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My Story

  • Born in Thomaston, CT 1986

I grew up in a small industrial town in New England where time lingered like dust in the old clock factory. My memories of those days swell with laughter as I recall adventures with neighborhood kids on summer afternoons. My mother mystified us with riddles and planted in my life the seed of creativity. Art and faith were two currents which diverged from my soul like mountain streams, and in a meandering way sought a confluence in meaning.

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  • Moved to Sumter, SC 2001

I found myself fifteen years old in Dixie, and a civil war was on between my heart and mind. Submerged in loneliness, I prayed for companionship and like a miracle a new friend moved into my life. I gave him my seat at lunch and wished him luck, but instead he came to sit with me. Together we joined a merry band of outcasts in the country where we experimented with music and drugs and catapults and guns, sometimes all at once.  I read “Siddhartha” at Jesus camp and shaved my head and as my ideas about religion took on a new incarnation, the arts pulled me under their gravity. 

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  • Attended College of Charleston 2005 -’06

When I went for my review at MICA, I was ready to take on the world. It was thrilling to be around so many artists and the promises of academia, but because my credits didn’t transfer to my new high school, I never got to take the AP art class where they teach you how to make a standard portfolio. I was accepted to all the art schools I applied based on the quality of my work, but because my portfolio was not in standard array I stayed in-state, met a femme fatale, plunged down a rabbit hole and became an outsider artist.

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  •  Resided in Charleston and Sumter, 2007 -’08

My college career came to an screeching halt when I discovered easy women and hard drugs. I became strung out, violent and depraved; my family called the white-coats to take me away. At 19 they checked me into a sanatarium.

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  • Attended Art Institute of Pittsburgh Online


By the end of my treatment, despair gave way to curiosity. I started reading voraciously on the night shift. I took online classes, even started dating. But my girlfriend grew up and moved on and I must have walked twenty miles down the railroad tracks when I found out. I saw a group of birds singing in a thicket. I was reminded of the parable of the lilies of the field, who were maintained by Providence without having to toil like some people think they do. If only I had enough faith to sing my song, I thought, the Good Lord would surely protect me.

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  • Moved to New York, New York 2009

Having little left to lose, I drove my truck (Jenny) to New York City one afternoon. For a while I stayed in a homeless shelter on an island off the coast of Manhattan and sold my art on Union Square. After a few weeks of waking up in the dead of night to the anguished screams of haunted inmates, day after day making a brisk morning trek with all my belongings downtown to sell my artwork, eventually I saved up enough to rent a bunk in a hostel out in Brooklyn. I did portraits of travelers to earn my keep until eventually I was invited to live in an artist commune inside a studio loft. At one point there were twelve people, three dogs, and two cats squatting out a 1000 sq ft loft with tents and tepees pitched all around the perimeter. During that time I lived with journalists, poets, foreign revolutionaries, dreamers, designers, and musicians. The streets of New York challenged me to become resourceful and disciplined.

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  • Attended the Art Students’ League of New York

Looking for a break, I found my way to the Art Student’s League of New York, where I signed up for classes with a distinguished instructor named Hugo Bastidas. He appreciated my tenacity and he invited me to study with him for free. In such a vulnerable position, it meant the world for someone like him to have faith in me.  I progressed tremendously under his expert guidance, and I finally began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Overwhelmed with gratitude, I prayed to God “If you’re really out there somewhere, you’ve been so kind to me! Is there anything I can do for you?” It was around that time when I first came in contact with bhakti yoga and the Hare Krishna movement.

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  • Moved to New Orleans, LA 2010

My roommate Micheal was on a tirade one afternoon about how the Deep-Water Horizon oil rig had ruptured and had been leaking thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Apparently no mainstream news source had yet covered the story. He was a freelance journalist and felt it was his duty to expose the incident to the world. We agreed to take a road trip to check it out, so we found my faithful Jenny still somehow intact where she had been parked under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. We gave her some emergency CPR and drove all the way to New Orleans. Micheal was subsequently recruited by the New York Times to cover the story. I was supposed to do some illustrations, but I was so disgusted by the devastation, and so exasperated by the fiasco it turned into that I arrived at the conclusion that only a paradigmatic shift in human consciousness could really bring a lasting solution and I became indifferent to the project.

