Should Young Children Be Encouraged To Observe Fasts?
Dr. Jyotiben Gandhi, a pediatrician, writes in the November 1998 issue of the Newsletter of the Jain Center of America, "I feel that it is not right for children under 12 years old to fast. They are not mature enough to know their capacity. It is very dangerous because they could become dehydrated or develop other life-threatening problems. For this reason, I ask that parents should not allow children under 12 to observe a fast because their health is more important. Also be aware that allowing children to fast could be considered child abuse by the rest of the society."
Shri Rasikbhai M. Shah of North Bergen, NJ, wrote the following comments on the above item:
Dr. Jyotiben Gandhi, a pediatrician, advises 'BAAL TAPAH' may cause dehydration and other life threatening problems. She further advises that allowing children under 12 to fast could be considered child abuse by the rest of the society.
I agree that the health of children under 12 needs special care by parents and guardians. 'BAAL TAPAH' is a practice to instil self-restraint (SAMYAM) in children. Such TAPAH includes the following, among other practices:
1. BESANA - one or two restricted meals per day with water
2. EKAASANA - one meal per day with water, Water may be taken one or more times.
3. UPAVAAS - total fast with water one or more times
4. CHOUVIHAR UPAVAAS - total fast without water
Under changing environment of easy availability of foods, drinks and other means of sensual enjoyment, developing healthy practices for food and drinks in children under 12 needs careful consideration by all concerned.
Let us hope that BAAL TAPAH is never thought of as 'child abuse.' The word 'childish' used in the caption is not appropriate, as that words carries a derogatory meaning.
I hope that my understanding is consistent with the objective of developing healthy practices in children.
Duli Chandra Jain:
Your comments about the item ' BAAL TAPAH ' are quite adequate in view of the traditions and practices of the Jain system, which seem to have been started long after Bhagwaan Mahaveer's Nirvana. However, we have to examine them in the light of our scriptures and also in view of present substance or circumstances (DRAVYA), place (KSHETRA), time (KAAL), and import (BHAAV). Our scriptures have described total and partial fasts, as you have aptly pointed out in your letter. Acharya Samant Bhadra's RATNAKARAND SHRAAVAKAACHAAR, quoted in Studies In Jainism: Reader 2, describes this learning vow (SHIKSHAAVRAT) as follows:
Method of observing partial or total fast:
SNAANAANJANANASYAANAAMUPAVAASE PARIHRITIM KURYAAT:107:
A votary does not indulge in business and household activities,
involving violence, untruth and the like, on the day of a fast;
does not wear fine clothes, ornaments, perfumes or garlands;
does not seek gratification in luxurious bath and cosmetics.
Religious activities during a partial or total fast:
DHARMAAMRITAM SATRISHNAH, SHRAVANAABHYAAM PIBATUPAAYAYEDWAANYAAN:
JNAANADHYAANAPARO VA, BHAVATOOPVASANNATANDRAALUH:108:
A person, observing a fast, does not remain idle;
being enthusiastic to drink the nectar of religious knowledge,
he/she enjoys religious discourses and participates in discussions;
thus he/she spends the day seeking knowledge and in meditation.
Kinds of fasts:
CHATURAAHAARAVISARJANAMUPVAASAH PROSHADHAH SAKRIDBHUKTIH:
SAH PROSHADHOPAVAASO, YADUPOSHYAARAMBHAMAACHARATI:109:
During the period of twenty-four hours,
abstaining from four kinds of food is total fast;
eating only once is called partial fast; and a total fast
preceded and followed by partial fasts is an extended fast.
Transgressions of the learning vow of partial or total fast:
YATPROSHADHOPAVAAS VYATILANGHAN PANCHAKAM TADIDAM:110:
The transgressions of partial, total and extended fasts are:
incautiously picking up and putting down utensils, bedding
and other materials; lack of respect for essential duties,
If an individual (an adult or a child) does not observe a total or partial fast according to the above guidelines, it is BAAL TAPAH. Thus this term is not restricted to penance performed by a child. Although such penances are praised by the community, they have little spiritual value and, in view of our scriptures, I see no problem in calling them childish.
