“There is no possibility of one’s becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.16)
नात्य्-अश्नतस् ऽतु योगो ऽस्ति
न चैकान्तम् अनश्नतः
जाग्रतो नैव चार्जुन
nāty-aśnatas ‘tu yogo ‘sti
na caikāntam anaśnataḥ
jāgrato naiva cārjuna
“His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada describes the four basic activities of an animal. Eating, sleeping, mating and defending. The identification is for the purpose of comparison. Use these four activities as a basis for qualification for protection. That is to say the animals should not be killed unnecessarily.
“We are aware that they may not follow this rule. Shrimad Bhagavatam explains that the food chain is real, that every living entity survives in some way off of other living entities. Even the vegetarians, they require life of some sort in order to survive.
“As the human being also eats, sleeps, mates and defends, there is a common link to the animal community. Better to avoid unnecessary violence. Let them live out their term determined by karma. No need to unnecessarily interfere.
“Shrila Prabhupada also explains that the human birth is meant for tapasya. Specifically as it relates to the four animal activities, these should be limited. Tapasya is austerity and penance, voluntarily imposed. We should try to limit our eating, instead of contemplating which buffet-style restaurant we will visit for dinner. We should limit our sleeping, instead of shopping for the most expensive mattress and ensuring a long and deep slumber each night.
“My question relates to the rare instances where people go completely without eating. I forget which book I read about it in, but you know it is possible. There is some mystic power that enables the advanced yogi to reach the platform of not requiring any food or drink. They live simply off sunlight or something. Should we strive for something similar?”
The question should be asked in relation to what is gained by such an achievement. If I never have to sleep again, if I can stay awake without artificial stimulants, what have I actually gained? If I don’t need food, that is a strong source of attachment removed, but how should I proceed moving forward?
If the person who eats normally and the person who requires no food both are equally as attached to the material way of living, then there is no difference. This is the danger with the path of mysticism; yoga for a personal purpose.
I may achieve amazing siddhis, perfections in mystic ability, but my consciousness is not purified. Sometimes the abilities can be found in the worst kind of people, such as man-eating ogres in Lanka, as described in the Ramayana.
A person might use their ability to stay awake to trespass into homes at night, taking that which doesn’t belong to them. Perhaps they are better equipped to follow illicit sex life to the extreme. Maybe they watch television nonstop, consuming every kind of programming out there.
Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, explains that the true yogi eats and sleeps as much as is required. Neither too little nor too much. This makes logical sense. I need to eat in order to function. If I am deficient in this area, I won’t be able to concentrate on vital tasks. If I eat too much then I will have a difficult time moving about.
Sleep is just as important. The transcendentalist is able to limit the four activities, but for a higher purpose. To better serve the Almighty, to follow the dharma of the individual, to be vibrant during the exercise of devotion, such as with the chanting of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Someone will always be around who defeats us in the competition of renunciation. They can go with less sleep. They can eat only a little and survive. The key determining factor is consciousness, and we should follow whichever way allows for constant remembrance of the Almighty.
Achieved an amazing feat,
Can go without anything to eat.
Or maybe not requiring sleep,
Open eyes indefinitely to keep.
What from these to gain?
To others not really the same?
Tapasya for consciousness to alight,
Where flame of devotion shining bright.