Mahatma Gandhi and fasting in his perspective

Todays' Nethas. (cartoon by R.K.Laxman)
Mahatma Gandhi during his fast at Rajkot Gujrat India March 1939 .

Satyagraha as  defined by  M.N. Jha  is an ‘ethical self realization process of dialectics'.  It is simply holding on to truth which has three elements - ‘truth force’, life-force’ or ‘soul-force. Gandhiji successfully employed this potent spiritual weapon against the oppressive British rule. His South African experience had helped him a lot to standardize the power of non-cooperation through non-violence. This non-violent struggle against the British stood him in good stead.

Satyagraha is a direct "non-violent struggle” and resistance without any acrimony or hatred and injury to the the opponent. Among the four forms  of Satyagraha  - non-cooperation, civil disobedience, fasting and constructive program  in resisting tyranny  and bringing out the underlying injustice, fasting is crucial to satyagraha. Fasting  develops inner spiritual  strength, mental prowess and healthy body to face any eventuality in the application of Satyagraha.

Fasting is a necessity to have a healthy body and mind. Many people are not aware that a genuine fast not only cleanses body,  mind and soul, but also sets our soul free by way of crucifying our desires. Mind you, fasting can not be undertaken mechanically, as we do our daily chores. It is a potent tool, but risky, if handled without proper understanding. Self-purification is the guiding spirit and the purpose of fasting is very important. A fasting undertaken for the good of the humanity is well and good and at the same time fasting undertaken for fulfilling one's  personal desire  is itself a selfish act that amounts to coercion. So, fasting can be used legitimately and illegitimately. Fasting undertaken for worthy ends is different from fasting undertaken for unworthy end. Responsible leaders or persons should desist from fasting in defense of the impropriety because it is unfair  and if an improper cause should triumph and such triumphs, even if short lived, would cast a stigma on the principles of fasting.

A true fasting with intense prayer  can do wonders. Purity  thus gained, when it is used for a noble purpose, becomes a prayer. The recitation of Gayatri Mantra is a good example. If it is performed with dedication and deep concentration in times of personal or national calamities,  without our knowledge, it becomes a potent weapon for surmounting tough time and dangers. Unfortunately, the well educated elite  may think doing Namaz, or Christian prayer or Pooja in a temple is superstitious and only the ignorant and credulous people would do it. Thus fasting quickens the spirit of prayer, that is to say, the fasting is a spiritual act, and therefore, addressed to God.

.So fasting without prayer is meaningless. a sincere fast involves readiness to receive pure, unalloyed thoughts and firm determination to resist evil thoughts - Satan's temptation. So. fasting and prayer should go together and they are the most powerful processes of purification  of thought, mind, etc. They inculcate in us a genuine responsibility to perform better with our attention well focused on the goal. It means we develop steadfastness. Perhaps, at times you may feel fast and prayer do not produce the required result. In a situation like this, there is nothing wrong with either fasting or prayer. What is missing here is the right spirit and trust.
On Maha Shivaratri Day or Janmastami day, we've seen lots of people go on a fast the whole day. Such a fast is useless; it neither produces purity of mind nor self - satisfaction or blissful ecstasy. Such fast leaves the people degraded. Why? They are not accompanied by a sincere prayer. Counting beads in Jabamala is also a way of prayer. In my opinion, when we count the beads, our mind will be more focused on the  target number than on the God. By the  same token, when our mind waders while in prayer, it is useless.

According to Gandhiji:

01. Fasting, like all human institution has both legitimate and illegitimate uses. When it comes to  Satyagraha - non-cooperation, etc fasting can not be given up because of its possible abuse.  

02. A Satyagrahi should  resort to fasting as a last resort when all other avenues of redress / reconciliation have been  met with failure.. 

03. As far as fasting is concerned,  there is no room for imitation. It ought to be genuine.

04. A man who lacks  inner strength  should not dream of it, and never with attachment to success.

 05. Fasting should be undertaken without anticipating results. If you focus on success, fasting will end up in fiasco.

 06. When undertaking a fast from conviction, a Satyagrahi, should continue it with the same resolve and commitment, unmindful of the result.

 07. A fast must be  undertaken in obedience  in unison with the dictates of the inner voice. Therefore,  it prevents haste.

08. Fasting connotes purity of mind and thought though prayer. With mastery over senses one can gain inner strength to achieve whatever endeavor  one undertakes with absolute trust.

Ref: Many sources