In most religious traditions, there is a concept of fasting… whether it is fasting from vice, or fasting from food and water… For example, the Christians fast for 40 days during Lent. Muslims fast for a month during Ramadan/Ramzan… and many other traditions have similar fasts.
In the Vaishnava tradition which I practice, we fast once approximately every 14 days, on a day called Ekadasi or Ekadashi. Usually this is the eleventh day of the waxing or waning moon. Usually, because there are some details when the fasting is a day later, but we won’t get into all that right now.
However, some advanced Vaishnavas say that Ekadashi is meant to be a day of feasting, not fasting.
One should fast on the two Ekādaśī days, which fall on the eleventh day of the waxing and waning moon, and on the birthdays of Lord Kṛṣṇa, Lord Rāma and Caitanya Mahāprabhu. There are many such fasting days.https://vedabase.io/en/library/sb/3/27/22/
If Vaishnavas are fasting from grains, beans, and in some cases from all food, and from all water too for some… then what are they feasting on?
Well, new practitioners may find it hard to fast from food, being how intricately attached we are to our bodies, minds, and serving them constantly. For such Vaishnavas, it is advised that they can eat as much as they need to, except no grains and beans… and all that they eat must be first offered to Krishna. This helps them regulate their senses at least on that level.
But many Vaishnavas often fast from much more than just grains and beans, so how is it that they can feast?
Let us take the example of Rupa Goswami and Sanatana Goswami, great Goswamis of Vrindavan… they had obtained exalted birth, a very sharp intelligence and tremendous knowledge, and were serving as the ministers of the Nawab of Bengal. Rupa Goswami’s life savings in gold coins filled up an entire boat with gold!
But these same two brothers, when in Vrindavan, had no fixed residence, spending each night under a different tree, with barely enough clothing to cover themselves, and austere food, spent all their time hearing and chanting about Krishna. How could they do that?
tyaktva turnam asesha-mandala-pati-srenim sada tuccha-vat
bhutva dina-ganesakau karunaya kaupina-kanthasritau
vande rupa-sanatanau raghu-yugau sri-jiva-gopalakau
I offer my respectful obeisances unto the six Gosvamis, namely Sri Rupa Gosvami, Sri Sanatana Gosvami,Verse 4 https://iskcondesiretree.com/page/shad-goswamy-ashtakam
Sri Raghunatha Bhatta Gosvami, Sri Raghunatha dasa Gosvami, Sri Jiva Gosvami, and Sri Gopala Bhatta
Gosvami, who kicked off all association of aristocracy as insignificant. In order to deliver the poor
conditioned souls, they accepted loincloths, treating themselves as mendicants, but they are always merged in
the ecstatic ocean of the gopis’ love for Krishna and bathe always and repeatedly in the waves of that ocean.
How is it possible for such persons accustomed to royal pleasures to give them up?
It understand by spiritualists that the objects of the senses, the experiences we chase, the possessions we crave, the sensory satisfaction we seek, are compared to toys and children… the child is attached to the toy, but can be induced to give up the toy if offered a higher and better experience.
What could be a higher and better experience than all the pleasures of material life? Especially, how can one give up that most basic of bodily needs – food?
What does food do for us?
- Food satisfies the tongue – this hankering of the tongue is practically unconquerable, no matter if we need the food or not, the tongue will never say no.
- Food nourishes the body – we feel strength from the food.
- Food produces renunciation from food – as we get full, we hanker for food less and less.
भक्ति: परेशानुभवो विरक्ति-
रन्यत्र चैष त्रिक एककाल: ।
प्रपद्यमानस्य यथाश्नत: स्यु-
स्तुष्टि: पुष्टि: क्षुदपायोऽनुघासम् ॥ ४२ ॥
bhaktiḥ pareśānubhavo viraktir
anyatra caiṣa trika eka-kālaḥ
prapadyamānasya yathāśnataḥ syus
tuṣṭiḥ puṣṭiḥ kṣud-apāyo ’nu-ghāsam
Devotion, direct experience of the Supreme Lord, and detachment from other things — these three occur simultaneously for one who has taken shelter of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in the same way that pleasure, nourishment and relief from hunger come simultaneously and increasingly, with each bite, for a person engaged in eating.
