- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Thanks for reading about my journey! -Ekashma Das