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Sadhus are sanyasi, or renunciates, who have left behind all material and sexual attachments and live in caves, forests and temples all over India and Nepal. Sadhus engage in a wide variety of religious practices. Some practice extreme asceticism while others mainly focus on praying, chanting or meditating. There are two primary sectarian divisions within the sadhu community: Shaiva sadhus, ascetics devoted to the God Shiva, and Vaishnava sadhus, renouncers devoted to the God Vishnu and/or his incarnations, which include Rama and Krishna. Less numerous are Shakta sadhus, who are devoted to the Goddess — or Shakti, the divine energy — in one form or another. Within these general divisions are numerous sects and subsects, reflecting different lineages and philosophical schools and traditions. Becoming a sadhu is a path followed by few. It is supposed to be the fourth phase in a Hindu’s life, after studies, being a father and a pilgrim, but for most it’s not a practical option. The rigor of the spiritual practices in which contemporary sadhus engage also varies a great deal. Apart from the very few that engage in the most dramatic, striking austerities—for example, standing on one leg for years on end or remaining silent for a dozen years—most sadhus engage in some form of religious practice: devotional worship, hatha yoga, fasting, etc. For many sadhus, the consumption of hashish or other forms of cannabisis accorded a religious significance. In fact, the highest quality hashish to be found in some districts is often made by local Sadhus.
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