The Spiritual Significance and Boundaries of Fasting to Assert Inner Freedom

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Last night we celebrated the final day of the Ayyam-I-Ha or the Baha’i calendar inter-calary days. There were a wonderful gathering of many friends from all backgrounds, all ages, representing many parts of the world, delicious potluck, building friendships, a joyous and uplifting program and a most hilarious gift sharing experience. The gently used gifts that friends had brought became the source of the best of what materials things can possibly do, make us laugh, learn to be detached and keep our planet green.

Tomorrow is the beginning of the 19 days period of Baha’i fast that comes to an end the arrival of spring, March 21, in Gregorian calendar and Naw-Ruz in Baha’i Calendar; the Baha’i New Year.

The period of fast is a wonderful period of awakening and rearranging priories, assessing habits omitting some and developing new ones. This is the period of increased intensity in ones relationship with the object of ones adoration.  This is when the Primal Point becomes first and everything else secondary. This is the period when thinking of food goes to the background and reflecting on real you, your spirit, who you are, what you think, how you feel, and what you aspire to and what you do about it, becomes prominent.

Also, you leave the comfort of your bed as a sign of awakening sooner rather than later from the stupor we call life! Your humanity comes before your physicality; the rider takes charge of the ride!

The Baha’i friends in Iran, who are taken, put in prison and kept in prison to be punished for their most cherished belief; their faith, take in particular, a special joy to fast and assert their first and foremost allegiance and obedience to the one and only power, the Creator of the universe, whom they adore and worship. The prison then turns into a garden where they can plant the seeds of love and humanity in their hearts in preparation for Naw-Ruz, the spiritual springtime and Baha’i New Year on March 21st. Naw-Ruz is the first day of spring, the vernal equinox.

O MY SERVANT! Free thyself from the fetters of this world, and loose thy soul from the prison of self. Seize thy chance, for it will come to thee no more.  (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words)

Abdu’l-Baha who was sent to exile and prison while still a child, at the powerful hand of the enemies of his faith, humanity and liberty, talks in London about His own experience imprisonment, after he was freed and in old age.

“Unless one accepts dire vicissitudes, he will not attain. To me prison is freedom, troubles rest me, death is life, and to be despised is honour. Therefore, I was happy all that time in prison. When one is released from the prison of self, that is indeed release, for that is the greater prison. When this release takes place, then one cannot be outwardly imprisoned. When they put my feet in stocks, I would say to the guard, ‘You cannot imprison me, for here I have light and air and bread and water. There will come a time when my body will be in the ground, and I shall have neither light nor air nor food nor water, but even then I shall not be imprisoned.’ The afflictions which come to humanity sometimes tend to centre the consciousness upon the limitations, and this is a veritable prison. Release comes by making of the will a Door through which the confirmations of the Spirit come.”  (Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 120)

Fasting

(1) The sublime station occupied by fasting in the Bahá’í Revelation.

(2) The period of fasting commences with the termination of the

Intercalary Days, and ends with the Naw-Ruz Festival.

(3) Abstinence from food and drink, from sunrise to sunset, is obligatory.

(4) Fasting is binding on men and women on attaining the age of maturity, which is fixed at 15.

(5) Exemption from fasting is granted to:

(a) Travellers

i. Provided the journey exceeds 9 hours.

ii. Those travelling on foot, provided the journey exceeds 2 hours.

iii. Those who break their journey for less than 19 days.

iv. Those who break their journey during the Fast at a place where they are to stay 19 days are exempt from fasting only for the first three days from their arrival.

v. Those who reach home during the Fast must commence fasting from the day of their arrival.

(b) Those who are ill.

(c) Those who are over 70.

(d) Women who are with child.

(e) Women who are nursing.

(f) Women in their courses, provided they perform their ablutions and repeat a specifically revealed verse 95 times a day.

(g) Those who are engaged in heavy labour, who are advised to show respect for the law by using discretion and restraint when availing themselves of the exemption.

(6) Vowing to fast (in a month other than the one prescribed for fasting) is permissible. Vows which profit mankind are however preferable in the sight of God.

The period of fast is a good time to remember these very reassuring words of Abdu’l-Baha when we think of the Baha’is of Iran and the price they pay for their way of perceiving and living the Divine Truth.

