Who is a sadhu, in a spiritual sense? Literally, a sadhu (or sadhvi) is one who is immersed in sadhana, which refers to the practice of something with a single-pointed focus to the exclusion of all else. Sadhana could be used for intense engagement of any kind — in music, studies, writing a book, and so on — provided it is done with the intention of honing and deepening whatever one is doing. I have often heard sadhus being described as “holy men of India”, which is at best a partial understanding. A sadhu is not quite a part of worldly holiness, which underlies a basic need that human beings have for auspiciousness. An entire body of sacred rites and rituals, designed to make holy or auspicious, has sprung from this need. Deep down, all of us know that we rarely have complete control over our lives and circumstances. Life often brings us things we might least expect, and our best-laid plans can go completely awry.
“Holy” rituals hand human beings a proverbial straw to cling to as they attempt to navigate this world of uncertainty. They form a kind of psychological safety net — we might feel that doing this or that might protect us and our loved ones from harm, or wearing a charm or a suitable gem will ward off anything unfavourable. Or, we might want to have some way of ensuring success. All very human and understandable, we might say, when we think of the need for holiness in human beings. Why would a sadhu not participate in these, then? This brings us to the quality of dispassionate detachment, and its importance for a sadhu. To be dispassionate is to weigh the positive and the negative equally on the scales of life, and to view one with as much equanimity as the other, remaining unaffected by either. This dispassion is a natural outcome of the process of understanding everything as part of a whole, rather than as separate and unconnected parts.
If we are in a universe where everything is of the divine, and everything is connected with everything else by a spark of the divine, then there is no scope for imperfection. I might perceive something as imperfect, because in that moment, it does not suit my vision of how things should be. Letting go of this “shouldness” opens the door to the “isness” of life. Once we accept that this is, it simply is, and there is no other way it “should” be, we have slipped into a dispassionate state of being. Then, there is no need for safety nets, no need to try and safeguard ourselves against the vagaries of life. The dispassionate sadhu is ready for whichever way the waves of life might toss him or her, and has thus no need for charms and rituals either to stave off bad luck, or to bring good luck. For, they are two sides of the same coin of reality, after all.