Voluntary fasting on certain days is called “upavása”. The derivative meaning of the word “upavása” is to remain in proximity to Iishvara; that is to say, to keep one’s mind absorbed in the thought of Iishvara. Those who have received initiation into Ananda Marga Iishvara Prańidhána must observe fasting compulsorily on all ekádashii days (the eleventh day after the new or full moon). Sannyásiis and renunciates must also fast on all púrńimá and amávasyá days.
On a fast day no food is to be eaten from sunrise until sunrise of the next day. Drinking water is also forbidden on fast days. If, due to unavoidable circumstances, a person is unable to fast on the prescribed day, then he or she must fast on either the preceding or the following day. During sickness, fasting is not required, but in such cases written permission will have to be obtained from the Dharma Pracára Secretary of the Saḿgha.
On and around the times of new and full moon, one may observe that the gaseous and aqueous factors in the body rise up into the head and chest, creating an uncomfortable feeling. Therefore, if a person does not take food at these times, these factors will be drawn down from the higher portions of the body to the lower portions, thereby alleviating the uncomfortable feeling.
The food that we take is converted, through transformation, into its final essence, called shukra. Shukra is the food of the brain. From it, the ectoplasmic particles of the unit mind are produced. If one fasts according to the system, no excess shukra will excite the lower vrttis of the mind, and the mind will be led toward the higher vrttis. Furthermore, as a result of fasting, the poisonous and unnecessary waste of the body gets destroyed and expelled. Moreover, the energy that is not expended in digesting food can be utilized for other purposes. Therefore, a fast day is an excellent time for sádhaná.
Pure and fresh air has the power to cure disease. It is advisable to breathe in as fully as possible, because when we do so, the air gets an opportunity to be completely absorbed by the lungs. It is better to take a walk in the fresh air than to ride a vehicle. If the body does not work up a sufficient sweat, then you should know that you have not taken the air properly.
The essence of blood, when transformed, becomes shukra, and this shukra is food for the brain. In the absence of shukra, or in case of its impaired functioning, the entire constitution may be impaired, the body may become susceptible to disease, and mental and spiritual sádhaná may be impaired. Therefore, restraint is a must for every man and woman, because only self-control helps achieve the maximum preservation of shukra.
In the human body, one day’s shukra becomes surplus in every twenty-eight days. In the case of unmarried males, this excess shukra is either passed out with the urine or expelled while dreaming. It is not at all abnormal for an unmarried male to have a seminal discharge three or four times a month.
In the case of married persons, sexual relations in excess of four times a month can lead to an improper waste of shukra. So as regards the question of restraint and lack of restraint, the more one practises restraint, the greater will be his or her well-being.
For married persons:
Keeping in view the progress of society, fit persons should have more children and unfit persons should have less.
Of course, for want of proper education even the children of fit parents may become a liability to the society rather than an asset. Hence it is better to restrict oneself to producing that number of children for which proper upbringing is possible. But at the same time, attempts at birth control by physical damage to men or women, or by permanent destruction of their procreative capacity, can never be supported, because such attempts may bring about a severe mental reaction in them at any time. But if one has to accept permanent birth control for some special reason, then permission should be requested from the ácárya. The ácárya in such cases will ascertain the views of the Ácárya Board and then guide the person.