The King said: “To transgress the laws of respectful behavior toward the brāhmaṇas is certainly a great offense. On the other hand, if one does not observe the breaking of the fast within the time of Dvādaśī, there is a flaw in one’s observance of the vow. Therefore, O brāhmaṇas, if you think that it will be auspicious and not irreligious, I shall break the fast by drinking water.” In this way, after consulting with the brāhmaṇas, the King reached this decision, for according to brahminical opinion, drinking water may be accepted as eating and also as not eating.Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 9.4.39-40
dvādaśyāṁ yad apāraṇe
yat kṛtvā sādhu me bhūyād
adharmo vā na māṁ spṛśet
āhur ab-bhakṣaṇaṁ viprā
hy aśitaṁ nāśitaṁ ca tat
brāhmaṇa-atikrame — in surpassing the rules of respect to the brāhmaṇas; doṣaḥ — there is a fault; dvādaśyām — on the Dvādaśī day; yat — because; apāraṇe — in not breaking the fast in due time; yat kṛtvā — after doing which action; sādhu — what is auspicious; me — unto me; bhūyāt — may so become; adharmaḥ — what is irreligious; vā — either; na — not; mām — unto me; spṛśet — may touch; ambhasā — by water; kevalena — only; atha — therefore; kariṣye — I shall execute; vrata-pāraṇam — the completion of the vow; āhuḥ — said; ap-bhakṣaṇam — drinking water; viprāḥ — O brāhmaṇas; hi — indeed; aśitam — eating; na aśitam ca — as well as not eating; tat — such an action.
When Mahārāja Ambarīṣa, in his dilemma, consulted the brāhmaṇas about whether he should break the fast or wait for Durvāsā Muni, apparently they could not give a definite answer about what to do. A Vaiṣṇava, however, is the most intelligent personality. Therefore Mahārāja Ambarīṣa himself decided, in the presence of the brāhmaṇas, that he would drink a little water, for this would confirm that the fast was broken but would not transgress the laws for receiving a brāhmaṇa. In the Vedas it is said, apo ’śnāti tan naivāśitaṁ naivānaśitam. This Vedic injunction declares that the drinking of water may be accepted as eating or as not eating. Sometimes in our practical experience we see that some political leader adhering to satyāgraha will not eat but will drink water. Considering that drinking water would not be eating, Mahārāja Ambarīṣa decided to act in this way.