More Nirjala Ekadasi

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By Dravida Dasa

With some further research and help from His Holiness Bhanu Swami, we have concluded that there is really no basis in either 1) the scripture, specifically the Hari-bhakti-vilasa, the guidebook for devotional practices compiled by Sanatana Gosvami, or 2) Srila Prabhupada’s instructions, for the idea that if one performs a full nirjala fast on Pandava Nirjala Ekadasi, that will negate any ill effects from having broken Ekadasi over the previous year.

The following excerpt from Hari Sauri Prabhu’s “Transcendental Diary” definitively reveals how seriously Srila Prabhupada regarded Ekadasi, and his prescribed remedy for breaking it:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

January 13 1976 - Calcutta

Because it was Ekadasi we skipped breakfast and fasted until noon. But at lunchtime the devotees inadvertently broke the Ekadasi vow because the cook accidentally put peas into the vegetables. No one noticed until too late. Fortunately I arrived late for lunch because I had been massaging Srila Prabhupada. Just as I was about to eat, Jayapataka Maharaja shouted for me to stop. Although initially annoyed at being told not to eat, I was relieved when he pointed out the peas.

Shamefaced, Tamal Krishna Maharaja went to Prabhupada to report what had happened and to find out what should be done.

Srila Prabhupada told us we were all nonsense. He angrily rebuked us, “Now you have to fast for three days!” This shocked everyone. “Yes, that is the procedure,” he confirmed. Seeing the stunned look on our faces, he relented but said that we should observe Ekadasi for the rest of the day and then again tomorrow on Dvadasi.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Srila Prabhupada’s only mention of Pandava Nirjala Ekadasi (also known as Bhima Ekadasi) comes in the conversation with Ramesvara Prabhu quoted in our earlier post. But Srila Prabhupada’s full answer raises some doubt as to whether he really confirmed Ramesvara’s premise, namely, that fasting on Nirjala Ekadasi is equivalent to fasting on all the Ekadasis:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

June 7, 1976, Los Angeles

Ramesvara: So I’ve been told that if one fasts on Bhima-ekadasi, that it is like fasting on all the ekadasis. Is that true?

Prabhupada: Yes. Ekadasi is meant for fasting, either Bhima or Arjuna. But we cannot fast, therefore we have to take little fruits and…. Otherwise, ekadasi means fasting.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Was Prabhupada really confirming that full fasting on Nirjala Ekadasi was equivalent to strictly observing all the other Ekadasis, or was he simply affirming that Ekadasi is meant for fasting? And even if he did confirm Ramesvara’s premise, it is still a logical leap from this to the conclusion (unsupported in any scripture) that full fasting on Nirjala Ekadasi negates any ill effects from breaking Ekadasi. I think we can safely conclude that this idea is a concoction, despite its long observance by many ISKCON devotees.

But what about the benefits of full fasting on Nirjala Ekadasi or any other Ekadasi? Yes, Prabhupada stated in several places that such full fasting is good. But not if it impedes one’s service, especially preaching:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tamala Krsna: I remember you were instructing once that all of your initiated disciples should chant twenty-five rounds…

Prabhupada: Minimum.

Tamala Krsna: Minimum on this day. Is that a rule that we should all follow in our temples?

Prabhupada: We are sixteen rounds.

Tamala Krsna: No, I mean on ekadasi.

Prabhupada: Oh yes. Ekadasi, simply you should chant. No other business. Nirjala.

Tamala Krsna: No preaching work? Should they go out for preaching?

Prabhupada: No, those who are preaching, not for them. Those who are sitting idle, or they… (laughter) [break] … has no other regulation, simply preaching. A preacher is so exalted. He hasn’t got to follow any regulation. But don’t take it. (laughter) And actually if one is busy in preaching work, that is first-class. [break] … not my manufactured word, my Guru Maharaja, that the… That Madhava Maharaja, when he was a brahmacari, his name was Hayagriva. So he was to go somewhere. So but he was sick. Guru Maharaja was informed that he was sick and “Today is ekadasi. He cannot take his regular meals.” So Guru Maharaja said, “No. Let him take immediately meals and go.”

