Once in the great assembly of the sages, the renowned scholar and sage Sri Suta Gosvami made a declaration about the twenty-six Ekadasis. There are two Ekadasis in each month, making twenty-four Ekadasis in a year. Apart from them there are two more Ekadasis that occur in the extra month that comes after every two and half years. The names of the twenty four Ekadasis every two and half years. The names of the twenty four Ekadasis are as follows: Utpanna, Moksada, Saphala, Putrada, Sat-tila, Jaya, Vijaya, Amalaki, Papamocani, Kamada, Varuthini, Mohini, Apara, Nirjala, Yogini, Sayana, Kamika, Pavitra, Annada, Parsva, Indira, Pasankusa, Rama, and Utthana Ekadasi. The names of the two extra Ekadasis are Padmini and Parama. In that assembly, the glories of all the Ekadasis were properly sung. Those who are unable to observe Ekadasi can get the result of observing Ekadasi by hearing and singing their glories.
By the unlimited mercy of the most merciful Lord Sri Krsna this book Ekadasi Mahatmya has been published. By studying the glorious subject matter of this book the faith of persons observing the vows of Ekadasi will be strengthened. Moreover, persons who are inquisitive about this subject matter will obtain the light of knowledge from this book.
The particular book, however, does not discuss the complete truth regarding Sri Ekadasi. The glories of observing Ekadasi are being described in this book through the presentation of stories. Some people may interpret or imagine that the glories described in this book are simply an exaggeration, or they may think that observing Ekadasi is simply meant for achieving material happiness and prosperity. Sri Ekadasi, which falls on the eleventh day of each waxing and waning moon, is very dear to Lord Hari. That is why this day is also known as Hari-vasara. A proper and elaborate explanation about Ekadasi is given in Sri Hari-bhakti-vilasa. In fact one should observe Ekadasi only to please the Supreme Lord. It is stated in the scriptures:
"The brahmanas should always observe Ekadasi to please Lord Visnu for this fulfills all one's desires. Therefore everyone should observe the vow of Ekadasi for the sake of satisfying the Lord. Then happiness and prosperity will automatically follow." It is stated in Brhan-naradiya Purana that if everyone including the brahmanas, the ksatriyas, the vaisyas, the sudras and the women observe Ekadasi they will certainly attain liberation. Although various temporary results are found in the scriptures for following the vow of Ekadasi, which is one of the limbs of regulative devotional service, nevertheless one should know that the principle fruit of devotional service is to develop intense love for the Supreme Lord. Even if the four objectives of life namely religiosity, economic development, sense gratification, and liberation automatically follow the performer, still the unalloyed pure devotees don't fall prey to this; rather they abandon these objectives and achieve love of God which is the fifth objective of life.
Since the living entitles of Kali-yuga are short-lived and lusty, they are unable to perform severe austerity. The living entities of Kali-yuga subsist mainly on food grains and they cannot survive without eating grains, whereas the people of Satya, Treta, and Dvapara-yugas were capable of undergoing severe austerities and tolerating physical distresses. Thus a minimum austerity in the form of fasting twice a month on the days of Ekadasi has been prescribed for the people of Kali-yuga. If possible, they should eat only once the day before Ekadasi, fast totally on the day of Ekadasi, and eat only once the day after Ekadasi. If one is unable to follow even this, in other words if one is unable to eat only once on the day before and after Ekadasi, then he must observe complete fast on the day of Ekadasi. If one is still unable to follow this, then he should give up eating five types of grains and observe the vow of Ekadasi simply by partaking of some fruits and roots. It is stated in Mahabharata Udyoga-parva quoted in Hari-bhakti-vilasa 12.40 as follows.
"Water, fruits, roots, milk, ghee, satisfying a brahmana, following the instruction of the spiritual master, and medicine-these eight items don't break one's vow of Ekadasi."
