Three benefits of fasting

Fasting is a time-honored practice in most of the world’s great traditions. The Bhagavad-gita too urges us to minimize our eating (18.52) — one way of doing that is by fasting. Given that fasting is not easy, why is it recommended? Let’s understand its benefits through three D’s:

Discipline: The essence of discipline is subordinating pleasure to purpose. The ability to discipline ourselves is like a muscle, and an invaluable muscle at that. We need that muscle if we wish to achieve anything worthwhile in life. Fasting on sacred days like Ekadashi is a time-honored method for exercising that muscle, thereby strengthening it and making ourselves more disciplined.  

Discovery: We often think of discovery in terms of finding something about the outer world. But if we discover something significant about our inner world, that can be for us a far more consequential discovery. One such discovery is finding how many things we can live without. We often presume that there are many things we can’t do without: particular food items, for example.  Suppose those items are made using grains and we fast from them on Ekadashi. By such fasting, we make the liberating discovery that those “essentials” are actually non-essential. 

Devotion: We can express our devotion for our Lord not just by what we give him, but also by what we give up for him. When we abstain from something enjoyable — such as delicious food items made of grains, for example — we express our devotion, especially if we also engage in more devotional activities during the fasting period. With our thoughts off food and on the Lord, we can relish deep absorption in him, thereby enriching our devotion. 

One-sentence summary: 

Fasting is an opportunity to increase our self-discipline, discover things we can live without, and express and enrich our devotion. 

Think it over:

  • Why is discipline important? How can fasting help us become more disciplined?
  • What discovery can we make through fasting?
  • How can fasting express and enrich devotion? 

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18.52: One who lives in a secluded place, who eats little, who controls his body, mind and power of speech, who is always in trance and who is detached, … – such a person is certainly elevated to the position of self-realization.

Author: Chaitanya Charan

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