Our technologically-obsessed society often finds it hard to grasp the theory of asceticism: for what reason should one forsake all of one’s earthly possessions and live excluded from society? This stunning set of portraits by Brooklyn-based photographer Joey L puts us face to face with religious ascetics who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of spiritual liberation. Starting in Northern Ethiopia, Joey has traveled the world searching for wandering monks. The latest installment of his Holy Men series features holy men, or sadhus, living in Varanasi, India.

A big part of the portraits focus on aghori, a sect known for engaging in post-mortem rituals such as covering themselves in human ashes, meditating on corpses or crafting jewelry from human bones. “The Aghori have a profound connection with the dead. Death is not a fearsome concept, but a passing from the world of illusion,” says the photographer. Joey’s travel companion, filmmaker Cale Glendening, also managed to capture enough behind-the-scenes footage to turn it into a serene documentary film called “Beyond,” which you can see below.

Website: joeyl.com

Aghori sadhus cover themselves with human ash, which is the last rite of the material body.

When he was young, Lal Baba’s [man on the right] parents arranged a marriage for him. Uncertain about his future, he ran away from home in Bihar Siwan and took up the lifelong task of becoming a sadhu.

Magesh left a well paid job as an IT computer consultant to pursue to path of Aghora. After years of practice, he finds no temptation to return to his old life.

Lal Baba has dreadlocks (jatas) several meters long, which have been growing for over 40 years. To sadhus, dreadlocks are a sign of renunciation and a life dedicated to spirituality.

The Aghori have a profound connection with the dead. Death is not a fearsome concept, but a passing from the world of illusion.