“The spiritual cycles of the Sun of Reality are like the cycles of the material sun: they are always revolving and being renewed. The Sun of Reality, like the material sun, has numerous rising and dawning places: one day it rises from the zodiacal sign of Cancer, another day from the sign of Libra or Aquarius; another time it is from the sign of Aries that it diffuses its rays. But the sun is one sun and one reality; the people of knowledge are lovers of the sun, and are not fascinated by the places of its rising and dawning. The people of perception are the seekers of the truth, and not of the places of its appearance, nor of its dawning points; therefore, they will adore the Sun from whatever point in the zodiac it may appear, and they will seek the Reality in every Sanctified Soul Who manifests it. Such people always attain to the truth and are not veiled from the Sun of the Divine World. So the lover of the sun and the seeker of the light will always turn toward the sun, whether it shines from the sign of Aries or gives its bounty from the sign of Cancer, or radiates from Gemini; but the ignorant and uninstructed are lovers of the signs of the zodiac, and enamored and fascinated by the rising-places, and not by the sun…

For example, once the Sun of Reality poured forth its rays from the sign of Abraham, and then it dawned from the sign of Moses and illuminated the horizon. Afterward it rose with the greatest power and brilliancy from the sign of Christ. Those who were the seekers of Reality worshiped that Reality wherever they saw it, but those who were attached to Abraham were deprived of its influences when it shone upon Sinai and illuminated the reality of Moses. Those who held fast to Moses, when the Sun of Reality shone from Christ with the utmost radiance and lordly splendor, were also veiled; and so forth.

Therefore, man must be the seeker after the Reality, and he will find that Reality in each of the Sanctified Souls. He must be fascinated and enraptured, and attracted to the divine bounty; he must be like the butterfly who is the lover of the light from whatever lamp it may shine, and like the nightingale who is the lover of the rose in whatever garden it may grow.”  (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 76)

Then let us use this period of awakening and reflect with humility how limited we are in our perception of reality and how far what we perceive can be from reality. Let us make sure that our perception does not veil us from His beauty and seeing beauty in all His creation.

“O people of the world!

The dawn of the Sun of Reality is assuredly for the illumination of the world and for the manifestation of mercy. In the assemblage of the family of Adam results and fruits are praiseworthy, and the holy bestowals of every bounty are abundant. It is an absolute mercy and a complete bounty, the illumination of the world, fellowship and harmony, love and union; nay, rather, mercifulness and oneness, the elimination of discord and the unity of whosoever are on the earth in the utmost of freedom and dignity. The Blessed Beauty said: “All are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch.” He likened the world of existence to one tree and all the souls to leaves, blossoms and fruits. Therefore all the branches, leaves, blossoms and fruits must be in the utmost of freshness, and the bringing about of this delicacy and sweetness depends upon union and fellowship. Therefore they must assist each other with all their power and seek everlasting life. Thus the friends of God must manifest the mercy of the Compassionate Lord in the world of existence and must show forth the bounty of the visible and invisible King. They must purify their sight, and look upon mankind as the leaves, blossoms and fruits of the tree of creation, and must always be thinking of doing good to someone, of love, consideration, affection and assistance to somebody. They must see no enemy and count no one as an ill wisher. They must consider every one on the earth as a friend; regard the stranger as an intimate, and the alien as a companion. They must not be bound by any tie, nay, rather, they should be free from every bond. In this day the one who is favored in the threshold of grandeur is the one who offers the cup of faithfulness and bestows the pearl of gift to the enemies, even to the fallen oppressor, lends a helping hand, and considers every bitter foe as an affectionate friend.

Then, O ye friends of God! Appreciate the value of this precious Revelation, move and act in accordance with it and walk in the straight path and the right way. Show it to the people. Raise the melody of the Kingdom and spread abroad the teachings and ordinances of the loving Lord so that the world may become another world, the darkened earth may become illumined and the dead body of the people may obtain new life. Every soul may seek everlasting life through the breath of the Merciful. Life in this mortal world will quickly come to an end, and this earthly glory, wealth, comfort and happiness will soon vanish and be no more. Summon ye the people to God and call the souls to the manners and conduct of the Supreme Concourse. To the orphans be ye kind fathers, and to the unfortunate a refuge and shelter. To the poor be a treasure of wealth, and to the sick a remedy and healing. Be a helper of every oppressed one, the protector of every destitute one, be ye ever mindful to serve any soul of mankind. Attach no importance to self-seeking, rejection, arrogance, oppression and enmity. Heed them not. Deal in the contrary way. Be kind in truth, not only in appearance and outwardly. Every soul of the friends of God must concentrate his mind on this, that he may manifest the mercy of God and the bounty of the Forgiving One. He must do good to every soul whom he encounters, and render benefit to him, becoming the cause of improving the morals and correcting the thoughts so that the light of guidance may shine forth and the bounty of His Holiness the Merciful One may encompass. Love is light in whatsoever house it may shine and enmity is darkness in whatsoever abode it dwell.

O friends of God! Strive ye so that this darkness may be utterly dispelled and the Hidden Mystery may be revealed and the realities of things made evident and manifest.”        (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 216)

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