Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Need for Fasting

Upavasam or Fasting is an inseparable part of our Indian culture and tradition from millions of years. Many of our generation do not know the true meaning and purpose of Upavasam. We simply follow it as a ritual that is coming as a part of our culture and tradition from different generations. The meaning, purpose and the methods of following Upavasam too have changed along with the change in generation. It had changed so much that is being written off by the current generation as a mere superstitious cultural practice. Thanks to Dr. Mantena Satyanarayana Raju who has revived this age old practice of Upavasam which is at the brisk of death. He has been doing a wonderful job in preaching the true meaning, purpose and methods of fasting over a period of time. As told in my previous blogs he is a great Orator and Teacher. His teachings are quite interesting and inspiring. He presented this age old science of fasting in a very simple, sensible and very convincing manner that inspired millions of people across the state of Andhra Pradesh and across the world to follow.

Before going deep into the discussion of Upavasam, it is quite essential to understand the duties of our body first. As discussed in the previous blogs, according to Dr. Raju, the humans are day predators. We eat, wander and work during the day and sleep at night. Based on this nature of our body, it performs 2 types of duties 1) The day duty and 2) the night duty.

(1) Day Duty: It performs two major functions during the day duty. Since we eat food in the day, the first function of our body is to digest the food we ate, convert the digested food into Energy and to supply the generated Energy to our body in order to make us work. And the second function is to produce billions of new cells that die every day.

(2) Night Duty: It again performs two major functions during the night duty. The first function is to clear the pollution that was formed by eating food, drinking water, breathing air and the pollution that was created during the metabolism of our cells within the body. And the second function is to repair the infected and injured cells of our body.

If we observe the secret of health in animal beings, we might find that the animals perform their duties perfectly by eating and wandering for 12 hours during the day and relaxing the other 12 hours during the night and vice versa by the night predators. They are totally following the dharma of their body and thus they are healthy. This is not happening in our case. Unless the body completes the day duty, the body doesn’t start the night duty. We are not only eating, working and wandering the whole day but also doing the same till midnight 10PM to 11PM. Moreover, instead of eating fruits and raw vegetable salads we are eating all sorts of junk and heavy food that is cooked in oil, masalas and spices. Worsening the situation further we began to reverse the dharma of our body by working at nights and sleeping during the day. By the time the food gets digested, it will be 4AM to 5AM. The body then begins the night duty of repairing and cleaning which should have begun at 8PM to 10PM the previous night. By the time it finishes 2 0r 3 hours of work; we again wake up and begin our work of eating and moving. Unlike the day duty the body can’t wait to finish the night duty. It has to stop the cleaning and repairing job midway to start the day duty again. The waste material accumulated throughout the day remains in the body converting it into a garbage bin. If you don’t clean your house don’t the mosquitoes, flies, insects and dust etc. accumulate and make your house dirty and stinky? Similarly, if you don’t clean your body, the waste accumulates inside the body paving way for bacteria and virus cells. When these cells grow in number the body sometimes tries to clean them up by stopping you from eating and moving. It first makes your tongue bitter and kills your hunger along with making you dizzy in order to keep you away from eating and moving. In this way it tries to keep you without food for couple of days in order to finish the task of cleaning and repairing. Accordingly it cleanses and repairs the body if you listen to its call and avoid eating and moving for a couple of days. If you don’t listen to its call, it leaves you on your own for suffering.

Upavasam:


Upavasam is a Sanskrit word. Upa means ‘with’ and vasam means ‘staying’ combined together “staying with”. The word Upavasam has a great health and spiritual significance. Upavasam literally means staying oneself with the Universal Self. Our Indian ancestors are wise enough to embed this great science of fasting in our culture for the benefit of the entire mankind. India is highly regarded as the Spiritual Land of Yogis, Saints and Sages from its origin. These yogis, saints and sages were highly honored for their knowledge and wisdom by the people of India during those days. Those great intellectuals introduced Upavasam or fasting to the common civil society with a motto of providing good health and spiritual development among them in the name of Punya or virtue. They believed, only the God and Punya are the two things people surrender to. Therefore they said, “If you fast the entire day and night without food, you will gain punya and the God is also going to get pleased with you.” Therefore they selected some of the auspicious days like Saturday, Ekadasi, Siva Ratri etc. for Upasam. The list of auspicious days grew as the people began to believe this custom. Later, the custom of Upavasam was added to some other rituals related to marriages, deaths, Pujas and other traditional ceremonies. A great secret is hidden in introducing these practices in our culture.

(1)
By keeping a fast for the entire day and night, we are allowing our body to clean the waste that is accumulated due to our metabolism.

(2) When the body is clean, the mind remains calm and focused. A focused mind is what we required to grow spiritually. Yogis, Saints and Sages believed that God is found only through meditation. He is found within self. Therefore, they don’t look upwards in the sky or somewhere else for the God. They used to sit, close their eyes and meditate to attain the Universal Bliss. In a poverty ridden country like India, where the majority of population has to struggle for their livelihood, it was not easy to make them meditate. People were suffering from all sorts of miseries and sorrows in life. One can convince a person or group of persons to meditate to eradicate their sorrows. But to convince a large section of the society it was a daunting task. Therefore they had to take support of the Universal force called ‘God’ in order to make the entire community fast at least for a few number of days in a year.



