(Oct 15, 2011)
The pictures above are the Fasting Buddhas in Tsem Ladrang……my home.
I invited a 3 ft Fasting Buddha home today and on this auspicious occasion, I would like to share some information with you.
Fasting is the act of willingly abstaining from some or all food, drink, or both, for a period of time. It is known in almost all major religions. The Lenten fast observed in the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church is a forty-day partial fast to commemorate the fast observed by Christ during his temptation in the desert.
Fasting is also an important part of Hinduism, where some Hindus fast on certain days of the month. Devotees fast on certain days of the week related to a deity, for example, devotees of Shiva tend to fast on Mondays. Hindus also fast during religious festivals, such as the Maha Shivaratri dedicated to Lord Shiva, and Navaratri festival or ‘Nine Nights festival’ when the various forms Goddess Durga are worshipped.
Muslims in Malaysia and all over the world had celebrated Eid or Eid-ul-Fitr next week, on the 30th August this year. This festival marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. They do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan. Muslims fast to develop self-control and it is a sign of their faith and appreciation.
In Buddhism, fasting is considered a method of purification. Theravadin monks fast everyday after 12pm till the next sunrise. The Tibetan Buddhist practice of Nyungne, which includes holding strict vows and fasting, has been gaining increased attention in Buddhist centers across North America. Fasting in Buddhism is to develop control of one’s attachments so the mind can be freed to develop higher awarenesses. Also fasting can be done so that one restricts from a pleasure (food) and dedicate it to someone sick, in need or dying. Basically to restrict one’s body from the normal food intake is to develop discipline, awarness, self control and even appreciation for all one has.
Buddha’s Spiritual Awakening & Fasting
The Buddha’s spiritual awakening is related to fasting. The young prince Siddhartha left his palace in search of enlightenment and practised for six years under severe austerities and intense mental concentration that his beautiful body withered away to skin and bones. Towards the end of this period, he was surviving only on a single grain of rice a day. Buddha wanted to cut the attachment to the senses starting with excess indulgence in food and so on. This stage of Buddha’s practice is known as Fasting Buddha and the depictions in images or statues are usually called Emaciated or Fasting Buddha.
This holy form or image of the Fasting Buddha reminds and inspires us how much difficulties Buddha went through to become fully enlightened. His compassion to benefit others is so strong he put his body through so much to attain enlightenment. Although his body went through so much pain, difficulties and weakness due to fasting so intensely, he never gave up. He never quit. He never found the difficulties a reason not to pursue his spiritual practice. It inspires us to or do the same.
Difficulties build mental strength, purify negative karma, instills self respect, and helps us to appreciate everything much more. Nothing is to be taken for granted. Seeing this holy image blesses us to remember that difficulties on the road to enlightenment is not negative but part and parcel of our journey. To be experienced, to learned from it, to understand from it and to ultimately grow from the difficulties we experience. What success in life was not earned by difficulties. When we see this image and make affinity we create the karma to be able to have endurance, tolerance and develop a high degree of diligence. To have great fortitude. For anything to be successful we need fortitude and diligence.
As Siddharta realised that desire was the root of samsara, he thought that one of the methods he could end desire was by fasting. At one point, he no longer had the strength to meditate and he realised he would die before he gains liberation due to the ‘abuse’ he put on his body.
It was then that a local Brahmin’s daughter, Sujata, approached and offered him a golden bowl filled with rice prepared in the essence of the milk of one thousand cows. He regained his strength, renewed his meditation, and realised Buddhahood. Siddharta reached enlightenment only after accepting nourishment from Sujata, hence preaching a “middle way”, a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification, the central tenet of Buddhist practice.
It is wonderful to understand and see this image of the Fasting Buddha as it has so much significance for all of us on the spiritual path. To have an image of this Fasting Buddha, make offerings and to pray to Buddha in this form blesses us with fortitude, diligence and mental strength to absorb difficulties and continue until success. It is one the most favorite images of Enlightened Beings for me.
(In his autobiography, His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche says that Shakyamuni recieved wrong advice that by practicing fasting He can gain wisdom. In spite of great suffering endured during the fast, he did not achieve the wisdom He sought. After six years, He realized that torturing the body was not the way to enlightnenment and abandonded His fast to set on the Middle path.)
Famous Fasting Buddha/ Emaciated Buddha
There are two famous artifacts that I know of related to the Emaciated Buddha or Fasting Buddha.
The first one is a stone sculpture of the Fasting Buddha from the 2nd or 3rd century AD that is now located in the Lahore Museum, Lahore, Pakistan. It is considered the greatest masterpiece of the Buddhist Gandharan civilisation that existed in northwest Pakistan. This sculpture was one of the first to blend Hellenistic and Indian styles with art that is Roman in form and Buddhist in motif. Read more about this here: Fasting Siddharta
The famous Fasting Buddha statue
Fasting Buddha (Gandhara Civilisations) stamps produced by Pakistan Post in the year 1999
More images of Fasting Buddha from all over the world
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