Introduction (from Part 1)
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.
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.
Major Findings on Fasting according to Mahatma Gandhi
The major findings based on the teachings and writings of Mahatma Gandhi on fasting and its impact can be summed up as given below.
- Fasting has beneficial aspects for constipated people.
- Fasting is beneficial for people who are anemic.
- Fasting is good for people who are feverish.
- Fasting provides relief to those who suffer from indigestion.
- Fasting relieves people suffering from headaches.
- Fasting helps rheumatic people.
- Fasting helps relieve people who are troubled by gout.
- Fasting creates positive energy in people who habitually keep fretting and fuming.
- Fasting helps people suffering from depression.
- Fasting is good even for people who get overwhelmed by intense emotions like extreme joy!
- Gandhiji unhesitatingly expressed the thought that fasting would help humanity avoid medical prescriptions and patent medicines.
- Gandhiji felt that fasting improved the physical and moral health of people.
- Gandhiji’s interpretation of verses in the Bhagavad Gita also further convinced him of the impact of fasting on improving spiritual energy and toughening the moral fibre of people.
Fasting for Self-Restraint and Moral Strength
Fasting should go hand in hand with mental fasting. It would act as a tool to cultivate self-restraint. Fasting would increase man’s spiritual energy. This would enable him to have control over passions, develop equanimity which in turn would help man in his path of devotion to truth, sincere execution of one’s duty and living a life of morality. Fasting would thus confer both tangible and intangible benefits and improve man’s moral health.
To quote Mahatma Gandhi himself, “To observe morality is to attain mastery over our mind and our passions. So doing, we know ourselves.” Gandhiji emphasized the need to uplift man not through mere accumulation of material wealth, but through raising his ethical and moral standards.
Fasting and The Search For Truth
Gandhiji’s quest to know himself, to see God (truth) face-to-face, to dispel darkness, to attain moksha, required him to reach deep within himself and create a combination of a set of self-practices that included silence, prayer, self-search, fidelity to truth and brahmacharya. Gandhiji believed that such observances would purify his own self and those around him.
Fasting stimulates our conscience, activates our connection to the Almighty and sets our moral compass at ‘True North.’ It helps us perform nishkama karma and helps us view the world as one’s Karmabhoomi.
Fasting and Satyagraha To Overcome Tyranny
According to Gandhiji, fasting is one of the four forms of Satyagraha that enables man to resist tyranny and overcome injustice. Gandhiji was able to use the spiritual energy generated by fasting to fulfill many different aims, ranging from seeking redemption for others’ misdeeds, to fostering unity and communal harmony. Mahatma Gandhi was able to bring together people who hated each other and help them learn to tolerate and respect people belonging to different communities, different religions and live together in peace, as children of one God.
Modern living has taken its toll on human beings who are constantly agitated, peevish and over-wrought, in the feverish struggle to achieve material prosperity. This leads to the building up of toxic substances in the body, eventually leading to fatigue, stress, sense of being overwhelmed by events that appear to spiral beyond our control.
Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas on fasting included the search for truth and adherence to non-violence. Fasting is one of the forms of satyagraha. He believed that satyagraha would win over people to one’s point of view without any bitterness or hatred.
In Gandhiji’s opinion, the deliberate abstention from food is a kind of renunciation that helps the person undertaking the fast get closer to God. Fasting thus helps in strengthening man’s spiritual energy and develops a healthy mind in a healthy body, that can face any eventuality in Life. Fasting helps to quicken the spirit and readies the mind to think pure thoughts.
Critics very often scoff at Gandhiji’s ideals and point out the apparent contradictions in Mahatma Gandhi’s writings about his experiences. The real fact is that Gandhiji had the immense moral stature to be humble about his experiments and truthful about his own failures, in his quest for the Eternal Truth.
Gandhian ideas and wisdom about fasting are of great relevance even in the 21st century. Scientific research has also validated the cleansing effects of fasts and its positive effects on moral health. Fasting when combined with prayer will help people live healthy lives.
Gandhian philosophy suggests that that fasting linked with deep faith in God would strengthen the spiritual energy of man, fortify his moral health such that it empowers him to face with equanimity, the turmoil and turbulence of modern living.
 ‘The New Science of Healing’ by Louis Kuhne
 (YI, 17-12-1925, p. 442)
 Verse from the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, referred to by Gandhiji (given as Appendix A)
 Moksha means self-realisation and literally means freedom from birth and death
 nishkama karma as explained in the Gita means that man should discharge his duty without any expectation of the fruit of his actions.
 The earth is referred to as Karma Bhoomi or land of action wherein whatever action is performed has a result, albeit good or bad depending upon the type of action.
- Gandhi, M. and Desai, M. (1929). The story of my experiments with truth. Ahmedabad: Navajivan Press.
- Gandhi and Kumarappa, B. (1993). Nature cure. Ahmedabad: Navajivan Pub. House.
- Gandhi and Nayar, S. (2010). Key to health. Ahmedabad: Navjivan Pub. House.
- Gandhi and Kumarappa, B. (2015). Diet and diet reform. Ahmedabad, India: Navajivan.
- Weiner, M. and Swaminathan, K. (1965). The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. Political Science Quarterly, 80(3), p.472.
- “The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi” Vol-5 ; Voice of Truth
- Gandhi and Chander, J. (1944). Ethics of fasting. Lahore: Indian Printing Works.
- Gandhi, R. (2008). Gandhi. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- ‘The History and Culture of the Indian People’, Volume 11; Struggle for Freedom
- Saranya Kumar, S. (2012) “Relevance of Gandhian Ethics in Contemporary Times.” International Journal of Economics, Commerce and Research, (IJCER). 2. 37-42.
 “Guide to Health” in 1906 in the “Indian Opinion”