Ekadashi is the Sanskrit name for the eleventh day of the waxing and waning lunar cycle. Ekadashi is a special day for fasting and increasing your practices of meditation and bhakti yoga. The Vedas recommend observing this sacred day in order to experience both physical and spiritual benefits.
In this article we discuss the benefits of fasting on Ekadashi, different types of Ekadashi fasts, upcoming Ekadashi dates, and more.
Why is Ekadashi so special?
The Vedas describe Ekadashi as hari-vasara, or the day of Hari. Hari is another name of Krishna. The day of Ekadashi has been celebrated by Krishna devotees for hundreds of thousands of years. Ekadashi is also known as upavasa, or a day for coming closer to God. Thus the purpose of Ekadashi is not merely to starve the body, but to bring our mind and heart closer to Krishna through acts of bhakti yoga, or devotional service.
Ekadashi is also known as the “Mother of Devotion” because by observing this special day we can greatly accelerate our spiritual development. The great Vaisnava saint of the 20th century, Bhaktivinode Thakura, wrote:
madhava tithi bhakti janani jatane palana kori
“Ekadashi is the day of Madhava, Lord Krishna. It is bhakti-janani, the Mother of Bhakti. Everyone should observe it with great care.”
The Benefits of Fasting on Ekadashi
There are more benefits to fasting on Ekadashi than we can possibly discuss in this article, so we’ll just focus on the prominent ones.
A “Karma Hack”
One way to think of Ekadashi is like a “karma hack.” Karma is the universal system that governs cause and effect in this world. We all have things we’ve done in life that we regret. Our present suffering is a consequence for past harm we caused to others, either directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally.
The Vedas prescribe many different ways to break free of past bad karma. These are known as prescribed methods of atonement, prayashcitta in Sanskrit. However, among all the methods of atonement, fasting on Ekadashi is the most effective. Simply by fasting on this day, you can eradicate more bad karma than you can even imagine. It’s really that powerful.
Not only can Ekadashi neutralize bad karma, but it can also undo any negative effects of planets in your astrological birth chart. Certain planets like Mars and Saturn are renowned for causing trouble in various areas of life—pursuing a career, committing to a spouse, conceiving children, the list goes on. By fasting on Ekadashi, it’s possible to negate these unwanted planetary influences and even make them into positive forces in your life.
We discussed above how the Ekadashi day is sometimes referred to in the Vedas as the “Mother of Devotion.” It is an open secret that the path of bhakti leads to ultimate happiness, one far greater than anything available through ordinary worldly attainment.
Most people in this world work hard, day and night, in pursuit of money, fame, romance, and other fleeting pleasures. However, by awakening our innate spiritual consciousness through devotion to Ishvara, Krishna, one can experience transcendental happiness. By fasting and increasing your spiritual practices on the holy day of Ekadashi, anyone can get a glimpse of this supernatural mode of pleasure.
Aside from its spiritual benefits, Ekadashi also enhances one’s physical health. The benefits of intermittent fasting have been shown in numerous scientific studies. Here are some of the ways intermittent fasting boosts your health:
- Improves metabolism
- Enhances physical and mental performance by inducing ketosis, which also aids in weight loss
- Reduces inflammation in the tissues
- Lowers stress
- Increases levels of human growth hormone, which supports muscle growth, strength, and injury and disease recovery
- Induces autophagy, which gets rid of excess protein build up within the body
Intermittent fasting is considered one of the most effective weight loss methods. Fasting on Ekadashi is a beneficial type of intermittent fasting.
Fasting Options: Find What Works for You
Now we’ll discuss the different levels of fasting that you can try.
A basic fast on Ekadashi would involve avoiding only select foods. You can still eat and drink however much you want. By consuming only easily digestible foods, your body still gets a break and benefits from the fast. In addition, you get the spiritual benefits of fasting on this day as well.
