East Village Monks: Rasanath Dasa, An Investment Banker Turned ‘Occupy’ Supporter

The East Village is home to a thrift shop that goes by the name of Monk and a bar where the bartenders have been known to dress as monks. Of course, there are actual monks here, too. Today we’re turning our attention to a few of them.

Rasanath Dasa is the epitome of the American Dream – to a point. Upon graduating from the prestigious India Institute of Technology, he was hired by Deloitte in 2000. He came to New York without a credit card, but after receiving a MBA from Cornell University, he became an investment banker with Bank of America Merrill Lynch. In June 2007, his interest in devotional Hinduism led him to take up part-time residence at the Bhakti Center, the Hare Krishna cultural center on First Avenue. On Aug. 15, 2008, India’s Independence Day, he quit his job at the bank to become a monk full-time.

“I felt like a free bird,” he said.

Living the life of a monk meant renouncing all luxuries and adopting a highly disciplined lifestyle. There is no air conditioner or cable television at the Bhakti Center. The monks rise at 4 a.m. and go to bed at 9 p.m. after carrying out daily rituals such as chanting, meditating for long hours, and cleaning a statue of Krishna.

Last Wednesday, Mr. Dasa hosted a quiet ceremony in the Bhaki Center’s former cafe, which will reopen to the public in January after renovations. “Have Lunch With a Banker Turned Monk” was the fifth such luncheon sold through SideTour. In the Bhakti tradition, the food was offered to Krishna as a tribute before it was served to four attendees. Meanwhile, Mr. Dasa explained why he had left behind a salary of almost $170,000 per year. In The Local’s video, he describes his efforts to elevate consciousness, including two trips to Zuccotti Park.