Sunday Sermon

I have several friends who are currently observing the Bahá'í fast or Catholic Lent. Their sacrifices set me to thinking about fasting in other traditions...

(If you want to skip the "World Religions 101" portion of this post, feel free to skip down to the next line of dashes...)

Buddhist monks of the Thai Forest Tradition beg for all of their food, and only eat one meal per day, all year-round. That one meal must be consumed before noon.

All practicing Muslims observe the fast during the month of Ramadan, abstaining from food, drink, smoking, and sex during daylight hours, but some particularly devout followers will hold a smooth stone on the tongue during the day to remind them to not swallow, thus guaranteeing that they do not even swallow their own saliva during the fast.

The Tendai Buddhists monks of Mt. Hiei undertake a strenuous 7 day fast known as the doiri, during which they go without food, water, or sleep.
"Several weeks before hand, they prepare for this event by limiting themselves to small amounts of food so they will be ready when the time comes. When the doiri period begins, they spend their days reciting chants that they repeat 100,000 times. By the fifth day, they are dehydrated and are allowed to rinse their mouths with water but must spit out every drop that enters their mouths. They usually go outside and take in the fresh mountain air where they are able to absorb moisture from the rain and dew through their skin. Usually what the monk finds most difficult is not the lack of food and water, but keeping awake and keeping the proper posture at all times of the day."
Since 1885, only 46 monks have successfully completed this fast.

Hindus have a whole menu of fasts (pardon the pun)...
-The man who abstains from one meal every day throughout the month called Margasirsha, becomes freed from all his sins.
-He who passes the whole month of Magha, abstaining every day from one of the two meals, takes birth in a high family and attains to a position of eminence among his kinsmen.
-He who passes the whole month of Bhagadaivata (Phalgun), confining himself every day to only one meal becomes a favourite with women who, indeed, readily fall under his sway.
-The person who passes the month of Jyaishtha confining himself every day to one meal a day, succeeds in attaining to a position of eminence and great wealth.
-He who passes the month of Ashadha confining himself to one meal a day and with senses steadily concentrated upon his duties, becomes possessed of much corn, great wealth, and a large progeny.
-That man who confines himself to only one meal a day for the whole month of Proshthapada (Bhadrapad), becomes endued with great wealth and attains, to swelling and durable affluence.
-The man who passes the month of Aswin, confining himself to one meal a day, becomes pure in soul and body, possessed of animals and vehicles in abundance, and a large progeny.
-He who passes the month of Kartika, confining himself to one meal every day, becomes possessed of heroism, many spouses, and great fame.

Jains sometimes take fasting to the ultimate length...
"Santhara or Sallenkhana is a procedure in which a Jain stops eating with the intention of preparing for death. This is different from suicide as it is not taken in passionate mood of anger, deceit etc but it is undertaken only when the body is no more capable of serving it's owner as a instrument of sprituality and when inevitability of death is a matter of undisputed certainty. The intention is to purify the body, and remove all thought of the physical things from the mind. As well as giving up food and water, the ascetic abandons all desires and dislikes so that they can concentrate exclusively on the spiritual as they approach death."

To me, fasting has always been metaphorical - the hunger of our bodies is symbolic of the hunger in our souls. This hunger of the soul brings our physical wants into proper persepctive. By self-inflicted deprivation we develop patience and discipline, both of which are sorely lacking in our world today. Perhaps most importantly, we develop gratitude for our lives filled with plenty, and compassion for those who are hungry due to poverty, war, or famine. In case we ever forget how many people are in that boat...

-According to Unicef:
400 million children do not have access to safe water
90 million children are severely food-deprived

-According to the Bread for the World Institute:
852 million people across the world are hungry, up from 842 million a year ago.

-According to Donation.Com
Every year, almost 9 million people die from hunger. That's 24,000 deaths a day, or one life unnecessarily lost every 3.6 seconds. Three-fourths of the deaths are children under the age of five.

-According to the End World Hunger Project:
More than 12 million U.S. children go without food at least once a week because there is none in the house. 8 million suffer every day from chronic hunger.

Support those who are fasting. They may be tired, irritable, forgetful, or whiney, but they are doing spiritual heavy lifting. Feed them when the rules let them eat, give them pleasant distraction when they do not, and carry them gently in your heart the rest of the time.

Go in Peace.


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