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The Wall Street Banker Who Became a Monk: Rasanath Dasa’s Quest

This is a quest case study. (Read others or nominate yourself.)

Sometimes when we get what we want, we realize we were wrong about our own ambitions. Rasanath Dasa spent his entire young adult life getting a great job in finance only to realize that a frenetic, money-driven lifestyle wasn’t for him. Here’s what he did to change it.

Tell us about yourself.

I had wanted to work on Wall Street since ninth grade. Living in Mumbai, I saw Wall Street on TV, and immediately dreamed of owning a yellow convertible and a blue motorboat (yes, I was very specific about the colors!).

I graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology,  worked for Deloitte in New York City, got an MBA from Cornell, and finally landed a job at Bank of America as an investment banker.

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Two years into banking, I quit to live in a Manhattan monastery as a full-time monk for four years. I wanted something new: to find and stay connected to my most authentic self and employ my gifts to maximize human potential.

Along with a fellow monk, I co-founded Upbuild, an educational social enterprise aimed at maximizing the human potential by creating environments that inspire genuine purpose and authentic connection. Our mission is accomplished through consultations and interactive experiences that weave together multimedia and a strong spirit of community. Upbuild’s services have been employed by organizations such as Etsy, Novartis, CARE, BNP Paribas, Siemens, and L’Oreal.

How did your quest come about?

During my first year at university in India, I had a mini existential crisis. I had always found my identity as an all-round achiever, but that was being severely challenged as I competed with my classmates, who in many respects were better than me. It was my first encounter with the temporality and fragility of the unconscious identities we adopt and hold on to so strongly. The emotional effect of my failures led me to search for deeper answers, but my ambitions to be on Wall Street often kept me divided in my efforts.

I had a second reminder of this temporality when I encountered a terrifying near-death experience at the cusp of my final job offer in investment banking. It led me to deeply re-think my pursuit of success and the image that I wanted other people to see, admire and validate in my life. I saw deep underlying fears of giving up something that I had so much longed for in my life just as I was about to receive it. And yet, I also clearly saw my dream’s futility.

Finding a solution was confusing and humbling. It was hard to discuss my emotional dilemma with friends and family. I was living a very real and dynamic tension between a long-standing ambition and a calling that was moving me to discover what lay beyond it all. I did not want to give up either and so I decided to live in a monastery and work on Wall Street at the same time. I took up the vows of a celibate monk along with a daily two-hour meditation practice, a 100-hour work week, and an annual salary which I used to fund the monastery.

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At work, what I had deemed as the epitome of success started to melt before my eyes. Behind the many masks of success, fame and smooth deals, I saw deep-seeded insecurities that manifested themselves behind closed doors in several unhealthy ways.

And I saw the same darkness in myself. Over time I could not bring to put my heart into my work. I was afraid of quitting my job because it meant letting go of an identity that received so much validation and respect from the outside world. In the pursuit of success I had become such a compulsive achievement machine who had lost touch with my own authentic self.  That realization led me to quit Wall Street, become a full time monk and start Upbuild.

What are the costs associated with starting Upbuild?

In terms of money, my quest hasn’t cost me a tremendous amount yet – perhaps close to $70,000 – though it has definitely taken a lot of emotional energy that is not quantifiable. However, we are now recognizing that we will need more financial investment to run a small organization ourselves given the increasing demand, and are currently in the process of looking for potential investors.

Tell us about a low point in your journey:

Three years into my monastic life, I discovered that the head of the monastery—my mentor—had compromised his monastic vows. Our monastery was built on his dedication, and he was one of the primary inspirations behind Upbuild. I had to face my deepest inner doubts about my decision, my quest, and the sheer loss of a dear friend and mentor. I felt angry, alone and hopeless.

Overcoming this struggle took its time. The biggest decision I made was to not act impulsively on my insecurities and anger, but instead build an internal container to hold them and process them honestly and with compassion. I learned more about vulnerability and seeking help from dear friends through this and in the end, processing this challenging time helped build more rich content for Upbuild.

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Have you received support from anyone?

In the last four years a thriving community has sprouted up through Upbuild. Our organization is made up of several individuals who have full-time senior executive positions in companies, but are willing to give their time, knowledge, skills, and even financial support to our cause. We recently received the news that Jones Day, which is the biggest law firm in the country, wants to do pro-bono work for us because they appreciate our mission and the effect it produces on organizations.

What advice would you give someone starting a quest?

Keep a journal along your quest. Write down insights, personal thoughts and feelings, reflect on what you learn, and celebrate the bad with the good. Everything you write down is a sign that your quest is happening, and you won’t regret having a written version of your experience.

What is next?

To build a leadership school that is based character development, self-awareness and personal mastery. I am so excited for what will come from it.

Keep up to date on Rasanath at UpbuildNYC.

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