(Photo: Joey Lawrence)
Whose house do you live in?
In the house of Sethaji.
That house is going to collapse.
Let it collapse. What does it matter?
I will go elsewhere.
The Aghoris are a sect of Shiva worshippers who live an extreme form of non-dualism. They practice what many would see as outlandish rituals, living, for example, in charnel grounds where they dwell and sleep among bones and eat flesh from the funeral pyres. They carry human skulls as their eating bowls and use bones from the pyres for personal ornamentation. The reason why they engage in such extreme asceticism is to prove to themselves (essentially) that opposites do not exist, that all things derive from the one Source, that the dualities of good/bad, dark/light, proper/improper are artificial constructs. They do not engage in evil as we understand it. They are a peaceful people. This is not mindless anarchy or nihilism. It is extreme detachment from the body and the artificial constructs of the mind.
I am not the body. I am not the creature,
I am not the soul, I am not the matter,
But I am the glowing Atma in which Brahman resides.
(Photo: Joey Lawrence)
I have spent time with Aghoris. They are generally shunned by other sadhus as being too extreme, or perhaps even dangerous, or disreputable, when in fact they are not. But they are not ordinary people. They live in a world very much beyond what we perceive as normal. Their eyes seem to be fixed on a place that is not what we usually see. They are skinny to the point of skeletal, usually naked, dusty, covered in ashes, pierced with bones, completely asexual, contemptuous of their own human comfort, half-starved, almost always stoned or in some intoxicated trance. I am sure, as in all walks of life, there are good and bad among them. Essentially they seek an altered state of consciousness via radical methods. Aghoris tend to use copious amounts of bhang and charas to remain in a state of constant surrender to Shiva. They smoke in a very ritualistic manner, calling aloud to Shiva as they do, offering the chillum towards the Heavens, and falling back into a prayerful trance afterwards.
They dance wildly and with abandon when they are possessed with the Spirit. They allow God to be embodied within them.
(Photo : Gerry Pacher)
”All rules of the world perish for (the sannyasin)”
~ Sw. Sivananda.
Their way of life is aimed at moving them beyond shame, guilt, fear, especially any residual fear of death, taboo, attachment. They trace their lineage to Dattatreya, the great avadhoot, or renunciate, who wrote so beautifully of Advaita (non-dualism). His teachings are worth checking out. His inspirations and teachers were all aspects of nature, insects and creatures, children playing, ordinary things. It is worth noting that death in Hindu cultures is very close to the surface. Bodies burn in the open. The burning ghats are not hidden away. The corpse is very much more available to be seen publicly than here in the West. It is also worth noting that with many ancient practices which seem unusual to us, such as Chod, these practices have come from cultures where cremation or sky burial and rendering of corpses was the norm. People will have seen rendering. Bones, flesh, innards. They will have seen the body eaten, or burnt on a fire. Therefore the mind does not baulk as much to recognise the vehicle as mortal.
(The Burning Ghats in Varanasi)
Like lotus leaves that remain dry in water,
Or the maid servant who rears a child,
But remembers that it does not belong to her,
Sadhus live in the world, yet are not a part of it.
The Aghori does not believe in gradual liberation. Their path is a radical embrace of the truth. If they love something, they throw it away immediately. If they fear or hate something, they fling themselves towards it. They are all about breaking down the conditioned mind as quickly and completely as possible. Though their way is for the very few, I think they have something to teach us all ~ how to return to the unconditioned mind of the primal child who has not yet forgotten the truth.
Witnessing the changes in body and mind
beholding within him nothing but the Self
Heedless of outer, inner and middle.
Blessed indeed is the wearer of the loincloth!
(Immolation IV by Judy Chicago 1972)
OM TAT SAT