Jain Yogi Claims to Have Fasted for 70 Years

Recently, a Jain Yogi has claimed that he has fasted for 70 years. Drawing from personal experiences of his religion to exploring the medical possibilities of such a penance, the author gives his take on the yogi. 

The small community of Jains have always been known for their rigorous penances and the attempt to adhere to non-violence in their every small action. It is common in the community for devotees to fast for two (Baylow) or three days (Traylow) - without water or any kind of food. During their auspicious eight days (Paryusan), there are a number of people who fast for all the eight days (Aathayee). This is a common occurrence in the community and huge celebrations occur at the end of Paryusan. Now, there is a smaller subset of people who, at least, once in their lifetime make it a point to fast for an entire month (Maaskaman). The one-month fast is usually done by taking in only boiled water. This is less common but the celebrations of the same are huge and it becomes a jubilant moment for the entire community. (on a side note, my mom did a maaskaman too)

Recently, when a Jain hermit claimed that he has not consumed food or water for 7 decades - it did raise a lot of eyebrows and questioning of the possibility of the same. Scientists who have studied the hermit have said that he did not show any signs of any malnutrition and was healthier than a 40 year old man. The scientists, of course, have not been following the yogi during his 70 years journey but are trying to conduct tests to verify his claim.
While the scientists conduct their tests, the real question is - is this possible?

I remember when my mom did her month-long fast, she had shrunk to almost half her size. Till about two weeks into the fast, she was still doing all the household chores and taking care of three young kids (in retrospect, I admit that we were bad kids and didn't help much). By the end of the third week, we had a lot of help from relatives. My mom had become feeble when she neared the end of her fast. Now, my mom was not doing any yoga or any other exercise that the hermit in question claims - so she was not as fit as the hermit is. But, I do know for sure that she hadn't eaten a morsel of food, for religious reasons, until the day after the official end (when she had, with great difficulty, a couple of spoons of soup).

A few years earlier to my mom's fasting venture, my entire family had gone to a big gathering of our community where one of our monk's one year celebration of fasting was taking place. The monk had also consumed boiled water during his feat. Medical tests had been done on this monk and there was a wave in the newspapers too. Medically, humans apparently can live on water even though they don't get food. However, their health is supposed to deteriorate. Hence, it is very surprising to hear that the hermit in question has survived for 70 years without water or food and was still healthy. Jain books do talk about mind control and explicitly state that fasting is a means to reduce desires in life (pointing to the next logical step to moksha while meditation). The hermit claims that it was precisely what he was doing.

It is true that after about three-four days of fasting, humans do loose the urge to eat (speaking from personal experience). Hence, the mind is no longer thinking of food - specially if no one around you is eating or talking about it. The hermit had indeed isolated himself and the conscious or the subconscious temptation of food probably did disappear.

In the 1940's a comprehensive experiment was conducted which was popularized by the name of The Minnesota Starvation experiment. The experiment was conducted on healthy men for 12 weeks where the diet was monitored and strictly controlled to produce famine-like conditions.The results were mainly psychological like impulsive behavior, irritability, hyperactivity, hysteria, depression, etc. (However, water and a small food-diet was constantly provided under the controlled conditions.) Of course the hermit, with a greatly enhanced mental state, could have been oblivious to these conditions.

However, now it becomes a problem of physical survival - the fuel required to run the body. The energy required for the cells to function and work as a complex machine is no longer supplied. The body usually has a lot of reserves and has a hierarchical structure for using those reserves. Glucose, followed by glycogen, followed by fat and proteins, etc are used. Once the body starts processing fat and proteins, it slowly starts using muscles as the source of energy. The body is slowly consuming itself. Moreover, Merck Research Laboratories have documented that such long periods of starvation could lead to irregular heartbeats (sinu bradycardia), cardiac arrhythmia, hypoglycemia, hypothermia, liver malfunction and kidney stones to name a few problems.  

Additionally, Dr. Batmanghelidj (who has spent twenty years into research of role of water in the body and author of "Body's Many Cries for Water") has reported that dehydration causes decreased blood supply (leading to coma), kidney failure, electrolyte abnormalities (like seizures and muscle weakness), high blood sugar (due to inhibition of insulin manufacture), shrinking and shriveling of cells and cell damage, DNA damage and irregular protein production (leading to cancer cells).

Therefore, from a functioning point of view - it is no longer the mental desire that is in question. It is the physical requirement of the body. The hermit is believed to be in great health. He is claiming that he never sweats (hence, not loosing water). It should be noted that there have been some reports about him taking a shower or gargling his mouth occasionally - hence there has been some contact with water. But, this contact is very limited and is not sufficient to meet the body's need for the elixir of life. In my opinion, the time period is way too long for him not to encounter any of the above diseases and symptoms. I believe that the hermit has lost count of his fasting years - and even though, he might have been doing it for a long time its probably not so long.

Scientists are apparently conducting more tests to give weight to his claim - I guess the results will state the truth.

The Epoch Times
University of Minnesota Press
Merck Medical Library

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