Since grave sinful reactions equal to that of killing a brahmana or a cow take shelter within five types of grains on the day of Ekadasi, persons who desire ultimate benefit give up eating these grains on this day. The five types of grains are 1. rice or other products made from rise such as flat rice, puffed rice etc., 2. wheat flour and white flour etc., 3. barley etc., 4. pulses such as moong, chickpea, green peas, lentil, etc. 5. mustard oil and sesame oil. If one eats any of the above-mentioned grains then his vow of Ekadasi will be broken.
Another name of Ekadasi is Hari-vasara because the main purpose of observing Ekadasi is to totally please Lord Hari with all one's senses. In other words one should try to please Lord Hari and the devotees of Hari. The meaning of the word upavasa (fasting) is to live nearby. On the day of Ekadasi one should remain aloof from all kinds of sinful activities, give up all kinds of household activities and sense gratification and live near the Lord. It is stated in Hari-bhakti-vilasa 13. 14, which is quoted from Grhya-parisista, Katyana-smrti, Visnu-dharma, and Brahma-vaivarta Purana:
"The word upavasa, or fasting, refers to staying aloof from all kinds of sinful activities and sense gratification."
Lord Hari is the transcendental Personality of Godhead and is beyond the three modes of material nature. It is not possible to live with Him by the help of one's material body, mind, and intelligence. Every conditioned soul is covered by two bodies, namely gross and subtle. Therefore how can they live with the Lord? Observing the vow of Ekadasi is one of the principle limbs among the sixty-four limbs of devotional service described by Srila Rupa Gosvamipada, an associate of Sriman Mahaprabhu. Among the sixty-four limbs of devotional service the first and foremost is to take shelter of a bona fide spiritual master. Without taking shelter of the lotus feet of the bona fide spiritual master, who is well conversant with the scripture, attached to the Absolute Truth and very dear to Sri Hari, one cannot engage in worshipping Sri Hari. When one surrenders to the lotus feet of the spiritual master, then by his mercy and empowerment one's material pride is destroyed and his pure spiritual constitutional position is revived. As a result he becomes qualified to serve the Supreme Lord through his service-inclined senses, or in other words, he becomes qualified to live with the Lord. The mind is the cause of a living entity's bondage or liberation. If one cannot convert the function of the mind into a favorable condition for devotional service, then one cannot live with the Lord. Thus it is extremely necessary to associate with pure devotees in order to convert the averse mind into a service-in-clined mind. Without being subordinate to the devotees of the Lord one cannot live with the Lord, even if he engages in various external ritualistic activities. For this reason there is gulf of difference between the karmic observation of Ekadasi and the devotees' observation. It is stated in Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya 22.51) as follows:
"Unless one is favored by a pure devotee, he cannot attain the platform of devotional service. To say nothing of krsna-bhakti, one cannot even be relieved from the bondage of material existence."
Those who observe the vow of Ekadasi are divided into three categories.
1. The majority of the people of this world consider their gross and subtle bodies as their self. They think that the rules and regulations of the scriptures and the prescription of the sages are meant for protecting the self-interest of their gross bodies. They are doubtful about the existence of the soul and thus give more importance to self interest of the body. Their conception is that if the soul exists at all it is simply for the sake of the gross body.
2. Although these people believe that the constitutional position of a living entity is that he is a spirit soul, not the body, and that the Supreme Lord is the cause of the living entities and it is the duty of a living entity to worship the Supreme Lord, nevertheless they consider both the deliverance of the soul and happiness of the body to be the goal of life. Therefore they think that the scriptural prescriptions such as observing Ekadasi are meant for both deliverance of the soul and protection of the body's self interest.
3. However, some people in the minority say that a living entity is constitutionally part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, eternal, full of knowledge, and blissful. The two coverings in the form of gross and subtle bodies are attributed to the living entities by the external energy of the Lord, the Supreme. Lord is naturally the enjoyer and proprietor of those bodies. In other words, the soul, the mind and the body is a living entity all belong to Krsna. Therefore it is the only duty of the soul, mind and body to fully engage in the service of the Lord. By worshiping Lord Hari one's own and others' benefit is accomplished. Execution of pure devotional service is the only means of attaining eternal peace. In order to please the Supreme Lord only they cultivate the limbs of pure devotional service such as observing the vow of Ekadasi. They know that the principle purpose of all these practices is to achieve love of God. They also know that these limbs of devotional service are not prescribed for material sense gratification or protecting the self interest of the gross and subtle bodies. The pure devotees who follow in the foot steps of Sri Caitanya respect this consideration which is based on pure devotional service.
