Last Updated: September 24, 2008
There is a strong tendency in today's world towards fasting, i.e. living on light, prana, energy or whatever. It seems a countermovement against a crass sensualism and materialism regarding food. So we have some kind of opposition Spirit - Matter again. Reading what Mother and Sri Aurobindo said about Fasting
we conclude: they disapproved prolonged fasting but accepted short moderate stretches of fasting. They said that in the present conditions living without food is not possible. But interestingly they don't exclude this possibility for the future. So we are again at point Zero not knowing if the time has already come. In any case anybody who tries fasting is strongly advised to check his physical medical values continuously to avoid running into fatal consequences.
The following texts are based on statements by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.
FASTING MAY CREATE A MORBID DISHARMONY
Here in the Ashram you must be very careful not to weaken the body's resistance - the base must be solid, for otherwise it's difficult. The more the Force descends, the more the body must be ... rather square.
The Truth is obtained not by fasting but by improving the will. Inspite the popular view which measures the greatness of a saint by his privations and self imposed tortures. Fasting is not permissible in the Ashram, as its practice is more often harmful than helpful to the spiritual endeavour.
If the body is not strong enough a disharmony is created between the body and the energies taken in which may upset the system. Fasting or sleeplessness make the nerves morbid and excited and weaken the brain and lead to delusions and fantasies. This excitement is not a higher state of consciusness. Some faculties get refined and increased but this has nothing to do with spirituality.
Fasting gives a sort of excitement or an impetus to the vital being but the general effect does not seem to be sound or healthy. It is a fact that by fasting, if the mind and the nerves are solid or the will-force dynamic, one can get for a time into a state of inner energy and receptivity which is alluring to the mind and the usual reactions of hunger, weakness, intestinal disturbance, etc., can be wholly avoided. But the body suffers by diminution and there can easily develop in the vital a morbid overstrained condition due to the inrush of more vital energy than the nervous system can assimilate or co-ordinate. So this puts you in a kind of state of excitement, and if your body is very strong and can bear being without food for a certain length of time, then you keep your balance and can use these energies for all kinds of things, as for example, to progress, to become more conscious and transform your nature.
Nervous people should avoid the temptation to fast, it is often accompanied or followed by delusions and a loss of balance. You lose your balance, and all the balance of forces is destroyed, and anything at all may happen to you. In any case, you lose much control over yourself and become usually very excited, and you take this excitement for a higher state.
Prolonged fasting may lead to an excitation of the nervous being which often brings vivid imaginations and hallucinations that are taken for true experiences; such fasting is frequently suggested by the vital Entities, because it puts the consciousness into an unbalanced state which favours their designs. It is therefore discouraged here.
The Gita says, yoga is not for one who eats too much or sleeps too much, neither is it for one who does not eat or does not sleep, but if one eats and sleeps suitably - yukt?h?r? yuktanidrah-then one can do it best.
The higher energy and receptivity ought to come not by artificial or physical means but by intensity of the consciousness and strong will for the sadhana.
SRI AUROBINDO'S EXPERIENCE
Sri Aurobindo fasted twice: once in Alipore jail for ten days and another time in Pondicherry for twenty-three days. At Alipore he was in full yogic activities and did not take his food, and was throwing it away in the bucket. Of course, the Superintendent did not know it, only two warders knew about it and they informed others saying: "The gentleman must be ill; he will not live long". Though his physial strength was diminishing he was able to raise a pail of water above his head which he could not do ordinarily.
At Pondicherry while fasting he was in full mental and vital vigour, even walking eight hours a day and not feeling tired at all, and when he broke the fast he did not begin slowly but with the usual normal food.
Once in Calcutta he lived for a long time on rice and banana. It is a very good food. With the vegetarian diet he was feeling light and pure. It is only a belief that one can't do without meat; it is a question of habit.
According to Purani Sri Aurobindo believed it is perfectly possible to do without food. Only he did not get the clue. But he said because he did not succeed there is no reason why somebody else should not succeed.
It is possible to supply the vital energy to the body to a very great extent. Only, the vital material part of the body seems to need to draw the vital energy from food. There must be some clue and he had solved the problem almost ninth-tenths, Sri Aurobindo says.
There are two methods of drawing the vital energy which is there all around you from the universal vital Plane: One is you exert your force and draw the vital energy from the universal, the other is to be passive and to allow it to flow into you. Formerly, Sri Aurobindo used to draw it. But later he merely allowed it flow, remaining open to it.
Mother says it is useless to imitate Sri Aurobindo's experience without a corresponding change of consciousness.
Mother tried everything, from complete fasting to a meat diet She noticed that you can have pleasant experiences while fasting, but it's not good, it shouldn't be done - these are all old ideas. No, the body must be solid, otherwise ...
Champaklal reports that Mother told him when in 1920 she had fasted for ten days she had not taken anything, "not even a drop of water." K D Sethna doubts this statement. The idea of not taking water during a prolonged abstention from food never arises - unless one deliberately risks death, as in some cases of hunger-strike. According to Sethna, the Mother never referred to not drinking water.
FASTING AS LIBERATION FROM BONDAGE
Fasting may be undertaken as a means for liberation from preoccupation with food, its preparation, ingestion and digestion. Like this it can become a means of purification and rising to a slightly higher plane of consciousness. But all the time thinking of food while fasting is worse than eating.
When you fast you must occupy yourself with something more interesting than eating so that you actually forget eating. But fasting is above all good for those who believe in it - as everything. When you have the faith that this will make you progress, is going to purify you, it does you good. If you don't believe in it, it doesn't do much, except that it makes you thin. The same applies to fasting as a cure for disease. The Europeans sometimes fast for that purpose but in their case it is the mental idea that works. You start with the idea of being well or ill, and it happens accordingly.
Ascetic methods cure nothing. You only give yourself the illusion that you have progressed, but you cure nothing. The proof is that if you stop your ascetic methods, the thing is even stronger than before; it comes back with a vengeance. No to indulge in satisfying all your desires is not asceticism, it is common sense.
EAT IN A REGULAR WAY
You must eat in a regular way, free from any desires and preferences, just what is needed. You eat at fixed hours, eat reasonably, you don't even need to think of the food when you are taking it; you must eat calmly, that's all, quietly, with concentration, and when you do not eat you must never think about it.
When you do this your body will tell you spontaneously what is good for it to take and the right amount. Don't permit any fancies to rule your eating habits.
The Mother never advised fasting or cutting down whatever food was necessary. But she discounted all desire to satisfy greed. And greed meant for her not just the urge to gorge oneself with as much stuff as available. It meant also the lip-smacking turn of the consciousness towards even a single morsel. Nothing should be eaten with an appetite gloating on taste.
The Mother assured us that food would be much better digested if it was inwardly offered to the Divine. There has to be a control of animal relish and of the eager push to fill the stomach: the food consumed has to be not for personal pleasure or profit but to equip the body better for the development of the Yogi living in it, the Yogi who has pledged himself to the Divine's Will both internally and externally.
As between vegetarianism and meat-eating in general she has said that the kind of food consumed does not matter much until the stage is reached when physical transformation concretely starts.