The body and diet constitute essential gateways to growth in one’s spiritual life, as most religions emphasize.
In Judaism and Christianity
It is notably through the monastic vein that fasting entered Christian life, in connection with the strict dietary customs of Judaism. The memory of Jesus leaving for the desert, fasting for forty days at the start of his ministry, also left an impression. The season of Lent, which also lasts forty days, takes up this attitude: the future baptized, but also the faithful, are invited, through voluntary and humble fasts, to prepare for Holy Week and the great feast of Easter.
Christmas, too, can be prepared through practices of voluntary asceticism during Advent. Finally, throughout the year, meatless meals are favored on Fridays, in memory of the violence of the day of Christ’s Passion. Over the centuries and depending on the location, these practices have been more or less severe. But they must always favor the inner approach, without forgetting prayer and sharing with the poorest. It is also an invitation to free oneself from any alienating habit.
The words for fasting in Arabic are an invitation to calm and stillness. The Koran confirms that this practice, predating the prophet Mohamed, remains valid in the Muslim world, to achieve “the piety” that befits the faithful. Fasting is particularly carried out during the month of Ramadan which celebrates, in particular, the reception of the Koran, the sacred text of Islam. The faithful are called to fast from sunrise to sunset. After which festive meals, often shared with neighbors and the poorest, bring families together.
But fasting also affects the consumption of drink, tobacco and sexual relations, which are prohibited for the faithful. A big break that invites us to leave the habits of ordinary life to focus on time for prayer and attention to others.
In Asian traditions
Asian religions present a great diversity of dietary fasts. Buddhism invites its followers to moderate their consumption, for example by being vegetarian, or by fasting every day, from midday to sunrise the following day.
In Hinduism, its use is linked to the calendar: each full moon is accompanied by a day of fasting. In reality, it is often the work of saddhus, the most ascetic Hindus who seek, through their efforts, to leave the cycle of reincarnations.
Among the Jains, it can be taken to the extreme as a progressive detachment from the world here below. For Mahatma Gandhi, periods of complete fasting – which often put his life in danger – influenced important political decisions for the future of his country.
>>> Also read on lepelerin.com: How to fast during Lent?