Question: Can you explain why we fast from grains on ekadasi? No one has ever been able to explain it to me logically. I mean, for most devotees the fact that srila prabhupada and Lord caitanya recommend it is enough for them. But that’s a faith-based reason, I’m looking for a logic-based explanation.
It does make sense to have a special day every two weeks for extra hearing and chanting, but most devotees don’t hear and chant more on ekadasi. They are just really into the whole ‘no grains’ thing.
I also know the whole “papa purusha” thing [grains becoming “sinful” on ekadasi] but I’m suspicious about that. It may have been introduced around a campfire sometime in history. Srila prabhupada certainly doesn’t mention papa purusha in any of his books.
It seems a bit bizarre to me how much people are into it when none of them can explain it. So can you logically explain why we should fast from grains on ekadasi?
Ekadasi is a fasting day. It’s not a day for “no grains,” its a day for “no eating.”
Fasting is very extreme, however, and few people can actually do it – so there is a gradient of reducing consumption – parts of which can still be considered, liberally, “fasting.” For example, you can drink water and still consider it a fast. You can also eat fruits. Like this, the spectrum gradually expands from absolute fast towards normal daily diet. The line gets drawn at the real staples of a daily meal: grains and legumes. Beyond that line it’s just too far of a stretch to call it a fast anymore.
What’s the purpose of not eating?
One thing is, its just healthy. If you have a regular schedule where you reduce your intake by “fasting” you will be much healthier.
More importantly, fasting clears your mind and gives you some mental and emotional self-discipline. Self-discipline of this sort is particularly important for meditation, so regular fasting is a very important part of yoga. It helps us develop the mental discipline to say “no” to our habitual desires and impulses, which is essential when trying to deliberately focus the mind in meditation (in the case of bhakti-yoga the meditation is upon Hari-nama, rūpa, guṇa and līlā).
PS – As for why the 11th day [ekadasi is the 11th phase of the waxing and waning moon] and not the 4th or the 9th or any other – I’m not quite sure at all. Astrologically the 11th is typically described as a day that’s not very good for doing most important things. Maybe that makes it an opportune day for fasting? Symbolically 11 is a number associated with Śiva. But there’s another point that comes out when one studies the technical details about astrology: it seems its actually the 12th that’s the really blessed day (12 being a number associated with Viṣṇu), and the 11th seems like a preparation for it.
PPS – here is an earlier blog post I made with more details substantiating the points I made here, with reference to Hari Bhakti Vilas.