If we cant fast nirjala on Pandava Nirjala Ekadashi what benefit do we get?
Transcription by– Keshavgopal Das & Ambuj Gupta
Question: It is said that if we fast on the pandava nirjala ekadashi and nirjala if we fast then we get the benefit for fasting nirjala on all ekadashis? But if we are not able to fast nirjala, we take water or we take something more then do we not get any benefit or what benefit we get?
Answer: The three different points in this. First of all the principle of fasting on Ekadashi, especially when we are practicing the path of devotion, is not so much in terms of benefits that we may get but more in terms of the purification and connection with Krishna that happens. We are souls, so originally spiritual. So we are connected with Krishna and we should have loving relationship with Krishna but now we are at the material level. The whole process of bhakti is meant to raise us from the material level to spiritual level. This primarily the elevation happens through our activities that connect us with Krishna for example, chanting, associating with devotees, coming to the temple , studying scriptures, like that. These are activities that propel us upwards. Now while we are propelled up there are some activities that may hold us back. So the activities that hold us back primarily are unrestricted material enjoyment specially those which are directly anti devotional.
Material activities can be classified into devotional, non devotional and anti devotional. Devotional material activities means, for example we are doing some work but we are offering the fruits of work to Krishna. Non devotional means it’s not connected with Krishna but it’s not against the principles of Krishna consciousness. Say somebody has a hobby to collect stamps, somebody likes to say learn English language. Its saatvik but its non devotional. Anti devotional especially would be those who involve in breaking the regulative principles. Some forms of austerity like fasting, they help us to reduce our connection with the material level so that we can rise upward in spiritual level more. That’s why austerities are recommended. But the principle is the upward mobility. It is not the denial of the bodily means.
Suppose somebody feel so weak and he fasts nirjala but because of fasting I don’t have any strength. So the twenty hours I sleep. Then that is useless. Better that you take water, you take food and do constructive activity, serve Krishna. Along with that whatever minimization we can do to our bodily needs that is good. So the primary focus should always be connection with Krishna and for us the greatest benefit that we want and we seek is to increase connection with Krishna. Often the thought of eating, planning before eating and then eating, all those thoughts take of lot of material energy. You just decide on one day I am not going to eat then that help us to put that thought of eating out of the mind and focus only on Krishna. That is why that is a primary purpose.
When we talk about the benefits, as far as I know Srila Prabhupada himself has not directly talked about pandava nirjala Ekadashi much. That does not mean it is unimportant. It is a part of the Indian tradition but it is not something which is extremely important. It is just for us devotees an opportunity to intensify our devotional purpose. It is not that if we are not able to practice then it is like a disaster. Or nor as it just you practice it we are able to become tremendously spiritually advanced. Yes, we can become advanced if we can remember Krishna while fasting. Radhanath Maharaja says in one lecture that if you are fasting and then you are seeing who all is eating what all, your body may be fasting but your ego is feasting.
Now with respect to benefits, in the part of the Vedas there is something called as karma kanda. Karma kanda means doing religion for material benefits. So ekadashi is often associated with lot of material benefits. In fact there is book called “Ekadashi Mahatmya” which is based on different puranas and stories are given, this ekadashi you fast you get this benefit. If you have this problem in life, you fast on this ekadashi you get this benefit. In the tradition of pure bhakti these sort of material benefits are not given much importance. In the same way with respect to this there is a story that Bhima is a voracious eater and he could not fast. Then he asked Vyas Deva, Vyas Deva gave him benediction that if you fast on this ekadashi you will get the benefit for fasting on all ekadashis. Bhima himself already agreed to it. He is simply setting the example for others, whether he fasts or not his life is dedicated for pleasure of Krishna.
Our understanding is that we also see this as an opportunity to please Krishna. How do we please Him? By trying to fix our mind in Krishna more and more. From the point of karma kanda fasting nirjala will give lot of benefits but it’s not that if you can’t fast nirjala then there is no benefit. Specially on the path of dharma it’s not like digital logic. It’s not one zero. Its more of analog progression. So there are various levels of fasting. If we can’t fast nirjala than we can fast jala and if we can’t fast jala then take some fruits. So there is benefit even if we can’t fast nirjala, if we fast with jala then also benefit we will get. We can’t fast nirjala and we take juice then also benefit we get, even at the karma kanda level there is a benefit because the principle is at least once a year intensify one’s austerity. For us as devotee our primary focus will be on connecting with Krishna. We focus on that aspect more and if we can fast then well and good. There is no need to feel sense of dejection or defeat because I will not be able fast. If you are able to fast, that’s fine. If you can’t fast, just take water or whatever is required and continue serving Krishna.
Often it happens that if we think too much about fasting that itself creates sense of hunger because it’s become like a negative obsession. What I don’t want to think of, I think of because I don’t want to think about it. Our focus is to serve Krishna and trying to stay on Krishna consciousness and trying to be constructively engaged as much as possible. If as a result of that absorbtion it enables us to fast that is excellent.
We should try to stretch ourselves as much as possible, but it should not be like a torture. What we observe in fasting is that there are three kinds of difficulties. One is that just the mind is craving. The mind is craving a lot and because of that we feel disturbed. That is something if we just absorb ourselves with Krishna then we get over it. Second is that the body goes through phases of exhaution. When that happen then just taking a little bit of rest or freshening oneself helps. It’s like a phase, like sometimes electric current is there, suddenly there are spikes in it. Now if the spikes continue for a long time, that instrument will be damaged. If spike little bit is there then it will come but we can tolerate. Like that I have observed that there are some hunger and thirst phases which come and when they come they are very intense. But somehow if we are patient at that time, I feel intolerable now but I will tolerate for half an hour while and then it goes off after some time. But the third case is that sometimes the body itself finds it impossible. Then people sometimes feel vomiting or something like that, when that happens then if one has that experience its better take some fruit. The focus is on as I say tolerating, stretching oneself little bit but not stretching on so much that itself obsesses the mind. Our goal is not at all to torture the body. If we find it intolerable, actually it applies to sleep also. Sometime when we are studying or doing some demanding work then we may feel like nodding off. Often that is not because we are tired and we need sleep but that is because we are bore over there. So may be just some break at that time can help also.
Like that it’s not necessary that we have to absolutely fast, it’s also not that the first or the second feeling of weakness itself should make us to give up the fast. Tolerating a little bit and trying to stretch our capacity, that is good. But most important is fixing the mind on Krishna. If austerity gives us so much trouble that we can’t fix the mind on Krishna then better to lower the level of austerity and the ultimate austerity is actually fixing the mind on Krishna because that is what purifies us and that is what ultimately liberate us. Thank you.