The Fast and Sacrifice

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What is sacrifice? As Baha’is, we believe that it is – in short – the act of giving up something for something of greater value.

Sacrifice has always been a concept of great fascination to me. It is fundamental to the progress and consummation of the human soul. Consequently, it is a practice that I try to apply in all aspects of my life.

As you would already know from previous posts, Baha’is are currently observing the Fast. In this time, I find myself asking: how does the concept of sacrifice tie in with the act of fasting?

One might say that I’m sacrificing my physical comfort because my Faith tells me to do so, but am I observing these commandments merely out of a sense of duty or because there are greater underlying reasons – to perfect my spiritual character or out of the “love for the beauty of the Best-Beloved”?

‘Abdu’l-Baha says:

Fasting is the cause of awakening man. The heart becomes tender and the spirituality of man increases.

How has the Fast caused my heart to become tender and my spirituality to increase, as stated in the above passage?

I think I can safely say that this is achieved only through prayer and meditation, a hugely important aspect of observing the Fast. Baha’u’llah characterises obligatory prayer and fasting as “two wings to man’s life.” This simple analogy likens one’s life to a bird and the fast and obligatory prayer to the two wings of the bird. Just as the bird cannot fly without either wing, fasting and prayer are both crucial to our life.

‘Abdu’l-Baha continues:

 This is produced by the fact that man’s thoughts will be confined to the commemoration of God, and through this awakening and stimulation surely ideal advancements follow…

It is our spiritual nature to seek and turn to our Creator. During the Fast, when we abstain from the material comforts that we have become so dependent on, these spiritual inclinations are reinvigorated and we find ourselves turning to this greater Being. It is then that we become susceptible to His ways and teachings, thus allowing for those “ideal advancements” which ‘Abdu’l-Baha makes reference to.

‘Abdu’l-Baha then goes on to say:

Fasting is of two kinds, material and spiritual. The material fasting is abstaining from food or drink, that is, from the appetites of the body. But spiritual, ideal fasting is this, that man abstain from selfish passions, from negligence and from satanic animal traits. Therefore, material fasting is a token of the spiritual fasting.

The physical fast we observe is a portal to the spiritual Fast. It is the tool enabling us to reach our spiritual perfection – the first step we need to make in order to cultivate our spiritual life to the very standards set before us.

If we step back and analyse the observance of the Fast, we can see that all the spiritual rewards associated with the Fast begin with a small act of sacrifice. Like all the other sacrifices we make out of love for God, this sacrifice involves forgoing a temporal material gain for a greater spiritual gain, eternal in nature.

What are your thoughts on sacrifice and how it relates to the observance of the Fast? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

 

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Discussion 7 Comments

  1. I am unable to abstain from eating because of medical conditions.
    Sacrifice for me is ultimately letting go of ego in how I think and what I do every day. Trying to abstain from ego identification and ego gratification is REALLY hard, possibly impossible as a human in this time and space.

    My daily fast is trying to live a spiritual life here on earth. When I achieve small successes in letting go of ego it is not a sacrifice.

  2. There have been 55 fasts in my Baha’i life. From the age of 15 to 40 I fasted most of the time. Due to illness, after the age of 40 I did not fast. I was a teacher and I always found fasting very, very difficult. My family and colleagues who were not Baha’is strongly advised me against fasting since it imposed such strains on my life. But I was, and am still, an eager Baha’i who wants to obey, insofar as I am able. I write the following for those who, like me, find fasting very difficult.

    At the level of the individual, the expectation of personal gain dims our potential to be genuinely sacrificial. There is a great deal of personal gain in fasting, but only if we believe the words of the Central Figures of this Cause. Abdu’l-Baha puts it this way in His The Secret of Divine Civilization: “…a religious individual must disregard his personal desires and seek in whatever way he can wholeheartedly to serve the public interest; and it is impossible for a human being to turn aside from his own selfish advantages and sacrifice his own good for the good of the community except through true religious faith. For self-love is kneaded into the very clay of man, and it is not possible that, without any hope of a substantial reward, he should neglect his own present material.” Of course, anyone with more than a little familiarity with the writings, comes to realize that one acts so often in the Cause and in the end, not for personal gain, but because one wants to obey and so many religious truths lie beyond rational explanation. A society withouta binding system of values cannot function and that is one reason why our society is becoming unstuck.

    The trials of suffering can make one happier but, as one writer puts it, this sounds counter-intuitive. Looking back at those years of fasting in my mid-to-late adolescence as well as early adulthood, the years from 20 to 40 according to one model of human development used by psychologists, I am happy that I fasted—in retrospect. Fasting has been one of the great tests of my Baha’i life. To fast was, without doubt, a great test for me each year. And each year that I fasted, I passed the test—at least at the overt, the external, the obvious level. As it says in the Ayyam-i-Ha prayer I was able to fast “with such resolve as is born of Thee.”

