It can be difficult to imagine living a life devoted to asceticism,
a lifestyle characterized by its lack of indulgences and worldly pleasures, often adopted to pursue spiritual goals.
Many are accustomed to living a relatively cushy life, with flat screen TVs, smart phones or, at the very least, food and shelter.
But a talented Brooklyn-based photographer, Joey L, has taken several photos of religious ascetics, all devoted to lives in pursuit of spiritual liberation.
He’s managed to capture the essence of people living lives we can barely imagine, and the result is astounding.
Joey started his collection of holy men in Northern Ethiopia and has since traveled the world in search of monks and spiritualists.
One of his latest set of photos features sadhus (holy men) living in Varanasi, India.
Varanasi is renowned for being the spiritual capital of India, and is often referred to as “the holy city of India” and “the city of learning”.
According to Joey, it’s also one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. It’s thought that people may have lived there for around 3,000 years or more.
The life of the sadhus is very different from that of most of us living in Western cultures. Sadhus make a commitment to leave all their earthly attachments behind: their home, family, shelter, and even clothes and food. Instead, they live off of the generosity of others. When making their spiritual commitment, they attend their own funeral, signifying the death of their current self as they are reborn into their life as a sadhu.
Sadhus largely focus on Aghori, a sect of their practice that’s infamous for overcoming all things taboo. Joey explains, “they may meditate on corpses, eat human flesh as part of a sacred ritual, or keep a skull as a reminder of the impermanence of life.”
The Ganges River is a very important subject in the photos Joey captures. It gives “the holy men a sense of environment”. The river is also significant in Hindu cultures, where it’s believed to reduce a person’s sins.
Joey has been working with some of the very same subjects from Varanasi since he was 16 years old. As I’m sure you can imagine, interacting with the people has been completely eye-opening.
He says, “Knowing these people has truly been a life changing experience. When a rare outside viewpoint gives context to your own life, you can’t help but feel the mold within you bend and twist into something new.”