The Spiritual Significance of Ramzan
Sri Swami Chidananda
Message from the book Forest Academy Lectures on Yoga
The Prayer “Asato Maa Sat-Gamaya, Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya, Mrityor Maa Amritam-Gamaya” epitomises the purpose of the Lord’s Creation, the grand culmination of going back into that Transcendence out of which these countless names and forms have been evolved as a blissful act of play by the One without a second. The plan of the Divine Will is that out of the One infinite names and forms may flow out and for a time there may be a blissful play of this divine multiplicity and then once again, when the Divine wills, there may be a going back into the pristine glorious source.
Multiplicity is the antithesis of eternal Truth which is ever one. It is unreal. It is in the nature of darkness. This cycle of becoming and perishing, birth and death, is the characteristic of this world-play. Thus, a going back into the original grandeur of Brahman means an ascent from this unreality into that Supreme Reality, from this darkness of ignorance to the Light of Knowledge, from this cycle of birth and death into that state where there is Immortality. This process is being worked out by all evolved beings.
From time to time great ones have come who have systematised this Cosmic plan and formulated a method so that individuals in whom this purpose has been awakened may make use of this method and reach the goal quickly, that they may consciously achieve this process in themselves. These methods have come to be the various religions of humanity. Gradually, these religions have had a greater and ever-widening group of followers. These great groups exist all over the world as the great section of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and so on.
But the one inescapable fundamental fact about these religions remains that all these various religions are but methods which seek to work out in some way or other the ascent of man from birth and death to Immortality.
Islam is one of those great brotherhoods, which has been given to mankind by prophet Muhammad of hallowed memory. There must be some common basis which underlies all these religions which seek to work out the same result. Even the inner anatomy of the process must be the same, however much it may seem to differ from religion to religion in details–and this difference could be very easily understood if we try to look at the following points–viz., the historical background, the state or the condition of the community in which the prophet first appeared, as also the geographical conditions existing in that area where the Prophet had his birth and gave out his teachings.
One of the Sadhanas laid down by Muhammad for the faithful was the Sadhana of fasting and prayer. This you will find to be the common Sadhana in every religion of the world. The fasting laid down by Muhammad is carried out in a special manner in one of the months of the year. That month is called the month Ramzan. All the days of that month are observed as days of fasting. The name Ramzan is given to this entire one month’s fasting. The last day of Ramzan is a very momentous day. In the religion of Islam as well as in the life of the Prophet.
Muhammad was a great soul. He was born with the temperament of a saint. His time was one of violence. He was mortified by the way in which people were living. He was struggling to find out some way by which he could enlighten these people. In great disgust he used to seclude himself and go away from Mecca into the wilderness. One of his special haunts was a mountain called Hijra. There in a cave he used to spend long periods in fasting and prayer. On one occasion, he was given no encouragement from Above. For an entire month he gave himself up to fasting and prayer and in supplication to the Lord. The Lord gave him some Light. This corresponds to Ramzan. On the last day there appeared the celestial being before Muhammad; and it spoke to him and gave him a message from the Highest. It commissioned Muhammad to go forth amongst his brethren and spread the gospel of true life, by which people may be led away from the path of evil and may come to walk upon a path of goodness, truth, purity, forgiveness, brotherhood and thus attain the Highest Bliss. This last day is the great day of the Muhammadans–Id. It is a day of intense prayer. Muhammadans congregate in lakhs everywhere, offer prayers and also have Darshan of the moon, which is symbolic of the Light which appeared to Muhammad from the Highest Throne of the Almighty.
They fast from sunrise to sunset throughout the month. They are obliged to take something immediately after sunset, at the given hour. They sound some signal both at the time the fast is to commence and when it is to be broken. It is severely enjoined that all should take food at a particular time. They are to take something before commencing the fast in the early morning (Brahmamuhurtha), and this should be of such a nature that at no time during the fasting period will any wind be passed and no belching experienced. If there is belching the person has to make some expiation! This is to ensure that they do not overeat at night. So strict is the injunction to fast during the day-light hours that Muhammadans spit out their spittle; they do not swallow the saliva even.
Muhammad gave this Sadhana with a deep significance attached to it. In the Gita we have a Sloka:
Yaa Nishaa Sarva-bhutaanaam Tasyaam Jaagarti Samyamee
Yasyaam Jaagrati Bhutaani Saa Nishaa Pashyato Muneh.
“That which is night to all beings, then the self-controlled man is awake; when all beings are awake, that is night for the sage who sees.”
This gives the entire significance of Ramzan fast in a nutshell. This fasting is spiritually the inner method of Yoga; the spiritual quest is diametrically opposite to the path which the ordinary man who is attached to the world follows. In the case of the worldly man, the senses take in the sum-totality of impressions of things amongst which he lives and moves during day-light. Samskaras are created more and more every day. This binds him to Samsara. The abstinence from these Vishayas is what our great Acharyas have termed fasting. The things upon which the senses feed are Ahara (food) for the man. The first injunction laid upon the spiritual aspirant is that he has to turn away from the world.
Muktimichchasi-chet Taata Vishyaan Vishavat tyaga,
Brahmacharyam Ahimsaam cha Satyam Peeyushavat Bhaja.
This avoidance of food is the first qualification. Physical food represents this inner Ahara that the Jiva draws unto itself through the senses. Giving up the physical food during daylight symbolises that the faster is dead to the world. During the daylight hours only the world is visible. Thus the act of taking food at night symbolises the act of the Yogi by which he closes himself to the visible world and draws sustenance from the inner spiritual world. Thus he proceeds along the path of Yoga. While the worldly man is busy he fasts completely. He lives in his own inner realm of the spirit and feeds himself upon the divine food of Sadhana.
Being seekers, we belong to a universal brotherhood which is gathered under the common flag of the unity of all faiths. Let us also, upon this extremely auspicious day of the first of the Ramzan month earnestly pray to Prophet Muhammed and Allah. Who is the same as Jehova, Ahura Mazda, God Almighty, the Father in heaven or the Atma or Supreme Spirit, that we may be inspired and given the necessary inner strength to turn away from all allurements of this external physical world and to be awake unto the inner life of Yoga. Thus may we with great faith and with sustained exertion proceed upon the path of Yoga and may we be blessed with spiritual illumination, the culmination of Sadhana even as Prophet Muhammad had on the last day of Ramzan.