Principles and Concepts

What is the value of fasting?

Fasting if advised by the doctor may be good for health but has no religious merit. Some sects of the Hindus hold very strong views on fasting. For them, fasting has some real value and has to be strictly followed.

Gurbani says:

ਛੋਡਹਿ ਅੰਨੁ ਕਰਹਿ ਪਾਖੰਡ ||
ਨਾ ਸੋਹਾਗਨਿ ਨਾ ਓਹਿ ਰੰਡ ||
ਜਗ ਮਹਿ ਬਕਤੇ ਦੂਧਾਧਾਰੀ ||
ਗੁਪਤੀ ਖਾਵਹਿ ਵਟਿਕਾ ਸਾਰੀ ||੩||
ਅੰਨੈ ਬਿਨਾ ਨ ਹੋਇ ਸੁਕਾਲੁ ||
ਤਜਿਐ ਅੰਨਿ ਨ ਮਿਲੈ ਗੁਪਾਲੁ ||
ਕਹੁ ਕਬੀਰ ਹਮ ਐਸੇ ਜਾਨਿਆ ||
ਧੰਨੁ ਅਨਾਦਿ ਠਾਕੁਰ ਮਨੁ ਮਾਨਿਆ ||੪||੮||੧੧||
One who discards this grain, is practicing hypocrisy.
She is neither a happy soul-bride, nor a widow.
Those who claim in this world that they live on milk alone,
secretly eat whole loads of food. ||3||
Without this grain, time does not pass in peace.
Forsaking this grain, one does not meet the Lord of the World.
Says Kabeer, this I know:
blessed is that grain, which brings faith in the Lord and Master to the mind. ||4||8||11||
(Ang 873)

Sikhi does not regard fasting as meritorious. God has given us the human body – the temple of the soul – which has to be nourished and cared for. Fasting as an austerity, as a ritual, as a mortification of the body by means of willful hunger is forbidden in Sikhi. Guru Nanak says:

“Penance, fasting, austerity and alms-giving are inferior to ‘The Truth’; right action is superior to all.”

There are sects which do not eat this or that. Some people will not eat cereals, but will take other types of food. Such people may be treated as hypocrites. They give up the use of certain type of food, not because they want to, but because they wish to impress others. It feeds their Ego and does not earn merit. According to Guru Nanak, true fasting is the renunciation of the fruit of one’s actions.

Fasting for reasons of health is understandable when done on medical advice. Some people fast regularly on a particular day in the week, so resting their digestive organs. It may also serve as a means to save food, or a method of balancing the domestic budget.

Sikhi encourages temperance and moderation in matters of food. Neither starve nor over-eat: this is the golden mean. Men who want to engage in meditation should only eat simple and nourishing food. Healthy food but in small quantities (Alap Ahar), just to keep body and soul together and to prevent sleep and sloth, this is recommended for the devotee. On the other hand, gluttony is not only socially bad, but also morally reprehensible.

The golden rule about fasting is: Fast only when you must, in the interest of your health.