This made me remember the account of a certain man undergoing 24/7 controlled scrutiny while fasting for 411 days, only taking in sunlight and water.
411 day fast? I had to look that up. Fascinating story. Thanks for sharing. Here is the first paragraph of a good article on him:
Recently a historical and amazing incidence took place in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. A gentleman called Shri Hira Ratan Manek(H.R.M.) aged 64, a mechanical engineer residing at Calicut, originally belonging to Kutch, Gujarat, has just accomplished a remarkable record - a world record, by doing continuous fasting for 411 days, as per jain tradition.(i.e. taking only boiled water during day time and just no other food or liquids). He had done similar jain fasting for 211 days in 1995-96. This time, he started fasting on 1.1.2000. The unique thing, was that this time he was under continuous day to day medical checking and elaborate medical testing- with a critical evaluation by a team of expert doctors, representing various fraternities of medical science including family physicians, physicians, cardiologist, neurologist, endocrinologist, surgeon, pathologists, genetician, radiologists e.t.c. Also from time to time several teams of physicists, chemists, biochemists, physiologists and several doctors from all different specialities from India as well as abroad have spent time to meet him, examine him. All of them have been impressed with the genuinity of fasting but every body is wondering how this has become possible. You will agree, that as per today’s scientific knowledge, this is just not possible and it is extremely difficult to explain this happening, even if the man is taken as superman or genetically a different human being. We now know of about at least 200 people living without food, on this earth.
While many things are possible with the correct training of mind and body, participants in this discussion are counselled to keep in mind that the Buddha was not in favor of severe austerities such as Long Fasting as they do not lead to Enlightenment. Such activities should only be undertaken under requisite Spiritual and Medical guidance. Jains routinely die while attempting to fast for long periods- such a practice (Sallekhana) is part of their religion. The Indian Courts are yet to come to a final decision regarding the admissibility of the practice.
Then it occurred to me, ‘Why don’t I practice completely cutting off food?’ But deities came to me and said, ‘Good sir, don’t practice totally cutting off food. If you do, we’ll infuse divine nectar into your pores and you will live on that.’ Then it occurred to me, ‘If I claim to be completely fasting while these deities are infusing divine nectar in my pores, that would be a lie on my part.’ So I dismissed those deities, saying, ‘There’s no need.’
Then it occurred to me, ‘Why don’t I just take a little bit of food each time, a cup of broth made from mung beans, lentils, chickpeas, or green gram.’ So that’s what I did, until my body became extremely emaciated. Due to eating so little, my limbs became like the joints of an eighty-year-old or a corpse, my bottom became like a camel’s hoof, my vertebrae stuck out like beads on a string, and my ribs were as gaunt as the broken-down rafters on an old barn. Due to eating so little, the gleam of my eyes sank deep in their sockets, like the gleam of water sunk deep down a well. Due to eating so little, my scalp shriveled and withered like a green bitter-gourd in the wind and sun. Due to eating so little, the skin of my belly stuck to my backbone, so that when I tried to rub the skin of my belly I grabbed my backbone, and when I tried to rub my backbone I rubbed the skin of my belly. Due to eating so little, when I tried to urinate or defecate I fell face down right there. Due to eating so little, when I tried to relieve my body by rubbing my limbs with my hands, the hair, rotted at its roots, fell out.
Then some people saw me and said, ‘The ascetic Gotama is black.’ Some said, ‘He’s not black, he’s brown.’ Some said, ‘He’s neither black nor brown. The ascetic Gotama has tawny skin.’ That’s how far the pure, bright complexion of my skin had been ruined by taking so little food.
Then it occurred to me, ‘Whatever ascetics and brahmins have experienced painful, sharp, severe, acute feelings due to overexertion—whether in the past, future, or present—this is as far as it goes, no-one has done more than this. But I have not achieved any superhuman distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones by this severe, gruelling work.
That I find to be sound and a piece of true advice, and words that many teachers yogis and mystics up through history have repeated pointing to. I guess the point Buddha made was that overdoing something doesn’t lead to freedom from suffering, but that doesn’t mean that fasting or sun gazing is a wrong practice.
But that said, in my experience and practice one should not fall into traps like base one’s own progress by comparison to some other’s achievements and advice, but investigate both with mind and heart, put it to the test, and then really understand for oneself. And one doesn’t know what too long fasting is before one really puts on full effort.