(3) There is a custom in India where people fast on certain auspicious occasions and festivals in the name of God. For example, during Varah Lakshmi Puja and Satyanarayana Vratham etc. upavasam is maintained. The reason for fasting during such occasions is that your concentration stands still on ‘God’ thereby you sit along with the God with total focus. If you fill your stomach with food while performing the rituals of puja your body becomes lazy, you lack concentration and your mind gets distracted from the ritual and might feel sleepy. It is not sure whether one gains the punya or the God is pleased for your puja; one thing is sure that your body is going to get pleased and cleaned if you maintain upavasam throughout the day. The ritual of puja is meant only to focus your concentration away from food and other work on a single target called God throughout the day, thereby serving the purpose of cleansing your inner body. It is said that God lives where there is purity and cleanliness. Since the Yogis believe that the Paramata or the Supreme Soul resides within our body, it is therefore emphasized to keep it pure and clean. It is this reason Upavasam has gained spiritual significance.



(4) There is a custom in India, whenever a person dies in a family; the entire members of the family remain on fast for 11 or 13 days. During these 13 days people remain on a single meal of fruits and the food that is cooked without salt, oil, masala and spices. And they follow a ritual of single meal as mentioned above every year for 16 days and arrange a mass meal program called ‘Pind daan’ feeding large number of people according to their individual capacities. There is a general belief in the Hindu Religion that by doing so the souls of their forefathers are pleased and they bless them from Heavens. Whether the Souls of forefathers bless you or not but your body do bless you if this ritual is followed. There lies a great secret of health and a serious thought is applied in it by the wisest ancestors of India. We all owe a lot to those wise men who embedded such a rich ritual in our custom. Hats Off to their foresight and Wisdom. When a person in a family dies, the entire family is surrounded by the shadow of miseries and sorrow. Whenever a person is in grief, misery or sorrow, his brain releases some kind of hormones that blocks your activities within the body. You don’t feel hungry, you don’t feel active, you don’t like to work, and you don’t like to talk. You just want to sit alone and cry. Cry… cry and cry till the last drop of tear dries. The body will be in no position to respond. In this kind of situation, if you eat food; can the body digest? Never..! It is not going to digest. The members of the family do not want to eat as they know what their body wants. But can the visitors who been there to console and pay homage to the body let you sit without eating? Never…! They try to console you by offering a glass of water or a piece of fruit or handful of meals along with a few words of condolences and courage. You have to eat unwillingly in order to obey their wishes. But the body is in no mood to obey your orders during such instances. It takes time for the body to get into normalcy. That is the reason why they are asked to remain on fast for 13 days on single meals. This ritual has been introduced by our wisest ancestors with a great foresight. They hadn’t stopped over there. They very well knew that we might forget this grief and sorrow in no time and eat all sorts of junk thereafter and damage our health. Another 16 days of fasting ritual is introduced to check our health in the name of remembering the forefathers and having a single meal for 16 days seeking their blessings from the heavens. We are gaining two important benefits with this ritual. Firstly, you are giving an ample time to the body for cleaning and repairing work by skipping 2 times of meals a day. Secondly, you are serving the needy people by arranging a mass feeding. You are again deriving two benefits here by providing free meals to the people. First of all you are gaining your health by avoiding two meals a day and secondly, you are getting good wishes and blessings of the people who have come there to eat the food. You don’t have to borrow money from others to feed the needy. You are asked to feed from the food that is saved by you from skipping meals twice a day for 16 days. What the forefathers might have blessed you if at all they could have? They might have blessed you to live longer, live healthy and live happy. This is what you get by following this ritual. You get healthy, happy and live longer.



(5) There is another custom in India especially in the South, where the entire members of the bride and groom family remain on fast during the entire marriage ceremony. The reason again is the same. In earlier days marriages are held for 5 long days. Each day a different ritual is to be performed. There involves lot of work for these members until the ceremony ends. If you fill your stomach with food it is obviously not possible to work actively and effectively. Moreover there is every possibility of food poising and getting sick. 5 day marriages are no more seen now but you can still notice that the family members of the bride and groom eat at the end of the ceremony by finishing all the rituals.

If you follow these age old gem like rituals you might grow spiritually as well you become healthy. Whether you fast in the name of God or Punya or you fast without these you will be benefited without any doubt. Rest in the form of Upavasam is the necessity of the body and these rituals are the opportunities. Try to grab these opportunities and fast on the traditional occasions like every ekadasi, vaikunta ekadasi, sivaratri etc. and serve your body.

How many people of this generation fast on these days? Rarely any! The junk we eat is far more than our ancestors have had. Even then they followed those rituals sincerely and lived happy and healthy. We simply ignore them as superstitious customs. There is an urgent need to explore those hidden secrets of our customs and share the knowledge and wisdom of our great ancestors on a large scale to safeguard these rich rituals. Dr. Raju has done a great job in this regards. He not only revived the age old custom of fasting but he has given new life to it.

In my next update I will be providing you few more information on fasting and the exact method of fasting by Dr. M.S. Raju.

Keep watching the space for more updates.

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