VIDEO: Business and Living the Tension

Chelakara Ramnath is Alfred Ford School of Management residency teacher of the ‘Conscious Leadership’ module. He is a former management consultant and investment banker who became a monk. In this little article he is sharing his incredible journey from his life as an “external achievement machine”, to one rich in spiritual introspection, integrity, and true connectivity.

‘Greed, my dear ladies and gentleman, is good.’ These unforgettable words, spoken by none other than Gordon Gekko, built a dream in my heart at the age of 13 when I first saw the movie ‘Wall street’ – to build my palace on Wall Street. And, by the age of 26 I had graduated in the top 3% of my class at finance and accounting at Cornell University, my MBA, and secured that really prestigious banking offer for an All America Bank. I was on the top of the world.

And that very day, when the results came out, while doing a regular blood test I went through the severe vasovagal reaction and was brain dead for few seconds and had received a miraculous second life. That experience made me understand the fragility of life like nothing else before and I realized that up until that moment I had really not taken life seriously. A calling emerged to give up everything and become a monk, to find a purpose of my existence.

I wasn’t brave enough to do it fully, but at the same time, that experience left something very deep – I couldn’t ignore the calling. So I decided to work on the Wall Street and to live in a monastery. It was very exciting at first. But I started feeling that I didn’t fit in either place. The monks thought that I was still attached to the material. And at the bank, I was not quite the banker type. I remember ordering cranberry juice one evening with a bunch of friends at a very high end pub, and I got really made fun of. It was embarrassing. I was living this tension every single day of my life and it was agonizing.

Sometimes I really felt that I needed to make a decision that I needed to be on one side. But, as I got closer to it, I felt incomplete. I knew that I was going to be making a decision only because I wanted to escape living that tension and so I continued. And as I continued to live the tension, that very tension became the crucible that started to distil my inner authenticity. And I realized that all through my life what I wasn’t searching for was my intrinsic value, but I had misplaced it on something that society deemed valuable. And when I came to this realization, going to work was a very different experience. It didn’t matter who got the credit, I was just happy doing the work.

Finally, when this became very clear, I decided to become a monk full-time, to dedicate my life to discovery, study and teaching. But, there was no background music when that happened. It was just very clear. The day I quit, my managing director, who was a former Israeli army captain, came up to my cubicle and said, ‘You’re making the biggest mistake of your life. I will make you a star!’ And I just smiled because that’s exactly how the movie Wall Street ends.