by Swami B.V. Tripurari
Upavasa means to fast. Vasa may mean to reside and upa means nearby. So upavasa means “to reside nearby.” So the main principle of Ekadasi is to reside near the Lord. It is not about fasting; it is about coming closer to the Lord. This is the actual heart of the idea. In fact, every day we should come closer to the Lord but two days have been singled out to emphasize the point. So we can call it Hari’s day and everyone will be told to do certain observances. But the purpose is to reside closer to the Lord, to come near to him. And when we do it we find it is nice, and then we may end up doing it every day. That is the real idea.
In the Christian faith they make Sunday the Lord’s Day. Every day actually is the Lord’s day, but they select one day so that at least on that one day everyone will observe. So this is the principle, to come near to the Lord. Our Ekadasi observance should revolve around that. In other words, if fasting is only making me go to sleep, if fasting is only making me proud, what is the value of that? Will I be brought nearer to the Lord by that?
Ekadasi was very important to Caitanya Mahaprabhu. One day in his childhood he approached his mother and asked, “Mother, please do one thing for me?” She said, “Yes, Nimai, whatever you like.” He said, “Please don’t eat grains on Ekadasi.” At that time in Bengal only widows were thought to have to follow Ekadasi and women who were married and had families and husbands, they didn’t. Ekadasi was looked at as a punishment. If you’re a bad person, then you have to fast on Ekadasi. They thought widows were unfortunate people, with bad karma, inauspicious. So if your life was inauspicious, only then did you need to follow Ekadasi. But Mahaprabhu said something quite different. So immediately, from that day on, Sacidevi began to observe Ekadasi.
Later on, in Jagannatha Puri, the devotees of Mahaprabhu had a dilemma about observing Ekadasi. Because in Jagannath Puri there is so much prasad, 54 offerings daily and taking Jagannath prasad is very auspicious. So, if Ekadasi means fasting, how can we not honor the prasad of Lord Jagannatha? This question was put to Caitanya Mahaprabhu and he gave his opinion; “We shall observe Ekadasi and we shall honor Jagannath prasad. When Jagannath prasad comes, we will pay our dandavats to it. In this way, prasad will be honored and we will continue to observe the upavasa at the same time.”
So Mahaprabhu emphasized this point a great deal. Even raganuga bhaktas should observe Ekadasi. It is favorable, it is anukula for raganuga bhajan. We should not think that raganuga means we don’t need to follow all of the regulations.