by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 941,039 words
This page describes “why celebrate the upavasa of six days of fasting” as written by Nagarjuna in his Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra (lit. “the treatise on the great virtue of wisdom”) in the 2nd century. This book, written in five volumes, represents an encyclopedia on Buddhism as well as a commentary on the Pancavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita.
Question. – Why are the six fasting days (upavāsāsivasva) chosen to take the eightfold discipline (aṣṭāṅgaśīla) and to cultivate merit?
Answer. – During those days, the evil demons pursue people and try to take their lives; sickness and calamities make these days unfavorable (aśiva) for people. This is why, at the beginning of the cosmic period (kalpa), the saints (ārya) recommended that people keep the fast (upavāsa), cultivate goodness and gain merit (puṇya) [during these fasting days] in order to avoid calamities. At that time the rule of fasting did not involve the observance of the eightfold discipline; the fast consisted merely of not eating for one day. Later when the Buddha appeared in the world (prādurbhūta), he gave people the following advice: “For one day and one night (rātridivasa) you should observe the eightfold discipline in imitation of the Buddhas and you should abstain from eating past mid-day.”
Such virtue will lead people to nirvāṇa.
Furthermore, during the six days of fast, the evil demons torment people and spread trouble everywhere. But if there is some place, a hamlet, a village, a town, a district, a country or a city, where people observe the fast, observe the discipline and cultivate goodness, the evil demons are driven away and the region remains in peace (yogakṣema). This is why, by keeping the fast and the precepts during these six days, one obtains increase in merit.
Footnotes and references:
Fasting and observation of the Sabbath had a popular origin; they were adopted by various religious Hindu orders before becoming a Buddhist institution. The Buddha distinguished three kinds of uposātha: that of the cowherd (gopālaka), being inspired by self-interest; that of the Jains (nirgrantha), formal rather than sincere; that of the saint (ārya), consisting of a purification (paryavadāna) of the entire being (cf. Aṅguttara, I, p. 205–207; Tchong a han, T 26, no. 202, k. 55, p. 770a–b). Moreover, as the parivrājakas and the tīrthikas took advantage of the fast days to recite their scriptures in public, the Buddha followed their example: he ordered his monks to dedicate their fast days to recite the Prātimokṣa together, to read the Dharma and to preach (cf. Vinaya, I, p. 101–102).