Appeared in 2000 in the late 'Mosquito' magazine
Yoga is the new cocaine. The high of choice for Madonna, Goldie Horne, Kirk Douglas, Christy Turlington and all the other beautiful people. And why not? A little spirituality might not go amiss. We're all smoking the polluted roach end of post modernism. The last new thing was Retro, reality TV is better than life and life has been sold to the oil companies. The decade is tired and jaded in its second year: we have to look for something.
And the worship of Siva, high lord of yoga is inherently fascinating to western eyes. His followers, the Sadhus have symbolised the pure ascetic ideal - living chaste lives of contemplation in pure Himalayan isolation - ever since Alexander the Great reached the Ganges. It's cool, uplifitng and doesn't give you nose bleeds or turn you into a heartless gibbering wreck.
Individual Sadhus can often be literally incredible, achieving unbelievable feats of endurance and privation: sitting in the same place, unmoving for 20 years, keeping one arm raised for so long that it atrophies, walking on shoes lined with nails or tying their own bodies into yogic knots. And after more than 2000 years, the their tri-annual festival [Dixie, is this right??] the Kumbh Mela ( where 10s of millions of holy men descend on one small town to bathe in the Ganges) - is still one of the most awe-inspiring sights on the planet.
However, going off on a luxury retreat, saying 'man' and thinking about karma is not even half the story - being a true Sadhu is a hard and disciplined life and a very extreme life choice. Their god, Siva is renowned as being one of the naughtiest gods in the Hindu canon. He's a contemplative ascetic alright, but he's also the terrifying god of fire and eventual destroyer of creation, spending his whole time boxed on weed and draped with penis jewellery. So many Sadhus are deeply holy, peaceful and perhaps even saint like, but most would probably be sent straight to jail if they were unfortunate enough to end up here.
For charlatans (and there are many) it's an easy, idle and greedy life. Public transport is free, it is legal to smoke marijuana, the majority of the Indian Hindu population either fully respects you or is afraid of you, you have a license to beg as giving alms to a Sadhu is considered good Karma, and you live outside the law. The 'sadhus' that western tourists encounter are quite likely to be free loaders - as the genuine holy men are hidden in the mountains [needs clearing up]
There are also many aspects of genuine Siva worship that westerners find difficult to come to terms with. A common facet of Siva worship is the belief that enlightenment and escape from earthly passion can beat be achieved by passing through every extreme. So some sadhus will gorge themselves on everything they can get their hands on for long periods of time (in rare cases including human flesh) followed by sustained periods of fasting. Some will do everything they can to get off their gourds for as long as they can manage.They can also often be seen lifting stones with their dicks or balancing huge weights from them in an attempt to destroy their erectile tissue.
Even for non extremists, initiation into the full Sadhu life, and rejection of earthly desire, is not to be taken lightly - one of its major ceremonies involves crushing the penis three times with a very heavy rock. After this they face a life which is for many undoubtedly rewarding, but is necessarily full of discipline and devotion.
Karma is never instant and never easy.