Tag Archives: Leo Tolstoy

Lust, Fasting & Self-Control

There is no satisfying lusts, even by a shower of gold pieces; he who knows that lusts have a short taste and cause pain, he is wise; even in the [supernal] pleasures [of the devas], he finds no satisfaction; the disciple who is fully awakened delights only in the destruction of all desires [The Dhammapada 14:186-187].

Lusts, Passions & Appetites
Unrestrained immersion in physical appetites produces lust, a hunger that takes control of the soul and makes it heedless of proper conduct and thoughtless of self-restraint. Lust finds comfort where the remembrance of God is absent. Turning to a higher consciousness restrains it. Ultimately, the mercy of God tames it – and God is most merciful.

The prevalent environment in today’s society incessantly prods and entices our appetites, encouraging passions that overwhelm our spiritual convictions. We find ourselves ignoring and forgetting our basic beliefs while satisfying transient desires. We neglect spiritual advancement and disregard the promise of a higher existence.

You can cultivate your spirit by pulling out weeds of desire growing near the roots of your soul. Lust for sex, wealth, power, fame and glory often go deeper than we realize. We must root them out and quell the uncontrollable hunger they arouse. How do we do that? We can start by fasting.

A man who eats too much cannot strive against laziness, while a gluttonous and idle man will never be able to contend with sexual lust. Therefore, according to all moral teachings, the effort towards self-control commences with a struggle against the lust of gluttony—commences with fasting . . .

And yet, just as the first condition of a good life is self-control, so the first condition of a life of self-control is fasting.

One may wish to be good, one may dream of goodness, without fasting, but to be good without fasting is as impossible as it is to advance without getting up onto one’s feet.

Fasting is an indispensable condition of a good life, whereas gluttony is, and always has been, the first sign of the opposite—a bad life. Unfortunately, this vice is in the highest degree characteristic of the life of the majority of the men of our time. [Leo Tolstoy, The First Step, The Works of Leo Tolstoy].

Fasting & Self-control
It is generally accepted that sexual desires are diminished by fasting.  Reduction in nutrients lessens physical passions while heightened spiritual awareness numbs worldly appetites.

Islam encourages men and women to marry and frowns on celibacy. Those who cannot find spouses should remain chaste. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) recommended fasting to help overcome sexual appetites:

Narrated ‘Alqama: While I was walking with ‘Abdullah he said, “We were in the company of the Prophet [PBUH] and he said, “He who can afford to marry should marry, because it will help him refrain from looking at other women, and save his private parts from looking at other women, and save his private parts from committing illegal sexual relation; and he who cannot afford to marry is advised to fast, as fasting will diminish his sexual power.” Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 129:

Monastic existence, particularly in Christianity, often requires vows of celibacy. The celibate soon finds that fasting is the best remedy for curing lusty desires. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, “the ardor of lust is dampened by abstinence from food and drink.”

Our rampant appetites do not stop craving. even after we fill our bellies. They cannot be satisfied by extravagant food alone, so they seek other depravities to continue indulging. The mind is left a numb observer that barely remembers the experience.

The belly when filled with all kinds of food gives birth to seeds of wantonness, nor can the mind, when choked with the weight of food, keep the guidance and government of the thoughts. For not only is drunkenness with wine wont to intoxicate the mind, but excess of all kinds of food makes it weak and uncertain, and robs it of all its power of pure and clear contemplation. The Monastic Institutes – The Training of a Monk and the Eight Deadly Sins by John Cassian

Fasting becomes a natural refuge for the unnatural condition of celibacy. Indeed, it would be doubly difficult to abstain from sexual activity while, simultaneously, indulging in gluttonous consumption of food. Fasting can be seen as God’s gift to those servants who have undertaken such a difficult path in order to find pleasure with their Lord.

Listen and hear the word of warning:  “Wide and spacious is the road of gluttony.  It leads to the catastrophe of fornication, and there are many who travel that way. The gate is narrow and the way of fasting is hard, that way leading to the life of purity, and there are few to make the journey . . . Fasting ends lust, roots out bad thoughts, frees one from evil dreams.” [St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Mahwah:  Paulist Press, p. 167].