Experience of Fasting

The beauty of Jain religion is that it encourages us to observe and learn from experiments – aided by the divine knowledge provided by the Tirthankars through the Agams (scriptures); professed over centuries by the Acharyas Upadhyayas/Sadhus and Sadhvis; the world and its ecosystem including the body and mind as the laboratory and equipment; the divine as the conductor and our soul as the observer and experiencer. Human bodily life is a wonderful opportunity to discover and experience the beauty and the identity of soul, and its ever-present connection to the larger divine power.

My journey was not planned. It started spontaneously on one early morning with no inkling during the previous night that such a journey would be embarked upon. There was no numeric goal in mind, no desire or goals of fame, losing weight, testing one’s will power, the thrill of overcoming a challenge, etc. It was led purely by curiosity, complete surrender and a never before incremental experience. The journey kept building one hour and one day at a time based on an inner divine calling without any destination in mind.

Nevertheless, it is my belief that feelings to embark on such a journey are triggered by years of sporadic engagement with and the blessings of gurus and also the spiritual environment experienced during the course of one’s life. In my case, my engagement with Veerayatan, Pujya Gurudev Amar Muniji , Acharya Shri Chandanaji, all Veerayatan Sadhvijis and religious values given to me by my parents played an important foundational role for this event to be triggered in my life. Once triggered, the feelings and the journey was led and sustained by a divine power.

The journey was beautiful because of it’s spontaneity and the mindful, non-judgmental, non-goal orientated attitude. Thanks to Covid, it was possible to remain completely cut off from the world other than immediate family members living in the same household. This made it possible to stay in long periods of meditative silence which enabled inner exploration and uninterrupted periods of bliss without distraction. Practicing the art of meditation for several months before the journey assisted the non-judgmental meditative observation.

Finally, on the day of the Parna (or breaking of the fast), there was a realization that the journey indeed has not ended, instead this experience was preparation for a yet longer journey to be initiated, with glimpses of the fruits that could be realized along the way as a motivational force. The body, mind and soul was filled with an enormous ocean of energy to aid in embarking on this new journey.

Simultaneously, there was a gradual re-engagement with the regular worldly affairs and the instinctive inclination to revert to deep-rooted life, body and mind habits. Moreover, there was a worldly expectation and pull to get back to the ‘old normal’ – the pre fasting way of life.

As one battles with the chasm between the ‘enlightened normal’ which had been experienced for few days during the long fast and the ‘old normal’ that one has been living for years to date, along with the worldly expectation to revert back to the ‘old normal’, an opportunity arises to create a ‘new normal’ for oneself. In the mind the memory of the recent experience of bliss, wisdom and energy which had been generated by this experience battles with the instinct to resort to old habits and worldly expectations due to years of conditioning.

The first few days after the end of the fast are indeed the defining moments when one can either succumb back to the ‘old normal’ or embark on a journey to chart a ‘new normal’ that would potentially last for the rest of one’s current human life with the goal being to sustainably experience the spiritual bliss experienced during the fast (and perhaps discover even more).

I believe that if done with the right attitude, intent and conduct, fasting can be one of the most blissful life transforming experiences of human life, during which one:

  • identifies one's connection with the soul which is separate from the body, mind, other living organisms, world ecosystem and materialistic possessions
  • experiences the pleasure of being in an absolute meditative state with the eternal soul observing and knowing the body, mind and the surrounding eco-system with a curious, equanimous and non-judgmental attitude
  • experiences glimpses of the union and conversations with the Tirthankaras
  • appreciates, validates and strengthens the experience generated faith and love for the Tirthankaras
  • attains periods of un-paralleled peace and bliss that one wishes to remain in perpetually
  • experiences the process of gradual absolute purification of mind and body
  • undergoes a change in perspective on how one perceives other living beings, including flowers, trees, birds, insects, animals and nature thereby generating spontaneous and abundant self-joyous love, affection and respect for them
  • realizes the wisdom stated in the scriptures at an experiential level rather than mere intellectual level
  • gains clarity of the purpose of life beyond worldly engagement and goals
  • develops faith generated strong will power
  • loses significant body fat, toxic elements within the body accompanied by weakness in the body and loss of muscles
  • generates a significant amount of internal energy that far exceeds the loss of body strength, enabling mindful emotional, mental and spiritual exploration
  • gains the desire and determination to embark on a journey to discover the path to sustainably realize the peace and bliss experienced during the period of fasting while re-engaging in the materialistic world

Finally, sustained fasting may be looked upon as not the only way to experience the above. There could be alternative ways of achieving the same experiences. Also, the number of days one fasts is irrelevant, it is the state of mind and attitude that is important. If one can achieve the same state of mind by giving up one meal on just one day, and yet not achieve that state of mind and the resultant experience during the entire period of a longer fast, in my view that one meal day experience is significantly more valuable than that of a longer fast. Hence, rather than chasing a number and a worldly goal, it is important to focus on the divine intent and experience of the journey. Trust and surrender to the divine. Let it guide you. May you experience the ultimate peace, bliss and union with the divine.