Dear devotees and friends,
Please accept my best wishes. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
Ananda Caitanya prabhu and I arrived in Riga, Latvia, on June 20th, following the Palanga Rathayatra in Lithuania. We met with the devotees there and discussed my programme, and it became clear that there was a type of scheduling problem which was going to be hard to address.
The 22nd was Pandava Nirjala Ekadasi. On this day, traditionally, many ISKCON devotees fast completely, not even drinking water, and try to chant 64 or more rounds of the Hare Krishna mahamantra. Personally, I have observed it in this way for 30 years (other than two years where due to unusual circumstances I ate something), and I was keen to observe it again this year, and try to chant as much as possible. Having participated in Giriraja Maharaja’s Japa Retreat in December, and led the same retreat a few days later in Siberia, I really wanted to get into it and chant as much as possible.
However, the devotees in a town named Daugavpils, a three hour drive away, also really wanted me to visit them and have an evening programme with them, and if I did that on the same day it would be extremely difficult to chant so much, and even to do the preaching programme nicely without eating or drinking.
What about doing the programme another day? Well, as it happened, the Temple President in Riga, Hrishikesh prabhu, was away and would only be back on the 23rd, so I would have to meet with him and go over many important things, and then I was leaving on the 24th for Tallinn, Estonia.
In the meantime I came across some articles on Dandavats.com from Dravida prabhu, one of our most respected devotee scholars, in which he challenges the long held idea that if you have broken an Ekadasi during the year, you can make up for it by doing a full fast on the Pandava Nirjala Ekadasi day:
Every year the North American office of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust publishes an “Art Calendar” with all the most important Vaisnava dates for North America. This year, as in past years, we noted under Pandava-nirjala
Ekadasi (coming up on June 22) that one should observe a “total fast, even from water, if you have broken Ekadasi.” It has been pointed out to us that the only instruction Srila Prabhupada gave concerning breaking Ekadasi is that if one does so inadvertently one should observe Ekadasi fasting the next day. There is also this quote concerning Bhima Ekadasi (another name for Pandava-nirjala Ekadasi): 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?
This is an apparent reference to an account from the Brahma-vaivarta Purana. In a BTG article written back in 1994, Rohininanda Prabhu summarizes this pastime and relates how ISKCON devotees have responded to it in their own practice of Krsna consciousness:
“Once a year in the early summer there is a special Ekadasi known as the Pandava-nirjala Ekadasi or Bhima Ekadasi. Back in the days of the Mahabharata, five thousand years ago, Arjuna’s elder brother Bhima had great difficulty fasting. (In those days everyone would fast completely from all food and water.) So he was given permission by the sage Vyasadeva to observe the full Ekadasi fast only once a year. In the Krsna consciousness movement many devotees are accustomed to following this Bhima Ekadasi, refraining from all food and water, to compensate for any discrepancies in their observance of the previous twenty-three Ekadasi days.”
So we can conclude that although to compensate for having broken Ekadasi in the previous year some devotees observe a total fast on Pandava-nirjala Ekadasi, refraining even from drinking water, there is no injunction from Srila Prabhupada to that effect. However, Prabhupada did confirm that fasting on Bhima Ekadasi is like fasting on all the Ekadasis. Also, concerning the nirjala aspect of Ekadasi, Srila Prabhupada did say this:
“Ekadasi day – there is no eating sumptuously. Simply you take little fruits and flowers. Try to avoid that also. You don’t take even water. That is really ekadasi. But because we cannot do it – in the Kali-yuga the time is different – therefore we are allowed to take little fruit and milk, which is called anukalpa.”
Ekadasi is a serious thing. As Srila Prabhupada says in his Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi 15.9, quoting from the Skanda Purana), “A person who eats grains on Ekadasi becomes a murderer of his mother, father, brother
and spiritual master, and even if he is elevated to a Vaikuntha planet, he falls down.” If we break Ekadasi inadvertently, we can make it up the next day. As for following Pandava Nirjala Ekadasi strictly, without water, that’s up to each devotee to determine according to his or her capacity. In future calendars this Ekadasi will be listed without any accompanying note.
By Dravida Dasa
Then there was a second article by Dravida prabhu:
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
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 wenty-five rounds;
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] i 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] i not my manufactured word, my Guru Maharaja, that they; 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.
Frankly I have always been sceptical about the whole Pandava Nirjala Ekadasi phenomenon, and the idea of becoming free from reactions in the way that has always been propagated. However the idea of taking a day to simply chant Hare Krishna is very nice, and I relish that.
So back to Riga and the dilemma regarding doing the programme in Daugavpils on the Ekadasi. When it became clear that, if we were to do that programme, I would have to go there on the Ekadasi, and it would affect my Ekadasi, I decided that preaching is the higher principle, and that I should do it. So I had some lunch prasadam and we then drove off to Daugavpils. I felt sure it was the best thing to do under the circumstances.
Riga temple is one of the largest in the former Soviet Union. I have included some photos of it with this report. The Temple President, Hrishikesh prabhu, is an expert administrator, and is always improving the
building in different ways, utilizing practically every possible inch of it in Lord Krishna’s devotional service. Due to his efforts and the efforts of his team of devotees he has the biggest Food for Life programme in Europe (to my knowledge), a lot of which is sponsored by the European Union. Our movement in Latvia is taken very seriously by the government, and is given great support by them and by local businesses. Every week or two some supermarket or other business calls up and donates a few tons of vegetables or grains, and it is a great example of how, if our activities are managed nicely, we can be accepted and supported officially. Many of our temples could learn important lessons from Riga.
On the 24th we drove to Tallinn with the Temple President, Ananda Vardhana prabhu, and stayed there till the 27th, giving classes morning and evening and going on harinama every day. Devotees gathered from various parts of the country so we had a mini festival, and it was very nice.
Then on the 27th I went to Helsinki, which I had not visited for two years, and did a small seminar on Bhagavad Gita 10.8-11, and then flew from there back to South Africa, where I am now.
Hoping this meets you well.
Bhakti Caitanya Swami