So, if someone obtained an experience that fulfilled all three needs – satisifed the tongue, satisfied the bodily need for nourishment, and produced renunciation from the hankering for food, then that experience can replace food!https://vedabase.io/en/library/sb/11/2/42/
Such is the chanting of the Holy Name of God.
This Hare Krishna Mahamantra
This Mahamantra, when chanted purely, produces such an experience and beyond.
In fact, advanced spiritualists have tried to describe the experience of chanting Hare Krishna…
tuṇḍe tāṇḍavinī ratiṁ vitanute tuṇḍāvalī-labdhaye
karṇa-kroḍa-kaḍambinī ghaṭayate karṇārbudebhyaḥ spṛhām
cetaḥ-prāṅgaṇa-saṅginī vijayate sarvendriyāṇāṁ kṛtiṁ
no jāne janitā kiyadbhir amṛtaiḥ kṛṣṇeti varṇa-dvayī
“I do not know how much nectar the two syllables ‘Kṛṣ-ṇa’ have produced. When the holy name of Kṛṣṇa is chanted, it appears to dance within the mouth. We then desire many, many mouths. When that name enters the holes of the ears, we desire many millions of ears. And when the holy name dances in the courtyard of the heart, it conquers the activities of the mind, and therefore all the senses become inert.”Rupa Goswami https://vedabase.io/en/library/cc/antya/1/99/
Is it any wonder that if a Vaishnava experiences even a tiny drop of a fraction of the ecstasy that the Holy Name generates, that they can abstain from food?
So should the rest of us go and imitate these Vaishnavas and fast from food and water willy nilly, even if the body is hurting?
अशास्त्रविहितं घोरं तप्यन्ते ये तपो जना: ।
दम्भाहङ्कारसंयुक्ता: कामरागबलान्विता: ॥ ५ ॥
कर्षयन्त: शरीरस्थं भूतग्राममचेतस: ।
मां चैवान्त: शरीरस्थं तान्विद्ध्यासुरनिश्चयान् ॥ ६ ॥
tapyante ye tapo janāḥ
māṁ caivāntaḥ śarīra-sthaṁ
tān viddhy āsura-niścayān
Those who undergo severe austerities and penances not recommended in the scriptures, performing them out of pride and egoism, who are impelled by lust and attachment, who are foolish and who torture the material elements of the body as well as the Supersoul dwelling within, are to be known as demons.https://vedabase.io/en/library/bg/17/5-6/
Of course, advanced Vaishnavas are not masochists or sadists, certainly not demons, and they don’t accept torturing their bodies, even if they have transcended the body… This is because the advanced Vaishnava sees the body as the property of Krishna.
In fact, when an advanced Vaishnava is seen by Krishna to be accepting too much austerity, Krishna gives that person more nourishment and opulence.
Take Krishna’s friend, the pure-hearted Brahmana named Sudama… Krishna gave him all opulence even though he didn’t ask for it!
This is one of Krishna’s most famous promises…
अनन्याश्चिन्तयन्तो मां ये जना: पर्युपासते ।
तेषां नित्याभियुक्तानां योगक्षेमं वहाम्यहम् ॥ २२ ॥
ananyāś cintayanto māṁ
ye janāḥ paryupāsate
yoga-kṣemaṁ vahāmy aham
But those who always worship Me with exclusive devotion, meditating on My transcendental form – to them I carry what they lack, and I preserve what they have.https://vedabase.io/en/library/bg/9/22/
So, coming back to our original question… when a Vaishnava fasts, how is it that they are still feasting while fasting?
Simple. They feast on the Holy Name of Krishna
What to speak of food for a day, the advanced Vaishnava can give up this entire material world!