In the context of Hinduism, a Sadhu is a spiritual “holy man” who has given up all worldly possessions in order to achieve the highest level of enlightenment. They are nomadic monks who strive for a minimalist way of life in order to focus entirely on achieving a “higher reality” beyond the physical realm of understanding. These incredibly devoted ascetics renounce the physical world, cut all ties to family, have no permanent residence, and eat very simple foods. Through intense daily meditation and contemplation, the Sadhus attempt to understand the “true” reality, which is regarded as the highest level of spiritual enlightenment by Hindus. Many Hindus, however, believe that it requires multiple lifetimes and several reincarnations to truly achieve this type of spiritual enlightenment. Becoming a Sadhu can be thought of as the fast track to attaining this goal. Living on the far-flung end of society, these immensely devoted holy men perform rituals and spend hours praying each and every day.
Despite their seemingly undesirable way of life, the Sadhu membership has grown to between four and five million followers. These millions of Sadhus are divided among various sects, each of which has their own particular practices and nuanced philosophical beliefs. The Sadhus do not work because they are considered holy men in pursuit of enlightenment. Consequently, they are supported primarily by donations from Indian society, many of whom view the Sadhus’ self-denying practices as a spiritual benefit to society. While many Indians respect the Sadhus as holy men, there is a growing sector of the country’s population who don’t think as highly of them. Particularly in India’s urban areas, a growing number of people are viewing the Sadhus with mistrust to a certain extent. In some cases, desperate beggars pose as Sadhus simply to get free donations to support themselves. For the most part, Sadhus are genuine about their ascetic lifestyle and pursuit of spiritual enlightenment.
If you are thinking of becoming a Sadhu, you’re not the first young Westerner to do so. Since the sixties, when the hippie culture really took off in the U.S., hoards of Westerners have flocked to India to escape the “materialism” of the West. They come to India in search of a guru to teach them the ways of spiritualism and minimalism. So if you are sick of all your material possessions and worldly troubles, head to India and seek a little enlightenment… It worked for Steve Jobs.