Foods to Avoid:
- Meat, fish, and eggs. This food group should be avoided altogether, all of the time, if you are serious about your spiritual well-being. However, at the very least, it’s required to abstain from meat, fish, and eggs as part of an Ekadashi fast.
- Grains and beans (legumes). Grains like wheat, rice, corn, and beans like mung daal, lentils, black beans, and so on, are staples of most of the world’s diet. However, these foods acquire a negative energy on the eleventh day of the lunar cycle. For this reason they are avoided on Ekadashi.
- Garlic, onion, and mushrooms. These foods are also best avoided at all times for anyone practicing bhakti yoga or meditation, as they contain high levels of rajas and tamas, which are unfavorable for attaining heightened states of consciousness.
- Anything with starch, wheat, or corn additives. Certain spices, oils, and other items may contain grain-based additives. These are best avoided on Ekadashi.
Foods to Eat:
- Pseudo-grains. Quinoa and buckwheat are good alternatives for Ekadashi. Almond flour is also a nice grain substitute.
- Fruits and vegetables. A fruit and veggie platter makes a great Ekadashi meal.
- Milk, yogurt, and vegetarian cheese. Dairy products are also ideal for Ekadashi. However, many varieties of cheeses are not vegetarian, as they contain animal-based rennet. Check the label to see if the cheese is suitable for vegetarians.
- Nuts. Peanuts and tree nuts are all excellent sources of fat and protein on Ekadashi.
There are a number of ways to take your fast up a level. One option would be to eat only one meal in the day, either in the morning, afternoon, or evening.
Another option would be to observe a liquid fast, only taking water, milk, and fruit and vegetable juices. Or you could just do a water fast, abstaining from everything but water for the entire day.
A complete fast on Ekadashi is to abstain from eating and drinking altogether for twenty-four hours, from sunrise until sunrise of the following day. This can be very uplifting spiritually, although it should not be done without due consideration to one’s health.
Pregnant or breast-feeding women, children, and the elderly should not perform this type of fast, but they can definitely do a basic Ekadashi fast without issue.
Things to Do on Ekadashi
The main purpose of Ekadashi is to dedicate extra time to spiritual nourishment. Fasting is just one aspect of it. Here are some additional activities you can do to make the most out of Ekadashi.
- Meditate and pray. The best mantra for meditation is the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. It is the most widely-used Vedic mantra, and it contains the potency of all other mantras combined. It can be compared to a daily supervitamin. You can either take a dozen supplements, or just take a single vitamin that combines them all. Similarly, the maha-mantra contains the active benefits of all the other Vedic mantras.
- Read śāstras such as the Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Setting aside extra time to read sacred literature is another excellent way to augment your spiritual practices on Ekadashi. Books such as the Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam contain profound spiritual lessons. Their wisdom is life-transforming.
- Visit a Krishna temple in your area. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) has many temples around the world dedicated to the worship of Krishna. There are also other organizations and temples that have Radha-Krishna Deities which you can visit on the holy day of Ekadashi.
Upcoming Ekadashi Dates in 2021
Since Ekadashi is a day in the lunar calendar, it is not always observed on the same day everywhere throughout the world. To find out when the next Ekadashi is in your local timezone, check out this Vaisnava Calendar.
How the Lunar Calendar is Calculated
Ekadashi occurs on the 11th and 26th days of the lunar month. Lunar days are known in Sanskrit as tithis. They are calculated based on the position of the moon relative to the sun.
When the moon is 180° longitude from the sun, the tithi is Purnima, or the last day of the month. The first day of the month is known as the Dark Pratipat, and it lasts form 180-192°. Another Pratipat, known as the Bright Pratipat, occurs after the new moon, mid-way through the month, from 0-12°. Then the next day, Dvitiya, lasts from 12-24°. Each tithi is allotted 12° of longitudinal difference between the movement of the sun and moon in the sky.
360° orbit / 12° per tithi = 30 lunar days
Tithis are used for calculating all important Vedic holidays.