Fasting Cultivation Practice for Meditation Progress
[This Excerpt taken from How to Measure and Deepen Your Spiritual Realization - Measuring Meditation]
Some successful spiritual practitioners, after reaching a certain stage of physical accomplishment, go into retreat and cultivate through fasting by living on chi alone in order to help achieve these spiritual cultivation transformations. They do not eat anything solid during this time but live purely on air and water. At higher stages of attainment, they do not even drink water, nor do they have bodily excretions. Cases in which practitioners engage in this practice are well documented even in the Catholic Church where it is called “inedia,” but of course this type of information rarely reaches the world at large or if it does, rarely makes a dent in worldly consciousness. Nevertheless it is a common, nondenominational stage of cultivation attainment, which is why aspirants in a variety of religions often achieve it.
Swami Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi mentions that the Catholic nun Therese Neumann reached this stage of spiritual cultivation. This minor stage of accomplishment has been witnessed in many Indian adepts as well, such as Pawahari Baba, Giri Bala, and Devaraha Baba. In Christianity we also have St. Lidwina of Schiedam who ate nothing for 28 years, Venerable Domenica dal Paradiso for 20 years, Blessed Nicholas Von Flue for 19 years, Louise Lateau for 12 years. The list goes on.
That these people engaged in inedia does not mean that they achieved the Tao, but that they were able to reach the stage of jing transforming to chi and able to live off this chi. Unfortunately, almost none of the Christian saints were able to go extremely far on the spiritual path and see the Tao for lack of good teachers. Nevertheless if you wish to learn of special abilities like this, Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, or Swami Rama’s Living with the Himalayan Masters, recount many similar such stories in detail.
Fasting Cultivation Practice and its Stages of Transformation
We must point out that this type of fasting practice is not the ordinary type of water or juice fasting recommended by today’s natural health practitioners. In fact, any ordinary individual would certainly die if they fasted too long, which is why many people die in fasting protests. Even individuals like Mahatma Gandhi, despite a multitude of modest attempts at cultivation, would die from starvation after one to three months of fasting if they had not reached the requisite preliminary stage of chi and mai cultivation.
To understand this stage of cultivation, it is best to review what we know about the ordinary practice of extended water fasting. During fasting you might feel hungry, but remember that hunger is not the same as starvation because the body is well equipped to go without food for long periods of time, including several weeks. People’s body tissues typically contain enough nutrients within to allow fasts for one to two months with few problems; however, water must always be amply consumed during this period.
The beauty of fasting is that it a process of detoxification that actually gives the body a chance to rid itself of internal poisons, and then heal itself. Animals, for instance, instinctively fast whenever they are sick or injured, and the therapeutic effect of fasting has been well documented in Europe, the United States and Asia. When the body does not have to use its energies for digesting food, it can divert those same energies to pulling out toxins, and then flush them out of the system. Fasting itself is not a cure, but simply allows the body time to heal itself. There are many people who have gotten themselves off of the need for medications, and cured themselves of chronic disease through the practice of fasting alone.
During fasting, only unwanted fat and nonfunctional tissues are cannibalized by the body to provide energy, and fat cells are the first thing to go. Skeletal muscles are cannibalized next, through a process called autolysis, but the body always protects vital organs such as the brain, nerves, heart and lungs, so they are always the last things to be affected. Since our fat cells are normally used to store toxins, fasting releases these toxins into the blood where they can be discharged from the body. Microbes within body tissues are also pulled out and attacked by the immune system, and since the toxins and bacteria normally accompanying food into the body are absent, the immune system can focus on cleaning up the garbage that it finds.
In short, fasting has a rejuvenating effect because during that time, the body can channel more energy into healing. Short-term water fasting has such a beneficial effect that it can make you feel like a new person, and many people report that fasting makes their senses sharper, their heads clearer, and their bodies feel lighter. Many people therefore do it several times per year, or even just once a week. The Taoist injunction never to eat until you are full, but to always keep the stomach about 10-25% empty, can be considered a type of fasting practice that will extend your life. The Buddhist injunction that monks should only eat one meal a day, which is a custom shared by the American Indians and many primitive African tribes, is a type of fasting practice as well, which also serves to cut down the problem of sexual desire.
