Mahatma Gandhi strongly believed in living a life of simplicity, closely connected to Nature, that would help man keep in good health, with body, mind and spirit in harmony. In Gandhiji’s opinion, disease is a manifestation of man’s agitation and over-indulgence. Left to itself, the human body is perfectly capable of ridding itself of the toxins that cause disease. For this to happen, fasting would greatly enhance the natural capacity of the body to auto-correct and purge itself of disease-causing toxins.
Mahatma Gandhi believed strongly in nature cure. In his own words, “Fasting usually does not result in permanent weakening of the system; on the contrary frequent fasts bring an ultimate improvement of health.” Gandhiji felt that understanding the laws of nature would not be difficult. Most people think that only visiting a doctor or hakim or vaidya and taking the medicines prescribed by them, even if costly or unaffordable, would help them overcome diseases and be able to live healthy lives.
Gandhiji wrote that nature was not so cruel as to discriminate between the rich and the poor. So, people need not unnecessarily worry and wrongly think that the laws of nature were so complicated that it would be impossible to adhere to them. Gandhiji explained that nature worked in its own way, by creating in our body the capacity to cleanse itself.
Man should realise that illness indicates the existence of impure matter in the body and it would naturally begin the process of cleansing. Gandhiji believed that left to itself, Nature would take its own course and even prevent illness, rather than cure it in most instances! For more than thirty-five years, Gandhiji experimented with nature cure treatment, right from his Satyagraha struggle days in South Africa.
Gandhiji had a predilection for food reform. He explored dietetics from different points of view – from the hygienic standpoint, from the religious world view and even economic point of view. Gandhiji conducted experiments in treating diseases with natural curative agents only like earth and water. He tried nature-based treatments without recourse to drugs. These led him to ponder over both the physical and mental aspects of fasting. Gandhiji tried to observe the effects of fasting on man’s moral nature and his spiritual energy.
Human beings today are consumed by a completely materialistic outlook, an intense craving for instant gratification. People feel the pressure to achieve untold success as quickly as possible. The need today is to have it all today, nay right now! People today are hurtling along the fast track to quick acquisition of wealth and riches, attempting to achieve more than ever before. Workdays are increasingly getting longer and longer. Workers face impossible deadlines and targets that have to be achieved.
In the twenty-first century, human beings have become so starved for time and energy that they do not even take care of their own selves. They cannot stop even to eat properly and end up overloading their systems with food that has no nutrition value whatsoever. Moreover, even if an attempt is made to reduce the intake of such worthless food, it just creates a sense of deprivation and impoverishment in their minds.
So, the race for material prosperity makes people over-eat and over-indulge. Then they make an attempt to counteract the ill-effects of all this by medicines dispensed by doctors who are themselves in a hurry and who see nothing wrong in bouts of over-indulgence followed by pills and tablets and hospital stays, that incidentally help these blithely short-sighted medicine men in their own frantic journey towards accumulation of wealth.
Not only this, there is immeasurable harm done by human beings to themselves as they hurtle on this mad race to achieve ever-increasing levels of prosperity. People lose sight of the welfare of other people. Their moral compass often gets misaligned and they do not hesitate to trample upon the rights of others to get their own way.
They lose sight of the fact that no development that results in exclusion, can be long-lasting or sustained or bring real satisfaction. The sense of dissatisfaction in fact increases with ever-increasing material wealth. People wrongly conclude that they need to acquire more wealth to fill the void in their lives.
Gandhian Thought and Wisdom
It is in this context that Gandhian thought and wisdom come to our aid, even in this twenty-first century, in realigning our inner energies and getting spiritually connected with the Universal Power. Mahatma Gandhi firmly believed that fasting was a powerful tool of nature cure and would help man get cleansed from inside, ridding the body of accumulated toxins and helping it recover from the diseases that are nothing but a manifestation of such toxic substances clogging the body.
This research paper examines Gandhian thought on fasting as a way to increase man’s spiritual energy and improve moral health in the twenty-first century.
Gandhiji’s Experiments with Fasting
Gandhiji was born in a Hindu Vaishnava family and his mother was a pious woman who herself observed several hard vows and fasts like Ekadashi fast. Gandhiji’s fasting experience had their origin in his desire to please his father and mother. He undertook fasts without any real understanding or belief in the need or benefits of fasting.
As an adult, Gandhiji began fasting for health purposes. These experiences led him to wonder about the other effects of fasting. On hearing that fasting had the potential to develop self-control, Gandhiji began to do fasting in order to develop self-restraint in himself.
Gandhiji was already used to fasting with only milk and fruit being allowed. Therefore, he started experimenting at Tolstoy Farm, with complete fasting, allowing himself only water and nothing else, while fasting. By sheer coincidence, these experiments happened when both his Hindu and Muslim Satyagrahi followers were already observing fasting for the month of Shravan and Ramzan. Mahatma Gandhi never asked people to blindly follow his way of thinking. He would apply the method or idea on himself first and then encourage others to follow willingly.
The different Satyagrahi families joined in the fasting based on religious sentiments tied to the month of Shravan and Ramzan. Satyagrahis belonging to Christian and Parsi faith also joined in the fasting experiment.
Gandhiji’s experiments led to the creation of intense interest in fasting as a means of self-restraint, among the satyagrahis. He felt that this self-denial aroused their finer instincts and their aspiration to rise above desires of the flesh. It was in the light of his own first-hand experiences that Gandhiji came to know the positive impact of fasting on self-denial and its contribution to the development of a sense of inclusion, esprit de corps, a feeling of universal brotherhood, despite differences.
Fasting for Spiritual Cleansing
A genuine fast cleanses the body, mind and soul. It crucifies the flesh and to that extent sets the soul free. Purity thus gained and utilized for a noble purpose becomes a prayer.
Gandhiji had made it his mission in life to tend to the sick and serve the poor. He placed immense value on a life of simplicity that was lived close to nature and followed the natural, profound, yet simple rules of health. He had utmost faith in vegetarianism. Gandhiji carried out dietetic reform based on pragmatic results obtained from personal experiments. He believed in the rules of Nature cure propounded by Dr. Kuhne. He believed that people could achieve perfect health through the harmonious working of the body, mind and spirit by following the laws of nature.
Gandhiji sought to examine the reasons behind the ill-health suffered by people in the ordinary course of their lives. He set up a Centre at Uruli for Nature Cure wherein poor people could benefit from the results that he had obtained from his own experiments on health and hygiene. Those who could not afford to go in for expensive medical treatment, could very well get relief from the simple remedies that he had improvised.
Mahatma Gandhi was of the opinion that the human body is a wonderful and perfect machine. If it gets out of order, it can set itself right without medicine, provided it is given a chance to adjust itself.
Gandhiji felt that if people were greedy and self-indulgent in the matter of food or even emotions, it would result in their minds being strife-ridden and bodies getting clogged up with toxic substances. The body would not be able to process and eliminate these toxins and fall prey to diseases.
Disease itself, is an attempt by the human body to get rid of refuse that has become toxic. Gandhiji explained that fasting would help the body in the cleansing process. Nature Cure comprised of fasting, cleansing of the bowels by enemas, baths and massages. The person suffering would experience relief from ill-health and get restored to wellness.
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