Fasting, which means to deliberately deny your body the daily nourishment it needs, is a surprisingly universal form of sacrifice. With the notable exception of Protestant sects, almost all religions recommend from time to time we stop feeding the body, not to diet, but to concentrate on feeding the spirit or soul so that virtue grows. Think: “abstinence makes the heart grow fonder.” Fasting usually includes giving up alcohol and sexual relations too, anything that might interfere with the soul connecting to the sublime or divine. The Bible calls fasting the way to become humble in the sight of God, and the ideal way to request, perhaps even to receive, forgiveness for errors. Other religious texts say a body temporarily freed from worry about where its next meal is coming from can focus all its energy on spiritual achievement and make significant progress. Many religions actually specify the best times to stop feeding the body and start feeding the spirit. Here are a few.
Sandra Garson is the author of Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking and How to Fix a Leek and Other Food From Your Farmers’ Market. As a longtime student of Tibetan Buddhism and well-known cook for Dharma centers from Maine to Mongolia, she became the first food historian to explore the Buddha’s influence on how the world now eats. This led to exploration of more religious beliefs about food.