Some people, particularly many devotees from Jagannatha Puri in Orissa, say that there is no fault in accepting grain maha-prasada of Jagannatha on Ekadasi. But the point of consideration at this juncture is that the Vaisnavas don't accept anything other than maha-prasada regularly. Therefore in order to protect the prestige of Ekadasi they offer obeisances to the maha-prasada and save it for the next day. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Prabhupada has given the following explanation in his Anubhasya commentary on the fifteenth chapter of Adi-lila of Sri Caitanya-caritamrta: "Sri Mahaprabhu said that if one disregards the vow of Ekadasi he brings ruination to his life. One should simply respect the grain prasada on the day of Ekadasi and save it for the next day, for the effect of Ekadasi no longer remains on the next day. The pious Vaisnavas are simply satisfied by drinking the nectar of Krsna's holy names on the day of Ekadasi. They do not indulge in any kind of sense gratification, do not speak useless topics and they abandon all kinds of material enjoyment. Honoring prasada is an eternal activity of the pure Vaisnavas and they never eat anything that is not first offered to the Lord. The devotees should totally fast on the day of Ekadasi and eat the Lord's remnants only on the next day. In a special case a Vaisnava may take non-grain remnants of the Lord. Those who are non-Vaisnavas engage in sense gratification day and night on the pretext of honoring prasada.
Such people associate with sinful men, eat grain on Ekadasi and disrespect the vow of Ekadasi. If you cultivate the limbs of devotional service with respect, then you will attain the mercy of Bhakti Devi. Give up he association of nondevotees and strictly observe the vow of Ekadasi by engaging in chanting the holy names of the Supreme Lord."
It has been repeatedly declared in the Puranas that one should not eat on the day of Ekadasi. It is stated in Visnu-smrti that all the sinful reactions such as killing a brahmana take shelter in the food grain, therefore it one eats grain on the day of Ekadasi he certainly eats sin. There is no arrangement of atonement for the deliverance of a person who eats grain on Ekadasi, in other words according to the gravity of a sinful activity various arrangements for atonement are prescribed by the twenty dharma sastras, but eating grain on Ekadasi is so grave a sin that there is no atonement prescribed for this.
Persons who desire to cultivate pure devotional service should carefully remember the following consideration while following the vow of Ekadasi. The Vaisnavas don't observe any vow or festival on a particular day which is perforated with the previous tithi or day. In such a case they observe the vow or festival on the next day. According to Vedic calculation a day starts with the sun rise. If the day of Dasami continues up to the one and half hours before the sunrise of the next day even then the Ekadasi should not be observed on the next day rather it should be observed the day after. In this regard we quote some authentic scriptural statements found in Sri Hari-bhakti-vilasa, the king of Vaisnava smrtis, as follows:
"O Brahmana, if the day of Ekadasi starts ninety-six minutes before the sunrise then it is pure Ekadasi. A householder should fast on such an Ekadasi." [Garuda Purana].
"If the tithi, or day of Ekadasi, begins one hour thirty-six minutes before the sunrise then it is called a complete Ekadasi and if the Ekadasi starts less then one hour thirty-six minutes before the sunrise then it should be considered incomplete and contaminated because it is perforated with the previous tithi. Therefore one should give up the following of Ekadasi if it is mixed with the previous tithi at the time of sunrise. Particularly the Vaisnavas should totally abandon following the vow of such an Ekadasi. The great sage Kanva said, 'If the day of Ekadasi is mixed with the previous tithi then one should fast on the next day for Ekadasi and break fast on the following day." [Bhavisya Purana].
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