When the financial industry cratered five years ago, Rasanath Dasa was one of the lucky investment bankers who did not lose his job. Still, he wasn't sure he belonged on Wall Street.
Dasa, now 34, made $170,000 a year logging 100-hour work weeks at Bank of America. He was also living a celibate life in an East Village monastery, sharing a room with 10 other devotees and waking up at 5:00 a.m. to meditate and cook communal meals.
With one foot in each of what he describes as two "mutually contradictory worlds," Dasa found himself increasingly uncomfortable with banking culture. There was a conversation with a colleague who said he couldn't leave finance because "'it’s better to be a famous bad guy than a not-so-famous good guy,'" Dasa recalled. He grew uneasy after working on a pitch for Playboy magazine's business. "It was a very difficult thing to confront realizing I was making money in a tanking economy by selling sex," he said.
Pushed to the edge, Dasa quit his job and devoted himself full-time to the monastery.
Now Dasa is running a New York-based nonprofit he founded called GitaSutras. The organization uses principles inspired by the Bhagavad Gita, a centuries-old selection of Hindu verses that aim to guide followers to self-realization, and applies them to modern situations. His mission: help companies avoid the naked, hard-charging culture of greed that he walked away from and assist them in cultivating mindfulness and putting people first.
Dasa is one of thousands of Wall Street workers who left the financial industry -- either by choice or by force -- after the crisis. At Dasa's former employer, Bank of America, there were tens of thousands of layoffs after 2008.
Some of Dasa's fellow Wall Street exiles went on to become entrepreneurs, others found jobs elsewhere in the field. For many, life after the crash meant months searching for work with little hope.
Those who stayed in banking saw Wall Street lose a bit of its luster. More than 20 percent of young Wall Street workers said in a survey last year that the industry’s terrible reputation in the wake of the financial crisis is leading them to pursue other careers.
Dasa, who holds an MBA from Cornell, has taken a different path since the collapse, combining the values he learned as a monk and his time in banking to push corporate leaders to take a more holistic approach to decision-making. That means advising companies to prioritize their employees' wellbeing in order to cultivate more productive workers and more successful businesses, he said.
“How long can a corporation actually sustain 10 to 15 percent growth year over year? How long can that go on without squeezing a lot of time and energy out of people and basically converting people into machines?” he said.
Dasa is in the process of moving out of the monastery to run GitaSutras full-time. His clients include a few brand-name retailers and major drug-makers that he declined to name. For those companies, Dasa leads meditation workshops and has managers do somewhat oddball exercises, like creating crayon drawings of their “ego masks.” Such tasks force company leaders to become more vulnerable and move them to create an environment of trust for their workers, Dasa said.
CEOs even come to him seeking counsel about business decisions, the Wall Street Journal reported a few years ago.
"The generation that’s actually in middle-management right now is looking at life differently post-financial crisis,” Dasa said. “Startup companies are very open because they want to establish something that's people-centric."
But Wall Street remains slow to embrace the trend of emphasizing wellbeing, Dasa said. And that could be costing the sector some bright minds.
"I have not seen so much openness from the financial-services world," Dasa said. "Financial services is one industry that could become healthier.”