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PHILOSOPHY > THE MIND OF MAHATMA GANDHI > My Fasts
MY RELIGION teaches me that, whenever there is distress which one cannot remove, one must fast and pray. (YI, 25-9-1924, p. 319)
They [fasts] are a part of my being. I can as well do without my eyes, for instance, as I can without fasts. What the eyes are for the outer world, fasts are for the inner. (YI, 3-12-1925, p. 422)
I cannot fast at the dictation of anyone. Such fasts [unto death] cannot be lightly undertaken. They can conceivably be wholly undesirable. They cannot be undertaken out of anger. Anger is a short madness. I must, therefore, undertake the fast only when the still small voice within me calls for it.
Fasting and Prayer
I believe that there is no prayer without fasting, and there is no real fast without prayer.
A complete fast is a complete and literal denial of self. It is the truest prayer. 'Take my life and let it be, always, only, all for Thee' is not, should not be, a mere lip or figurative expression. It has to be reckless and joyous giving without the least reservation. Abstention from food and even water is but the mere beginning, the least part of the surrender. (H, 15-4-1933, p. 4)
Subduing the Flesh
I know that the mental attitude is everything. Just as prayer may be merely a mechanical intonation as of a bird, so may a fast be a mere mechanical torture of the flesh..... Neither will touch the soul within. (YI, 16-2-1922, p. 103)
It is my own firm belief that the strength of the soul grows in proportion as you subdue the flesh.
Mortification of the flesh is a necessity when the flesh rebels against one; it is a sin when the flesh has come under subjection and can be used as an instrument of service. In other words, there is no inherent merit in mortification of the flesh. (H, 2-11-1936, p. 299)
There is something in denying satisfaction of the flesh. It is not possible to see God face to face unless you crucify the flesh. It is one thing to do what belongs to it as a temple of God, and it is another to deny it what belongs to it as the body of flesh. (H, 10-12-1938, p. 373)
Out of the fullness of my own experience and that of fellow cranks, I say without hesitation, fast (1) if you are constipated, (2) if you are anemic, (3) if you are feverish, (4) if you have indigestion, (5) if you have a headache, (6) if you are rheumatic, (7) if you are gouty, (8) if you are fretting and fuming, (9) if you are depressed, (10) if you are overjoyed; and you will avoid medical prescriptions and patent medicines. (YI, 17-12-1925, p. 442)
It is not to be denied that fasting can be really coercive. Such are fasts to attain a selfish object. A fast undertaken to wring money from a person or for fulfilling some such personal end would amount to the exercise of coercion or undue influence. I would unhesitatingly advocate resistance of such undue influence.
I have myself successfully resisted it in the fasts that have been undertaken or threatened against me. And, if it is argued that the dividing line between a selfish and an unselfish end is often very thin, I would urge that a person who regards the end of a fast to be selfish or otherwise base should resolutely refuse to yield to it, even though the refusal may result in the death of the fasting person. If people will cultivate the habit of disregarding fasts which, in their opinion, are taken for unworthy ends, such fasts will be robbed of the taint of coercion and undue influence.
Like all human institutions, fasting can be both legitimately and illegitimately used. But as a great weapon in the armoury of Satyagraha, it cannot be given up because of its possible abuse. (H, 9-9-1933, p. 5)
The weapon of fasting, I know, cannot be lightly wielded. It can easily savour of violence unless it is used by one skilled in the art. I claim to be such an artist in this subject. (H, 11-3-1939, p. 46)