You should eat no food when fasting, but always drink lots of water. If your stomach starts to grumble during a fast, you should drink some water instead. Some people fast with water that has a bit of sea salt added, or lemon juice, so that they do not become mineral deficient during this period. When water no longer quenches your thirst and you lose the desire to drink, that is a sign that you have become mineral depleted and that your body is suppressing the desire to drink in order to prevent a further leaching of salt and minerals. Because sea salt contains many more trace minerals than regular salt, it is often taken several times a day during an extended fast to prevent mineral deficiency and to cut down on fasting discomfort.
When you begin a fast, you will generally feel hungry for the first few days, and then surprisingly, your hunger will progressively get less and less. For most people, they will typically lose their desire for food at about the third or fourth day of the fast. So the first three or four days of the fast are the worst, but after that the craving for food diminishes almost completely. The first day of the fast is toughest, since the stomach tends to grumble, but the second day is easier, and the third day easier still. Fasting gets easier with each passing day, and after a while fasting is no longer difficult because the desire for food is minimal and you feel very little discomfort.
People can fast for weeks like this, although a three day up to two week fast is about the right amount of time for the inexperienced, and a thirty to forty day fast is possible for experienced fasters. You know you are finally drawing near to the danger of starvation, when you should definitely break a fast, when your energy reserves become so depleted that you start feeling an intense hunger which is even greater than that of the first few days of the fast. Whereas you will generally not feel hungry during the middle of a fast, you should never continue fasting when hunger arises again, although you should not confuse this hunger with the temptation brought on by smells and thoughts of eating. Most people can safely fast for three weeks (twenty-one days) without any dangers at all, but when hunger reappears with a passion, that is the time to end the fast.
During a normal fast you will have less energy than usual, so you should avoid strenuous activity and get plenty of rest. If you are not eating you will have very few bowel movements, but sometimes you will experience a bowel evacuation in the middle of a fast that will have a foul smell and be rubbery or stringy in texture. This is usually feces that has encrusted the colon wall for years, slowly putrefying and poisoning the body, and the fasting has forced it loose so it could be eliminated. As the body cleans itself, it will eliminate toxins from every orifice of the body and channel of elimination including the skin, nasal passages, urine and feces. Sometimes the purging of this material will appear as if you have a cold or flu, but it is usually just the effect of the heavy eliminations going on.
When you are fasting, your tongue will also tend to become heavily coated and the breath will become offensive. As the body gets rid of more and more material, the breath—which reflects the digestive tract inside—will get worse and worse, as will your body odor since toxins are being released through the skin and sweat glands. The urine will also become progressively darker although this will be less noticeable if you drink a lot of water.
After a time, eventually the coating on the tongue will get lighter and the breath will start to improve until it smells fresh again and the tongue once again appears pink. At this stage, which usually arrives after a few weeks, your body has done about as much detoxification as it can handle, and that is a good time to naturally end the fast. You always want to end a fast naturally rather than take it to a point of starvation, and you want to prepare for long fasts by undertaking a series of shorter fasts that give you experience.
Whenever breaking a fast, you should do so gently by eating only soups, juices, fresh fruits, or (preferably steamed) vegetables in moderation. Give your body time to slowly get used to food again, and stay away from meats, greasy foods, sugar and grains (like wheat). While you will be hungry for a few days after breaking a fast, do not succumb to the tendency to eat too much but just give yourself a couple days to return to normal.
Those who choose to undertake a very extended fasting practice should only do so under the supervision of a doctor, and as regards the spiritual fasting we mentioned by cultivation individuals, you must remember that you can only attempt this if you have already attained a degree of stable samadhi from cultivating your jing, chi and shen. From this foundational set of accomplishments, you will have naturally brought yourself to the stage of not having to eat—because your chi is full--which you can then skillfully extend for years at a time if you so choose.
