Question to Radhanath Swami: It is recommended that we fast on the birthdays (usually called the appearance days) of great acharyas or spiritual preceptors. Similarly, it is recommended that we fast on the anniversaries of their departure from this world (disappearance day.) What is the importance of this fasting?
Radhanath Swami: Ultimately, it’s to show our love and appreciation for what that great acharya or spiritual preceptor has done for the world. Performing tapasya or austerity is a way of showing love on the path of bhakti. Essentially, everything in bhakti, every single thing that we do according to rules and regulations, is to express our love and our desire to serve. And the best way to show our love is to engage in a process by which our heart is purified, so that we could actually develop true love. Fasting helps us to control our mind and senses. And controlling the mind and senses is a part of the process of purifying our heart by which love of God can be awakened. But why we want that love? Because the more love we have for God and his devotees, the more we can serve them in everything we do. In our Gaudiya Vaishnav tradition, we don’t want to love Lord Krishna simply so that we can be in ecstasy. We want to love Lord Krishna so that whatever we do, say or think will give ecstasy to Lord Krishna.
We fast so that our physical and mental energies could be concentrated on hearing and chanting the glories of the Lord and engaged in the service of the Lord. These activities please the great acharyas or spiritual preceptor whose appearance or disappearance day we are celebrating. If we are trying to follow the rules and regulations carefully in their service and for their pleasure, then they will be truly pleased.
Sometimes we have seen people engaged in very severe types of fasting. And what happens is, their bellies shrink, but their ego becomes very stout and fat. That is not good. All of our regulative principles in Bhakti Yoga are to simply give pleasure to Lord Krishna. And what gives pleasure to Lord Krishna the most? All of our austerities should be actually helping us to become more humble, more self-controlled and more dedicated to give pleasure to Krishna and guru through our service.
So the great acharyas, they who are expert at knowing what purifies the heart, they have given us these regulations to fast on particular days. However, if it is not done with the right spirit, we will not get the maximum effect.