By Dr. Rita Khanna
Ekadashi is a Sanskrit word, which literally means ‘The Eleventh’. It refers to the eleventh day of a fortnight of a Lunar month. There are two fortnights in a Lunar month—the bright and the dark. So, Ekadashi occurs twice in the month, in the bright, as well as the dark fortnight (twenty-four times in a year). These two days are considered especially auspicious for the practice of fasting or abstinence from food. Each Ekadashi has a unique name. It is an auspicious day dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The significance of fasting during this day is spiritual, as well as physical. Spiritual progress is facilitated during Ekadashi, due to the relationship between the Moon and the human mind. Fasting also benefits at the physical level, by cleansing the body of its toxins. In this month, Ekadashi fast is on the 9th and 25th of August. Ekadashi fast starts at Sunrise and lasts until the next Sunrise.
More Details on the Ekadashi Fast
According to astronomy, we form a part of this planetary or Solar System—a huge family of which the Sun is the head and the planets are the members. The Sun guides the activities of this family; and we, being contents of this system, cannot be out of the influence of the Sun. We are involved in the laws operating in this system. This has led to the discovery of astrology. Astronomy studies the movements of planets, stars, and astrology, and the effects they produce on the contents of the system.
The Ekadashi observance is an astrological phenomenon, and it is observed, due to this relation we have with some of the planets in the system. The entire personality of ours is tremendously influenced by the movement of planets, and they are not above our heads, but are everywhere. There is a relative movement of planets among which the earth is one. The movement of one thing, in relation to another, is a relative movement. There is no planet which is static. Even the Sun is not ultimately static. The whole Solar System is moving and revolving around some huge star, which is eighty million times larger, and brighter, than the Sun, whose light has not yet reached us, as astronomers tell us. We have to understand that there is relative motion amongst planets, and we are relatively influenced by the planets. Each planet tells upon our system, and we cannot get rid of the influence of theirs, as long as we are in this planet, of which we are a part. The gravitational pull of planets has an influence on us.
How the Sun Influences the Body
The Sun influences the centre of our personality; hence, the Sun is called Atmakaraka. He is the soul-influencer of the human body. In the Rig-Veda, the Sun is identified with the soul of the universe, as well as the soul of the individual. The different limbs of our body, and different parts of our system, are supposed to be influenced by different planets. The Sun is capable of influencing the entire being. He is, thus, the Atmakaraka. Karaka is doer, manipulator director. If there is no Sun, we know what difference it makes for us; our digestion becomes sluggish on days when there is no Sun. Therefore, the Sun is important.
How the Moon Influences the Human Mind
This can be known, if we know how. In Homeopathy, the medicine is manufactured. In Homeopathy, one drop of mother tincture is mixed with hundred drops of rectified spirit, and shaken with a tremendous force. That mixture is one potency medicine. One drop of that is mixed in hundred drops of spirit again. It becomes a 2 potency medicine. Likewise, they have larger potencies. So, you can imagine what happens to the medicine when it reaches the higher potency. There is no medicine at all. So, Homeopathy says, they give no medicine, but a vibration – vibration of the original base-material. Nevertheless, this potency is material in the sense that it is formed of matter. So is the mind. It is the subtle portion of the material substance of our food. The subtle essence of the food, not only directly taken through the mouth, but through all senses, contributes to the make-up of the mind.
Mind is material in a subtle sense – like a mirror which is made of earth-material only, though it shines. Only the mirror is able to reflect light, and not the brick, though it is also made of the earth material. Mind is material in this sense. It is very, very subtle and is made up of everything that we take. So, matter influences matter. Planets are not spiritual bodies, and yet they influence the mind. The mind’s presiding deity is Moon.
How is Ekadashi Related to the Movement of Moon and Mind?
We have certain centers called, Chakras, in the body. The Chakras are nothing but energy-centers, which whirl in some direction as water whirls in a river. Chakra is a wheel or circular motion. They move in a spiral shape. They are not physical, but psycho-physical and psychological. These Chakras are neither in the mind nor in the body; they are in the astral body. The Moon’s influence on the physical body has an influence on the Chakras, which tells upon the mind ultimately.
The mind moves through these Chakras. The passage of the mind is through these Chakras, up and down. When this operation takes place consciously, it is called Yoga, and when done unconsciously by the mind, it is just influence. When the Moon waxes or wanes, the mind is vehemently influenced. So, people who are not normal in their minds become very bad on the full-moon and new-moon days. You cannot see the Moon’s influence on the earth because it is solid, but it can be seen on the ocean, which is liquid. The moon influences the whole earth, but its influence is visible on the large body of waters in the sea. This happens, due to the two-fold pressure of the relation of the earth and moon.
The Sun influences the Moon, and the Moon influences the earth. When the influence occurs automatically, we are instruments in the hands of Nature. When it is done consciously, we are said to practice Yoga. We can be involuntarily dragged from place to place, or we can walk voluntarily. The difference is obvious. The Moon’s movement tells upon the movement of the mind through the Chakras.
Seat of the Mind
Another important aspect is the seat of the mind, which is also two-fold. You may be living in many houses, of which one or two are your own. Svasthana means ‘One’s own place.’ The mind has several abodes, or centers of energy, called Chakras, of which two are its own. The seats of the mind, in this personality of ours are: 1. The subtle spot in the Astral body corresponding to the centre of the two eye-brows, in waking, and 2. The heart, in the state of deep sleep. If it is in the brain, it is active and you, then, do not get sleep, because it refuses to go down. If the mind is midway between the centre of the eye-brows and the heart, it is dream state. So, there is a two-fold centre of the mind,—the Ajna-Chakra, or the centre between the eye-brows, and the Anahata Chakra, or the heart. In both these centers, the mind feels at home and is at ease, because it is nearer to itself. In other centers it is extrovert.