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  • Moved to Charleston 2010

When I hitchhiked to Charleston I meant to stay only a few days to catch up with old friends. Allen and Blake and I had a pastime of urban exploring, climbing buildings all over the city and in search of obscure panoramas and secret hideaways. On our way to a baby shower one afternoon, Allen wanted to show me his favorite graffiti spot on one rooftop. It was a common place for neighborhood kids to hang out and tagging was allowed, but when we went up there just after the store was closed, we unwittingly triggered a silent alarm. When the police arrived we did our best to be cooperative, but when Allen asked why we were being arrested, a throng of enforcers descended upon us with tasers and night-sticks and beat us to the ground.

I apologized to the owner for trespassing, and it turned out he was sympathetic to us. He allowed people to paint graffiti there, but he had to set an alarm to prevent people from tagging places that would violate city ordinance. He issued a written statement that he would not be pressing charges, but it was rejected as “hearsay” in court, so I invited the arresting officers and the judge and the local media to a pop up art show that the owner hosted for us in his back lot. The purpose was to mitigate fear and violence by creating dialogue within the community. We had visual art, and music, games, and an open mic discussing both crime and police brutality.

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  • Worked at Tivoli Studios

Tivoli was a relatively new studio at that time, and I made fast friends with Nic, the owner. Since I was hitchhiking, I didn’t have funds to rent a space, but he accepted my offer to work for him to get the studio up and running in exchange for a work space. They were having a lot of break-ins in the back lot and people were stealing expensive equipment so in a rather ironic twist of fate, I pulled a stint as a security guard at the studio.

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  • Moved to Los Angeles, CA 2011

I reunited with Micheal in New York City and we planned a cross country expedition. Our goal was to get to the west coast in thirty days or less by hitchhiking and riding freight trains. We wound our way from Philadelphia to Baltimore to Cincinnati to Nashville, and there we parted ways. I traveled with so many strange and interesting personalities. I camped out with a boy my age who grew up on a trap line in Alaska who was an amazing guitarist. I hitched a ride with a terminally ill cancer patient who had the medical hook-up for Mary Jane, Christians of only the most fanatical shapes and sizes, a horny ex-truck driver, and a native American army vet who could pick up radio signals from a metal plate embedded in his skull. By taking a dependent position with these people, they opened up their worlds and confided in me and I gladly listened to their stories. During analysis I realized the value of having a neutral party to reveal my mind to. If only more people knew that merely listening cures many ills!

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  • Attended ISKCON monastery, Los Angeles

We were in a farmers market in Santa Monica and I was busking for change on the sidewalk when I saw three young men in orange robes handing out books. I like books, so I went to check them out and I saw that they were bright-faced, handsome looking young monks distributing Bhagavad Gita, the great sacred text of India. I had read a different version in college, but didn’t understand. I began to think, “what is there for me up in Washington? I could keep on traveling, but where am I going? I’ll just trip out again, maybe meet some girls, but then what? There’s got to be more to life!” I thought. So I agreed to take the Bhagavad Gita. Then he said, “Just give a donation.” My knee-jerk response was “Ah, forget it then.” So I went and sulked a few minutes and fumbled with my guitar until a still, small voice prodded me; “Actually this might be just what you’re looking for!” So I gave him whatever money I had and took the Bhagavad Gita. We were on the streets in Hollywood and I became totally absorbed in reading It. I didn’t want to do anything else. I stop caring about begging or drinking, and sometimes even eating. One day my “road-dawg” at the time said to me, “maybe its best if you go your way and I go mine.” We saw eye to eye, so I hugged his neck and we parted ways.

I decided to visit a temple location I saw in the back of the Bhagavad Gita, so I took a bus to Laguna Beach to see the temple there. The people I met were gracious and in the afternoon we would all take lunch together in the garden. Someone gave me beads and taught me to chant a mantra composed of names of God. “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare; Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.” That very day I went to the beach and sat down before the ocean and chanted this mantra for hours on end and even into the night. At one point someone came up behind me and played the most enchanting flute song I ever heard. I was afraid to turn around, and soon the song was gone but I will never forget that melody. That evening I was plagued by nightmares and woke in cold sweats. I bathed in the ocean and put on new clothes and from that day forward all of my dirt and pain washed off in the water. From that day onward, by some divine grace, I’ve been able to live a pure, blissful, meaningful life devoid of hankering and lamentation. Finally my heart experienced the transformation I had been seeking all my life.

