The Sadhus of Deepest India
“It’s just a case of mind over matter”… is a common phrase that you will find yourself being told by an encouraging friend, when trying to deal with a seemingly impossible situation. “If you put your mind to it you can do it”. In this frantic modern-world most of us are running around constantly trying to be achievers, without really stopping to think how we are using our minds to achieve. We may try to grapple with the potential of the human brain by taking mind expanding drugs. It certainly opens a door to the immeasurable potential of our minds, but shows no way of harnessing it. In our attempts to understand the real potential power of the human mind and what it can chive we have to look at the examples set by the Sadhus of India.
Known as Sadhus Babas, Yogis or Asceticism, the holy men of India exercise and endure the most extraordinary ritualised self abuse in an attempt to free their inner spirit. These physical and mental endurance's can be so extreme as to leave permanent disfigurement, as in the case ion the Sadhus who hold their arm above the heads for up to twelve years. Through lack of use of the arm will actually wither away and become useless. To become a Sadhu involves renouncing all material possessions and a life of religious worship of a chosen Hindu God. After years of study under a guru teacher, the disciple will be initiated to the respected status of Sadhu when he will be considered ton be ready.
Some chose the life out of religious devotion, others are lures by the seamlessly romantic life of becoming a mystic religious philosopher, others were rebellious youths running from home. There is no age limit, but those that started as children were usually adopted as orphans. Despite their impoverished appearance Sadhus are highly respected by all Hindus. Although a life-long commitment to abject poverty and severe hardship is quite an endurance in itself, some Sadhus decide that further physical hardship is required rot accelerate their passage to enlightenment. it is important to understand that this is not a form of repentance, as is in Christianity. Sadhus believe that through the endurance of severe hardships they can strengthen their minds and subsequently gain enlightenment in this life. There are a whole range of so called ‘austerities’ practices by these dread-locked, chill smoking, religious philosophers. These are severe endurance's that go beyond the normal call of a Sadhus duty are known in Hindu as ‘tapas’ At the simplest level all Sadhus must renounce their sexuality. Obviously this means that all sexual activity is forbidden.
Many Sadhus make a real statement of this commitment (particularly those who worship Vishnu) and wear ridiculously heavy chastity belts. These uncomfortable iron and wood contraptions are made all the more prominent by the fact that many Sadhus are extremely keen on nakedness. Siva Sects on the other hand, are not as keen on chastity belts and conduct special performances to display their loss of sexual intent. Most will perform the most horrifying displays with their penises. The most preferred and excruciatingly painful to watch, is trying a rope around the penis and lifting incredibly heavy objects, such as a large pile of bricks. Which it should be noted risks ripping it clean off. Although this seems pretty blizzard, it proves that through the strength of their minds they have lost all sexual intent and reduced their penises to inanimate objects. Perhaps not appealing to us, but it does prove a point. It is for this reason that there are very few women Sadhus, as they prove to be a bit of a temptation for this traditionally male community. You are even more unlikely to see female Sadhus as they tend to be quite reclusive. Female Sadhus, known as ‘Sadhivas’ do not perform austerities.
This is entirely the realm of the men. Other types of austerity are conducted on a more individual level and will be the personal chose of a Sadhu to increase his progression too enlightenment. Endurance for long periods of time is the most respected. At the most basic level this might mean refusing to ever speak, or keeping a tract diet. A diet of simply two glasses of milk a day for an entire lifetime is quite common. What must be the most extreme type of austerity is permanent standing. A Sadhu will remain standing for up to twelve years. Twelve years? Well, twelve is a holy number. The rules are that no sitting, squatting or lying down is permitted for the duration and deftly no cheating. For the purpose of sleeping you are allowed to lean on a type of swing. Although that sounds bad enough the worst aspect is the sores and swelling that is produces in the legs. There is no disrespect for those that can’t last out the full twelve years. It is the trying that counts. Sadhus that hold an arm above the head risk far greater personal injury, as after twelve years the arm withers and becomes deformed. The closer the arm is held to the head the better. It has been known for some to hold both arms above the head.
Both types are obviously quite a major handicap and the Sadhu will require looking after. This austerity is only considered complete if the arm is slowly brought back down again. It has been known to induce insanity or even death if not performed properly. As thew Sadhu community is divided over the benefits of such extreme austerities many Sadhus perform more passive rituals. Usually this involves using natural elements such as fire and water. Sitting in water up to the chin for days on end, while meditating, is reserved for the winter (because its the coldest). Adversely the heat of the sun at midday is increased by surrounding themselves with a ring of fires. Many Sadhus will perform a daily ritual of yogic positions whilst surrounded by fires of smoking cow dung. Fortunately the most dangerous of all austerities, ‘Samadhi’ has been discarded. ‘Samadhi’ refers to a state of suspended animation, which is effectively a virtual death that might last a couple of weeks.
A state of virtual death is induced, but unlike the film ‘Flatliner's’ (where revival is instantaneous), here the suspended animation is maintained for weeks on end. During this time the spirit leaves the body and will astrally project. This seemingly insane proactive is well documented although no longer practices today. All these austerities obviously require superhuman will power, and however weird and seemingly unnecessary to us in the West, create such enormous power within. The majority of the 5 million off Sadhus in India are more content with covering themselves in ashes, growing dreadlocks, smoking hash filled chillums and wandering the continent in a seemingly idyllic but relevant lifestyle of total poverty. They gather in spectacular numbers along with a mere 17 million normal Hindus at religious festivals. Membership to the Sadhu community is not restricted top the Indians only. There are a few genuine western Sadhus, from Belgium, Canada, France and the United Kingdom, (to name just a few). They have been initiated after many years of dedicated learning. There are though many imposters with Western and Indian.
Many Indian beggars grow dreadlocks and dress like Sadhus, so that they can legitimise their begging and con free food and offerings from passers by. To the untrained eye they are indistinguishable, but a genuine Sadhu would not be deceived. Criminals on the run have also been knownto masquerade as Sadhus, allowing them to move about unchallenged by the police. Today some Sadhus are criticised for their deviation from the path, many posses so called ‘luxury items’ such as stress and watches. You might even catch one using a telephone or taking the train. Although this would be frowned upon by the elders, the Sadhus’ way of life still remains totally archaic and follows a tradition that is thousands of years old. So at what stage is enlightenment achieved by these Sadhus? Can it really be achieved through the performance of austerities? Enlightenment is certainly not a measurable quantity, as you will never know the extent of another mans mind. But however bizarre the ritual performing ‘tapas’ might appear to us, the mental strength required for it is beyond the realm of comprehension for most of us. it could be considered unnecessary, but does show the vast potential of the human mind.