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Why Do We Fast
(Swamini Vimalananda & Radhika Krishna Kumar)

Indian culture is widely admired and respected throughout the world for its beauty and depth. Almost every custom and tradition of Indians has a scientific, logical, social and spiritual relevance. Moreover the unique feature of these customs is their self rejuvenating capacity. Customs that are obsolete or not in time are discarded and those which bear the test of time are followed with a religious fervor. Thus we can say that the customs followed by Indians are tempered with modernity of thought without loosing its roots. It is the adaptability which made Indian culture to be recognized as one of the ancient living civilizations.
One such custom followed by devout Indians even today is fasting regularly at some intervals or on special occasions like festivals etc. Fasting is done for many reasons- to please the Lord so that their wish is fulfilled, to discipline oneself and even as a means to express protest- like Gandhiji did to protest against the British.
Now the question arises why at all fasting? Is it to save food or to create an appetite to feast after the fast? Not really. Then why do we fast?
Fasting in Sanskrit is called upavaasa. Upa means near and vaasa means staying. Upavaasa therefore means staying near ( Lord), meaning attainment of proximity to the Lord mentally. Then what has upavaasa to do with food?
A lot of our time and energy is spent in procuring, cooking, eating and digesting food. Certain kinds of food can make our minds dull and agitated. Hence on certain days man decides to save time and conserve energy by taking simple food such as fruits, milk or even totally abstain from taking food so that his mind becomes alert and pure. The mind otherwise occupied by the thought of food now entertains noble thoughts and stays with the Lord. Since it is a self imposed discipline it is adhered to with joy.
It is a well known fact that every system needs a break and overhaul to work at optimum levels. Rest and a change of diet during fasting are very good for the digestive system and the entire body.
The more you indulge in the senses, the more the desires and demands. Fasting helps us to gain control over the senses, sublimate our desires and make us more poised and at peace.
Fasting should not make us weak, irritable or create an urge to indulge later. This happens when there is no noble goal behind fasting. Some fast, rather they diet, merely as a ploy to reduce weight. Others fast as a means to please the Lord to fulfill their desires, some to develop will power, control the senses, some as a form of austerity and so on. The Bhagawad Geeta urges us to eat appropriately ? neither too much nor too less- yukta aahaara and to eat simple, pure and healthy food even when not fasting.

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