I’ve been away from Holland for just over three months now, and life on the road doesn’t lend itself well to regular updates, hence the gapping chasm since my last post. Pretty useless I know, but hey, what would Jesus do? He wouldn’t even know how to use a computer, probably.
I still have nearly two months to go so expect plenty of yarns to come. Next stop is the magical sub-continent of India, which segues nicely into a little explanation on the origins of my current moniker..
The word ‘wanyasi’ is derived from the Sanskrit Saṃnyāsa, pronounced ‘sanyasi’ in the Dravidian languages. Literally translated ‘sanyasi’ means “renunciation” or “abandonment” and is a life stage in Hinduism where the individual forgoes all material possessions and dedicates their life to spiritual pursuits.
I first stumbled upon the term while reading William Dalrymple’s excellent “Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India.” Dalrymple describes an encounter with a group of wandering Holy men where one of the sanyasi details his path from being a sales manager with Kelvinator to a life on the road:
“One day I just decided I could not spend the rest of my life marketing fans and fridges. So I just left. I wrote a letter to my boss and to my parents, gave away my belongings to the poor, and took a train to Benares. There I threw away my old suit, rubbed ash on my body and found a monastery.”
He then goes on to detail the allure of this mode of existence:
“When you walk in the hills your mind becomes clear… all your worries disappear. Look! I carry only a blanket and a water bottle. I have no possessions, so I have no worries.”
The absolute freedom of this lifestyle appealed to me strongly at the time. It was a wanderlust that I could relate to, and a novel idea within our Western materialistic system.
Wanyasi is a term that popped into my head by mistake, my fallible memory conflating the terms ‘western’ and ‘sanyasi’ into a single phrase, probably.
I am aware that there is much more to this stage in the scheme of āśramas than wandering, but the basic concept of being without obligation or responsibility is one that extends beyond Hinduism. Over time a number of different cultures have emphasized the value of this solitude, and history is ripe with stories of drifters seeking wilderness.
Rather than stay in cushy hotels or queue for pointless cultural voids like Madame Tussauds (I simply cannot fathom the point of getting a photo with a wax model of a famous person, but that is a rant for another day) my approach to travel aims to reflect that of the sanyasi. It is to enter the wilderness of the world, to embrace the strange and wonderful, to place my own existence within the perspective of greater humanity.
It isn’t a religious pursuit, at least not in the traditional sense, and I’m definitely not trying to claim any of the high ground that “enlightened” prats claim after a month on the beach in Goa. The western aspect reflects my cultural heritage and yes, I get wasted (you have been reading right?). Fortunately it is more than just this, and the experiences thus far affirm travel’s validity as a means of education.
So go out into the world and see some new shit: smile while you gag down warm goat’s milk, try maintain a sense of direction 12 beers deep, do hit that random local’s joint – and see how being a Wanyasi works for you.