Suresh Kurl: Chief Theresa Spence and the difference between a fast, a hunger strike, and Kaya-Kalpa
Chief Theresa Spence's recent statement, "I remain steadfast on my journey and will not allow any distractions at this time to [waver from] the goal set forth,” is admirable.
After all, it was made within the first week of the New Year. However, I have a problem with the use of the term "hunger strike" implied in her journey. Well, in order to explain my disagreement with the chief, I would like to share a portion of something I know.
There was a time when I used to fast once a week to please gods in hopes of getting something from them in return. Now I only fast twice a year, on Krishna and Shiva's birthdays. Fasts are short term. When I fast, I abstain from solid food for a day, but not from water or tea.
While I have never been on a hunger strike, I recall that as a kid, I threatened my mom a few times. I must tell you that growing up, I was a very sick child and unable to eat normal foods. I craved the ordinary things that the family ate every day.
I told my mom that if she did not cook something I craved, I would go on a hunger strike. Being a small and weak child I thought that the threat of long-term starvation; without any solid food would work on her.
I might have learned to use the nonviolent force to get my way from Mahatma Gandhi. He had mastered this technique and used it to bend the will of his followers.
He was especially successful in bending the will of the British government. He called it stya-graha (truth force). Hardly a year ago, a social reformer India, Anna Hazare, tried this technique to force the Congress Party–led government to pass a bill to stop systemic corruption in India, but it hasn't worked yet.
Kaya-Kalpa! What is it? Well it is neither a short-term fast nor a Gandhian fast unto death—starvation. "Kaya'"in Sanskrit means body and "Kalpa" means treatment. It is an Ayurverdic method to rejuvenate and transform your body.
People who are into health food or alternative diets might refer to it as a “cleanse”. The method not only regenerates the entire body, but it also re-energizes the mind and spirit. This secret healing technique was used in India for thousands of years by healers to revitalize and attain longevity.
Let me tell you a story. Thousands of years ago, a strong-willed daughter of a king in India was determined to remain unmarried. She refused every eligible prince brought to her for her approval. Unlike medieval and modern India, those were the days when swayam-vara (self-selection of your partner) was allowed and encouraged.
She frustrated the king so much that one day he invited all the possible suitors, and ordered his attendants to blindfold his daughter and leave her amid of all her suitors in the castle courtyard. The idea was that she would have to marry whoever she touched first, even accidentally.
Blindfolded and frustrated with her father, she started wandering around the garden, and as ill luck would have it, touched an elderly holy man, though unintentionally, who had wandered into the courtyard to deliver herbs to the king’s physician.
The holy man pleaded for an exemption because of his vows of celibacy and advanced age. The king out of reverence to the holy man listened to him, but did not change his mind. He ordered him to marry the princess in three months time.
The holy man returned to his ashram to consult his guru about the king's decree. The guru, though he knew he could not change king's mind, listened to his disciple and offered to help rejuvenate and energize his tired old body and mind.
For 90 days, the disciple followed an intensive program consisting of special diet, breathing techniques, ritual herbal baths, and sacred oil massages. At the end of 90 days, the holy man’s hair changed from gray to black and his skin and body from old and wrinkly to youthful. And with the blessings of his guru, the youthful holy man married the princess and entered a family life (grihastha-ashram).
Chief Theresa Spence is living on ceremonial tea, water, and a healthy diet of fish broth. Depending on how many cups of broth consumes every day (one cup of fish broth has 39 calories—34% fat, 10% carbohydrates, and 56% protein), the circumstances of her hunger strike are unlike any that I have known.
I will therefore have to conclude—no disrespect intended—that she is neither on a fast, such at the type I undertake twice a year, nor on hunger strike, such as Mahatma Gandhi used to undertake while fighting for India’s independence. She is on a cleansing regime: the Ayurvedic transformation Kaya-Kalpa.
Suresh Kurl is a long-time newspaper columnist and retired senior public servant.