi-monthly date where the consumption of grains and beans are strictly forbidden. This includes most foods.]

As far as ISKCON is concerned, Prabhupada made allowances for devotees who went out doing strenuous activity such as preaching, book distribution and general Harinama processions. In this way certain foods are allowed to be eaten that do not consist of grains and beans, such as potatoes and so on. Even as far as the shastras are concerned, they are all unanimous on the point that eating of food - any food - is strictly forbidden. Food? No water either! So over the years I have experienced a mixture of surprise and disappointment that not many seem to be very interested in taking full advantage of the spiritual benefit that this day offers. Or rather, we are not interested in the benefit but we do it out of love for Krishna. But it seems that people are more interested on 'feasting' on the 'fasting' food! Whatever happened to tapasya? Whatever happened to strength and resolution?

I had availed myself of the glories of Ekadashi back when I was still a schoolboy, and I made humble and regular attempts to fast. I wrote about this on Gaudiya Discussions many years ago. A time came when I gave up fasting on Ekadashi. I don't know why, perhaps just pure laziness and lack of will-power, which seems strange compared to when I had enough willpower for not even a drop of water to pass my lips. I used to observe on Pandava-Nirjala Ekadashi (the one full-fast Ekadashi of the year which counts for fasting throughout the whole year) but in the back of my mind I think there was always a twinge of guilt that I should get back to the proper orthodox standard. Speaking of which, I never really saw the big deal about Nirjala Ekadashi. Since every Ekadashi was nir-jala for me, I never understood why it was such a huge deal for some people.

But the real orthodox standard simply cannot be done! It consists of a three-day marathon of fasting! You must fast on Dashami (one 'authorised' meal), Ekadashi (no food or water) and Dvadashi (one 'authorised' meal), not to mention keeping awake the whole time. WHAT??? Yes, this is so. But anyhow, generally speaking the main practice is to observe Ekadshi and break it on Dvadashi. The main point which I am trying to make is that it is evry clearly stated that Ekadashi fasts must be full fasts. Perhaps one can get away with eating 'authorised' food in the event of emergency like preaching and so on as they do in ISKCON, but the standard must be known and observed. Full fasting.

Of course, this is inapplicable to those who are elderly, ill, pregnant women and so on; they are allowed to eat 'authorised food' and perhaps not do it altogether. I've been ill lately so I ate 'authorised' food today, which is called havishyanna. But as I said earlier, I'm disappointed that this happened so soon after I resolved to fast in earnest after Parshva Ekadashi. But oh well, what to do?

The funny thing is that, in my experience as well as the experience of those who make a serious comitment to doing full fasting, it is possible. And with practice, the pangs of hunger and thirst will not announce their presence. The really tough part is staying awake all night. This is also part of the Ekadashi-vrata but, ha ha ha, it really is very tough to do. I can go without food but I need my sleep, lol! But on the other hand, anything can be achieved with practice and with a sincere heart that prays for the capability to carry out all these things.


  • At 24 September, 2007 09:58, Blogger Shaka said…

    Almost every member of ISKCON I know eats the "authorised foods" on Ekadasi. I think I know only two or three people that take a Nirjal/Bhimala fast on ekadasi, and most of the time only for extra benefit. Fasting that often can harm your health and I would not advise it.

  • At 26 September, 2007 01:43, Blogger "Gaurasundara das" said…

    Haribol! Thanks very much for your comments.

    Actually it is true that in some cases fasting can be detrimental to health, especially for those who have a not-so-strong constitution. I have no idea about my own constitution, but I have always been able to carry it off sinc emy schooldays with little or no problems. Besides, there is a wealth of evidence (both spiritual and physiological) that fasting can lead to significant improvements in health and longevity.

    But of course, we as devotees do not consider all these material benefits as we do these things purely out of love for Krishna. :)

  • At 26 September, 2007 01:50, Blogger "Gaurasundara das" said…

    I forgot to mention that I try to do these things out of a desire to please Mahaprabhu and Krishna. It is true that Prabhupada made many allowances such as allowing preachers to eat some foods etc. as I mentioned, but since I do none of this I guess I can commit to a bit of extra tapasya.

    Not to mention the fact that there are more than a few significant shastric quotes that advise that no food is to be eaten on Ekadashi. There is a very wonderful book, 'Dearest to Visnu' by Brghumuni das, that discusses all these things.

  • At 26 September, 2007 04:26, Blogger Shaka said…

    Ok, you beat me in terms of shastric quotes.
    But living in India is enough of a drag on the body already. In the west the lifestyle is pampered, or more appropriately, the body gets more than enough vitamins, etc.
    But here it usually brings up all the toxins we accumulate through locally produced food,etc.


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