“Shravanmahino is the longest month of the year.”
“It seems like Ekadashi is always coming up.”
“Five nirjalas a year is too much!”
These are some of the common refrains we hear from friends — and often think ourselves — when it comes to fasting. Whether it is nirjala, jala, farar or ektana, fasting can be hard on anyone, especially when you don’t feel prepared.
A mental endeavor
Preparing to fast mentally and physically is the key to making it a successful spiritual venture. Understanding why we fast, instead of blindly obeying a set of rules, makes it more satisfying and beneficial to us. In Vachanamrut Gadhada II-8, Maharaj explains:
“The Dharma-Shastras state: ‘The Ekadashi fast should be observed. On that day, one should not allow impure thoughts of lust, anger, avarice, etc. to arise in the mind. Nor should one physically engage in any immoral activities.’ This is what the scriptures prescribe. In accordance to those scriptures, I also say that on the day of Ekadashi, one should not merely fast, but one should also forsake the ‘food’ of the eleven indriyas. Only then can the Ekadashi observance be considering true; without that, it should be known as mere fasting”
Here, Maharaj clearly explains that in order to observe Ekadashi and other vrats in their truest form, we must give up anything that entices the eleven indriyas. The ideal Ekadashi, as noted by Maharaj in Vachanamrut Gadhada I-38, is as follows:
“The ten indriyas and the mind, the eleventh, should be withdrawn from their respective vishays and attached to God...In comparison, if a person whose mind is not free from worldly desires in this way engages in observances andausterities physically, he does not benefit very much.”
From this passage, we can see that an ideal Ekadashi goes beyond just controlling what we eat. It means not spending the day watching TV or taking naps, and being extra vigilant about only seeing good in others and remaining positive about the upvas you are observing.
So how do we engage the eleven indriyas in Satsang and stay away from indulging them in the ‘food’ of maya? Here are some practical tips to keep your mind focused while observing upvas:
Listen to katha on your commute, while cooking or during other tasks throughout the day
Pick up some extra Satsang reading
Watch Satsang DVDs
Follow Swamishri’s vicharan on baps.org
Host agoshti with family and/or friends
Think of at least five good thoughts about someone
Do mansi at least five times daily
Conduct prachar and talk to someone about Satsang’s impact on your life
Recite the JanmangalNamavali
Standing up to Mohandas
Bhagwan Swaminarayan demonstrated the importance of observing Ekadashi by practicing it staunchly throughout his life and inspiring others to do the same.
Once on Ekadashi, young Ghanshyam woke up, bathed, did puja and went to do darshan at the Hanuman mandir. There, Mohandas, the mahant of the mandir was narrating the life of Bhagwan Ram. While telling the story, Mohandas read a passage from the Ramayan explaining the importance of observing Ekadashi, saying, “If we observe one Ekadashi, we obtain merits equal to the merits obtained by performing a thousand Ashwamedh Yagnas.”
Ghanshyam then asked the mahant why so many people do not observe Ekadashi if it is lauded as so important.
Mohandas launched into his own long, convoluted explanation saying, “God has given us this rare human body. Why then should we inflict suffering on this precious body by fasting on Ekadashi? This body has not been given for suffering pain and misery.” He went on to say, “So little boy, bear this in mind. Don’t make your body suffer by fasting.”
Ghanshyam was startled by the way the mahant was misleading devotees and said, “Bawaji, do not preach such wrong talks. It is a sin to talk against the scriptures. There is much glory in the observance of Ekadashi. So, one should observe Ekadashi wholeheartedly.”
Ghanshyam fixed his eyes on the mahant, who immediately went into samadhi and was transported to Yampuri. The servants of Yam scolded him, “You have never observed Ekadashi, and have fattened yourself by eating and drinking merrily. Also, you have misguided other people. So today we will not let you go.”
They began to beat him in Yampuri, and in the mandir the mahant began to scream, “Save me!”
When he emerged from the samadhi, he fell at Ghanshyam’s feet and said, “I was punished in Yampuri because I have not observed Ekadashi all these years. I, therefore, pledge today before Ghanshyam that I shall from now, regularly observe Ekadashi in the proper way. Also, I shall preach to the people to do the same. And you all should begin observing Ekadashi from today.”
Ghanshyam then blessed the assembly and all those present left with the vow to regularly observe Ekadashi. We can see by following the niyam of observing Ekadashi regularly, we are fulfilling the agna of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, of the Scriptures and of our guru, Pramukh Swami Maharaj.