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Friday , November 18 , 2011
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Mumbai monk who led a vigil

Nov. 17 (Reuters): Rasanath Das, an ex-investment banker turned Hindu monk, was spending recent Sunday afternoons leading Occupy Wall Street protesters in meditation until police cleared their camp at New York’s Zuccotti Park this week.

The 32-year-old monk isn’t sure now where his next session will be. He’ll keep following the protesters to lead meditation, though, convinced they will only roll back the inequality around them if they find equanimity deep inside.

Das has been a discreet presence at the protests, leading short sessions before making way for other religious leaders to preach at a weekly interfaith service. What he doesn’t tell is the unlikely story of how he ended up in lower Manhattan.

A native of Mumbai, Das studied at the Indian Institute of Technology and moved to the US in 2000 to work as a consultant with the accounting firm Deloitte. After earning an MBA at Cornell, he started at the Bank of America in 2006.

His speciality was the technology, media and telecom sector, and he dealt in so-called structured products, including mortgage-backed securities “the things that blew up, the toxic products” as he put it in a telephone interview.

Das had studied this market but remained baffled by it even after he began trading. “I saw people I considered much smarter than I was, and they really believed in them, so I didn’t open my mouth,” he said.

As world markets began to crumble in 2007, a superior told him: “You have to realise this is a game of musical chairs when the music stops, the person or bank that has the assets sitting on his books loses.” Das said: “The far-reaching consequences for the economy were not something he would foresee.” His doubts grew until, the following year, he found himself working on a merger and acquisition project for Playboy.

It struck him as absurd trying to sell sex when the economy was collapsing and people were losing their jobs. “It was not that I hated the industry or the people I worked with,” he said. “But I began to see the shallowness in that world. I wanted to be part of something authentic and deep.”

In fact, Das was already linked to that something. Since 2007, he has been living in a Hindu monastery in Manhattan’s East Village. “I was living out of a large closet, with four suits and button-down shirts,” he said.

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