Revatinandana: For preaching.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

So in conclusion, Srila Prabhupada, recognizing our many disqualifications, adjusted so many rules and regulations for us. Not 64 rounds minimum but 16, not full nirjala fasting on Ekadasi but fasting from grains and beans, etc. And it was all in the name of preaching: he never forbade us from chanting 64 rounds — he even started with that number in 1966 — but when he saw that the whole day would be taken up with chanting rounds and nothing else would get done, he reduced it to
32, and finally to 16 — minimum. Same thing with Ekadasi. If Srila Prabhupada had set up the strict rule as nirjala fasting on Ekadasi and staying up all night hearing and chanting — the orthodox Gaudiya Vaisnava practice — then first of all 99% of the devotees would have freaked out at the “impossible” austerity and blooped, and the few remaining devotees would have spent two days every fortnight just doing Ekadasi and recovering from it, without any other service.

So there is absolutely no justification or need for the practice of diminishing one’s preaching service, or any other service, in the name of practicing nirjala Ekadasi on Bhima Ekadasi to atone for previous broken Ekadasis. If you’ve broken Ekadasi and realize it on the Ekadasi day, follow Ekadasi for the rest of the day and fast from grains and beans the next day (or observe full fasting if it won’t impede your service), and if you’ve broken Ekadasi and failed to observe it the next day, well, then pray for forgiveness and vow to strictly follow Ekadasi in the future (no grains or beans), and go on with your service. There is no prayascitta (atonement) for devotees except the practice of devotional service itself, centering on hearing and chanting the holy name.

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Comments • [comment feed]

1 Unregistered

Thank you Prabhu. The BBT Calendar will improve by removing Halloween and other such festivities that are not part of our Vaisnava tradition. Also, adding again the full and new moons might give a Vedic touch to the calendar. Haribol.

Comment posted by anantaramdas on June 17th, 2010
2 Unregistered

Isn’t the information about all ekadasi’s being found in the one ekadasi, called nirjaja, located in the Brahma Vaivarta Purana?

Comment posted by chaturatma on June 18th, 2010
3 Unregistered

Thank you very much for this clarification about Ekadasi. I think that anything that strengthens our practice according to Srila Prabhupada’s mood is valuable. I assume that “… Ramesvara’s premise, it is still a logical leap from this to the conclusion ….” is some kind of mistake, missprint, or typo.

Your servant, Atmananda dasa

Comment posted by Atmananda-das on June 18th, 2010
4 Dravida Dasa

I don’t see why the statement about Ramesvara’s premise should be thought a mistake, misprint, or typo. (That’s rich: “missprint” IS a mistake or typo!) Ramesvara said, “I’ve been told that if one fasts on Bhima-ekadasi, that it is like fasting on all the ekadasis. Is that true?” His premise is “if one fasts on Bhima-ekadasi, that it is like fasting on all the ekadasis.” There is some doubt that Prabhupada confirmed this premise. But even if he had, or even if it is true (and we do have confirmation from the Hari-bhakti-vilasa that it is true; see below), that is not wholly equivalent with saying that fasting on Pandava Nirjala Ekadasi will negate any ill effects from breaking previous Ekadasis. There’s a logical leap there.

To backtrack a bit: The only reason I have gotten involved here with posting about Nirjala Ekadasi is because I put together the BBT calendar every year and there was a firm injunction on there for Nirjala Ekadasi: “If you’ve broken ekadasi before, fast on this day, even from water.” Prabhupada never gave us that instruction; he said fast the next day if you break Ekadasi. So that injunction has to go from future calendars.

But . . . nirjala fast with more hearing and chanting IS recommended by Prabhupada, provided it doesn’t affect your preaching duties. I’m all for full fasting on Ekadasi, especially on Bhima Ekadasi. Great benefits. (See Lakshman Dasa’s excellent article on the glories of Nirjala Ekadasi, and Ekadasi in general, in this issue of Dandavats.com. Thanks, Lakshman Prabhu.) But my point was that the fasting should not be at the expense of your preaching service. That seems to be Prabhupada’s mood as far as I can tell.

