FASTING AS A DHARMA DOOR
By Dharma Master Heng K'ung
Removing the doer from a fast for those of us still within the sway of desire can only be done when we center our interest in other work rather than the fast itself. Because the demon of appetite is so powerful, to dwell in a mind devoid of the concept of fasting is most difficult. An interest must be developed in one's work or devotional activity such as meditation or sutra study that smothers out the concept of fasting. No thoughts of the fast itself can be entertained. If this is not done, we will defeat our main purpose, which is spiritual development and will only receive the benefits of physical purification. Since physical health is not necessary for the boon of enlightenment to be one, and it is not uncommon in fact for a monk to become enlightened in the midst of a serious illness, or for an ascetic to win the fruit after many years of extreme bodily deprivation, let those of us who are cultivating the Path not dwell in the attitude that is usually dwelled in by tasters bent on health nor observe the same rules by which they conduct their activities while fasting. Rather, let us apply the additional effort that is necessary for the loosening of the mental barriers that are obstructing our self realization.
The rules by which a health enthusiast goes to protect his physical well being can be disregarded by a sincere cultivator. The word sincere is underlined, for without pushing one's self to the extreme, these rules are a necessity for protecting one's body. But with a sustained application of effort, proper thought alone is enough to guard the body against unprofitable deterioration. Also the recitation of mantras, especially Om Mani Padma Hum, will keep one from dying.
Aside from the negative aspect of preventing undesirable ill to fall one's way, the positive aspect of effortlessness, which results if the above method is properly employed, should be mentioned. A point should be reached when a conscious effort need not be applied. The mind when peaked to its extreme limit should absorb body and world into itself with an uncanny feeling of lack of separation. When the interest that one CHEATED to avoid falling into the dark realms that fasters frequently fall into becomes real, all bodily movements and acts of mind will be natural, effortless, and without calculation.
The sacrifice and discipline of fasting is applicable to cultivation only when done as a devotional exercise as described above. The notion of body as self is a false view and cultivators should not in conducting their fasts do so in the same manner as those who regard body as self.