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  • Worked as itinerant missionary

Tukaram, the temple president in Laguna Beach suggested that I go to LA for training, where there was more facility for new people. I made no plan, but one day I found a bus token in my hat and took it as an omen. When I arrived the devotees there received me kindly and said they had been waiting for me. Tukaram called in advance and made all arrangements so I could move in immediately. Until the present day I’ve been serving in Los Angeles as monk and a missionary of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON.) For five years. I traveled a circuit in the western United States, distributing the same books that changed my life at universities and festivals, teaching bhakti yoga, and now I’m utilizing my talent for art to proliferate the same philosophy of love of God.

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Thanks for reading about my journey! -Ekashma Das

 

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The World is a Stage

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Researchers from the University of Vermont and the University of Adelaide have used AI to analyze that there are 6 main emotional arcs in the history of storytelling: rags to riches (rise), riches to rags (fall), man in the hole (fall then rise), Icarus (rise then fall), Cinderella (rise fall rise), and Oedipus (fall rise fall).

 

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Sometimes we feel alone or unique in our struggles, but any thoughtful person will recognize that we are more similar than we are different. It is a kind of pride that divides us from our fellows, and pride that divides us from ourselves.

 

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“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages.”

-William Shakespeare, As You Like It

 

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Somewhat bewildered, we stumble onto the stage of life, and read the lines that have more or less been written. It is a wonder that each of us is able to play many roles, as master, servant, friend, parent, lover.

 

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“Whatever has been, will be; whatever has been done, will be done. There is nothing new under the sun.” -Ecclesiastes 1:9

 

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But there is a shimmer in the rise and fall of civilizations, as the sun adorns with it’s reflection, the seasons of the Nile. Each of us has a divine spark, we cannot change what we are, but no two flowers are alike in any garden. But the sooner you know your role and what you were born to do, the sooner you can begin being/becoming the best version of you!

 

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Thank you for reading!!
– Ashma

Anatomy of Self

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When I started this series for a group exhibition I co-curated with emerging artists in Charleston, SC in November, I wanted to choose a broad topic which would provoke discussion on spirituality. After considering many possibilities I chose the topic of the “anatomy of the self” to renew an age-old discussion on the different dimensions of the human experience and how they interact with each other. For my series of artworks, I divided these categories into Body, Mind, and Soul. Which of these take precedence and what do we prioritize in our civilization?

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The first image in this series depicts what happens when one works with the body for the sake of the body only. To illustrate this, I chose the imagery of inmates on the chain-gang. The definitive characteristic of the body is that it is temporary and limited. That means whatever we do for the body is likewise confined; the result can only last as long as the body does.

Sometimes the effect of material activities is compared to a person working hard to build a house just to burn it down. Although such an action would be clearly nonsensical since the result is immediately lost, we often don’t consider that many of the activities that we engage in on a daily basis will also be lost in short order.

Although in the immediate issue, things like eating, sleeping, mating, and defending may be necessary, in the long run these activities are unlikely to satisfy the deeper human need for meaning. Indeed, people trapped by this struggle for existence often feel like captives digging their own graves.

The orange jumpsuits and shaven heads parallel the uniform of monastics, who engage in the similar, but opposite practice of limiting themselves to only activities full of meaning. The beginning of spiritual life often begins with a turning away, a contempt for the emptiness of temporary pleasures and an aspiration for higher value.

The Sanskrit calligraphy here is a verse from Bhagavad Gita (As It Is). It encapsulates the essence of this idea as follows: “One who does not follow in human life the cycle of sacrifice thus established by the Vedas certainly leads a life full of sin. Living only for the satisfaction of the senses, such a person lives in vain.”

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The next image describes the mind as the center. Here I wanted to comment on the insubstantiality of thought. The Vedas ascribe substance to something according to it’s comparative endurance.”The great seers of Truth have concluded that of the nonexistent there is no endurance, and of the eternal there is no change. This they have concluded by studying the nature of both.”

The content of the mind is changing constantly, producing so many dreams, daydreams, ideas, even hallucinations which we judge as insubstantial compared to the waking life, and the dreamer himself who endures through many such dreams. It is said that we live through countless subsequent lifetimes, which are also insubstantial compared to the eternal, spiritual life. For this piece I chose the imagery of virtual reality to illustrate what happens when we act with the body primarily to satisfy the mind. The result is that we find it becomes common for people to immerse themselves in an imaginary reality in order to escape the emptiness of physical survival. By doing so, people may become detached from the ‘real’ reality and consequently become obese or otherwise unhealthy, despite the fact that in the virtual reality they may be performing heroic, herculean deeds.

