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Fasting as a spiritual practice

The religions that practice fasting encompass the vast majority of people on the planet:
Ba'hais, Buddhists, Christians, Essenes,Hindus, Jains, Jews, Sufis, Native Americans, and
Taoists.  In addition, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Hippocraates, Confucius, and Zoroaster
taught and practiced fasting.  We have, as well, secular (rational) fasting - so called be-
cause it is understood to foster health through the mental/physical purification of the
body (and which shall remain outside of the present scope). 
          "What the eyes are for the outer world, fasts are for the inner."  Gandhi
There is a significant difference between fasting and 'spiritual fasting'.  Although people
lose weight, cleanse and purify, spiritual fasting begins with a spiritual intention.  It
takes the faster, from their 'rational' orientation in the world to an orientation more in
tune with the perceptions and experience of the heart.  As the fast progresses, this pro-
cess continues to deepen, and it strengthens our spiritual sensitivity (perhaps to sacred
things around us).
In the past, literature regarding fasting posed it as an essential act, at some time in the
hero's /shero's life, for creating an opening into which knowledge of the world, and/or
the sacredness of the soul, could come.  For example, anyone fasting in the wilderness,
Black Elk ('The Sixth Grandfather') says, "...shall certainly be aided, for Wakan-Tanka al-
ways helps those who cry to him with a pure heart."  Gandhi says ('Fasting in Satyagra-
ha') "Fasting is an institution as old as Adam.  It has been resorted to for self-purification (by) Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed, (fasting) to see God face to face.  Parvati  fasted to secure Mahadev himself as her Lord and Master.  In my fasts, I have but followed these great examples, no doubt for ends much less noble than theirs."
The 'wilderness' was always acknowledged to be that place where the sacred could be
most clearly felt - nature's wilderness, desert, mountain, forest, serving as the refuge
for our inner wilderness.   These spiritual fasts can be what might be called deep fasts, 
and while the wilderness is not accesible, deep fasts can theroretically be accomplished
anywhere.  Presumably, longer fasts accomplish these aims more effectively than short-
er fasts.  Moses and Jesus are said to have fasted 40 days and 40 nights.  Pythagoras re-
quired his students to fast for 40 days to purify body and mind prior to receiving his
highest teachings. "There is a significance to the '40 days and 40 nights' of fasting of the
great spiritual leaders and of those who seek the highest spiritual enlightenment.  This
is the physical limit to which the disciplined body can exist without food before it begins to consume itself.  The cleansing process has been completed, and all toxic wastes and ex
cess fats 'incinerated' - burned into energy" (Paul Bragg, 'The Miracle of Fasting' - though
he recommends 10 day fasts).  Stephen Buhner ('The Fasting Path - The Way to Spiritual
Enlightenment') recommends a 16 day fast.  Under controlled conditions, Gabriel Cousins ('Spiritual Nutrition') recommends a full 40 day fast.  " Fasting allows our physical bodies to turn toward the assimilation of pranic energy rather than biochemical energy.  By accelerating the purification of the body, it allows the physical body to become a better conductor of the Kundalini energy.  This improves the alignment of the chakras and the subtle bodies, which makes it easier for the cosmic prana to enter the body and increases the possibility of the awakening of the Shakti Kundalini.  Through repeated fasts we also become clearer channels for the assimilation of cosmic energy into our systems."

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