Here’s the verse from the Hari-bhakti-vilasa about the glories of fasting on Nirjala Ekadasi:

samvatsarasya ya madhye
ekadasyo bhavanti hi
tasam phalam avapnoti
putra me na atra samsayah

iti mam kesavah praha
sankha cakra gadadharah

“Oh son, Lord Keshava, Who holds the club, disk, conch and lotus
flower in His hand, personally told me that all the merit
achieved by fasting on whatever Ekadasis fall in one year, can be
attained by fasting on this one Ekadasi (Nirjala Ekadasi). Of
this, there is no doubt.”

[ Padma Purana, quoted in Hari Bhakti Vilasa 15.25. Vyasadeva speaking to
Bhimasena ]

Comment posted by Dravida Dasa on June 19th, 2010
5 ccd

I agree that to think that “fasting on Pandava Nirjala Ekadasi will negate any ill effects from breaking previous Ekadasis.” is not appropriate, however it is right that the “phalam” or fruit of fasting will be regained by fasting at this one ekadasi. It is rather subtle, and the subtle element is that it is wrong to use scripture to act against scripture. In other words, if you think that I can not fast because I plan fasting once a year and that is sufficient, you are wrong and you are acting against Prabhupada and the sastra.

Comment posted by ccd on June 20th, 2010
6 Unregistered

Normal understanding is that if one breaks Ekadasi, then one should observe Ekadasi again on trayodasi and not on dvadasi.
The implications of over emphasizing the Pandva Nirjala Ekadasi is a lay devotee may take advantage of this injunction of doing nirjala on Bhima Ekadasi to neutralize the offense of having broken other Ekadasis in the year, by just observe only Bhima Ekadasi by nirjala in the year, and not observe any other Ekadasis at all the rest of year.
Ekadasis have been described to be a day of Lord Hari. One can inch more closer to prema bhakti on Ekadasis through increased hearing and chanting.
There are few Ekadasis that are described to be very potent even more so than Bhima Ekadasi. Vaikuntha Ekadasi and Rama Ekadasi come to the mind.

Comment posted by isvaradas on June 21st, 2010
7 Unregistered

The quoted conversation:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
June 7, 1976, Los Angeles
Ramesvara: So I’ve been told that if one fasts on Bhima-ekadasi, that it is like fasting on all the ekadasis. Is that true?
Prabhupada: Yes. Ekadasi is meant for fasting, either Bhima or Arjuna. But we cannot fast, therefore we have to take little fruits and…. Otherwise, ekadasi means fasting.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

actually continues like this:

Tamala Krsna: If it is possible, should we go without eating at all?
Prabhupada: Yes. But don’t lie down and sleep.

>>> Ref. VedaBase => Morning Walk — June 7, 1976, Los Angeles

Comment posted by vkd on June 22nd, 2010
8 Hari Sauri dasa

Dear Dravida prabhu,

I have a question regarding your research into the Pandava Nirjala ekadasi.

You state that nowhere in the Vedas does it say that this ekadasi negates the ill effects of having broken other ekadasis.

You point out that shastra actually says it gives the benefits of all the other ekadasis put together. Shastra also says that observing nirjala ekadasi destroys all accumulated sins.

So would you like to elaborate on the difference? Isn’t the destruction of all sins and the reaping of all beneficial effects from all the other ekadasis the equivalent to saying that observance of nirjala on this ekadasi will compensate for breaking other ekadasi?

I would also like to know if your research included checking the Gaudiya Panjika? Whenever Srila Prabhupada was asked a technical question about feasts and fasts, his first reaction would generally be to ask “What does it say in the Panjika?” Since our ISKCON calendar was based on the Panjika, could it be that our understanding that nirjala ekadasi observance to counter mistakes in observance of other ekadasis actually came from the Gaudiya Panjika?

Your humble servant,
Hari-sauri dasa

Comment posted by Hari Sauri dasa on June 25th, 2010

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