I find it fascinating that a person could actually maintain a normal physical existence while subsisting on only water and sunlight. I’m not convinced it’s legit, but I’m not that interested anyway, it’s just a curio, not even worth it’s own thread here. The Buddha was crystal clear that there is no benefit in that path. Thanks faujidoc1 and awarewolf!
Excuse me for being totally disagreeing here, because if one just ignores that which one knows little or nothing about, are one then practicing dhamma in accordance with dhamma, or are one cherry picking?
As far as I have researched and practiced sun gazing, it’s both interesting and a a skillful mean. But I don’t care about any wohoo around stuff like this, i prefer to check things out and develop my own wisdom.
You and I and the rest of us do not know what Buddha actually said, but that doesn’t mean the same as saying TN8FP isn’t worthwhile. Buddha didn’t say anything about doing tai chi, qi gong or yoga, but still there are a lot of practitioners who use it in their training.
You are correct: I don’t know anything about sungazing. I just saying I was fascinated by the possibility that someone could live 411 days only drinking boiling water and sungazing, that I’m somewhat skeptical that it’s possible but that I’m not very interested in those kinds of practices. I have no opinion about sungazing, tai chi, qi gong or yoga, even if there are benefits to those things, I’m just not personally interested. I happy to hear that you might find benefit in some of those things; more power to you!
The only >1 year fast that has been medically verified (AFAIK) is Angus Barbieri’s fast.
I practice month-long fasts occasionally and had to learn a lot to do it safely. It’s certainly possible to fast for a year or more, so long as you start out obese and take daily electrolytes and vitamins.
But anyone who attempts to fast on just boiled water will die within a few months of hypovitaminosis.
It seems clear enough that severe fasting is neither the Buddha’s middle way, nor medically recommended. This make me wonder why it is often a topic of fascination. Is it a type of attachment that is the obverse of desiring to eat?
I only know my own experiences with fasting, and that severe fasting isn’t known before one reach one’s own limits. How about sitting for long times, where there are many reports of both lay and monastics having exceeded their limits, but still there seem to be a general understanding that one has to sit for an extended time and endure because that’s how one learns to transcend suffering.
I understand Buddha as saying that one can’t reach the end of suffering by mere torturing one’s being but could be I’m wrong about this.
What I have discovered by fasting is that the body needs much less than I think it needs and that a combined still mind with a body unoccupied, makes a very stable ground for reaching deeper stillness.
But I don’t regard myself being hardcore fasting, it’s something I did a couple of years ago and might do again in the future if it seems to be in accordance with the general practice.
And btw: What is medically advised isn’t necessarily the whole truth.
According to his methods, one has to first lay the ground by charging the body by sun gazing and then combining it with standing or walking barefoot on sand/earth/gravel. My guess is that a practice like this must be very stable and wholeheartedly performed, to work at all …
There’s a fun discussion on this in Ward Keeler’s The Traffic in Hierarchy:
when describing powerful monks meditating in the forest, of how little they ate, and/or how they ate only food that they could find on their own, such as fruit and nuts growing wild in the forest. Personal autonomy in this image approaches asymptotically a logical end point: zero exchange between the monk and the world. Eating almost nothing and ignoring everything about their surroundings, including the terrifying beasts that confront them, they show themselves to be without connection to the world, completely on their own. Breath becomes the only point of interaction
the key lies at least in part in the pull we all feel toward individual autonomy, a willingness to believe that we might be able to escape [all] constraints
Seen in this way, the error is that there’s still an identification with the body. Freedom in Buddhism isn’t cutting the body off from the world, it’s cutting the mind off from the body.
One can be just as mindful about the activity of eating as the activity of fasting, no?
By the way, I read somewhere that a human could eat nothing but potatoes and milk for nine months before experiencing any nutritional deficiencies.
Bhante, I’m a little puzzled by this statement. Wouldn’t that just be an identification with the mind?
I didn’t say you stop cutting there
And to fill in the post with 20 words, at least, - I say that thinking what’s right for the body compared to feeling for it, is very different, and that feeling leaves one with wisdom that one truly can call “one’s own”. Thinking is knowledge, and feeling is understanding.