To do this, you must also learn the Taoist practice of “eating air,” which entails learning to initially swallow it like a fish. After a while you can survive without eating at all by reaching a cultivation stage the Chinese call “bigu,” whereas ordinary individuals would certainly perish from starvation. In essence, this food-free practice is quite possible, but do not kid yourself as to its ease. Even advanced cultivators might come close to death during this practice if they are not careful nor qualified for the effort. As a result, it is wise to seek the blessings of an enlightened master when attempting such efforts. Otherwise, the potential for harm will always exist.
If you can reach the stage in your cultivation where your chi, mai and kundalini have already been transformed to a certain extent, and a realized master says you can undertake this meditation-fasting method of cultivation practice, the following hitherto secret sequence of physical transformations are what you can expect:
• During the first ten days of fasting, your energy will feel weak, and your skin color will tend to turn yellowish (basically, an unhealthy color tone).
• During the second ten days, you will feel woozy or faint if you move, your joints will feel tight, and it may become difficult for you to defecate. The color of your urine will usually turn a dark yellowish brown and some will experience diarrhea. The first part of any defecated stool will seem hard, whereas the second half might seem sticky or watery.
• During the third ten days of fasting-meditation, your body will become very thin from loss of weight and it will become difficult to walk because you will feel weak and heavy. Of course this is due to the fasting rather than to sickness, so a cultivator should not worry if this happens. If it is necessary, they can use some medicine to help adjust their body at this point.
• In the fourth set of ten days of practice, your complexion will improve. Because of the constant meditation and lower level of nutrition, you will not experience so many thoughts and desires anymore. Thus, the mind will become relatively peaceful and calm.
• In the fifth set of ten days, you will feel that all your internal organs are becoming balanced and harmonized, and jing and chi will start to accumulate in the body. Naturally, you cannot reach any of these stages unless you have continually conserved your jing up to this point, nor will you continue to make progress if you let your jing leak away through sexual temptations during this time.
• During the sixth set of ten days, a practitioner’s health will fully recover and they will no longer feel weak. All the organ systems of the body will now harmonize and feel active. You will begin to experience physical bliss.
• In the seventh set of ten days, your mind will begin to hate external noises and you will harbor the wish to avoid any distractions or disturbances. The mind will feel so clean that it can be likened to a bird which wishes to fly out of its cage; the desire for peace and quiet will impel you to try and avoid the afflictions of the human world. This is the point, since the mind is clear, that you have to set your will to do great and noble things for the world.
• In the eighth set of ten days, a practitioner will become completely calm and quiet, and can enjoy living alone. However, the dread of being disturbed by people and society will also have disappeared, and you will be able to deal with worldly disturbances because your prajna wisdom will have begun to open. Now you will truly trust the Tao and start to have all sorts of understanding and knowledge of topics like medicine, astronomy, music, weather and so on. It is not that you will know everything, for you will still have to study, but because your wisdom will have opened up you will begin to understand or comprehend things much easier, sometimes at first glance. Various psychic abilities (superpowers) may also arise.
• By the ninth set of ten days, the practitioner’s appearance will now have become quite beautiful or handsome. Their skin will have become shiny and smooth like a baby’s, and in general they will feel like a flower in springtime where life is budding all over. This is all due to the fact that the body has become clean, the chi has become harmonized, and because the wisdom has started to open. At this point, a man’s voice will become rich and full like a large bell, and a woman’s voice will become very sweet and melodious: smooth and delightful to hear.
• In the next ten days of meditation, the practitioner’s real yang chi will finally begin to arise. The effects will be strong and obvious, and the individual by this time, because of his or her continued practice, will have actually lengthened his or her apportioned life span.