    To place this issue of suffering in the context of an answer given by Abdul-Baha to a questioner: “Does the soul progress more through sorrow or through the joy in this world?” was the question posed to Abdu’l-Baha in Paris, in the early 20th century. He replied: “The mind and spirit of man advance when he is tried by suffering…His attitude in this world will be that of divine happiness. Man is, so to speak, unripe: the heat of the fire of suffering will mature him. Look back to the times past and you will find that the greatest men have suffered most…. Through suffering he will attain to an eternal happiness which nothing can take from him. The apostles of Christ suffered: they attained eternal happiness. (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 178)

    No-one enjoys sorrow and I certainly did not enjoy fasting. Suffering presents itself in countless ways and it is for this reason that no-one is left unaffected. In my more than 50 years as a Baha’i—fasting was, without doubt, one of the many forms of my suffering. We are all tested in various ways, ways which are without doubt different from person to person. Whilst many a time we may find circumstances unbearable and I found fasting unbearalbe many a time: it is how we deal with, and accept the latent wisdom that lies within these challenges, that provides a path to happiness. To draw on the words of the Guardian: “….suffering, although an inescapable reality, can nevertheless be utilised as a means for the attainment of happiness. This is the interpretation given to it by all the prophets and saints who, in the midst of severe tests and trials, felt happy and joyous and experienced what is best and holiest in life. Suffering is both a reminder and a guide. It stimulates us better to adapt ourselves to our environmental conditions, and thus leads the way to self improvement. In every suffering one can find a meaning and a wisdom. But it is not always easy to find the secret of that wisdom. It is sometimes only when all our suffering has passed that we become aware of its usefulness.”(1) As I head into my old age I am more conscious than ever of the usefulness of the suffering I have had in my life. (1) Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community)

    By the time I was 40 I had memorized many, many passages from the writings and prayers on fasting since over those years that I fasted I prayed and read a great deal of the time. Those passages from the writings have stayed with me as I head into my 70s. Amongst the many struggles I have been faced with in life, as I look back over seven decades, it is through suffering that I have developed more compassion and become more willing to sacrifice myself for the betterment of the lives of those around me. It is not the only way and I can not prove what I say here. What I say here is a strong intuition. Intuition is one of the criteria of truth, only one. “To attain eternal happiness one must suffer. He who has reached the state of self-sacrifice has true joy. Temporal joy will vanish.” And so, for those of you, like me, find fasting a real test, think of it as one of the many routes to eternal happiness. Suffering and sacrifice can be overwhelming at times so what can sustain us? – it is the faith that our sacrifices can be the cause of irreversible spiritual growth, both for us and for those around us. In the Baha’i life each of us also finds out, at least it seems to me, the limits of his or her capacity to endure and to suffer. And most of us do have limits, limits to what you might call the sacrificial temperament.

    I can only pass on to you what I hope is the wisdom of experience as I head into old age in the years ahead. I could write much more about the subject but, as Abdul-Baha said in relation to His Paris Talks: “I give you my tired moments.”

    (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 178)

  3. I have been a Baha’i for just two years. I am grateful to a lot of guys for fixing me up with this magic belief. After realizing the purpose of each other’s life and how everybody should behave daily. I take pride in the way I past although I diviated from it sometimes. This is my first time to fast. Of course not everything is perfect but I am glade I get started and tried hard even in the most hungry and difficult period. I can feel the connection with god. And my nerve to face myself have been strengthened. I make a wish here to wish myself have a more spiritual new year frOm now on.

    1. Dear Baha’i friends,

      Its a great pleasure to see your comments and I fully agree with all of you that the fast is a sacred moment where we realized the tests we are currently facing. During moments of prayers and mostly during fast, all my sorrows, stress, troubles and anguish; leaves me and go very far away. I would wish that my life can be in a state of prayer.

      In the world awaiting us, there will be no difficulties as we are facing in this world and I pray to the Almighty that one day I can be close to him and live eternally close to Him.

      God bless you all

      Allah’U’Abha

  4. I have been fasting for 41 years since accepting the Faith at 21. For me, the physical side of fasting is usually easy. It is cut and dried: don’t eat or drink between sunrise and sunset. The difficult times are when my alarm doesn’t go off and I have to stuff a few calories into my mouth before sunrise or I have such a busy life style that I have to take a snack and energy drink with me because I know I won’t be home until long after sunset. The spiritual side is more problematic. The Fast jostles us out of our traditional routine and forces us to face our limitations and inadequacies. i always experience some crisis or test during the Fast that forces me to turn toward God and realize He is my only sustaining Helper. By the end, I am left wishing it could go on longer so I could continue to experience the accelerated spiritual growth and the resulting blessings.

    Sincerely,

    Catherine

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