Similarly, from the spiritual perspective, one sees the material life also as a kind of virtual reality, and to the degree we become absorbed in it, we become incomplete and unhealthy and out of touch with our original eternal life. The calligraphy here reads: “For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends, but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy.” In other words if we utilize the mind to pursue temporary goals it becomes an instrument for our bondage, but if we use it to pursue eternal goals, we become liberated.

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This piece further expands on the sequence, depicting the mind in service of the body. This piece was inspired by trans-humanism and the aspiration of modern man to use his intelligence to augment the body with technology in order to become immortal, or superhuman.

Here a cyborg woman is getting some body augmentation done, which I envision might one day be as common and frivolous as getting a tattoo or a piercing might be today. And the way she stares into space smoking her futuristic e-cig indicates that if our quality of life doesn’t keep pace with our quantity of life, then no matter how long we extend the years of our life, we will only extend our vices and won’t be truly happy until we find out how to add life to our years.

The quote here says: “One who has taken birth is sure to die, and after death one is sure to take birth again. Therefore in the inevitable discharge of your duty you should not lament.” Some trees live for thousands of years, but they are stuck standing in the wind and the rain, and their consciousness is in an almost dormant state compared to other living things. Although in some ways it may be beneficial to extend our bodies or our minds, the real success of human life is to extend our consciousness to the utmost limit and thus prepare ourselves to enter the next life, whether that comes in 10 years or 1000.

 

work-for-soul  The subsequent painting in this series marks a departure from the previous ones because it begins to contrast activities performed for the sake of the body or the mind, and those undertaken for the benefit of the soul.

A great saint and theologian, Bhaktivinod Thakur,once compared God, the Absolute Truth, as like a mountain which has been viewed from different angles under different weather conditions.

Different people may view the same mountain in a fog, in bright sunlight, or without external influence, and although they are seeing the same thing, they perceive it in vastly different ways.

In general, people try to serve the interest of the soul by approaching a higher Reality. One way that they do this is through pious actions like ritual, sacrifice, and charity. The first step in spiritual life is to recognize that we are dependent on a Higher Power for the water, for the air, for everything necessary for us to live. Especially the indigenous traditions of the world are known for their reverence for nature and performing sacrifice as a way of reciprocating with the Power behind the forces of nature. Because I was inspired by the recent protests to protect the water at Standing Rock, I decided to dedicate this piece as a tribute to the Native American community.

thought-for-soulBuilding on the culture of sacrifice, often we find that wisdom traditions develop. These come about when a certain subset of people begin to inquire more deeply into the purpose, the motives, the reasoning behind performance of sacrifice.

Ultimately the purpose of sacrifice is to inspire people to inquire about their origins, to seek deeply the Source of themselves and the world. Sometimes the culture of sacrifice has a tendency to become clouded by desire, and people pray for wealth or fame or victory. When this happens, the religion of that culture becomes  worldly, and the philosophers  reject it to find out something deeper.

They are able to see that although the Creator provides everything for mankind, still, just by enjoying the resources of this Earth one is still subject to suffering in the form of birth, death, old age, and disease. The philosopher recognizes a need to make a permanent solution to this suffering and thus undergoes austerity, contemplation, deliberation, and meditation. This piece was inspired by the famous Greek ascetic Diogenes, who was known for his austerity of living in a barrel and debating publicly without fear with illustrious personalities such as Alexander the Great.

song-for-soul When the soul becomes satisfied with knowledge of the Divine, one feels a kinship, a personal relationship with the Creator that seeks expression through poetry, music, or dancing. In this way the spiritual seeker finds relief from the starkness of the path of knowledge by transcending the mind and approaching God through the heart.

Since I was working on this series in the city of Charleston, South Carolina, famous for it’s gospel choirs, I wanted to offer an homage to the American gospel tradition, which does a great job of exemplifying this affectionate love of God through the heartfelt outpouring of song.

 

soul-of-soul Finally, the esoteric Vaisnava tradition teaches that when the body, mind, and soul are all completely absorbed in the trance of love of God, the Supreme Being, whom they call “Krishna” or the “All Attractive,” appears personally in order to reciprocate the loving service of the beloved.

Thanks for checking out my recent work!

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