In completing these one hundred days of fasting-meditation, a cultivation practitioner can lay a good foundation for even greater cultivation progress. But it is important during this whole process that you are always engaged in emptiness meditation and never lose your jing, otherwise there will be insufficient chi to produce the physical transformations recounted. If you lose your jing during this period, this fault might even be deadly. The important point is to be cultivating your chi during this period, for you need to reach the stage where your chi becomes full, and hopefully you can start transforming it into shen.
After these preliminary stages of transformation, the effects of continued fasting will start to come quickly without cease. Thus, if an individual has the merit to continue in this effort, he or she can then expect to encounter even further progress as follows:
• After three years of continued practice, by meditating and relying on air and water alone, all the diseases within the body will have disappeared. Any internal obstacles or obstructions will have vanished, and the individual will appear shiny and bright. By this time the practice has become so easy that the practitioner will not even desire food anymore.
• At the six year mark, the bone marrow will become so full that if the practitioner were stabbed with a knife, a milky white liquid would come out instead of blood. By this time the intestinal system will have become extremely clean and strong. A practitioner who reaches this stage will also know when he or she will die. Therefore, if he or she desires a longer life, he or she can also determine at this point which other practices they must undertake.
• At the nine year mark, the practitioner will become able to command the ghosts and spirits. If the practitioner is a male, female dakinis will come to serve him. If she is female, male dakas will come to serve her. By now mind and brain will have been transformed. The side flanks of the body will have become filled with chi so that no one will be able to harm them. Thus, the practitioner will have fully changed his or her body and can live as long as desired. This, in Chinese Tao school terminology, is the perfected physical equivalent to the state of the “true man” or “real individual.”
This description of the various stages of fasting cultivation has remained relatively unknown for a long time. They are principles handed down from the Tao school, which places particular emphasis on cultivating the physical body, so it is natural that the Taoists have recorded these particular phenomena. However, if you actually “see Tao” or “see the path” because you have cultivated the emptiness of prajna transcendental wisdom, the time required for these changes, and their particular order of manifestation, will not be limited to these indications. There are always alterations and permutations of these basic kung-fu principles, and these deviations will depend upon your practice, effort and merits. Nevertheless, what we are describing is the general road of practice along with the sequential progress to be expected.
Thus, this sequence of transformation is merely a general guide for those adepts who are concentrating on cultivating their chi, mai and kundalini. You must cultivate some degree of emptiness in order to be able to produce these transformations, but achieving them does not necessarily mean you are following the path of cultivating prajna wisdom as done in the Zen school.
On the other hand, even if you should succeed in self-realization by just cultivating prajna wisdom and correctly ignoring your physical nature—as done in Zen--you must still complete the task of transforming your physical body after you succeed in awakening. The task will be much easier to accomplish than for practitioners who are working at lower levels of cultivation practice, nonetheless you must still work to complete the physical transformation of your body after enlightenment. Otherwise your kung-fu attainments will never remain stable.
You might ask yourself whether it is actually possible to live such a long time without eating, or whether this is just science fiction nonsense? This is definitely an achievable process (and we will encounter people who have done so) when you have successfully cultivate your chi and mai--but only advanced meditation practitioners can accomplish this feat. Only those who have already attained a certain stage of samadhi and opened their tu mai (back) and jen mai (front) energy channels can even attempt this type of practice, for any run-of-the-mill meditator would surely die at this sort of effort.
As a result, you must first attain samadhi and the blessings of a realized master before you should ever attempt this practice, and even then you might still fail if you do not have the requisite merit and required level of attainment. For this and a variety of other reasons, you will not hear of many success stories on this particular road of cultivation. Yet this road does exist and you do need to know about it.
Jesus is a perfect example of an individual who succeeded in practicing fasting for forty days. Many Islamic saints have performed this feat as well; if you want to read about individuals who succeeded in fasting-meditation for longer periods of time, you can turn to the Tibetan stories of Milarepa and Lady Yeshe Tsogyel recounted later in this book. Both of these individuals spent years in fasting practice, and both came very close to dying. However, both survived and ultimately succeeded in enlightenment to become male and female heroes of the Tibetan cultivation schools.
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