Another good film shown at the Naro last weekend was Naked in Ashes, Paula Fouce’s documentary on the sadhus (holy men) of India, and their extreme aesceticism. The documentary focuses on three small groups of yogis (each with two or three practitioners) and follows them for several weeks.
As I suspect many are, I’ve generally found extreme aecesticism, especially of the Eastern kind, very off-putting. I can understand St. Francis and his love of having nothing but God, but wasn’t able to make the same connection to these ash-covered guys in India.
Naked in Ashes sheds some much-needed light on the sadhus. Some are true bodhisattvas, dedicating their austerities to taking away the sins of the world. One guru said, “The world is suffering. That is my problem. I take on myself the sins of all, and wash them away in Mother Ganges.” I came to realize the answer why these holy men live in caves with nothing is not that far from why Jesus went to the Cross. The spirit of all-consuming Love is behind it.
Yet some cautions are necessary with Fouce’s film. She consistently refers to these practices as “yoga” and the ascetics as “yogis.” It would be more accurate to call them sadhus, as there are many kinds of yoga, most of which do not involve austerity at all. Also, Fouce concentrates almost exclusively upon male yogis which is odd considering she is a woman, and that there are large numbers of female yoginis and holy women.
Still, it was an educational experience, greatly enhanced by an marvelous, enthusiastic discussion afterwards.