The Rationale of Fasts
Theosophist, January, 1883
Letter from H. Hardy | Reply by H.P.B.
Knowing the interest you take in Oriental philosophy, will you kindly allow me to ask you or any of your Brethren, through your wide circulating journal, certain questions? The solution whereof will throw much light upon some of the mysterious ceremonies performed generally, not only among Hindus but among all the Oriental nations. It is a well known fact that the Hindus, the Mahamedans [Muslims] and the Roman Catholic Christians observe fasts for certain days. The Mahomedans during those days do not eat animal food, and if I am not mis-informed, the Christians do the same. The Hindus, to which class I have the honour to belong, do not eat cow, but subsist themselves on fruits, vegetables, and milk. What philosophy is hidden in this custom is a mystery not only to me, but to most of us. On consulting a Brahmin I was informed that when the old Rishis taught us to abstain from solid food they had some medical advantage in view. What was that advantage? Can any of your readers throw some light on this subject?
I remain, yours obediently,
161, Malabar Hill, October 11, 1882
Editor’s Note: The rationale of fasts lies on the surface. If there is one thing more than another which paralyses the will power in man and thereby paves the way to physical and moral degradation it is intemperance in eating: “Gluttony, of seven deadly sins the worst.” Swedenborg, a natural-born seer, in his “Stink of Intemperance,” tells how his spirit friends reproved him for an accidental error leading to over-eating. The institution of fasts goes hand in hand with the institution of feasts. When too severe strain is made on the vital energies by overtaxing the digestive machinery, the best and only remedy is to let it rest for some time and recoup itself as much as possible. The exhausted ground must be allowed to lie fallow before it can yield another crop. Fasts were instituted simply for the purpose of correcting the evils of overeating. The truth of this will be manifest from the consideration that the Buddhist priests have no institution of fasts among them, but are enjoined to observe the medium course and thus to “fast” daily all their life. A body clogged with an overstuffing of food, of whatsoever kind, is always crowned with a stupefied brain, and tired nature demands the repose of sleep. There is also a vast difference between the psychic effect of nitrogenised food, such as flesh, and non-nitrogenous food, such as fruits and green vegetables. Certain meats, like beef, and vegetables, like beans, have always been interdicted to students of occultism, not because either of them were more or less holy than others, but because while perhaps highly nutritious and supporting to the body, their magnetism was deadening and obstructive to the “psychic man.”