Austerities and Fasts

One way of astrological remedy is to do certain form of austerities. Austerities or “tapas” is a form of accepting voluntarily a penance or self-restraint, in order to pay a karmic debt. Tapa strengthens the mind, will power and capacity to endure any difficulty in life. It takes the mind away from the duality of “likes and dislikes”, Raga and Dwesha.

Tapas activates the “Tejas” or fire element in the mind and body, which bestows inner strength, sharp mind and the capacity to achieve any desired situation and overcome any difficulty in life.

Instead of trying to avoid any form of pain at all means, which is what the mind usually does, the Yogi takes upon himself some challenge to become stronger.

Tapas can be especially powerful to counteract any negative influence from Saturn or to strength the Mars or Sun energies if weak on the birth chart.


The most recommended Tapas are:

 Doing service to the poor, the sick, the personal teacher or the wise people, refrain from pleasures that are not healthy and make the mind scattered and attached, observing a pure simple moderated diet, occasional fasts, keeping silence or only speaking what is absolutely necessary and beneficial, getting up early in the morning to do Yoga, meditation or other spiritual practices, assuming and maintaining a steady posture without movement for meditation, sleeping on a hard bed, sitting on the floor.

One of the highest (and most difficult, but recommended) tapas is: “Bear insult and injury”, not responding with aggression or negativity towards an offender, not identifying with the ego.

But tapas donot mean torturing the body by extreme or “masochist” means, which harm the physical body. Some people cut, burn, beat, pierce their bodies. This kind of extreme Tapas is considered as “Tamasic” or born out of ignorance and delusion.

  
The Bhagavad Gita clearly explains that:
  
“Worship of God, the brahmanas, the teachers, the wise, purity, straightforwardness, celibacy and non-injury are called the austerities of the body”

“Speech which causes no excitement, which is truthful, pleasant and beneficial and the study of the Vedas are called austerity of speech”

Serenity of mind, good heartedness, self-control, purity of nature, this is called mental austerity”

The austerity which is practiced with the object of gaining good reputation, honour and worship, and with hypocrisy is here said to be of a “rejasic”, unstable and transitory” “That austerity which is practiced out of a foolish notion, with self-torture or for the purpose of destroying another is declared to be “Tamasic” or ignorant”. Fasting is regarded as an efficient way of physical, mental, spiritual and karmic purification.

During fasting the toxins from the body are released and that allows the negativity of the mind to be released too. The mind and will power becomes strong. Karmic debts can be purified too.

The prana or vital force usually occupied in digesting the food can be engaged in healing the body and flowing to the higher chakras during fasting.

When there is an afflicting planet on the birth chart, or during a difficult “Dasa”, planetary period or difficult transit of that planet, the austerities and fast should be perform on at least the whole day of the week ruled by the planet for at least 6 consecutive weeks.

  
Sun
Sunday
Moon
Monday
Mars
Tuesday
Mercury
Wednesday
Jupiter
Thursday
Venus
Friday
Saturn
Saturday
Rahu
Saturday
Ketu
Tuesday

 Fasts

Vrat is one of the most significant, simple, facile and a traditional way of rectification of various kinds of maladies. The Sanskrit word `vrata’ denotes `religious vow’. It is one of the most widely used words in the Hindu religious and ritualistic literature. Derived from the verbal root `vrn’ (`to choose’), it signifies a set of rules and discipline. Hence `Vrata’ means performance of any ritual voluntarily over a particular period of time. The purpose is to propitiate a deity and secure from it what the performer wants. This whole process, however, should be undertaken with a sankalpa (Resolution) or religious resolve, on an auspicious day and time fixed as per the dictates of the Hindu religious almanacs called panjika.

Vrata in the Puranas

1. Puranas denote various types of vratas. In all the Purans there is mention of Fasts and how they are performed. Purans have categorized the fasts in following manner.

2. `Kayika-vrata’. It is a vrata pertaining to the body. The stress is on physical austerity like fasting, remaining sleepless, taking baths and such other restraining activity in connection with one’s body.

3. `Vachika-vrata’or vrata pertaining to speech. Here much importance is given to speaking the truth and reciting the scriptures, both being a function of the organ of speech.

4. `Manasa-vrata’ or vrata pertaining to the mind. The emphasis here is on controlling the mind, by controlling the passions and prejudices that arise in it.

5. Payovrata – is the vrata or penance observed by goddess Aditi to propitiate Lord Vishnu. This vrata is discussed in detail in the Bhagavata Purana.

Time based Vrata

There are vratas again based on time. A vrata to be performed just for a dina or day is a `dina-vrata’. One lasting for a vaara or a paksha (week or fortnight) is a `vaara-vrata’ or a `paksha-vrata’ as the case may be. One to be undertaken on a particular tithi (a day according to the lunar calendar) or when a particular nakshatra (asterism) is on the ascendant, is respectively called a `tithi-vrata’ or `nakshatra-vrata’. Most of the vratas now in vogue are based on the tithis of the lunar calendar.

Based on deity

Another classification is according to the deity (an aspect of God) worshipped; for instance, Swarna-gauri-vrata is dedicated to Gauri, another name of Parvati Devi. Likewise Vara-siddhi-vinayaka-vrata is for propitiation of Lord Ganesha or Satya-narayana-vrata to Vishnu known as Satyanarayana.

Impact on society

Who are the persons eligible to perform a vrata? Anyone who has faith in it and wishes to perform it as per the rules, even if the person be a mleccha (alien)! During the Vedic period sacrifices were strictly restricted to the men of the three upper castes called dvijas meaning twice-born. The doors of the vratas were thrown open to one and all during bhakti movement, thus bringing ritualistic Hinduism to especially the lower castes and women. They had been denied that privilege for centuries. Historically speaking, this might have been a master-stroke devised by the liberal-minded religious leaders of the Hindu society to prevent the exodus of their flock to the Jaina and Buddhist folds, which were singularly free from the labyrinth of rituals and offered a simple religion of ethical conduct for the common public.



Dr. Shanker Adawal
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