In the Ajna and the Anahata Chakras, it finds itself at home. In the two fortnights, in its movement, it finds itself at the Ajna Chakra and the Anahata Chakra on the eleventh day. Since these two Chakras are its own abode, the mind is at home here; i.e., it gets concentrated and collected easily. This has been the experience given out by our ancients, and this has to be taken advantage of by Sadhakas. You are capable of concentration when the mind is naturally in its home. The mind cannot be concentrated when it is out of tune, but when it is in its location, it is easy of contemplation. Therefore, the Ekadashi day, in both fortnights, is the occasion when the mind finds itself in its place—in the bright fortnight in the Ajna Chakra, and in dark fortnight in the Anahata Chakra. Seekers and Yogis take advantage of these two days, and try to practice deep Meditation.
The Story of Ekadashi Fast
King Ambarisha was a great devotee of Lord Hari (Vishnu). He observed the Ekadashi Vrata (vow) diligently for one year and obtained His Grace. On one occasion, Ambarisha fasted for three consecutive days. As he was about to break his fast at the prescribed time, Rishi Durvasa appeared as his guest. The king received him with due respect and offered him food.
The Rishi wanted to take a bath first and went to the river. The king waited patiently for a long time, but the sage did not return. Time was running out; if the king did not eat anything before the auspicious time ended, his Vrata would not bear fruit; but if he ate, he would be showing disregard to the Rishi, his respected guest. As a compromise, the king, on the suggestion of his advisors, took of just a Tulsi leaf, and a droplet of water, to serve both the conditions.
When Durvasa returned, he knew exactly what had happened and became angry. He tore a hair from his tuft and turned it into a demon, whom he ordered to kill Ambarisha. The king was unmoved. He was protected by the Sudarshana Chakra, the weapon of Lord Vishnu, which destroyed the demon. The powerful Chakra then began to chase Durvasa; it followed the Rishi wherever he went, and tried to destroy him.
In fear, Rishi Durvasa went first to Brahma, and then to Shiva for help, but to no avail. He went to Lord Hari who said to him, “I am dependent on My devotees. My heart is in the possession of My devotees. It is best if you go to Ambarisha and beg his pardon. This is all that can save you.” Ambarisha thereupon prayed to Sudarshana Chakra (the Lord’s weapon) to desist from its course, and saved the Rishi. Durvasa thanked him from the bottom of his heart. This story demonstrates the great spiritual power generated by the observance of Ekadashi.
Advantage of Fasting
• Fast keeps the body light and the stomach free from excessive metabolic function. When the stomach is given the duty of digestion, the blood circulation is accelerated towards the digestive organs, on account of which blood circulation to the head gets decreased after food is taken. As a result, one gets deep and uninterrupted sleep, since the thinking faculty practically ceases to function.
• The energy of the whole system gets distributed equally if a particular limb is not given any inordinate work. If any part is given heavy work, there is a dislocation of the working of the body. So, in fasting, the energy is equally distributed, as the digestive function is not there.
• Apart from all these, there is a necessity to give the physiological system some rest once a while. It may be over-worked, due to a little over-eating or indiscrimination in diet. These irregularities, unconsciously done during the fourteen days, get rectified in one day. People who are sick, and cannot observe a total fast, take milk and fruits, etc. People, who are perfectly healthy, and are confident, observe a complete fast. This helps in control of mind and will.
Just as gold is rendered pure, by being melted in a crucible again and again, so also this impure mind may be rendered purer by repeated fasting. The system is rendered calm, so that one is able to practice more rigorous meditation.
Thus, the observance of Ekadashi has many advantages -Physical, Astral, Spiritual; and because this day has connection with the relation of the mind with its abode, together with the Moon, you feel mysteriously helped in your Meditation and contemplation – mysteriously, because you cannot know this consciously. However, you can feel this for yourself by observing it. Swami Sivananda, a physician who took to ascetism, and later came to be revered as a saint, describes about Ekadashi and fasting. To paraphrase his description on some of the benefits: Ekadashi fasting enhances the physiological functions. There are five functions of the physical body given in the philosophy of Vedanta (sacred scripture of Hinduism). They are the physiological functions of the respiratory, circulatory, digestive, urinary, and mental functioning. He describes that fasting purges the internal systems of its poisons. In this Kali Yuga (Iron Age), even if just one Ekadashi is observed with dispassion, faith, and devotion, with the mind wholly fixed on God, one is freed from Samsara (the rounds of birth and death). If the Ekadashi fast is observed regularly, sins are destroyed; the body and mind become purified. Devotion gradually develops, and love for God becomes intense.
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Courtesy: Dr. Rita Khanna’s Yogashaastra Studio.
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Dr. Rita Khanna
Dr. Rita Khanna is a well-known name in the field of Yoga and Naturopathy. She was initiated into this discipline over 25 years ago by world famous Swami Adyatmananda of Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh (India).
She believes firmly that Yoga is a scientific process, which helps us to lead a healthy and disease-free life. She is also actively involved in practicing alternative medicines like Naturopathy. Over the years, she has been successfully practicing these therapies and providing succour to several chronic and terminally ill patients through Yoga, Diet and Naturopathy. She is also imparting Yoga Teachers Training.
At present, Dr. Rita Khanna is running a Yoga Studio in Secunderabad (Hyderabad, India).