Now let us consider the present substance or circumstances (DRAVYA), place (KSHETRA), time (KAAL), and import (BHAAV). Here in North America, we live in a different society. In this country, incidents of child abuse are reported and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. If parents are not pediatricians and if a child performs penance under their guidance, as you have suggested, there is a chance of the health of the child being affected. We then can not defend the actions of the parents with our antiquated traditions and customs, which do not conform to our own scriptures, as is clear from the above quotations. I fully agree with Dr. Jyotiben Gandhi in this regard. Jain Study Circle intended to present these facts before the Jain community and so the above item was published in the Jain Study Circular.
Shri Rasikbhai Shah has sent the following reply:
I received your letter about my comments on 'BAAL TAPAH.' Traditions and customs may become obsolete or may be changed in view of present substance or circumstances (DRAVYA), place (KSHETRA), time (KAAL), and import (BHAAV). But objectives for such traditions and customs remain unchanged.
SAMAN SUTTAM, compiled by Shri Jinendra Varni, published by Sarva Seva Sangh, Varanasi, in couplet 445, chapter 28, states:
BALAM THAAMAM CHA PEHAAE, SADDHAAMAAROGGAMAPPANO |
KHETTAM KAALAM CHA VINNAAYA, TAHAPPAANAM NIJUNJAE ||
A person should decide about fasting after taking into consideration his physical strength, stamina, faith, state of health, place and time.
Children need to be motivated for the custom of fasting. Such motivation may result in adoption of partial vows (ANUVRAT), which are prescribed for householders.
My reading on Jainism is very limited. The articles, advices, comments and opinions published in the Jain Study Circular give me an opportunity and motivation to study Jainism.
I request you to publish my comments with your reply in the Jain Study Circular.
I convey my respects to Dr. Jyotiben Gandhi for her useful advice and Shri Vinaybhai Vakani for his kind invitation to attend quarterly meetings of the Jain Study Circle.
Duli Chandra Jain:
Your original comments and reply to my letter are greatly appreciated. We are sure that the readers of the Jain Study Circular will immensely benefit from your comments and views. I have no disagreement with your views. However, as I mentioned in my earlier letter, parents are not medical doctors. Young children can not determine their physical strength and state of health. The parents can not do that either. So we should be extremely cautious in this regard. Further, fasting should not be undertaken by children or adults in the spirit of competition or show, and during the fasts, study of scriptures and meditation should be performed. In this respect we should keep in mind the following couplet from SUTRAKRITAANG, Book One (quoted in the April-July 1999 issue of the Jain Study Circular):
Futility of mere physical acts:
NA KAMMUNA KAMMA KHAVENTI BAALA AKAMMUNA KAMMA KHAVENTI DHEERA
MEDHAAVINO LOBHAMAYAAVATEETA SANTOSINO NO PAKARENTI PAAVAM
Senseless ritualistic activities do not cause shedding of karma;
the spirited savants shed their karmas with little effort;
the intelligent persons, who do not have greed and pride,
Mere physical activities do not help us to get rid of karma. These activities, which are performed without rational perception and rational knowledge, amount to childish penance (BAAL TAPAH). Jainism deprecates such religious activities. On the other hand, one who has rational perception and rational knowledge sheds one's karma without any physical activities. Moreover, an individual who has no passions, and who practices equanimity, does not acquire demeritorious karma.
In my view, it is imperative that we Jains scrutinize our traditions, customs and practices in the light of our scriptures, and modify them as necessary. This is the way to carry Jainism into the new millennium so that it would appeal to our coming generations.
Once again, I express my sincere gratitude for your interest in the Jain Study Circular and for your comments.