Such an unusual fate I have had! From earliest childhood, I used to go to my mother all day -- morning, noon , and night -- with only one prayer -- "Please give me something to eat." Yet, after going out to play again, I would soon become hungry and run back for another snack.
Yes, hunger and I were terrible enemies. Hunger stalked me voraciously, and the fire of my appetite never subsided. My mouth just kept moving like a millstone. I would always beg to eat a little more at lunch so that hunger would not overpower me so soon afterwards.
I was born into a family during an age when parents often inspired their children to undertake fasts. Other children were fasting at age five or six, but I had not yet fasted at the age of ten. As soon as the thought of fasting came into my mind, my appetite would voraciously attack me. It would force me to eat twice as much breakfast, at a time even earlier than usual.
Finally, when I was ten years of age, my mother proclaimed that I should observe the upcoming Ekadashi Fast Day. My sister Indumati advised my mother, "If you really want him to observe the fast, you will have to lock him up in his room. Otherwise, since he normally eats four times a day, he will eat five times on this fast day."
Everyone was sure that this plan would never work if I knew about it beforehand, so they kept it a secret from me. Then dawned the dreadful day of the Ekadashi fast. After I had arisen and performed my normal routine, Mother said, "Come upstairs with me." The moment I followed her into my study room on the second floor, she locked the door behind me and announced, "Today is the auspicious day of Bhima Ekadashi, and you must observe the fast. I will call you when it's time for fruit."
As soon as my mother went downstairs, hunger came upstairs. I just could not fast, and yet fasting was being forced upon me. My mind became very restless and angry as a result of my hunger.
"How can I ever make it through this fast today?"
"What if I go to bed hungry?"
"How will I sleep with an empty stomach?"
"How can I get some food?"
I knew the schedule and habits of the entire household. I knew that when my mother went into the kitchen to prepare my brother's lunch, that was my chance to sneak into the pantry.
There was a small balcony off my study on which a garment was drying. I quickly lashed it to a pillar and quietly lowered myself directly into the kitchen courtyard. My mission now was to hunt for any food stored in the pantry. I crept softly into the storeroom. Without a sound, I explored every can, jar, pot, and pan. A bag of rice flakes came into my hand. Gripping it between my teeth, I rapidly scrambled up onto the balcony the way I had climbed down.
Gleeful, I thought to myself, "Now I can spend the whole day eating these rice flakes!" (Ed. Which he did, though his ruse was discovered two weeks later when his mother went to find the rice flakes.)
Now just consider: if a person could not tolerate hunger when he was ten years old, how much less would he be able to tolerate hunger when he was nineteen? At nineteen, I was used to eating two meals and two snacks a day. Not only that, but I would never turn down extra snacks or meals. Since I was very fond of exercise, my appetite was voracious.
I was a disciple of my Reverend Gurudev. Gurudev was a great man. I believe he knew me inside and out, and I had unflinching faith in his divine wisdom.
One day, Gurudev said to me, "From tomorrow onward you should eat only once a day." I became depressed merely upon hearing this order. My appetite was notorious. Thus, when my Gurudev told me that from that day on I should eat only twice a day, I pleaded, "Guruji, how will I be able to carry out this formidable task?" But he gave no comfort to my cowardice.
I was utterly dissatisfied during the first week, but thereafter my train gradually began to run on the right track. After two months, Gurudev changed the routine again.
He instructed, "After tomorrow, you should eat only once a day, and that meal should be moderate."
"I have to eat moderately and only once a day?"
He nodded, "Yes.”
My mind was in revolt for a week.
Eventually, however, it mellowed.
Gurudev insisted that I eat with him, and informed the sister who served us that I must eat moderately. After I ate the moderate portions she had served, Gurudev would order me to leave the table. Sometimes the sister cried in pity at my situation, although it was obvious that Gurudev’s orders contained no trace of cruelty or oppression; they were full of a very powerful and tender affection. The task that had at first seemed difficult was made easy, and the person who had seemed cruel was actually loving.
Then, after keeping me on the dietary regimen of one meal a day, Gurudev instructed that I only drink milk for three months. During the first few days, I felt discomfort again, but afterwards, things began to run smoothly.
Eventually Gurudev said, "My son, starting tomorrow you should fast for forty days on water and practice mantra Japa (repetition of sacred Sanskrit sounds). His first two words, “My son” seemed so sweet. They had the unique power to sweeten the bitterness of everything that followed. Yet, my mind was not prepared to believe that I could observe a forty-day continuous fast on water. I may have had the willpower to fast on water for two or three days, perhaps, but I knew that to fast for forty days was far beyond my capacity
On hearing his order, my mind became a battlefield between conviction and logic. I was prepared to obey. Yet, although I had unflinching faith in sadhana (spiritual practice), I was very doubtful whether I could actually accomplish this task.
Gurudev said, "I will quote to you from scripture: The word upvas, or fasting, is composed of two syllables: up meaning 'near or close' and var meaning 'to reside'; that is, 'to live close to the Lord.' Thus, the Lord sits near the fasting devotee who is helpless with love. Actually, a true devotee is hungry only for love, and since the Lord loves to look with unblinking eyes at the face of the love-hungry devotee, He never leaves him alone. When he does not eat enough food to fill his stomach, the Lord fills him."
Finally, it was the day of the fast. Guruji initiated me with the mantra and showed me to the room where I was to fast. He said, "You must observe austerities for forty days. There is a water pot inside. Every day I will lock your door from the outside and keep the keys with me. You are free to come for darshan (a meeting or audience with a spiritual master in this case, with himself) twice a day."
Expressing my mental anguish and confusion, I asked, "Guruji, must you bother to lock and unlock the door yourself?"
"Yes, I will do this myself," said Gurudev with finality.
Such affection for his disciple. What unparalleled grace! I have never been proud of my arduous austerities, even in a dream; it is all truly due to the divine grace of my Gurudev [Dadaji, the Lord Lakulish, who is seen in the idol at the Temple of Lord Brahmeshvar ]."
Moderation in diet is one of the foundations of spiritual progress. "Moderation means "eating the precise amount of food required to keep the body alert and efficient." But if a delicious dish is put in front of an orator while he is preaching about moderation in diet, he will want to stop talking about moderation until he has eaten the food.
In India , moderation in diet is given deep consideration as an important part of spiritual life, since one’s energy is generated, protected, and maintained by moderate diet. In addition, every, religion invariably prescribes fasting. If fasting were not woven into the structure of the social religions, there would be even more disease and death in the world.
It is necessary for you to know that in order to prevent disease you must follow moderation in diet. And to keep from getting sick you must do postures and pranayama and other forms of exercise. To prevent disease you should not eat when you are not hungry and chew your food well for proper digestion. By always remaining consciously aware, you will protect yourself from disease. It is best to not stay up late at night and to protect your body with proper understanding. Keep the doors of the mind closed so that inappropriate thoughts can't enter and keep the vents open so that the good thoughts flow through.
Sattvic Charity and Tithing;